Self-Monitoring – The Most Important Weight Loss Tool You Can Use

Dr. Jessica Bachman
Director of Nutrition Education

Coach's Corner

If you want to lose weight, what is the MOST important thing you should do?

This is NOT something that’s based on my opinion (although it does work for me too!) but rather decades of research AND hundreds of my personal clients.

To make a change you have to FIRST know what you are doing and that starts with creating awareness of behaviors AND gathering information.

YUP! The key to success is MONITORING your habits and when it comes to weight loss, that includes tracking what you eat, your exercise AND your weight. How else can you know if what you are doing is working or if you need to change? While there truly ARE many different “diets” that can work and can help you lose weight, MONITORING your behaviors and weight is a key to success with all of them.

I’m not going to pretend like this is always an easy thing for ALL of my clients to do and in fact, this can sometimes be the most challenging part of our program BUT this is one of those things where the effort you put in really does equal the quality of your results.  

Whether someone loses, gains, or maintains body weight boils down to their overall energy balance (calories in vs. calories out). When someone wants to lose weight, they have to eat fewer calories than their body expends (to gain, you have to eat more). There is NO way to know if you are eating the RIGHT amount to hit your goals if YOU (and your coach) don’t know WHAT you are actually doing.

The majority of what we ask our clients to do with Stronger U is strongly backed by research  (while also taking into account the differences between individuals people) and the use of self-monitoring as a tool for weight loss and long-term weight loss maintenance is no exception.

Now, long-term weight loss habits are simple, but that doesn’t mean easy. For many people starting a weight loss journey, they can feel lost about where to even begin – so why not ask those who have already successfully done it. The National Weight Control registry ( is a project that has been collecting data regularly for years from individuals who have successfully lost and maintained their weight. To join the registry, a member must have lost at least 30 pounds and maintain that loss for over a year. However, the current average weight loss for members of this database is 66 pounds lost and maintained for over 5.5 years, so they are a successful group! They report that keys to their long-term success include being physically active, not watching a lot of TV and regularly monitoring their weight and diet (Butryn et al, 2007; Thomas et al, 2014).

The current gold standard for weight loss in research settings is what is called a behavioral weight loss, or “lifestyle”, intervention (Jensen et al., 2013; Wing, 1998).  Weight loss is achieved in these programs using a combination of eating less, moving more and focusing on modifying behaviors (Foster, Makris & Bailer, 2005; Wadden, Crerand & Brock, 2005). Self-monitoring dietary intake, weight, and physical activity are key pieces of the behavioral modification piece (Burke, Wang & Sevick, 2011).

In fact, how consistent and accurate participants in these studies are with recording their diet is strongly related to their weight loss success (Baker and Kirschenbaum, 1993; Boutelle and Kirschenbaum, 1998; Burke, Wang & Sevick, 2011; Streit et al, 1991)

So what is it about self-monitoring that is so helpful? Social cognitive theory proposed by Albert Bandura in the 1980s (Bandura, 1986) may offer some insights.  In this theory, he describes how self-monitoring may assist with managing chronic health conditions (Painter et al, 2008). Monitoring what you are doing requires deliberate attention being paid to some aspect of a behavior and recording details of that behavior in an accurately, timely and consistent manner.  When behaviors are measured in detail, you can also accurately evaluate progress towards your goals.

Self-monitoring creates awareness of behaviors, increases accountability to those behaviors and allows for assessment of how those behaviors relate to our success in achieving our goals.

We as coaches need accurate records of what you are doing to help us assess progress and make adjustments when needed to get you to your goals BUT self-monitoring helps you as well!

Through self-monitoring, you’re learning how to get to a place where you won’t need a Coach anymore – because you’ll understand how to keep track of what you’re doing, objectively evaluate what you did, and make changes to your behaviors to get the results you want!


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  • Bandura A. Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. NJ; Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs; 1986.
  • Boutelle KN, Kirschenbaum DS. Further support for consistent self-monitoring as a vital component of successful weight control. Obesity Research. 1998 1998;6:219-224.
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  • Painter JE, Borba CP, Hynes M, Mays D, Glanz K. The use of theory in health behavior research from 2000 to 2005: a systematic review. Ann Behav Med. 2008;35: 358–362. doi: 10.1007/s12160-008-9042-y
  • Streit KJ, Stevens NH, Stevens VJ. Food records: A predictor and modifier of weight change in a long-term weight loss program. J Am Diet Assoc. 1991;91:213-216.
  • Thomas JG, Bond DS, Phelan S, Hill JO & Wing RR. Weight-loss maintenance for 10 years in the National Weight Control Registry. AM J Prev Med. 2014;46(1);17-23. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.08.019.
  • Wadden TA, Crerand CE, Brock J. Behavioral treatment of obesity. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2005;28:151-170.
  • Wing RR. Behavioral approaches to the treatment of obesity. In: Bray GA, Bouchard C, James WPT, eds. Handbook of Obesity. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.; 1998:855-873.

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