Self Monitoring for Weight Loss

Posted by Janine Wong MS, RD on October 29, 2012

The Starting Line:

What self-monitoring methods are available to help me lose weight?


Self monitoring is regularly recording your dietary intake, physical activity, and weight. Studies consistently show that overweight and obese people who self monitor will lose more weight than those who do not. While the optimal level of self monitoring has yet to be determined, increased frequency of self monitoring is associated with more weight loss (Burke, et al). In other words, the more frequently you record your food, exercise, and weight, the more weight you are likely to lose.


Food Diary:

A food diary is a record of what you ate and how much. There is a correlation between how thorough a food diary is and the amount of weight lost (Burke, et al). If you are not good at estimating portion size, then measuring cups and a food scale are necessary tools. Remember that snacks and beverages all count toward your calorie intake for the day. Tracking every bite will help you understand where your calories come from and how quickly little things add up. From there, you can determine the easiest place to cut back on calories. Remember, as an approximation, a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day will lead to 1 pound of weight loss per week.

There are a variety of ways to maintain a food diary. A traditional paper diary is an accessible option for anyone. Books such as CalorieKing Calorie, Fat, and Carbohydrate Counter by Allan Borushek can be used as a reference for the nutrition information of foods that do not come labeled. Alternatively, there are many smartphone apps and online food databases that make tracking your food easier. MyFitnessPal, Calorie Counter, and Daily Burn are free smartphone apps and websites. For a review of these tools, check out: EatRight RD reviews of Mobile Apps

Physical Activity Trackers:

Monitoring your physical activity poses some practical challenges, so it is almost always done with the assistance of a device. As with nutrition, self monitoring of exercise generally correlates to more frequent exercise and more weight loss (Burke, et al). Tracking your physical activity can also be a powerful motivator. Activity trackers comprise a hot new gadget category, and come in many types. For a review of some of the most popular new gadgets go to ABC News Review of the Best Fitness Gadgets.

If these devices are a little too pricy, basic pedometers have demonstrated good results in increasing daily physical activity. People who join pedometer-based walking programs, with a daily step goal in mind (two-thousand steps is about equal to a mile), usually increase their step counts during the program (Richardson, et al). The amount of increased physical activity from a pedometer-based walking program is enough to account for a modest amount of weight loss, so it is best to combine this strategy with dietary modification (Richardson, et al).

Weight Monitoring:

The National Weight Control Registry studies the behaviors of people who have been successful at losing weight and keeping it off. One of the recommended behaviors is regular self weighing. Scientific reviews indicate that weekly self weighing leads to more weight loss and a lower BMI (Burke, et al, and Raynor, et al). Many online food diaries and activity trackers also allow users to record their weight; and generate graphs so that you can visualize your progress. All measurements tend to be a little different, so the key is to weigh yourself on the same scale every time.

The Finish Line:

Weight loss efforts are reinforced by consistent and thorough self monitoring of diet, activity, and weight, with studies showing more often is better.



1. Burke, L.E., Wang, J., Sevick M. Self Monitoring in Weight Loss: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011; 111:92-102

2. Richardson, C.R., Netwton, T.L., Abraham J.L., Sen, A., Jimbo, M., Swartz A.M. A Meta Analysis of Pedometer-Based Walking Interventions and Weight Loss. Annals of Family Medicine. 2008;6:69-77

3. Raynor, H.A., Jeffery R.W., Ruggiero, A.M., Clark, J.M., Delahanty, L.M. Weight Loss Strategies Associated with BMI in Overweight Adults with Type 2 Diabetes at Entry Into the Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) Trial. Diabetes Care. 2008, 31:129-1304.

4. The National Weight Control Registry.

Photo Credit:koalazymonkey via photopin cc

*Note: This general information is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment or advice. Always consult a professional before making changes to your health and wellness practices. 

Feedback or suggestions for future topics? Let us know!