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While away from home, it can be harder than ever for clients to stick to the healthy eating goals of their weight loss program. One way fitness professionals can help people stay on track is to suggest dietary self-monitoring throughout the day. This simple practice has been shown to help weight loss clients be more successful in reaching both short- and long-term goals—and recent research shows it may not be as time-consuming as people think.

A team led by Jean Harvey, PhD, RD, of The University of Vermont tasked 142 adults with recording their daily dietary intake for 24 weeks, using an online food tracker program.


At the start of the study, participants were spending an average of 23.2 minutes per day recording their intake, but by month 6 it was taking them only 14.6 minutes—and the reduction in time had no significant effect on their weight loss results. As you might expect, those who logged on more often—at least two or three times per day—lost more weight, and those who skipped the process entirely never lost more than 5% of their baseline weight.

But clients need not be so high-tech to reap the benefits of food tracking, says Emily Bailey, RD, CSSD, LD, NASM-CPT, a certified wellness, sports and intuitive eating dietitian based in Columbus, Ohio. “I typically recommend using the good ol’ pen-to-paper [method] or the Notes app on your phone, versus dealing with the learning curve of an app,” she says. “I also suggest recording hunger/satiety, energy, mood, etc., along with food type and portion.” Tracking internal cues as well as calories and macros raises self-awareness, which is key to success.

Bailey adds that the goal should not be to restrict oneself on vacation (or at any time, for that matter). “Indulging is part of healthy eating,” she says. “I use the 80/20 guideline: 80% of the time, choose foods that are high in nutrients, and 20% of the time, choose foods that feed your soul. There are 21 meals in a week. This equals approximately four meals to allow indulgence and let life happen.”