In 2009 a group of researchers funded by the National Institute of Health published a study of a different approach to weight loss. They had assembled a group of 1600 obese people and asked them to concentrate on writing down everything they ate at least one day a week.
Af first it was difficult. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals or would snack and not track it. Over time, however, people started recording their meals once a week and sometimes, more often than that. Many participants started keeping a daily food log.
Eventually, it became a habit.
The indirect effect to tracking their food was that participants starting looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn’t know existed. Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about midmorning, so they began keeping a fruit like an apple or banana on their desks for a snack. Other started using their journals to plan future meals, and when dinner came around, they at the healthy meal they had written down earlier, rather than junk food left in the pantry.
The researchers never made these suggestions but they did it anyways. They simply asked everyone to write down what they ate once a week.
Food journaling created the foundation for other habits to flourish. Six months into the study people who kept daily food records had lost twice as much weight as everyone else.
There are many takeaways from this study we can use as coaches:
- Start small. It is much more attainable to track one day a week than to start tracking 7 days a week. Encourage your clients to do the same. Over time this will create an urge to track more as they begin to see the results.
- Habits build momentum. It started with tracking one day a week and led to healthier habits along the way. Don’t give your clients too much too fast. Start small. Celebrate those wins and keep the momentum going with other positive habits.
- No more guessing. Tracking creates a quantitative approach to weight loss. The ‘clean eating’ approach fails to track food which leaves many frustrated as it becomes very difficult to troubleshoot the exact reason an individual isn’t losing weight. Quantity trumps Quality when it comes to weight loss.
- It creates better awareness. When you start watching what you eat you begin to create awareness for food, meals, bad habits, etc. Participants were logging their dinner well before breakfast came around. This allowed them to make sure they weren’t going over a specific caloric intake throughout the day.
- Builds better planning. Meal prepping became a natural part of their diet. Bringing healthier meals at lunch made sense for the ‘just in case’ moments you had to work through lunch.