Frequency, not accuracy, is key to calorie-tracking

Photo: AndreyPopov (iStock)

It’s March 1, so your New Year’s resolutions are now two-months old. How are they going so far (assuming that you have any left)? For many of us, weight loss is a perennial resolution, the kind of thing that will likely keep me a Weight Watchers member for all eternity. I like having my pre- and post-pregnancy weights available online in graph form, and my current fitness efforts have me dropping down to the weight I was four years ago (another five-pound loss will get me to 2011 levels).

But I also appreciate the WW app’s capability to track my food. When I was a teen, I had a well-worn calorie counter and a tiny notebook where I dutifully wrote down each apple and peanut butter snack. My paper-tracking methods are long-gone, but I like being able too track my food in this manner, even on days when I may not be eating the healthiest,. Having it all listed out in black-and-white makes my diet seem less formidable.

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Turns out, I’m on to something, says Popular Science. It points to a new study in the Obesity journal, in which “The people who lost the most weight (shedding at least 10 percent of their body mass) were the people who logged the most frequently,” around three times a day. The study traced 142 participants logging into an online food tracking system for six months. Previous studies point out that it doesn’t matter if these dieters took detailed notes or just logged in random entries like “sandwich = 400 calories”: It was their tracking frequency that was the important part.

As a fellow non-detailed tracker, this makes sense. I find that the most dangerous food I consume during the day is the mindless stuff—free doughnut at work; extra, unnecessary piece of pizza—that obviously still affects my body, even if I forget it as soon as I consume it. Writing everything down makes me more mindful of those efforts. So it’s nice to know that those logs may be helping, even if I’m adding a 14-WW-point hot-fudge sundae. Another bonus is that if I don’t have a loss the next time I weigh myself, I can look at my log and remember, “Ohhhhhh, right. Hot fudge sundae.”

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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.