Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute – dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and you can follow him @YoniFreedhoff. His latest book, The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work, will be published by Random House in March.
What if I told you that in just two minutes a day you can double your weight loss success? And, rest assured, those two minutes won't be spent busting out painful sweat while a trainer yells at you, or over a hot stove cooking a gourmet vegan meal.
Instead, spend those two minutes keeping track of what you're eating by tapping on a smartphone or scribbling in a journal. Studies have shown that the amount of weight you're liable to lose in a weight-loss program will be double that if you undertook that same effort, but didn't keep a food diary.
No, food diarizing isn't exactly sexy, and no, it probably can't be fairly described as a whole hoot of fun, but it sure is easy these days.
Back in 2004 when I started working with patients on weight management there were no smartphones and diaries were just that – paper diaries that required a person to not only jot down what they were eating, but also to spend real time flipping through other books that provided calorie listings.
Nowadays we've got it easy. There's a wealth of apps that do all the heavy lifting for us and not having missed a day of food diarizing since May 7, 2011, I can tell you, two minutes a day might even be an exaggeration of the actual time and effort required in keeping one.
While food diaries don't cause you to burn calories directly, they do play three crucial roles:
Firstly food diaries give you some sense of where you're at. Thinking of calories as the currency of weight (or frankly whatever else you might want to track – points, carbs, etc.,) keeping a careful accounting of your spending will help you with their budgeting. It's important here to note that it's not about never spending your calories, but rather using your records to pick and choose which ones are truly worth it. Why waste your calories on foods you don't adore?
Secondly food diaries become fabulous investigational tools. By tracking patterns of hunger, cravings or food intolerances, patterns can appear and then instead of focusing on trying to deal with the downstream problem of trying to will yourself away from the cookies, you can instead focus on those cookie craving's upstream cause to nip them in the bud. Giving you an example from my life, I've learned that if I have a breakfast without at least 20gr of protein I have much more difficulty with food cravings at night. By ensuring my breakfasts are well organized I don't need to battle with my dietary demons at night.
Thirdly food diaries are what habits are made of. Behaviour change is difficult and habit formation is lengthy. Forget about that nonsense of three weeks to form a habit, scientific studies would suggest that even the simplest of singular habits can take months or even years to establish. (For instance, one study aimed to measure the time it takes to develop the habit of drinking a daily glass of water which took some participants over eight months to master.)
No doubt improving one's lifestyle is rarely simple and usually encompasses dozens of small changes. What's truly required for new behaviours to become new habits is the act of consciously reminding yourself of those behaviours you're hoping to change, and each and every time you tap a food into your food diary that's precisely what you'll be doing.
At the beginning, keeping a food diary might take as many as 10 minutes a day, however as you build up your personal foodscape's database, the time required shrinks dramatically.
If weight's your concern – or even if you're simply looking to improve the healthfulness of your diet – don't worry about how many hours you'll need to spend exercising every week. Prioritize the mere moments you'll need to spend diarizing each day as two minutes of daily effort for double the weight loss – well that's an exceedingly fair price to pay.