One major and possibly most important behavioral interventional strategy for weight management and lifestyle change is self-monitoring. Behavioral interventions are a central aspect in treatments to promote lifestyle changes that lead to weight-loss, prevent weight gain or weight regain and improve physical fitness. In the past, self-monitoring has unfortunately been one of the least popular techniques for those in weight management programs, and in some cases it is even thought of as a punishment. Because self-monitoring is critical for success with lifestyle changes, it is important to look at the various self monitoring techniques.
What is Self-monitoring?
Self-monitoring refers to the observing and recording of eating and exercise patterns, followed by feedback on the behaviors. The goal of self-monitoring is to increase self-awareness of target behaviors and outcomes, thus it can serve as an early warning system if problems are arising and can help track success. Some commonly used self-monitoring techniques include:
- Food diaries
- Regular self-weighing
- Exercise logs
- Equipment such as pedometers, accelerometers and metabolic devices
Food Logs and Diaries
One of the most common and important types of self-monitoring strategies in weight management programs is keeping a food log, in which individuals record foods, exercises or beverages as soon as they are consumed.
One important technique with food logs is individuals recording what they eat or drink as it is consumed; otherwise it may not give an accurate account of the day’s intake. A good “rule of thumb” for food logs is: “if you bite it, you write it!”
The minimum information for weight-loss that should be kept in food logs is type, amount and caloric content of food or beverage consumed. This provides the ability to track and balance the number of calories consumed throughout the day with the amount of calories expended throughout the day.
Other nutritional information that can be logged includes: time of day of eating, fat content and carbohydrate grams. Disease-specific food logs can also be kept. For example: focusing on carbohydrate content instead of calories for patients with diabetes or insulin resistance.
Another helpful tool in self-monitoring is keeping a food diary. Food diaries differ from food logs because they include more detailed information. They are useful if you are trying to find behavioral reasons or psychological aspects for eating.
Depending on the person and behavioral complexities involved, some food diaries could include the stress level, mood or feelings surrounding eating, activity or location or other environmental or emotional triggers for eating. The more complex or detailed, the better the feedback.