The Science Behind Self Monitoring

Experts have found that tracking what you do increases the likelihood of weight-loss success.
The Science Behind Self Monitoring

Self-Monitoring Predicts Weight-Loss Success
Experts in the field of weight loss have found that when self-monitoring is used on a regular basis, the likelihood of weight-loss success increases. 1 Not only has the ongoing recording of when and how much is eaten or how much exercise is performed been linked with losing weight, but it also has been associated with maintaining weight loss. 2,3,4 Self-monitoring increases the awareness of both eating and physical activity.

The Importance of Self-Monitoring
Looking at how early man managed to find food to avoid starvation provides an insight into why it's important to measure and track food intake in today's environment. In early times, man faced food scarcity and deprivation on a daily basis—and genetically evolved to take advantage of eating wherever food was available.

In present times, however, food is everywhere. This scenario has been described as an "obesigenic environment" (e.g., obesity-promoting environment) by researchers because our bodies are still programmed genetically to eat when food is available. Because it is unrealistic for most people to self-regulate food intake without paying any attention to what, when, and how much food is eaten, experts have focused on tools that create that awareness. 5 And while there is no magic number, studies show that keeping track of food intake about 75 percent of the time can boost weight-loss success. 6

The process of self-monitoring is more important than the specific tool used. While a paper diary has been used most often in studies of self-monitoring of dietary intake, checklists, software programs, websites, and tools for electronic devices also can be effective. 4

A Common Theme Among Losers and Maintainers
All in all, self-monitoring food intake, physical activity and body weight boosts weight loss and weight-loss maintenance. These strategies have been consistently cited as important by successful "losers" and maintainers. 7 These same people also report that, over time, making these strategies part of daily life becomes easier and requires less attention. 8

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The Weight Watchers Approach
Self-monitoring is integral to the Weight Watchers philosophy. Weight Watchers provides several useful tools to self-monitor food intake, the paper and digital,mobile Tracker for recording PointsPlus values, Good Health Guidelines and Activity PointsPlus values. In addition, the weekly weigh-in is an effective way to monitor weight-loss progress.

This content is reviewed regularly. Last updated November 12, 2012.


Other Science Library Topics:

Are You Ready: Introduction to Behavior Change

Mind Skills for Lasting Weight Loss

1O'Neil PM. Assessing dietary intake in the management of obesity. Obes. Res. 2001 Dec;9 Suppl 5:361S-366S.

2Elfhag K, Rossner S. Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain. Obes Rev. 2005 Feb;6(1):67-85.

3Hollis JF. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. Am J Prev Med. 2008 Aug;35(2):118-26.

4Burke LE, Wang J, Sevick MA. Self-monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literature. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Jan;111(1):92-102.

5Lowe MR. Self-regulation of energy intake in the prevention and treatment of obesity: is it feasible? Obes Res. 2003 Oct;11 Suppl:44S-59S.

6Boutelle KN, Kirschenbaum DS. Further support for consistent self-monitoring as a vital component of successful weight control. Obes Res. 1998 May;6(3):219-24.

7McGuire MT, Wing RR, Klem ML, Seagle HM, Hill JO. Long-term maintenance of weight loss: do people who lose weight through various weight loss methods use different behaviors to maintain their weight? Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 198 Jun;22(6):572-7.

8Klem ML, Wing RR, Lang W, McGuire MT, Hill JO. Does weight loss maintenance become easier over time? Obes Res. 2000 Sep;8(6):438-44.