By Janet Helm, MS, RD
Is it good to tweet what you eat? Can you pin to get thin? Will snapping an Instagram photo of your meal or taking a selfie help you stick to a new healthy eating routine? You bet.
Social media has been transformative in many ways – changing the way we get information, connect with friends and engage with companies. But it can also be a powerful tool to help you lose weight and meet your healthy lifestyle goals.
Just ask Rebecca Regnier who used Twitter to help her lose 20 pounds. She chronicled her story in The Twitter Diet, and blogs about how you can use social media to aid weight loss at Does This Blog Make Us Look Fat? Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill started tweeting her diet and exercise routines and eventually lost 50 pounds.
It makes sense. Studies show that social support is a huge factor – so why not turn to your online friends to help motivate and keep you on track. There’s also something about publicly declaring your intentions to make you more accountable. You’ll practice what you preach when you preach it online, says Regnier.
There’s power in groups — and that came to life in an experiment conducted by the folks at Cooking Light magazine who created the Social Diet. The staffers lost 128 pounds using food and fitness apps like MyFitnessPal, LoseIt!, and FitBit that hooked them into a network for some friendly competition and encouragement. The lonely work of weight loss became an animated, purposeful social project, said editor Scott Mowbray, who lost 20 pounds on the Social Diet.
Pinterest may be known for showcasing double-stuffed cookies, cake pops, red velvet desserts and other indulgent creations, but registered dietitian and uber Pinterest user Mitzi Dulan (with over 3 million followers) says this popular social media platform can be an effective source of inspiration and support for losing weight. In The Pinterest Diet, Dulan maps out a plan for pinning healthy recipes, exercises, inspirational quotes and products to help with weight loss.
If you’re spending a lot of time online, why not use those hours to support your healthy habits. Here’s how you can maximize social media to help meet your goals:
- Follow healthy food blogs. If you only browse blogs full of food porn (you know, deep-fried, bacon-wrapped this and sugary, ooey-gooey that), then you need a new source of cooking inspiration. As an anecdote to existing online galleries that tend to showcase major calorie bombs, a fellow dietitian, Regan Jones, and I created an online food photo gallery called Healthy Aperture that features some of the best healthy food bloggers on the web. Some of my other favorite healthy food blogs include Kalyn’s Kitchen, Iowa Girl Eats, Cookin’ Canuck, My New Roots, and Fannetastic Food. You can search for healthy food bloggers on Nutrition Blog Network, which features more than 600 blogs written by registered dietitians.
- Get inspired by fitness bloggers. Look to blogs that are part of a network called FitFluential, to help motivate you to run your first 5K, start a new exercise class or find a workout routine that you can do at home. Many of these fitness bloggers are documenting their own journey – sharing their struggles and successes. These blogs might provide just the kind of kick-start and inspiration that you need. However, be careful — don’t jump on the bandwagon of a restrictive juice cleanse or buy a bunch of supplements just because it worked for someone else. And before starting any new type of exercise, be sure to consult with your doctor.
- Track what you eat. Undoubtedly, keeping a food diary works. Any type of self-monitoring makes you more aware of your choices and can serve as a deterrent for overindulging. Instead of writing down what you eat and drink, now there are lots of different free apps you can download on your smartphone that will calculate the calories for you. Even taking a photo of your food can serve as a virtual food diary – helping you be more aware of portion sizes.
- Post your progress. If you’ve established specific goals – whether that’s measured in pounds, steps or miles – you may find it helpful to share your achievements on Facebook. Getting praise through “likes” may help keep you motivated. When you see your friends share similar stories or post a photo of their healthy meals – you’ll be more likely to do the same. Studies tell us this is true – your social network has a strong influence on your health behaviors. Positive changes can be contagious.
- Make new connections. Follow people, media outlets, companies and groups on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn that will continuously provide helpful nutrition and fitness articles, weight-loss tips, inspirational stories, and healthy recipes. Fill your newsfeed with content that will educate, empower and inspire you to make healthy changes and stay on track. Participate in Twitter chats to ask questions of experts, and join online communities with discussion boards to interact with other people who are on a similar healthy lifestyle journey.
While there’s still a lot of misinformation about diet and health online – and the recipes that seem to go viral are often over-the-top indulgent — social media holds incredible potential to help you meet your health goals.