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Recording Eats Key to Weight Loss

Perfect Tracking Isn’t Required

Keeping a food diary can help you lose weight.

By John Salak –

Somewhere between 60 and 95 percent of diets fail, depending on who is counting. It is depressing, considering that more than 40 percent of Americans are on some diet at any given time, according to LiveStrong.com.

What’s perhaps more startling is that while dieting is at an all-time high, so are U.S. obesity rates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Weight-loss plans fail for all sorts of reasons, including the inability of dieters to stay focused. The University of Connecticut may have discovered a solution—or at least some sound weight-loss advice: Keep a record of what is being munched.

Keeping track of everything a dieter eats and drinks daily through a food diary is vital to a successful approach. UConn researchers acknowledge that keeping a record can be tedious, but it helps keep people stay focused. Better still, perfect tracking is not necessary to shed significant poundage. Even tracking consumption 30 to 40 percent of the time can trim pounds over time.

Researchers from UConn, the University of Florida and the University of Pennsylvania came to these conclusions after tracking 153 weight loss program participants for six months. These users self-reported their food intake through a commercial digital weight loss program. In turn, the researchers wanted to identify the optimal diet tracking thresholds to predict three percent, five percent and 10 percent weight loss amounts after six months.

“We partnered with Weightwatcher’s, who was planning on releasing a new Personal Points program, and they wanted to get empirical data via our clinical trial,” explained the study’s co-author Professor Sherry Pagoto. “Dietary tracking is a cornerstone of all weight loss interventions and tends to be the biggest predictor of outcomes. This program lowers the burden of that task by allowing zero-point foods, which do not need to be tracked.”

The effort also focused on making food tracking less burdensome to avoid users feeling they must count calories for the rest of their lives. “That’s just not sustainable,” she said. “Do users need to track everything every single day or not necessarily?”

Via the six months of data, researchers determined how much gauging participants did and how effective they were at losing weight.

“It turns out you don’t need to track 100 percent each day to be successful,” explained Assistant Profession Ran Xu. “Specifically in this trial, we find that people only need to track around 30 percent of the days to lose more than 3 percent weight and 40 percent to lose more than 5 percent weight, or almost 70 percent of days to lose more than 10 percent weight. The key point here is that you don’t need to track every day to lose a clinically significant amount of weight.”

These results are particularly promising for dieters since a six-month weight loss program is typically five percent to 10 percent, well within the range of limited tracking.

“A lot of times people feel like they need to lose 50 pounds to get healthier, but we start to see changes in things like blood pressure, lipids, cardiovascular disease risk, and diabetes risk when people lose about 5-to-10 percent of their weight,” says Pagoto. “That can be accomplished if participants lose about one to two pounds a week, which is considered a healthy pace of weight loss.”

The research could help develop future programs, which could be tailored to how dieters record their consumption and how effective they are at losing weight.

“For me, what’s exciting about these digital programs is that we have a digital footprint of participant behavior,” says Xu. “We can drill down to the nitty-gritty of what people do during these programs. The data can inform precision medicine approaches, where we can take this data science perspective, identify patterns of behavior and design a targeted approach.”





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