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Tracking food intake irritating, but can lead to weight loss

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From an actual email exchange with Times staff writer Irene Maher, after I edited her cover story today on Weight Watchers' 50th anniversary:

Me: I'm thinking of writing a column about Weight Watchers and how much I generally love it but HATE tracking. Is that too cranky of me?

Irene: Man up! Tracking is the reason it works! I swear by it, even without WW telling me to do it.

Me: I know! Why do I resist it so?

Irene: (silence)

I don't remember exactly how old I was the first time I went to Weight Watchers. But to give you an idea, my mother brought me along with her, probably in an effort to bond with her surly (and chubby) adolescent daughter.

And we did bond — over our mutual dislike of tracking our food intake, a primary pillar of Weight Watchers and most weight loss programs.

Since then, I've gone back numerous times, and even achieved the coveted Lifetime status. But I've been successful only when I've tracked.

Right now, I'm in antitracking mode, and the scale shows the result: 10 pounds over my goal weight.

I know exactly what I must do.

Yet, as I whined electronically to Irene, I resist.

Do you remember when people used to talk about getting in touch with their inner child?

What I have is an inner brat (a.k.a. I.B.).

I.B. wants what she wants, when she wants it, and she doesn't want to be confronted with evidence in the form of a food diary.

And like any other crafty kid, I.B. does not respond well to harsh discipline. Especially now that I'm back in school, facing exams, and you know how kids feel about that.

I.B. does, however reluctantly, respect the need to slim down when favorite jeans are getting snug, which is where we are now.

Since we're in student mode, I thought information might be persuasive, so I dug around for evidence that tracking works:

• From a 2012 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Women who consistently filled out the food journals lost about 6 pounds more than those who didn't.''

• A 2008 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that dieters who kept food records six days a week lost about twice as much weight as those who kept a journal one day a week or less.

• And my favorite, from a WebMD article: Sherrie Delinsky, a staff psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, says her clients "often reconsider eating something because of not wanting to write it down.''

Did I mention that I.B. is also really lazy? Maybe that's why that last one resonates with me.

It doesn't seem to matter whether you keep your diary in a fancy journal, or in your smart phone, or on the back of a napkin, although I'll bet you do better if it's not a napkin from a doughnut shop. And if you want to look back on your diary to uncover clues about when and why you eat, you might aim for something you can keep organized.

Tracking is a useful tool for other disciplines too. My husband has never needed to lose a pound, but he has been needing to lose his smoking habit. Tracking, he tells me, has helped. He signed up for the Florida Quit Line (tobaccofreeflorida.com), and hasn't had a cigarette in nearly seven weeks.

By tracking his nicotine cravings, he can see how they've declined over time. Plus, he gets these nifty bits of encouragement, like how much money he's saving — and how much longer he's living — by not smoking.

Seems to me tracking might work not just for losing bad habits, but taking on good ones, such as exercise or meditation.

If you're an experienced tracker — especially one with an I.B. of your own — let me know whether you've found any helpful tips you'd like to share. I'll report back in a few weeks and let you know how it's going.

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Tracking food intake irritating, but can lead to weight loss

03/22/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 5:43pm]

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