Food Tracker a Success?

Steve Lochner lost a lot of weight. He did it with the help of a food tracker app called “Lose It”. Lochner’s goal was to consume fewer than 2,500 calories a day, and he used a food tracker called “Lose It” to record everything he ate and drank for three years. The result? He lost 100 pounds.

A true success story. Right?

Maybe not.

I read about Lochner in a recent New York Times article that said people who record their food intake are more successful with weight loss than those who don’t. In fact, several studies show this to be true, and now a dozen food tracking apps are on the market.

But let’s take a closer look at Lochner’s “success”.

Lochner’s progress notes show that on July 25, 2012, after losing 60 pounds, he wasn’t able to stay away from summer cookouts. He became a binge eater, overindulging in hot dogs and ice cream goodies (for shame!), and gained back five pounds. On another day, he binged on peanut butter frozen yogurt (6 cups) and chocolate cake. This latter episode followed Lochner’s attempt to consume under 1,700 calories per day.

Yet another binge involved 11 slices of chocolate marble cake and five slices of cookie cake. For some odd reasons, Lochner wasn’t able to stick to his typical diet of chicken breasts, chia wraps, protein powder, eggs, and tuna. Hmm. I wonder why?

Regrettably, most people still don’t realize that dieting almost always leads to binge eating and weight gain – just as it did for Lochner, again and again. He continued to lose weight overall, but only because he restricted himself more and exercised even harder. His life was dominated by the process, so much so that he hung posters of the number “150” all around his home and office to remind himself of his goal to lose as many pounds.

In his efforts to consistently and accurately record his food intake, Lochner noted frustration when having to ask for measuring cups when eating at other people’s homes. While I commend him for wanting to be accurate, one has to wonder if it’s really worth it to be this tedious with food intake. But such is the life of the chronic dieter.

Some other things stood out for me in Lochner’s diary summary. For example, each time he gained back some weight (which was often) he “doubled” his exercise in order to mitigate the set-back. This approach was a little better than if he’d chosen to lower his caloric intake, because we know exercise has health benefits. But many people don’t have the time or motivation to double their exercise every time they regain a few pounds. Plus, if it became a pattern, it seems this approach would be never-ending cycle of MORE exercise and MORE caloric restriction every time Lochner consumed the number of calories his body really wanted (and deserved).

The take-home message from Lochner’s “success story” is this: you can lose weight on a rigid diet, but you’re likely to gain most of it back. When your diet is over and your defenses are down, you’re likely to binge on your favorite foods. Then you’ll feel as if you’ve failed, when in fact, it was the diet that failed.

Is this how you want to live?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat a healthier diet and improve your fitness level. In fact, we dietitians help people do that all the time. But you can easily do that without dieting or excessive exercise. Will you lose weight? Maybe, maybe not. But you’ll be a lot happier and a whole lot healthier.

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About the Author: Cindy Dallow