Lots of people go on diets, but only a fraction of them are successful.

Why is it that some dieters meet their goals while others don’t shed any pounds—or shed them and then gain them back almost immediately?

Researchers recently analyzed dieters over the course of one year—and then they looked at who lost the most weight and which strategies those people had in common.

It turned out that the people who whittled their waistlines most shared three particular tactics.

And, I must say, they’re very simple!


The three tricks were…

  1. Keep a food journal.
  2. Don’t skip meals.
  3. Avoid eating out.

Curious to know why these three methods worked best, I called the study’s senior author, Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a research professor at the University of Washington Schools of Public Health and Medicine, both in Seattle.

First, she explained how the diet in the study worked. Participants (who were all overweight) were instructed to eat between 1,200 and 2,000 calories a day. They were given a “food journal” in which they were told to record their daily eating habits, and they were also asked at the end of the study to fill out a 120-item questionnaire about how well they stuck to their diet. After analyzing the food journals, the questionnaires and how much weight each person lost, the researchers discovered the three shared strategies of the most successful dieters.

Let’s learn more about each one…


Dieters who used the food journals lost, on average, six pounds more than those who did not. Why does keeping a journal help? Dr. McTiernan said, “It’s about accountability—knowing exactly how much you’re eating.” In other words, it’s harder to fool yourself into thinking that you’re making healthy choices when you have to write it all down.

To keep an effective food journal, Dr. McTiernan said to record everything you eat and the calorie content of the foods. That includes side dishes, toppings and second helpings! It includes eating out, too. If you don’t know the calorie content of a dish, look it up online. (Many restaurants post nutritional information on their Web sites or you can use www.CalorieKing.com). Whether you use a notebook or a smartphone app (such as Lose It! by FitNow), make sure that you record your food either during the meal or immediately after, so you don’t forget. By looking at the journal at the end of the day, you’ll know whether you’re under or over your daily calorie limit. (Your daily calorie limit depends on your age, height, weight and gender and how much weight you want to lose—to get a ballpark idea, click here, and for an exact amount, talk to your doctor.)


It’s tempting to skip a meal now and then, but ironically, the practice often leads to weight gain, not weight loss. The reason, Dr. McTiernan said, is that skipping a meal may make you so hungry that you’ll overeat during your next meal. In the study, women who didn’t skip meals lost, on average, about eight more pounds than women who did.


Nearly everyone eats out now and then, but the research showed that the less you do it, the easier it is to lose weight. For example, participants who ate out for lunch less often than once a week lost, on average, five more pounds than those who ate out for lunch at least once a week.

Dr. McTiernan said the figures show that it’s much easier for dieters to go off track at a restaurant, where high-calorie dishes may be irresistible. It’s also harder to know how those dishes are cooked, so unless the restaurant posts the calories on the menu or online, it’s more difficult to know exactly how caloric the meal is. Plus, portions are usually much larger at a restaurant than what you’d serve yourself at home. So eat under your own roof—or eat food you’ve brought from home—except on special occasions!