Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2003 / 26 Adar I, 5763

SLIM CHANCES: A food journal will keep you in focus

By Bev Bennett | You can exaggerate, lie and omit some of the sordid details. Even so, if you keep a food diary, you're probably going to lose weight.

"I think monitoring is more important than dieting in weight loss,'' says Dan Kirschenbaum, Ph.D., director of the Center for Behavioral Medicine in Chicago. The single most important thing way to lose weight, he claims, is to write down what you eat.

Maybe you've kept a food journal. Did you give it up because you couldn't bear to record your indiscretions? Well, relax. It's the writing that counts, says Kirschenbaum, because it makes you conscious of what you're eating so you're likely to eat less -- even if you cheat on the reporting.

"The important factor is not accuracy, but putting down on paper what you're doing,'' says the psychologist, who routinely sees patients underestimate what they eat. "That's the big deal in weight control.''

"A food diary can push awareness to a level that wasn't there before,'' says Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "We know the research shows that people who keep food records do best at weight loss. It's accountability and ownership, whether it's accurate or not.''

Even if you're good about reporting your morning food intake and fall apart at afternoon snack time, you're making progress, she says. "You're seeing issues in your eating habits that you can address. You can recognize where your weakness is. Maybe you can identify some foods that are triggers.''

It's essential that you continue your diary even if you're embarrassed by it. "There is tremendous evidence that consistency is important,'' says Kirschenbaum, the author of "9 Truths Aboubt Weight Loss'' (Henry Holt and Company, 2000). "The correlation between consistency of weight loss and self-monitoring is strong. One of my studies shows that it's cause and effect. If you can increase consistency of self-monitoring, you can improve weight loss.''

Keeping a diary is a form of concentration. "You think about dieting 1,000 times more than you otherwise would,'' he says, "and you're developing a healthy obsession.''

Francine Shaievitz agrees that keeping a food journal can become an obsession. "I couldn't diet without keeping a diary. I'd be afraid.'' Since starting her journal and a diet that follows a prescribed food plan last June, Shaievitz has lost about 60 pounds. In the mornings, she maps out her daily food plan, using the diary. It provides structure and discipline that she says she didn't have before. "Because I keep a diary, I don't nibble. When I go into the market, I go right for fruits and vegetables. I don't cheat. I keep goodies in the house for the grandchildren, but I won't eat them and they won't go into my diary.''

"I have a friend in Florida who keeps a diary now,'' she adds. "She says, 'Oh, my, what I was eating?' ''

McManus says you can set up a diary on your own or by working with a dietitian. Start by recording a couple of days' worth of meals. At first, your goal will be to see what you're eating and whether there are triggers that undermine your diet efforts. When you're comfortable with straight diary entries, add what you were feeling when you ate. You can also describe how hungry you were. "It can be extremely helpful to realize that you ate two pieces of pie when you weren't hungry,'' she says.

It's also helpful to record where you eat. For example, are you having all your meals in front of the television or in the car? Next ,calculate the calorie counts for your food.

"It's one thing to write everything down,'' she says. "It's another to have some accountability. Take the extra step. Look at the caloric cost of the five cookies you snacked on. If you're trying to lose weight on a 1,500-calorie diet, having 250 calories' worth of cookies puts the snack into perspective.

Bev Bennett is co-author of "The Dictionary of Healthful Food Terms'' Comment by clicking here.


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