If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less — and if you want to eat less, it helps to write it down.

When researchers studied the eating behaviors of female dieters they found that the most important tool linked to successful weight loss was a pen and notebook. It’s called a “food diary”.

Women who kept food journals and consistently wrote down the foods they ate lost more weight than women who didn’t.

What’s more, researchers found that skipping meals and eating out frequently, especially at lunch, led to less weight loss.

That’s according to a study which appeared in the latest issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Over the course of a year, the women followed a restricted-calorie diet with the goal of achieving a 10% reduction in weight in six months. Half the women were put on an exercise program and the other half were not.

All the participants were asked to record the foods they ate daily in seven-day diaries provided weekly by dietician counselors.

At the end of the year, both the diet-alone and diet-and-exercise groups had lost an average of 10% of their starting weight.

But… here’s the kicker: women who consistently filled out a food journal lost about 6 pounds more than those who didn’t.

Those who skipped meals lost an average of 8 fewer pounds than those who didn’t.

Women who ate in restaurants at lunch at least once a week lost an average of 5 pounds less than those who ate out less.

Why should keeping a food journal help? Seems straightforward: it helps to prevent mindless eating.

This isn’t a one-off study, either: a 2008 study found that dieters who kept food diaries at least six days a week lost twice as much weight as those who kept the journals one day a week or less.

Most experts recommend writing down the foods you eat as soon as you eat them, rather than waiting until the end of the day.

[SOURCE: Kong, A. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, July 13, 2012]