Diet Tracking and Weight Loss

Keeping track of everything you eat and drink in a day is a tedious task that is tough to keep up with over time. Unfortunately, dutiful tracking is a vital component for successful weight loss, however, a new study in Obesity finds that perfect tracking is not needed to achieve significant weight loss.

Researchers tracked 153 weight loss program participants for six months where users self-reported their food intake using a commercial digital weight loss program. The researchers wanted to see what the optimal thresholds were for diet tracking to predict 3%, 5%, and 10% weight loss after six months.

“Dietary tracking is a cornerstone of all weight loss interventions, and it tends to be the biggest predictor of outcomes. This program lowers the burden of that task by allowing zero-point foods, which do not need to be tracked.”

Researchers and developers are seeking ways to make the tracking process less burdensome, because as Pagoto says, for a lot of programs, users may feel like they need to count calories for the rest of their lives: “That’s just not sustainable. Do users need to track everything every single day or not necessarily?”

With six months of data, Assistant Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences Ran Xu was interested to see if there was a way to predict outcomes based on how much diet tracking participants did. The data was analyzed to see if there were patterns associated with weight loss success from a data science perspective. Using a method called receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curve analysis they found how many days people need to track their food to reach clinically significant weight loss.

“It turns out, you don’t need to track 100% each day to be successful,” says Xu. “Specifically in this trial, we find that people only need to track around 30% of the days to lose more than 3% weight and 40% of the days to lose more than 5% weight, or almost 70% of days to lose more than 10% weight. The key point here is that you don’t need to track every day to lose a clinically significant amount of weight.”

“A lot of times people feel like they need to lose 50 pounds to get healthier, but actually we start to see changes in things like blood pressure, lipids, cardiovascular disease risk, and diabetes risk when people lose about 5-to-10% of their weight,” says Pagoto. “That can be accomplished if participants lose about one to two pounds a week, which is considered a healthy pace of weight loss.”

Digitally delivered health programs give researchers multitudes of data they never had before which can yield new insights, but this science requires a multidisciplinary approach.


Ran Xu, Richard Bannor, Michelle I. Cardel, Gary D. Foster, Sherry Pagoto. How much food tracking during a digital weight‐management program is enough to produce clinically significant weight loss? Obesity, 2023; DOI: 10.1002/oby.23795

University of Connecticut. “Diet tracking: How much is enough to lose weight? ‘You don’t need to have perfect tracking every day to lose a clinically significant amount of weight’.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 June 2023. <>.

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