Tracking what you eat could help you lose weight

In a new study, researchers found overweight people who tracked daily food eating using a free smartphone app lost a big amount of weight.

These people could lose weight without following a particular diet or using expensive in-person interventions.

The research was conducted by a team from Duke University.

Free and low-cost weight loss apps have changed the ways that Americans manage their weight.

However, little was known about whether these tools worked very well on their own.

In the study, the team used a free app where dieters can record their food intake and weight.

They then divided the 105 study participants, who were between 21 and 65 years old, into three groups.

Participants were not instructed to follow a particular diet, but instead were given broad advice on healthy eating and were asked to simply monitor what they ate.

The first group tracked what they ate every day for three months. A second group tracked their weight for a month, then began logging food intake as well.

That group also received emails with tailored feedback, weekly lessons on nutrition and behavior change, and action plans describing how to implement the weekly lesson.

The third group recorded both their weight and food intake for all three months, using the same app as the first two groups. They also received weekly lessons, action plans, and feedback.

For instance, weekly nutrition lessons included tips on topics such as reducing sugary foods and portion control.

The team found three months after the study began, participants in all three groups had lost clinically significant amounts of weight.

Those who only tracked what they ate lost about 5 pounds on average. People in the second group lost about 6 pounds on average.

The final group — those who recorded their weight and their food intake for all 12 weeks, and received weekly lessons, action plans and feedback — fared only slightly better at 3 months, losing just over 6 pounds on average.

However, participants in that group kept the weight off longer. At six months, people in the third group had lost nearly 7 pounds on average.

The researchers say compliance was key. Successful participants didn’t just say they would keep a food log; they actually did it.

And in all three groups, those who were most diligent in tracking each day lost the most weight.

The team suggests two factors helped participants follow through on their weight-loss goals.

First, researchers helped participants set specific goals, including tailored calorie targets, and losing 5% of their initial body weight.

Second, the dieters received automatic in-app reminders to log their meals each day.

The results suggest a possible low-cost route to effective weight loss. Not everyone wants or has time for a high-intensity weight-loss treatment, and digital health approaches have the potential to fill this need.

The lead author of the study is Gary Bennett, a Duke psychology professor.

The study is published in the open-access journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

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