Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
Q: Every diet I try requires that I keep a food diary. Is this really necessary? Why?
— Linda Cook, Eugene, Oregon
A: No, it's not necessary, but it's one of the few dieting techniques that research has actually proved can work.
Our memories tend to be selective, omitting the midafternoon candy bar or ice cream cone or the spoonful—or three—of batter we tasted while baking cookies. If this is the case for you, only by writing down every single thing that crosses your lips will you be able to get a handle on how many calories you're taking in. The tactic of keeping track goes beyond what you eat: Studies indicate that people who weigh themselves daily or weekly are more successful at losing and keeping off pounds; the same is true when people count steps with a pedometer, aiming for the daily 12,000 often recommended for weight loss. But self-monitoring is a tool, not a requirement. If you can readily maintain healthful eating habits, keeping a log may be an extra burden you don't need. Ultimately, you're the only true expert on advice that works for you.