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Study of female dieters finds that food diaries help

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Dieters take note: Women who keep a food journal, don't skip meals and don't eat lunch at restaurants very often lose more weight than dieters who don't follow these practices, a new study shows.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center tracked the dieting habits of 123 overweight or obese post-menopausal women who followed a weight-loss program for a year.

At the end, they lost an average of 19 pounds, or about 11% of their starting weight. Most followed diets of about 1,200 to 2,000 calories a day. They were advised to keep a food journal of everything they ate.

"The more accountable you are, the better you are going to do at weight loss," says lead researcher Anne McTiernan, director of the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Prevention Center.

"A food journal is one of the easiest ways to keep track of what you are eating. If you write it down, it seems more real. If you don't, it's so easy to pretend to yourself that you didn't eat that much," she says.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian in New York City, agrees that food diaries promote weight loss. "It doesn't matter where you write it: a computer, a smart phone, a note pad, paper towels or toilet paper. If you write down what you eat, you will eat differently."

When people are asked to recall what they have eaten, "Many of my patients will say things like, 'I never eat snacks,' or 'I only had chicken for dinner,'" Taub-Dix says. But if they are honest with themselves, when they keep a journal they notice that they snack more than they realize and there was more on that plate than just chicken, she says.

McTiernan says people who skip meals may be more likely to grab high-calorie snacks and meals.

If you have to eat out a lot, then you have to get comfortable asking that food be prepared so it has fewer calories, she says.

Men could also try these behaviors to lose more weight, McTiernan says.

The study appears online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

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