App For Fat Update: Why Bother?

Before we get to the next stage of how the app “contestants” are doing–I find I have some pretty strict or maybe quirky standards for what works and what doesn’t–maybe I should talk about why you should even think about tracking your food intake.

Reasons not to are pretty obvious:

  • It takes a lot of time to search for foods, enter them, figure out serving size, add time of day, etc. etc. And who has time these days?
  • Tracking every morsel going into your mouth can be pretty intimidating. Even if no one else is going to see it, you walk around blushing and mortified after your third Twinkie.
  • It’s boring. First day, maybe fun, but after that, really, really, really boring.

But there are real benefits to tracking and the research is convincing:

  • Tracking your food intake makes much more tangible how you really eat. Maybe you know that you ate three brats at Brat Fest (oh, aren’t we supposed to boycott that this year?) but when it’s in print or at least in font, you can see it right there in front of you. Brian Wansink, one of the key researchers on behavioral eating, has shown that when two groups are given platters of chicken wings, a food that leaves evidence behind, the group whose bony carcasses are left on the table eat fewer total wings than the group whose remains are briskly removed. Food diaries help give you that visual.
  • And that visualization makes eating more naturally “mindful.” You might easily forget the mound of croutons on the salad once they’re gone and, thus, order that salad the same way again, even if you know how fatty coutons can be. But if you’ve tracked it, you will really stop and think about the effect on the total nutrition, calorie, point, or whatever those croutons have, internalize that knowledge and find it easier to remember to skip them next time.
  • People who are trying to lose weight lose more when they track their food. In 2008, Kaiser Permanente followed 1685 adults, men and women, for 20 weeks. They encouraged them to follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and requested but didn’t demand that food diaries be kept. At the end of the 20 weeks, all participants had lost weight. But those who didn’t keep a food diary lost an average of 9 lbs. The participants who tracked their food? On average, they lost twice as much–18 lbs. And government studies of people who lost weight and kept it off (there’s an ongoing tracking database for this–more about that in another post) indicate that one of the factors the “maintainers” gave for their success was continued food tracking.

Boring, yes. Productive, afraid so. In theory, the apps should make it easier to do but do they? That’s what I’m finding out, so more next time on how the contenders are doing.

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