Can Facebook Help You Lose Weight?

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Article originally published by EverydayHealth (link opens in new window)  and reposted here with their permission.

The average American spends more than three hours a day texting, emailing, and using social media. Wouldn’t it be great if we could channel some of that digital energy into something more productive than watching cat videos and bashing friends’ sport teams… something like, say, losing weight?

Some obesity researchers are already exploring the potential power of social media to help people reach their health goals, and a new analysis summarizes their findings to-date. Researchers at Imperial College London assessed 12 studies and found that people who used “social networking services” lowered their body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fatness, on average 0.64 percent more than participants who did not have access to the programs. Though the social media tools did get the scale moving in the right direction, these results are pretty underwhelming. For a 165-pound, 5-foot-5-inch woman, a 0.64 percent drop in BMI is equivalent to losing one pound.

Plus, many of the studies compared those using online weight-loss programs (link opens in new window)  to a control group that received very minimal weight loss support — rather than a group that received a different type of assistance, like in-person group counseling — so it’s not surprising that the media users lost more weight. And many of the web-based weight-loss interventions used in the studies bore little or no resemblance to popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Most were websites specifically structured around weight loss (as opposed to general social media sites), and only 5 of the 12 studies included a group forum or chat room where weight-loss participants could interact with one another in real time.

Could Web-Based Weight Loss Work for You?

There are other reasons to be skeptical of social media as a dieting tool. For one, it’s typically a sedentary activity that involves sitting at a computer, and being inactive is a major contributor to weight gain. Imagine how fit people could be if they dedicated just one of the three hours they spend communicating online to working out every day? And, just like with other weight-loss approaches, research shows that people have a difficult time sticking with social media-based weight-loss and exercise programs (link opens in new window) . As you might suspect, participants’ usage gradually declines as time wanes on, making the programs less effective.

Yet, some people thrive on the accountability that comes along with boldly posting their food intake (link opens in new window) , exercise minutes logged, or even their weight every day, for all to see. Others find online weight-loss support groups incredibly helpful, compared to going it alone. If incorporating some type of social media into your weight-loss plan works for you, keep right on posting — but I suggest taking these “Dos” and “Don’ts” into consideration:

DO

  • Share the major weight-loss obstacles that trip you up (finding time to exercise or cooking healthy meals (link opens in new window) , for example), and ask other dieters what works for them. You’ll be surprised at how many creative solutions are out there!
  • Look for private weight-loss support groups on websites or major social media platforms if you’re not comfortable sharing your weight-loss journey with friends, family, and nosy neighbors. You want to be able to speak openly about the challenges you’re facing.
  • Post, share, or chat every day (or on a set schedule), not just when you’re following your diet to a tee — particularly if you’re using social media as an accountability tool. Let people know when you’re struggling and could use some extra cheerleading (or an outside perspective).

DON’T

  • Allow yourself to be brought down by negative comments and criticism. A social media or online community should be a place where you can seek support and positive reinforcement, not be publicly shamed.
  • Share personal information you might regret posting later, particularly if your account is attached to your name.
  • Confuse online support with professional help. Many people claim to be experts on diet and nutrition, and they can be quite convincing. Do your own research on reliable health websites and speak to healthcare professionals about choosing a sensible and realistic weight-loss approach.
  • Underestimate the value of face-to-face support. Many people find that attending weight loss support groups like those offered by Weight Watchers, medical offices, and some YMCAs is one of the most effective ways to stay on track with healthy eating and fitness goals.
  • Let your social media time interfere with other essential healthy habits, like exercising and planning out weekly meals.

Tags: weight loss, diet, diet scams, Facebook, social media

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