Why Keep Diet and Exercise Records?

As you probably already know, calories count when it comes to weight loss, gain, or maintenance. If we eat more calories than we burn, then we gain weight. For those of us struggling to lose extra body weight or maintain weight loss, it is critical that we have an understanding of how to manage our calories so that we meet our short-term and long-term weight goals.

Two out of every three people living in the United States are either overweight or obese. We have to do whatever we can to correct this overconsumption of calories, and generally get people back on the right eating track! This might mean eating smaller sized portions, eating different types of foods, and/or increasing physical activity. The choice is yours. Food diaries, such as MyNetDiary will do the calculations for you, so you can focus on the bottom line - calories.

Online Diet and Exercise Diaries

Keeping a diet record helps you become more mindful of what you are eating, how much you are eating, and whether or not you are meeting calorie and nutrient goals. Before nutritional analysis software programs existed, only dietitians or those with the patience of a saint were likely to perform manual calculations of calorie and nutrient intake. I remember reading those charts with my eyes feeling like they were going to cross; and without a ruler, it was almost impossible not to jump rows and record incorrect data. Well, those days are long gone, and now we have online calorie counters to do the tedious work for us.

Online food diaries, such as MyNetDiary, help you think about the type of food you are eating and how it is prepared. The fact that you have to choose one particular food item over another encourages you to become more aware of calorie differences between foods prepared in different ways. For example, there is a difference in the number of calories in 3 oz of skinless roasted chicken breast (140 calories) and roasted chicken breast with skin (168 calories). The calorie difference comes from the higher amount of fat contained in the skin and just beneath the skin. Recording foods directly into an online calorie counter helps you see the immediate benefit of choosing to eat the skinless chicken. There is a saving of 28 calories and 4 grams of total fat (of which 2 grams are saturated fat). This might not seem like a big difference, but over time, these extra calories add up. It is similar to what happens when you don't fix a leaky faucet. That slow drip over time means a higher water bill.

Another benefit of using an online diet diary is the fact that you have to enter the amount of food or drink consumed. This makes you aware of the portion size. If I enter "banana" as my food item, and then enter the "amount consumed," I see that there are various portion sizes to select from. This information also serves to educate me: a small banana measures 6 - 7 inches and contains 90 Calories whereas a large banana is 8 - 9 inches and contains 121 Calories. This type of information helps us make more informed choices about portion size for future meals. The calorie difference between portion sizes becomes striking when high calorie (usually high fat) foods or beverages are involved (e.g. French fries or baby back ribs).

A particularly important benefit of using an online diet and exercise tracker is the ability to track calorie balance over the course of the day as well as over weeks, months, and years. I find this very effective for weight loss, since the model for food intake changes from the "restrictive eating" to the choice-based "calorie budget" approach. This is very much like a money budget. Even if one is on a budget, there are times when a person will want to buy new clothing for a wedding or perhaps take the family out to the movies. These expenditures may not be necessary, but buying these things can be perceived as improving one's quality of life. Same is for the person who is trying to lose weight but loves certain high calorie foods. It is possible to lose weight and still occasionally eat birthday cake, ribs, French fries, or a Philly cheese steak. I have done it myself. Sometimes I simply reduce the portion size of these high calorie items. Other times, I will eat the full portion. In any case, I adjust my calorie intake and/or physical activity to help stay within my calorie budget. I might do this the day of the high calorie meal or I might adjust the intake the day before and/or day after. After all, it is calorie balance over time that ultimately affects whether or not you lose, gain, or maintain weight.

What to Look for in a Food Diary

Not all online calorie and activity trackers are the same. Look for one that is easy to use, allows customization, has a large database, can be easily accessed, and gives members a way to connect or communicate with other members. There are many online calorie counters to choose from, but not all applications have these important features. I have been using nutritional analysis systems since the mid-1980s and I'm picky. I won't give up accuracy for simplicity.

One reason why I write for MyNetDiary is that I think it is an excellent web-based diet and exercise program. The features that I find extremely useful are:
  1. No manual upgrades
    Users do not have to manually download or upgrade the system or food database. This is a big deal. I won't bore you with how many hours in the past 20 years I have spent on database upgrades and have lost customized data. I look forward never to performing a manual upgrade again.
  2. Food database is huge and is growing regularly
    New foods are added to the database regularly so that it grows and its new information is immediately available to all users. Without a large database, you will either have a less accurate calorie intake assessment or you will have to spend a lot more time entering your own customized foods. Currently, this database has more than 835,000 items.
  3. Accessibility
    In addition to being accessible from any computer with internet access, smartphones (iPhone and Blackberry) can now access the program. It is not easy to find a program with a large database that also has smartphone access.
  4. Community forum
    This is where members can write blogs, create group teams, get technical and nutrition-related questions answered, and read nutrition articles. Forums help members get support, ideas, and be connected with other members who are also trying to reach similar goals.
  5. Less typing
    Entering food and portion size is easy and requires minimal typing. The program starts searching the food database as soon as you start typing a search word, remembers previously chosen food or portion size, and uses the abbreviated search word on the diet intake screen but prints the full food name on all reports.
  6. Option to add new foods and recipes
    You can enter a new food item or recipe right in the middle of entering a day's diet. This saves a lot of time since it is a 1-step process. I have worked with many systems where adding a new food item or recipe was a multiple-step process. This is much easier.

Research Supports Record Keeping

The connection between recording intake and weight loss is supported by research. One recent example is the study spearheaded by Jack Hollis, Ph.D., of Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research in collaboration with multiple research universities. In Phase 1 of their study, two key behaviors were most strongly related to weight loss: diet records and physical activity. That is, more food records kept per week and more minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week were both associated with greater weight loss. Interestingly, both of these strategies for weight loss were particularly effective in men, although women and men all lost weight.

Other Helpful Behaviors

The National Weight Control Registry is a website that allows members to report how they lost weight and how they have continued to keep the weight off. Anyone who has lost 30 lbs or more and has kept off at least 30 lbs for 1 year is eligible to become a registered member. Key behaviors associated with weight loss and maintenance of weight loss in this group include:

  • Modified food intake: lower calorie intake, lower fat intake
  • An average of 1-hour of daily exercise, with walking being most common
  • Consumption of breakfast
  • Body weight measured at least weekly
  • Less than 10 hours of TV viewing weekly

Reading About Behavior Change

If you would like a good book on making changes in your life, then I recommend James Prochaska, Ph.D.'s Changing for Good. Prochaska's theory of behavior change is used by many health care providers to help patients change harmful behaviors (such as smoking). This book is for the consumer, not for the professional.


It is my hope that you, the reader, will enjoy a new freedom in your approach to food intake and to physical activity in order to meet your weight goals. I believe that using an online diet and activity program will help you make informed choices that are not based on guilt or restrictive eating, but that are based on rational decision-making. When choices are based on this model, you become free to enjoy eating once again while still being able to meet your weight goals.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE
Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.

This article can be found at http://www.mynetdiary.com/diet-and-exercise-journal.html