Self-tracking is an effective way to change behaviors. That’s the result of a study conducted last year by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.
“The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost,” says Jack Hollis PhD, a researcher at KPCHR and lead author of the study published in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.
“Every day I hear patients say they can’t lose weight. This study shows that most people can lose weight if they have the right tools and support,” says Keith Bachman, MD, a Kaiser Permanente internist and weight management specialist. “Keeping a food diary doesn’t have to be a formal thing. Just the act of scribbling down what you eat on a Post-It note, sending yourself e-mails tallying each meal, or sending yourself a text message will suffice. It’s the process of reflecting on what we eat that helps us become aware of our habits, and hopefully change our behavior.”
The study concluded what proponents of self-tracking have known all along, namely, that monitoring your own actions creates a heightened self-awareness. Sure, fancy new iPhone apps where you track your weight or blood-sugar over time are cool, but self-tracking doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with technology.
Case in point, on my last visit to my mother’s place, I found a home blood pressure monitor and a piece of paper with scribbled numbers on it sitting on a table in the living room. She told me that she has been tracking her blood pressure every day for the past months, and writing the numbers in her notebook log. I had been tracking my running data for years using elaborate web programs, and complicated sensors. But suddenly I realized that self-tracking doesn’t have to be limited to the tech savvy or early adopters; a pen and a piece of paper will do the trick.