- Dietary monitoring, or tracking what you eat, has been proven to help people lose weight, but many shy away from it because it seems too time-consuming.
- A 2019 study published in the journal Obesity finds that food tracking takes less than 15 minutes a day once you get the hang of it.
- You don’t need to go overboard on detail, either: Meticulously describing your intake didn’t yield better results—but more frequent check-ins did.
If your goal is to lose weight or eat healthier overall, food tracking—keeping tabs on what you eat and when—is a proven way accomplish those objectives. One study of nearly 1,700 participants back in 2008 found that keeping a food diary can double your weight loss when you’re trying to shed some unwanted pounds.
It works, but the problem is, using a food tracker (such as an app or a journal) is also viewed as a giant, time-consuming pain in the rear. So some folks don’t bother even trying.
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But the reality is that, once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t really take that much time at all—less than 15 minutes a day, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Obesity by researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of South Carolina.
“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?” said lead study author Jean Harvey, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the University of Vermont in a press release.
To answer that question, Harvey and her team evaluated the dietary monitoring habits of 142 men and women in an online behavioral weight control intervention. The volunteers met once a week for an online group session led by a dietitian and then logged their daily food intake online for 24 weeks.
When the researchers crunched the data, including how much time each participant spent logging their food and how often they logged in, they found that the most successful volunteers—those who dropped 10 percent of their body weight—spent an average of 23.2 minutes per day tracking their food during the first month. By the end of the study, after six months of tracking, they had gotten it down to just 14.6 minutes a day.
The best news, though, is that you don’t have to maniacally monitor every morsel you put in your mouth, or whip out a food scale: You just need to jot down what you’re eating when you eat it. The participants in the study who spent more time filling in a bunch of details did not get better results. Those who checked in frequently did.
“Those who self-monitored three or more time per day, and were consistent day after day, were the most successful,” Harvey said in the release. “It seems to be the act of self-monitoring itself that makes the difference–not the time spent or the details included.”
So if your goal is weight loss, or you’re simply trying to become more aware of the foods you eat, consider tracking your food intake using one of the many online dietary-monitoring apps like My Fitness Pal. “It’s highly effective, and it’s not as hard as people think,” Harvey said in the release.
Here are four food-tracking apps for smarter eating:
My Fitness Pal