Journaling Your Diet Could Double Your Weight Loss

Journaling Your Diet Could Double Your Weight Loss

Got $2 and 10 minutes? That's all you may need to double your weight loss on your next diet, triple the odds you'll stick with that new Zumba routine, or boost your chances for staying healthy despite having diabetes or asthma. What are you blowing your el-cheapo $2 budget on? A notebook and a pen to track you progress in a journal.

Learn how to make fitness fun.

A pile of recent studies proves that simply writing down your daily progress in a journal makes a huge difference in the numbers on your scale and your tape measure:

  • Australian women and men who had started a new exercise program were three times more likely to work out 5 days a week if they logged each session.
  • Out of nearly 1,700 overweight people on a 6-month weight loss program, those who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight as those who didn't keep a journal.
  • People with moderate to severe asthma who tracked their lung function -- and understood the results -- were nine times more likely to take the right dose of their asthma medicine, had fewer nighttime asthma wake-ups, and felt more in control, according to one California study.
  • In another California study, regular at-home blood sugar checks meant lower blood sugar levels. That can translate into lower medication doses and less risk for serious complications later in life.

Thanks to these super results, selling tracking tools is becoming a big business. If you're a big spender, you could drop $30 for a fancy food journal, download dozens of not-free tracker apps for your smartphone, buy a high-tech armband that records your calorie burn, or even wait for one biotech company's "smart shirt" (it automatically measures and records your heart rate) to go public. But why?

The researchers who led the weight loss study say jotting a few words on a sticky note, or sending yourself an e-mail or text message about what you ate for lunch or how long you walked, works perfectly well. Tracking works by making you aware of what you're really doing, by holding you accountable, and by giving you a psychic pat on the back when you're doing the right thing (and a kick in the pants when you're not).

New research suggests that some basic do's and don'ts can make it work better -- even if you're not the "dear diary" type:

  • Be honest. Go ahead, write down that embarrassing cookie binge or the fact that you skipped your walk to watch the Yankees game. Tracking can reveal danger zones in your day and help you make U-turns (we call them YOU-turns) when you slip up (and you will).

  • Keep it simple. People who switched from detailed food-and-exercise diaries to simple lists where they just checked off the size of their meals and the minutes they worked out lost just as much weight as those who wrote reams.

  • Choose your medium. Paper? Computer? Tablet? Choose your fave format. In one study of dieters, those who got to pick their own system were 50% more likely to record their food and twice as likely to record their exercise as those who were told which format to use.

  • Snap a picture. Using your cell phone to photograph a meal before you dig in may work even better than writing down what you ate, a Wisconsin study suggests. Send the photo to a supportive buddy who knows your goals and weaknesses -- or even to yourself: Just pausing to look at the pic can be enough to make you shove aside the fries and eat every leaf of the salad.

  • Know what your entries really mean. People who got the most benefits from asthma and diabetes journals were the ones who could interpret their daily numbers. For asthma, that meant knowing when lung-function test results were good, needed improvement, or meant a problem was brewing. Ditto for blood sugar. Work with your doc to identify your personal "sweet spot," and know what to do if your daily tests are off the mark.

See, it's the little things -- dropping $2 on a notepad and pen rather than blowing 200 times that on a new piece of gym equipment or delivered diet meals -- that can make your personal success story as amazing as GM's turnaround.

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