Impact of Self Monitoring

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“Self-monitoring is the centerpiece of behavioral weight loss intervention programs” – Journal of the American Dietetic Association

My wife is a registered dietitian and receives the Journal of the American Dietetic Association each month. Usually, I don’t pay much attention to these journals when they come. I have a background in Statistics so every once in a while I open it up to see what interesting research has been done and see what kind of analysis they did. The January 2011 edition, however, had a cover that caught my eye. The featured article was titled Self Monitoring in Weight Loss: A Systematic Review of the Literature. I have to admit, I am not trying to lose weight, but I have been interested in being more healthy and I have been participating in the Thintopia Healthy Living Challenge, so I decided to open up the journal and read this article. What I found was surprising.

A group of 3 people, Lora E. Burke, PhD, MPH; Jing Wang, PhD, MPH, RN; and Mary Ann Sevick, ScD, RN, worked together to compile 22 independent studies with samples ranging in size from 21 people to 3,003 people. Overall the studies included nearly 10,000 participants. The demographics of these studies strongly leaned toward including more white women than any other group. Of the 22 independent studies, 15 focused on dietary self monitoring, one on exercise self monitoring and six on self-weighing. All of the studies were done in the United States from 1989 to 2009. Without going into too much more detail of the background of all of the studies I will get straight to the results.

Self-Monitoring Dietary Intake

The results are what I found surprising. I quote, “All of the 15 studies that focused on dietary self-monitoring found significant associations between self-monitoring and weigh loss.” Did you get that? ALL of the studies found associations between recording what you eat and weight loss. Eight of the studies were paper diaries only and the others were variations of paper and/or electronic diaries. So basically it doesn’t matter how you record what you eat but that you record what you eat. One of the studies actually did a comparison with paper diaries, PDA diaries and internet based diaries and they found no difference among the groups. They did find that the group with the PDA diaries were more adherent to self-monitoring, but it didn’t affect the weight loss overall.

Self-Monitoring Physical Activity

There is only one study that specifically tied self-monitoring of physical activity to weight loss. Four others were reviewed, but in those the change in weight was not recorded. Here is the quote from the article. “The findings revealed that consistent self-monitoring of exercise not only achieved significantly greater weight loss but also experienced fewer difficulties with exercise and exercised more often.” Wow! Again, there is something that will help lose weight and will help keep a consistent exercise program. This is an area that I am going to improve in.

Self-Monitoring Weight

How often do you weigh yourself? Daily? Weekly? Sporadically? Now, do you actually record that weight so you can see trends and histories? That, I think is the trick here. I think plenty of people weigh themselves regularly, but the extra step of writing it down has more effect on the mind. In the six studies done in this area the frequency of self-weighing was one factor evaluated. From the article, “The study showed that greater weight loss was associated with increased frequency of self-weighing, especially among those who self-weighed at least weekly.” So basically, if you want self-weighing to make a difference you should record you weight at least weekly. Thintopia competitions by default have weekly weighin, so if you aren’t in a competition, join one today!


The article included some information on what kind of tools were used in these studies besides the good old trusty pencil and paper. Some of the tools aren’t around any more, but a couple that I found that are still on the market are Calorie King, Diet Mate Pro (which looks outdated, but Diet Master Pro looked a little more up to date). There are some pretty serious systems there, but there are also some reasonable priced software that could be useful to some people.


What I learned from all of this is that self-monitoring works!! I read this article right in the middle of the first week of the Thintopia Healthy Living Challenge, where the first goal was to record everything that you ate for the week. I tried that and was very meticulous for the first 4 days or so, but was not as detailed and committed by the end of the week. The goal continues this week to record everything we eat as well as find our limiting beliefs about our health. I think that as we record what we eat this week while focusing on pinpointing our weaknesses, we can really make some improvements in our diets to more healthy living. And THAT is the whole point of the challenge. Anyway, good luck to you all and your goals and I hope you found this article review helpful.

About Me

My name is Danny and I am a new contributor to the Thintopia Blog. I have actually been involved off and on with Thintopia from the very start and am starting to participate more regularly. I hope to do some more research on healthy living and post in the future. Tell me what you think of this post in the future and what other kinds of research you would like to see.

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6 Responses to “Impact of Self Monitoring”

  1. Amy said:

    Jan 14, 11 at 7:25 am

    Very interesting! I am going to try it!

  2. Taylor E. said:

    Jan 14, 11 at 9:49 am

    This is good to know. It seems very consistent with my thoughts on recording my runs as I train for races. I tend to post my stuff on facebook because it helps me feel motivated. I know that my friends are watching. And it gives me a little extra motivation when I’m in the middle of a hard run. The next step I’d like to do is get a group of friends on a google doc or on facebook group where we each record our workout goals and our workout results. That way, we become accountable to each other. I think that the success of self monitoring has much to do with self accountability. And I would imagine that accountability to a small, responsive, and supportive group (even if on line) would produce similar results. Great stuff Danny.

  3. Danny said:

    Jan 14, 11 at 7:26 pm

    Taylor, I would be interested in joining your group when you get it going. I have been telling myself that I should start running again, but I just don’t have the motivation to get myself out there and do it. One problem is I play basketball three times/week and running would have to replace that, and I like playing basketball more than running. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Monitoring Software said:

    Jan 14, 11 at 9:33 pm

    Just to let you know that I have subscribed to your RSS feed.

  5. Darcy King said:

    Jan 15, 11 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks for the insite. It is very timely as I am recovering from the holiday munchies.

  6. the fast diet said:

    Nov 19, 11 at 8:23 pm

    the fast diet…

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