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Study: Self-monitoring diets not time-consuming, work best

By Tauren Dyson
The average study participant took just under 15 minutes each day writing down what they ate. Photo by bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock
The average study participant took just under 15 minutes each day writing down what they ate. Photo by bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

Feb. 25 (UPI) -- At a time when people use smart devices to track simple fitness goals, researchers say that approach may also help people lose weight.

For six months, participants recorded their calories and fat for all foods and drinks they consumed, along with how much they consumed and how they cooked it. The method is not that time consuming, and can help make a diet more successful, researchers report in a study published Monday in the journal Obesity.

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The perception is that it takes too much time and energy to record dietary intake, but the study shows this to be untrue. The average study participant took just under 15 minutes each day to track what they ate on a web-based system.

"People hate it; they think it's onerous and awful, but the question we had was: How much time does dietary self-monitoring really take?" Jean Harvey, who runs the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the University of Vermont and study lead author, said in a news release. "The answer is, not very much."

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For 24 weeks, researchers asked the 142 participants of the study to track their food and drink consumption using a web-based dietary analysis application. In addition to weight loss, the researchers monitored the amount of time each participant spent recording their dietary intake.

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The most successful patients lost about 10 percent of their body weight, self-monitoring an average of 23.2 minutes per day in the first month of the study. By the sixth month, however, that number dwindled down to 14.6 minutes.

The study, the researchers say, is the first to measure the time it takes to self-monitor food consumption to successfully lose weight.

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"Those who self-monitored three or more time per day, and were consistent day after day, were the most successful," Harvey said. "It seems to be the act of self-monitoring itself that makes the difference -- not the time spent or the details included."

Obesity is associated with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

According to a 2013 study, 18 percent of deaths among Americans between ages 40 and 85 are due to obesity.

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"We know people do better when they have the right expectations," Harvey said. "We've been able to tell them that they should exercise 200 minutes per week. But when we asked them to write down all their foods, we could never say how long it would take. Now we can."

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