Detailed Food Records Predict Weight Loss Outcomes

diet journalAnyone, who believes that losing weight (let alone keeping it off) is easy, simply does not know what he is talking about.

It clearly takes a considerable degree of focus and dedication to overcome the intricate, complex, and highly redundant physiology that nature has put in place to defend our body weight (at whatever level it happens to be) – after all, you are trying to get your cortex to run your hypothalamus!

Thus, it is no surprise that, in a recent analysis of the Look AHEAD study by Adam Tsai and colleagues published in OBESITY, the level of detail that participants were able to provide in their food records, was strongly predictive of the amount of weight lost at one year.

This analysis included 549 participants at four centres, whereby detail and completeness of food records during the screening period for the study, was determined by the number of words and Arabic numerals (numbers) recorded per day, the number of eating episodes per day, and days per week where physical activity was noted.

In multivariable analysis, individuals who recorded 20-26, 27-33, and ≥34 words per day lost 9.12%, 11.40%, and 12.08% of initial weight, compared to 8.98% for individuals who recorded less than 20 words per day.

These finding are by no means surprising or unexpected – the more you obsess about your food and activity levels the more likely you may be able to reign in your hypothalamus (at least for the time that you are making this a priority).

Indeed, there are many “dieters” who take this to extremes, measuring and weighing every morsel they ingest whilst keeping detailed inventories of every step they take. I am sure, we all know people who tweet this information out to the world and post their daily activity levels to social networks – somewhat obsessive-compulsive behaviour if you ask me.

On the other hand, if that is what it takes to override and keep in check your physiology, then I guess that’s what it takes.

Only, I can see why this may not work for most people – especially for those, for whom obsessing about food records may not be the number one priority in their lives – I may be wrong but my guess is that this may well be the vast majority of people out there.

So, if anything, this study once again demonstrates the amount of effort it takes to override your “natural” eating behaviour.

As always, I don’t worry too much about those who can do this – they’ll be just fine. I am far more concerned about the many, for who this degree of obsession is simply not an option or part of their character.

At least let us recognise food records for what they are – a tool that can make the daunting task of reigning in your hypothalamus somewhat manageable.

But, as any tool, it only works if you actually use it – in fact, this study shows what I would call a clear dose-effect relationship – the more effort you put into keeping your records, the better the outcomes.

I’d certainly like to hear about your experience with food and activity records and the methods you use to accomplish this. I’d also like to hear about some of the challenges those of you face, for whom this simply does not seem to work.

Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgTsai AG, Fabricatore AN, Wadden TA, Higginbotham AJ, Anderson A, Foreyt J, Hill JO, Jeffery R, Gluck ME, Lipkin EW, Reeves RS, Van Dorsten B, & the Behavioral Run-in Ancillary Study Group of the Look AHEAD Research Group (2013). Readiness redefined: A behavioral task during screening predicted 1-year weight loss in the look AHEAD study. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) PMID: 24151217