Shrink

The psychology of weight loss.

How Social Media Can Help You Lose Weight

Increasing your social network may be the key to long lasting weight loss

The success or failure of your ability to lose weight has nothing to do with carbohydrates and protein.  It has to do with how you live your life.  Change your life and you will change your weight.  In this post I focus on your social life as one part of your life that can be enhanced in order to increase your chances at weight loss success. 

Why social life?  The support and influence we experience from other people has a tremendous impact on our lifestyles and our weight.  A landmark study by Christakis and Fowler (2007) at Harvard University showed that obesity is “socially contagious” meaning that we are more likely to be obese if our family and friends are obese. Not only do we share habits but we subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) reinforce each other’s habits. To the extent that you are locked in a social circle that strongly reinforces unhealthy habits, you will have great difficulty consistently living a healthy lifestyle.  You can’t fire your spouse, family and friends. However, you can open yourself up to a new social world, one that has supportive people who will make the difference in your life that you didn’t even know you needed.

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First things first...what is social media?  Social media is basically communicating with others via the internet and/or mobile technology.

What does social media have to do with weight loss?  Social media is a relatively new way of connecting to people. What is powerful about social media is that it is highly conducive to connecting to people based on shared interests and goals. When we make friends in the "real" world the connection is often based on proximity--our friends are people from work, school, or our neighborhood. Social media is free of geographical limitations, making it easy to connect with people based on shared interests.  An abundance of online communities and groups exist that are centered around health, nutrition, and fitness.  Just think, your best weight loss buddy might be a tax accountant in Dubuque. You never know.

Why should I consider social media to help me lose weight? A major challenge that many of my patients struggle with is that they have few supports in their current social network for their weight loss journey. Their spouse, children, and friends are not on the same path.  This can make the whole experience feel lonely and like you're going against the grain all the time. Studies have shown that how much social support you have is strongly associated with how successful you are at losing weight.  If you feel you have very little social support right now, it is time to beef it up.  Social media is the easiest and quickest way to do this.

I read a blog post last year by a woman who has been struggling with emotional eating. She described a day where she succumbed to it, complete with her thoughts of dejection and discouragement.  So many people relate to that experience. The comments of support flowed in.  It was powerful to read, and I bet it was powerful to write. You can use social media to create your very own supportive, inspiring, and motivating network of people who can do just this for you. 

How I can use social media to help me create and sustain a healthy lifestyle?

Facebook  - You can create a free group/individual or community page on Facebook where you post about your healthy lifestyle journey.  Give it a fun name and regularly post links to recipes, websites, articles, pics and videos of interest. Post daily status updates on your progress, exercise for the day, or anything that you like.  If people “Like” your page, they will see your updates in their stream. Here is a great example of a Facebook page devoted to one person’s healthy lifestyle journey: http://www.facebook.com/WeightOffMyShouldersBlog  If you are concerned about privacy, keep in mind that you are in control. Share what you want to share, nothing more.

Twitter – Get a free Twitter account and tweet about your journey!  Afraid nobody is listening?  Here is how to instantly create your community: “Follow” all the people on my Healthy List.  This is a carefully selected group of people and organizations that provide support, information, advice, and interactions around healthy lifestyle.  Click here to read more about it.   To find the list, go to @DrSherryPagoto on Twitter, open my profile, and find the option called Lists.  Click on Lists and find my list called The Healthy List. Click on "Follow this List."

Once you are on Twitter, be active! Tweet every day about your workouts, recommend healthy recipes, join fitness challenges (see PlankADay for an example) or just tweet your thoughts about your journey that day.  Interact with other tweeters too, congratulate them on their successes, comment on their tweets, and don’t be shy!  I guarantee within a few weeks you will have some regular Twitter weight loss buddies.

Blogs – A blog is an online journal that is viewable to the public.  Go to www.blogger.com to set one up (for free!), then compose and post entries about your process.  What to write?  Anything you want. Tweet and/or post your blog entries on your Facebook page to share them with others. This is a great way to engage others in your journey.  Why blog?  For yourself.  Do it to express your thoughts, challenges and/or lessons learned.  It can take a while but over time you will get readers and commenters. Here are a few awesome blogs to check out to give you an idea: http://the-running-mom.com/ , http://letstalkandwalk.com/ , and http://www.whoatemyblog.com/.

Mobile apps with a social networking function – If you don't yet have a mobile phone, health mobile applications are a great reason to get one, even if it is your only reason to get one.  A number of mobile apps for fitness and/or weight loss have a social networking function where you can follow other users.  If you have a friend that you wish you could exercise with but can’t, make a deal that you both start using one of these apps and follow each other’s progress. You can set up a function on many of these apps to post updates of your progress on Facebook and Twitter.  My Fitness Pal and Lose it! are highly recommended. 

Online communities – Sparkpeople, Weight Watchers, and Livestrong are three websites that have online communities (i.e., discussion boards) in which you can interact with other people trying to lose weight. Check out these websites and start interacting in the communities.

If you are missing a strong social support system for your weight loss effort, consider that this may be holding you back from success more than you think.  Instead of giving the next trendy diet a try, consider taking your weight loss journey into cyberspace. Success may be just a few follows, friends, and likes away.  I'll see you online!

 

References

Christakis, N., Fowler, J. (2007). The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. New England Journal of Medicine. 357, 370-379.

Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, Department of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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