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Keeping track of what you eat leads to weight loss

Without following a particular diet, overweight people who tracked daily food consumption using a free smartphone app lost significant weight in a new study. The researchers used a free app where dieters could record their food intake and weight. They then divided the 105 study participants, who were between the ages of 21 and 65, into three groups in a randomized controlled trial. Participants were not instructed to follow any particular diet, but instead were given broad advice about healthy eating and were asked to simply follow what they ate.

The first group tracked what they ate every day for three months. A second group tracked their weight for a month and then started tracking food intake as well. That group also received emails with tailored feedback, weekly classes on nutrition and behavior change, and action plans describing how to implement the weekly class.

The third group recorded their weight and food intake for all three months, using the same app as the first two groups. They also received weekly lessons, action plans and feedback. For example, weekly nutrition lessons contain tips on topics such as reducing sugary foods and portion control.

Three months after the start of the study, participants in all three groups had lost clinically significant amounts of weight. Those who only kept track of what they ate lost about 5 pounds on average. People in the second group lost about 6 pounds on average.

The last group — those who recorded their weight and food intake for all 12 weeks, and received weekly classes, action plans and feedback — only slightly improved at 3 months, losing just over 6 pounds on average. However, participants in that group maintained the weight for longer. After six months, people in the third group had lost an average of almost 7 pounds.

The key is compliance. In all three groups, those who were most docile at tracking—those who stepped on the scale or recorded what they ate on multiple days—lost the most weight.