Why finance or publish nutrition studies that have little to do with real life?


I'm honestly not trying to be the average, but that was the thought that passed from my mind when I read the recently published study, Log Frequently, Lose More: Electronic Dietetic Self-Monitoring for Weight Loss intended to investigate the relationship between food use diary and weight loss.

Do not get me wrong, I'm a huge supporter of using a food diary. Whether you are watching calories, carbohydrates, macros or anything else, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that monitoring helps maintain new behaviors, but is that what this study showed?

Well showed that those who keep a food diary and use more often had a greater weight loss during 24 weeks of behavioral weight loss intervention.

Well, what's my problem?

I have two (well, two related to this study, quite a lot altogether).

The first is that the feed tracker used was a network and not an app smartphone. It's a minor problem, but nonetheless, food-based app diaries are the rule, why not use them? Since we have our phones wherever we go, but not our desktops and laptops, this can make a real difference in the percentage of people using them (and yes, I realize there are Internet browsers on phones but this is not the same).

I guess the reason why a smartphone application was not used is that using one would not give the researchers the minutes spent by the users they watched, which leads me to my second and most important concern.

Obviously, in the first month, successful users (those who eventually lost more than 5% of their presentable weights) seemed to use this web-based food diary 23-24 minutes a day. And although some of them are probably a consequence of the learning curve, by the 6th month they still received 15-16 minutes effort to record daily meals and snacks.

These are extremely high numbers. Having done once every three years without losing the use of a day, first an online and then a food-based app, I can tell you that it should soon take more than 2-3 minutes to monitor. The learning curve is a maximum of 2-3 weeks, and beyond that, useful food diaries keep track of the meals and snacks you have entered, so that they can be re-introduced with a simple click.

Or so it must be.

This means that the users of this study either taught the least effective means in the world to maintain a food journal, or the web interface used was just horrible (or both).

Either way, I'm not sure the results of this study are very helpful. Because I am definitely a believer when it comes to the benefits of using food diaries, it seems to me that what this study really counts are the results of people so busy trying to change their behavior, annoying their place a terrible and time consuming diary food for 6 months.

[for some expanded thoughts from me on keeping a food diary, here’s a piece I wrote for Greatist a number of years ago, and for full disclosure, I’m currently closing in on beta-testing our office’s own food diary and behaviour change smartphone app]

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