How much self-monitoring for weight loss is enough?

By Anne Riker Garlington

Kelsey Arroyo
Kelsey Arroyo

Self-monitoring of dietary intake is a cornerstone of behavioral weight loss programs. Effective adherence has been associated with greater weight loss and successful long-term maintenance, but little evidence exists to guide how often participants should monitor their calories to reap those benefits.

A University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions team has published a new study, which helps to answer that question by identifying the frequency of self-monitoring that may be most successful for long-term weight management. Led by Kelsey Arroyo, M.S., a clinical psychology doctoral student, the study won the Editor’s Choice honor for the April 2024 issue of the journal Obesity.

The study was based on data from 75 adults with overweight or obesity participating in a three-month, internet-based weight loss program. The team explored various thresholds for dietary self-monitoring to promote weight loss maintenance. They found that self-monitoring at least three days a week may be helpful for long-term weight loss maintenance, but greater benefit could be observed when self-monitoring five to six days a week. 

In addition to Arroyo, the research team included Kathryn M. Ross, Ph.D., M.P.H., an associate professor in the PHHP department of clinical and health psychology and associate chair for research; UF alumna Chelsea Carpenter, Ph.D., M.P.H., a clinical program manager at Aktiia; and Rebecca Krukowski, Ph.D., a professor in the department of public health services at the University of Virginia.

Dr. Kathryn Ross headshot
Dr. Kathryn Ross

Recently, Arroyo and Ross answered questions about the study:

Question: What are the common misconceptions about self-monitoring weight loss and weight change after a behavioral weight management program?

Answer: A common misconception is that participants believe they no longer need to self-monitor their food and drinks after losing weight because they have reached their goals. However, continuing to self-monitor dietary intake is crucial for maintaining weight loss and preventing weight regain. While we’ve long known the importance of ongoing self-monitoring for weight management, there were no clear guidelines on the frequency required. This study suggests that self-monitoring adherence doesn’t need to be daily to be effective, which can reduce the burden and make significant weight loss goals more realistic and achievable.

Q: What is the key finding you’d want the public to know?

 A:  The main takeaway is that continued long-term self-monitoring of dietary intake supports both ongoing successful weight loss and weight maintenance. It may not be necessary to self-monitor every day; our findings suggest that self-monitoring three to four days per week can help maintain weight loss, while five to six days per week can support additional weight loss. 

Q: What could someone do for themselves or a family member to prevent weight regain?

A: To prevent weight regain, it’s important to continue using successful strategies from the initial weight loss phase, such as ongoing self-monitoring of caloric intake, weight and physical activity; setting realistic and measurable short-term goals; and engaging in regular physical activity. Behavior change with weight management programs promote sustainable lifestyle intervention changes rather than quick fixes, which helps avoid the cycle of weight loss and regain seen with many diet trends.

Remember, “progress not perfection” is a key motto for weight loss. Challenges and occasional setbacks are inevitable during a weight loss journey. The key to success is how we respond to these setbacks. Everyone slips, but what matters is how we get back up and move forward.

The results of this study should be interpreted with caution. Further research is needed to replicate these findings and investigate whether assigning individuals to these various self-monitoring thresholds improves rates of weight maintenance or loss.