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Prairie Fare: Food Diaries Can Promote Weight Loss

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
Keeping a food diary can be an eye-opening experience.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Mom, there’s only one piece of divinity candy left on the plate!” my 7-year-old daughter exclaimed. She looked at me a bit hopefully.

I picked up the canister where I was storing the rest of the almond-flavored, marshmallowlike homemade confections. When I opened it, all I found was a piece of waxed paper with pink spots where the candy used to be.

Thinking back, I had noticed my 15-year-old son in the kitchen several times that afternoon. I forgot to move the canister out of sight and out of mind. This was tempting candy.

“Go ahead and eat the last piece,” I said.

I could almost hear an imaginary violinist playing a mournful song for me as I gave up the melt-in-your-mouth treat.

“Are you sure? I can share it with you,” she said with the candy halfway in her mouth and interrupting my train of thought.

“Oh, I had enough treats during the holidays,” I replied.

In fact, I was thinking I should start the New Year by keeping a food diary for a few days. With several days of vacation to use during the holidays, I noticed how my eating habits were affected by the change of pace of being at home. I found it quite easy to make detours to our kitchen.

Keeping a food diary takes a little discipline but can be an eye-opening experience. People often eat much more than they realize.

All you need is a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Then you write down everything you eat, whether it includes M and M’s nabbed from a candy dish, crackers in front of the TV, a pizza sample at the grocery store or the taste-test of tonight’s stew.

Along with the type of food and the amount, write down where you were at the time you ate it and what your mood was. Were you really hungry or maybe a little bored when you grabbed a snack on the way to the TV? You also can note if you were alone or with a companion.

Researchers have studied the use of food diaries and their role in weight loss. In a study reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers noted that overweight people who kept food diaries lost twice as much weight compared with those who did not keep food diaries.

Besides keeping food diaries, the 1,700 participants in the six-month research study were asked to cut 500 calories from their daily diets, eat more fruits and vegetables, and get 180 minutes of physical activity per week.

They also had the opportunity to work directly with professionals, including nutrition experts, in group sessions. The group sessions also were successful in promoting weight loss, too.

If weight loss or maintenance is among your goals for the New Year, give food diaries a try. You can make yours as simple or as high tech as you’d like. Write your food intake on a used envelope or scratch paper if you wish.

If you would like to go “high tech,” visit the healthy eating website at Try the “tracker” feature and its tutorial. It provides a food group-based analysis or a nutrition analysis of your food intake down to the micronutrient. You can print out a food plan to follow. Better yet, it’s free.

After you have written down your food intake for a couple of days, here are some questions to ask yourself. Are you eating at least 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables daily? Are you consuming the equivalent of 3 cups of milk daily? Are half your grain choices whole grain? Do you choose a variety of lean meats and fiber-rich beans?

Here’s a tasty, fiber-rich treat courtesy of Sherri Coleman of Ameriflax, which is headquartered in Bismarck. You might want to keep these cookies in your freezer and bring out a few at a time to enjoy or they may disappear.

Farmland Flax Cookies

1 1/4 c. butter

1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1 1/2 c. lightly packed brown sugar

2 c. whole flax seed

3 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

3 c. plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 3/4 tsp. baking soda

3 c. oatmeal (dry)

In a bowl, cream butter and sugars; add flax seed. In another bowl, beat eggs and vanilla together. Combine with flax mixture. Sift together the flour and soda. Mix in oatmeal and combine with the other ingredients. Form dough into four (1 1/2-inch) round logs. Place in freezer and chill. Preheat oven to 350 F. Slice into 1/4-inch medallions. Place on baking sheet leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Bake 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from sheet and cool.

Makes 64 cookies. Each cookie has 130 calories, 6 grams (g) of fat, 16 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 60 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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