The science of self-tracking for weight loss
At Oviva, we encourage everyone to track their journey in the Oviva app.
Because using the Oviva app is a comprehensive tool for self-tracking; the centrepiece of all behaviour weight loss interventions1. Self-tracking has been consistently found to be a key factor in someone’s success when changing behaviours and losing weight. In fact, the more frequent the self-tracking, the more weight you lose2. This is because in order to change our habits, we need to pay attention to what we are doing, when and why we are doing them and be able to link them to their immediate and long-term effects3.
So what is self-tracking?
Self-tracking is a process of monitoring and recording various aspects of your daily life, such as food intake, exercise, and sleep patterns. When it comes to weight loss, self-tracking can be an incredibly useful tool. By keeping track of what you eat and how much, you can gain a better understanding of your habits and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, tracking your weight, body measurements, and progress over time can help keep you motivated and on track towards achieving your goals.
Self-tracking can be done through various methods, including journaling, using mobile apps or wearable devices. By utilising self-tracking techniques, you can take control of your health journey and set yourself up for success by having a greater understanding of what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.
Diet, exercise, weight or all of them?
Tracking your food intake is often thought of in a negative way, with people seeing it as time intensive and intrusive in daily life. So why bother?
Keeping a food diary has been found to double someone’s weight loss4, and because of this, is a key part of self-tracking. There are also, however, significant benefits to tracking your exercise levels and weight too. People who consistently self-monitor their exercise levels not only achieve significantly more weight loss but also experience fewer difficulties with exercise and exercise more often5.
Lots of studies have also found that more frequent self-weighing is associated with greater weight loss or weight gain prevention. Specifically, people who reported self-weighing weekly or daily, typically over a period of several months, held a 1 to 3 kg/m2 BMI (body mass index) advantage over individuals who did not self-weigh frequently6.
Paper or digital, photographs or written description?
The key is that self-monitoring and tracking doesn’t have to be hard, involve lots of paper notebooks or take lots of time.
Keeping track digitally has been shown in studies to help people track more accurately and for longer than trying to keep paper diaries and is just as effective in helping us boost our outcomes7,8.
Why photos rather than description or paper? Well for one, it’s simply easier. It only takes a second to take a picture and doesn’t require you to weigh out your food or find the closest match from streams of food lists. It’s been found to be more socially acceptable (all thanks to Insta) compared to getting out your paper journal in the middle of a meal7,8 and finally, it ensures you fill the diary out in real-time as and when you eat, rather than ‘backfilling’ which again, research shows us makes a difference in terms of outcomes because it helps to keep us mindful of what we are eating9.
Our approach to self-tracking
The Oviva app is designed to specifically support behaviour change and habit building. These self-tracking features include:
- Goal setting to build confidence
- Self-regulation to increase understanding of their actions
- Education to improve knowledge of health
- Feedback and monitoring from our coaches
- Social support from our peer groups
The Oviva app offers an all-in-one platform to log various aspects of your health, including food, mood, water intake, physical activity, and other health metrics like blood glucose or blood pressure all in one place. To help you stay motivated, the app lets you set your own personalised goals that suit your unique needs.
Making lasting changes to your habits can be tough. We know that barriers like lack of motivation, knowledge, or support, as well as environmental and psychological factors, can make it challenging to stick to your goals. That’s why we encourage everyone on our programmes to take a step back, identify these barriers, and work on strategies to overcome them. Our app can support you every step of the way, providing you with personalised feedback and guidance to help you achieve your goals and live a healthier and happier life.
Consistency is key
Studies have shown that consistency is everything, with rare or inconsistent trackers (<66% total days tracked) not getting the benefits. After controlling for someone’s initial weight, health and gender, only people who tracked consistently day after day, had significant weight loss, and this followed a linear relationship with consistent weight loss throughout the year. Weight loss trends for the rare and inconsistent trackers jumped about, with each of the tracking holidays slowing down their weight loss. These results show the importance of frequent dietary tracking for consistent long-term weight loss success2.
Even within each week, studies have shown that weight loss is higher during weeks with more self-tracking completeness, which means every week matters when making changes to your lifestyle and there is good evidence to start tracking, even if you’re halfway through your journey10,11,12,13.
Often small changes can lead to significant improvements in behaviour over time. When individuals engage in self-tracking such as tracking their food intake or exercise levels, they can develop a greater sense of control over their behaviours. This, in turn, can increase their self-efficacy and confidence so they may be more likely to make healthier choices in other areas of their life. Self-tracking can actually have a ripple effect in other areas of life1, leading to improvements in other areas of life beyond just keeping a food diary.
The fact is that monitoring your food is the best predictor of weight loss success and it doesn’t have to take long either. Research shows that it isn’t the length of time spent tracking that matters, but more how frequently you do it. People who monitor 3 times a day or more, and are consistent day after day, are the most successful. It is the act of self-tracking itself that makes the difference — not the time spent or the details included14.