Want to Lose Weight? Keep It Simple.

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I've always been an advocate for learning to eat healthy instead of learning to "diet". Diets teach most people to eat in ways that they can't sustain forever. It can be easy to lose weight, but as soon as you go back to eating normally, the weight comes right back. Learning to eat a healthy, balanced diet means that you make good choices most of the time. You learn what kinds of foods are important parts of your daily nutrition, and which ones should be eaten in moderation. When you first start eating this way, it can take some time and label-reading. But eventually, it becomes an easy way of living.

For years I've tried to convince my mom to adopt this style of eating. But she says she's someone who needs structure and something that tells her specifically what she should and should not eat. She's always gone the route of dieting (which is probably why she's always struggled with her weight), but it seems that not all diets are created equal. New research is looking at what makes some diets more successful than others, since weight loss isn't quite as simple as just eating less.

A new study, published in the journal Appetite, found that the complexity of diets has an impact on how much weight is lost. The study compared two diet plans: one provided shopping lists and meal plans for participants to follow, while the other assigned point values to foods and required dieters to eat within a certain points range. 390 women answered questionnaires during an 8-week period, and researchers found that the more complex the women found the diet to be, the sooner they were likely to give up on it. The scientists concluded that "Even if you believe you can succeed, thinking that the diet is cognitively complex can undermine your efforts." Although some diets are more attractive than others because they allow more freedom (versus following a specific meal plan), if it's hard or time-consuming to do calculations, people are less likely to stick with it.

One of the biggest complaints I see on SparkPeople is that it's too time-consuming to track food. The SparkDiet encourages members to track their foods for a while, but eventually they can start to make healthy choices on their own without needing to track everything. I think that's a great strategy to follow. It would be nice if you didn't have to track foods, but if you never did, it's difficult to learn what's going wrong with your diet and where you need to make changes. Tracking food gives you the knowledge and experience to be able to progress to a point where you no longer need to track (unless you really like to for accountability purposes.)

What do you think? Have you gotten to a point where you don't need to follow a "diet" but just eat healthy?

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I'm positive about tracking. The new WW plan when it was introduced went to points. I was doing it online and interpreted "0 points - anytime" to 0 points all the time. I practically OD on peaches and blueberries (2 favs). Tracking is a nuisance but it works. That's one reason why I almost always have the same breakfast and snacks. I've also added my favorite things to well, my favorite things. I have two negative comments on tracking tho' - signing on in the morning I don't immediately get breakfast as the meal to track ... and when I want to use favorites it's cumbersome to have to say add to whatever meal rather than have it be in the meal or snack that I am tracking. Report
I still struggle with this so I need to track my food. Although it is time consuming I would rather spend the time tracking my food than seeing my weight go up on the scale. Report
Honestly, I found out that I really am not good at guessing how many calories I ate at all without tracking. Even day to day. Yesterday, I would have eaten 1,000 calories less than what my lower number is. Same with the day before. I actually ate a second dinner to get it closer to where it should be, because I don't want to throw off my hormones and have a backlash increase of the ghrelin hormone.

Other weeks, I go out to a family function and if I wasn't tracking, I know I can't even guess the calories in some of the food and would have been a thousand calories more.

Finally, there are times I have gone to places like Panera's and ate a sandwich, pasta and chips and thought I blew the day, but when I tracked I found out I was right in line.

So, I just know I got heavy partly because it is easy for me to zone out of the process and gain "the freshman 15" on any given year. Report
I do track my food but find the calorie chart from Sparks does not work very well for me. So often I ball park the calories. Even with that problem I will continue tracking as I have lost about 5 lbs already. 40 more to go and will do it! Tracking definitely keeps me fully aware of how much I am eating. Report
Tracking is a good habit but my best success has come with learning portion sizes. After a while the most commonly eaten foods can be judged by sight. Report
well i thougt i had learned it all after tracking my food for over 1 year. But it didnt, i maintained a few months but i still need to lose a lot of weight so i am back on the tracking ;) Report
Last year I found tracking really annoying & time consuming.
This year it is easier & I am definitely more accountable!
Plus I was guessing the portion sizes. This year I am weighing food a lot!
Learning portions, I hope to do it visually one day. Report
I thought I had "learned" the healthy lifestyle, perhaps a bit prematurely. The weight crept back shortly after i stopped tracking. I know that i will have to track, at least in some form, for the rest of my life. And with the website, the iphone app, and more restaurants disclosing their nutritional information, I find it easier. sometimes i jot it down as i go, and enter at the end of the day, but it's strangely cathartic. Report
I have been tracking my food daily. I think that it does help especially with how many calories I am eating daily. Plus, I like the reports that tells you how you are doing and what you need more of. At first it was very time consuming tracking everything but now I just go to my favorites unless I'm adding something new. Report
The tracker is the best tool. It sure has helped me realize what I am eating and to know the nutrition and calorie content. I really pay more attention now. Report
I have found tracking to be really useful, esp. on sparkpeople since it is a somewhat public forum (you can choose to not share your tracker, so not necessarily public). This has made me feel more accountable. And just seeing what I consumed and how many calories, carbs, sugar, fat is resulted in is real eye opener. I hope that once I hit my goal weight zone I eventually will not need to track. But not such a big deal for me now - fairly easy. Report
A couple of years ago I read something in in the NYT that said that people who lose weight actually often eat bland, boring food with less variety within the food pyramid. This has actually worked pretty well for me in the past. Report
For me personally I have to track. When I track I lose weight and when I don't track I don't lose. The tracker reminds me of portion sizes and exactly what I am putting in my mouth. Report
I totally agree! I have NEVER counted calories before sprakpeople. Sparkpeople has made it EASY for me. I jump on the computer, log my points quickly, and jump back off. Sometimes I stay and read articles, but for the most part I can do it fast. I do not think it is the least bit time consuming! Thanks Sparkpeople for making it easy to learn how to track what I eat. I am healthier because of you! Report
Tracking my food keeps me on track. The more I do it, the easier it gets. I actually track more days now than I did in the beginning. It helps that the spark tracker has so many foods in it, so I don't have to look up or enter detail for every little thing. I also find that using the sparkpeople app is quicker than going on line (I literally keep the phone with me, and try to enter everything as I'm preparing it, or if I'm in a restaurant, I put it in before I actually eat). I learn so much by reviewing what I ate before a weight gain or loss. Report
I'm reading the "BECK Diet Solution" which isn't a "diet" but she teaches how to think like a THIN person. It really has helped me to think differently. Report
I like to track my food also, it keeps me accountable, and yes shows me where my food menu needs improvement! I can put a meal together that is much healthier than my days before Spark! Report
I really enjoy tracking my calories. It shows me exactly what I am doing, but it isn't overly complex that I can't eat or do certain things. Sometimes I'm not as on track as I'd like to be but all together I think it works for me quite well. :) Report
The tracking is what has really gotten me motivated. I'm accountable to myself and I find it incredibly informative. I was amazed at what some foods amount to! Now, before I splurge and have something easy (read pizza...) I find out the nutritional value and make a choice based on what I am likely to feel like after eating the majority of my daily calorie allowance in one sitting. I had the soup instead. Report
I have lost the weight that I should have in the time frame that was suggested and I have kept this weight off for the past two years. I have come to the point that I don't track my food all the time for I do most of my computer info in the morning which I also do my walking, and exercise before going to work, so there are only so many hours in the morning and in the day. I found that tracking the food was the only way that I was able to lose the 15 pounds and bring my cholesterol down which nothing else I do would do this. Now I track maybe once or a week or sometimes more depending on my time frame, for I want to do my exercise before going to work as it is I do get up at 5:30 am in order to do this for myself.
The information I have received from this site to me has been very helpful and I tell everyone that wants to hear about it how much it has helped me.
Thank you for all your hard work. Report
In the past I always hated tracking food. It was way too time consuming to look up calories for each item. I had mentioned this to a friend that someone should develop a program on the computer. That's when she told me about SparkPeople.

The first 6 months I tracked everything and I lost weight. The last 6 months I've been lazy about tracking. I haven't gained the weight back, but I haven't been losing either.

As a result 2 weeks ago I started tracking once again. Still not back to tracking everything, but at least I'm more conscientious about what and how much I'm eating. Report
I love the tracking. I am a little competitive anyway, and it makes me compete with myself to stay in the range I need to to lose weight and, hopefully, later to maintain the weight lose. Report
I do track, but not all the time. I know we should...if we bite it...write it. I'm trying to get better at it because it does help. Report
I enjoyed this blog. Over a week ago I started tracing my food, so far I am enjoying it. I don't know how effective it's been since I haven't weighed as yet. I'll get around to doing so tomorrow. However I feel that I need to eat the kinds of food that is available to me and also one that I could afford if I am to lose weight. I am eating exactly what I will be eating when I've reached my goal weight only my portion size has changed. I hope that I get favourable results. Report
The tracker has been key for me to learn all I have and keep on track. I've gotten away from it a few times, but I have come to enjoy the results in the form of the pie chart. I'm generally dead on, with the exception of a splurge day. The pie charge stays in the back of my mind though.

On days I'm super busy and don't have the time, I jot it down on paper and add it later. Report
I use the tracker as a planner...in the morning, I plan my meals around the tracker. If I am going 'out' for a meal, I guess-timate what I will probably eat, fill it in, then balance the rest of the proteins, carbs & fats with the other 2 meals. This keeps me in the healthy range with NO restrictions on eating foods that I enjoy.

I have found a couple of go-to foods to bump my healthy carbs (which always seems to be my most difficult area to fulfill) - dates & raisins have become my go-to snacks when my carbs are below what I should eat. Report
Just started its the keep track that has me interested Report
I may track forever, I don't find the tracking time consuming, I do find spark teams and blogs a little over whelming and time consuming. Report
I agree with you whole heartedly... I have always failed at complicated diets because it just didn't fit in to my busy schedule. The tracker is really helpful for me to see where I am mid day so that I can make smarter dinner choices. Report
I know for me, I lost 15 pounds very quickly and it didn't take me long to simply start eating healthy and not track all of my calories. I then started to notice that I wasn't losing any more weight, and once again started to keep track of calories. When I count calories, I make myself more aware and accountable to how much I've ingested for the day! When I don't track them, I maintain the weight that I'm at. When I get to where I want to be, I'll go back to simply eating healthy. I'm down 24 pounds, and I have 9 pounds left to go. My fingers are crossed!!!!!! Report
tracking food does help you learn a new "normal" - I go between tracking when I'm trying to gain momentum in my weight loss and periods of not tracking when life is getting in the way of monitoring my eating. I'm finding that even if I'm not entering the foods in the nutrition tracker, my brain is recognizing "normal" sizes and I'm still able to lose weight, even if it is more slowly than when I'm being more precise.

I've been actively trying to lose weight for a little over 6 months now and I've lost 45 pounds. This time around, I'm not demanding perfection. There will be days that I don't exercise, days that I go out to a nice meal in a fancy restaurant, days when I want to eat turkey wings, no matter how much fat they have! The most important change this time around is that I don't let that impact the rest of my day or week. It happens and I move on, back on plan with the very next mouthful. I used to have a "perfection or nothing" mentaility. I'm really hopeful that this time around, by the time I reach goal I may have actually developed an eating and exercise habit that will let me maintain. Report
I am used to tracking everything from the diet plan that I followed for many, many years. The problem was, that when the food was out of my realm of normal, I found it frustrating to track. I would give it too high a value, and then feel hungry the rest of the day.
I am working toward losing that diet mentality. I am hopeful that I can. Report
I don't think I've ever gotten to that point because I keep reverting to the diet mentality. There always seems to be some event or some THING that I want to lose weight for and I get dissatisfied with the better eating approach. It is very hard to fight that in my head. I am working on it, but I am definitely a work in progress. Report
I'm still learning so I use the tracker every day for as many meals as I can. It helps me to keep my calories in check but more importantly it helps me make sure my sodium, fat, etc. are also in check. I don't think it takes too much time and it's a valuable tool. Besides, I think twice before eating something if I know I have to account for it later. Report
This is a great article. I'm still in the learning phase so I am tracking my food and exercise very closely. What has worked really well for me is not just focusing on calories - I also have goals for fiber, iron, and calcium. I think these goals more than the calorie goal are teaching me how to be a healthy eater. Looking forward to reaching that point when I feel I have enough knowledge to go it alone. :-) Report
I totally agree with this article. I am a research scientist and deal with complex environmental issues all day, but a complex diet just doesn't work with my real life. Plus I am a vegetarian, and many diets don't handle that well. The old Weight Watchers core plan finally worked for me - I still have the material and pull that out when I need a boost. I think I even gained weight when I tracked my food. Report
Tracking is one of the keys for me. I HAVE too, if I don't I start to slip. I use a food diary to track, and then enter it into the one here at SP. Works well for me and keeps me accountable. Report
I follow the "Eat Clean Diet" principles as written by Tosca Reno -- again, it's more of a lifestyle change than a "diet." Her book, The Eat Clean Diet Recharged!, as totally changed my perspective on food and living a healthy lifestyle. Since I have been adhering to her principles, I have noticed a change in my body, attitude, and overall outlook on life. I feel and look great. I am a clean eater for life!! Trust me, I still get intense cravings (just a few years ago when I was in college I would eat 1 to 2 Big Macs a DAY!) but they are so much easier to curb now that I see a true transformation in myself. Report
Just starting out with Sparkpeople and the food tracker is what keeps me here and keeps me going. It's time consuming, yes, but far less so than anything else I've found. It gets easier with time as you can copy whole meals and add your regular favourites.

For me, tracking is the only thing I need. It's when I stop watching that I slip back Report
I think tracking has helped me to stay with the healthy living style. I'm very close to my goal weight, but believe that I will continue to track my food to help me maintain my weight loss. Tracking leaves you with solid knowledge about how well you're living healthy. Report
Tracking all the way. I'm getting good at eating in moderation; however, I still maintain that I'd bypass my calories (weekends) and go under (work days) if I wasn't tracking. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to stop--and if it's working, I really don't see that I will. Fact is, it keeps me on track--just like my scale! Report
I think it is a good idea to keep tracking. It helps me to keep up with other things like iron. Report
I find that it keeps me on the right track to keep the log of what I eat. If I'm not tracking it then it is easier to wander off the path so to speak. Report
tracking foods i eat is really working for me..especially on spark people evryday when im finished i check the carbs fat and calories and read the comments, this way i know what to reduce and what to increase in my diet Report
I am still tracking my food because I can slip so easily if I don't. It's real easy to not notice everything you eat if you don't track it. However I'm almost at the point where I can track maybe once a week to keep me accountable. I want to focus on eating healthy rather than losing weight, as i know I will lose weight if I eat right. When I get good at that, I'll stop tracking. Report
I like tracking and find it works well for me. I came to SP from Weightwatchers and, while I like being able to track more nutritional info on SP, I did find SP harder to use initially than WW. It's fairly easy to learn and memorize WW points values than calories, and SP has both "less" information and "more" information than WW. By "less", I mean that it seems to have fewer entries for non-processed foods. By "more", I mean it has lots of entries for processed and junk foods, plus members' entries (which aren't necessarily reliable). That could make the site harder to use initially for some people - but at the same time, the ability to enter complete nutritional info for one's favorite foods.

I have been recommending to people who have asked me for advice on losing weight (I lost 30 pounds this year) that they start with Weightwatchers for a couple of months and then switch to Sparkpeople's food tracker. WW is simpler and yet still teaches people to take responsibility for their food choices, while SP offers a more complete system for monitoring nutrition and health. Report
I so agree that diets don't work because they are artifical and tuned into someone else telling you what to do. I always say I dieted my way up to 333 pounds.

I love this journey I am on with my friends at Spark People. I have been able to make small changes that have added up, and I feel if I continue to make more small changes, I will lose more weight.

As for tracking, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I have eaten over the day, but sometimes when I sit down and track, I find I remember something I might have forgotten. I don't mind tracking, and when I catch something extra, I just change my plan for dinner time.

For me, it provides some continuity. I will probably do it for a long time, but maybe someday I will find I can stop. For now, it is good for me. Report
The only way I can loose weight is by logging everything I eat and it seems to take a while to get my calorie count down, if I haven't been logging in my calories. Report
I log my breakfast and lunch daily. Mostly because I am boring and eat the same thing everyday for these two meals. I have them saved in favorites so they are easy to click and log in. I have noticed that my daughters are eating more healthy due to my example. There is a huge difference between telling them how to eat and modeling it for them. They have witnessed changes in my lifestyle, fitness, and mood. It is such a great compliment when they text me or call me and brag about what they are eating and it is healthy! They are so proud to tell me. The same goes with exercising! Report
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