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Status Update: Social Media Use May Help You Lose Weight

Twitter diet, social media, social networking, weight loss

Online social networks have become the new way to connect with others socially, sharing interests and activities with people that you might not see on a daily basis. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, may also have another benefit. They could be helpful in changing habits that can ultimately help us lose weight according to a new study from the University of South Carolina.

Led by Brie Turner-McGrievy of the Arnold School of Public Health’s Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior, 96 overweight and obese men and women participated in a weight-loss program using a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. Half of the group received bi-weekly podcasts about nutrition, exercise, and goal setting. The other half, in addition to receiving the podcasts, downloaded a diet-monitoring app and a Twitter app to their device.

Both groups lost weight over the course of the six-month study, but those who were actively posting to Twitter and getting feedback from a weight-loss counselor and support from fellow participants lost more weight than those who did not use social media. The researchers found that every 10 posts to Twitter corresponded to a 0.5% weight loss.

The social media account provided virtual “support groups” that helped give dieters emotional support through their journey, encouragement and compliments for a job well done, and self-esteem support through the times when dieting becomes difficult. Dieters were also able to share information and tips with a group.

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Posting updates on Twitter allowed users to brag about small successes also helped (“I avoided eating a pastry this morning at a breakfast meeting!” said one user. “I did have a skim Mocha without whipped cream…not too bad.”

“Traditional, behavioral weight-loss interventions generally provide social support through weekly, face-to-face group meetings. While we know this is effective, it is costly and can create a high degree of burden on participants,” said Turner-McGrievy. “Providing group support through online social networks can be a low cost way to reach a large number of people who are interested in achieving a healthy weight,” she said.

According to the website “Statistic Brain,” 56% of those polled use some sort of social network, with the vast majority using Facebook (1.2 billion users worldwide). About 10% use Twitter – there are about 190 million tweets on average per day. Believe it or not, the United States is not the largest user of social networking, spending on average 7.6 hours per month on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. The leader in the top ten most countries is Israel, spending 11.1 hours per month on social networking sites.

The authors recommend future studies to search for additional ways to give social support for subjects in weight loss programs that are remote in their delivery, focusing on methods that are still useful and rewarding.

Looking to Tweet your way thinner? Prevention Magazine offers the following steps to add Twitter to your weight loss program.

  • Create a virtual support group. People you follow (and those following you) should be trying to lose weight, too—but you don't necessarily need to know them. Instead, Turner-McGrievy recommends searching for weight loss blogs or publications, to see if the author is on Twitter. “What is really beneficial is finding other people who are in the same situation as you are, who can relate to your challenges and respond,” she says. “Having someone check in and say, 'Hey, I haven’t heard you Tweet in a long time,' or congratulate you when you stick to your calorie limits—that was really the important component of the study.”
  • Tweet yourself motivated. Because Twitter is such a quick, responsive platform, sending a tweet means you'll get a kick in the butt right when you need it. “Being able to get those immediate responses from other people is really invaluable,” Turner-McGrievy says. Not feeling the gym today? Tweet it. If your followers are as committed as you are, they'll respond back with some energizing phrases to get you out the door. (Psst...You can stay motivated 24/7 with tweets from Prevention's Fit Team.)
  • Stay active on (and off) Twitter. Want followers to keep you going? Then keep them going, too—by posting and responding throughout the day, you'll develop meaningful relationships with your online community. Keep posts motivational and supportive, and offer compliments, empathy, and encouragement. Plus, try tweeting lessons you're learning on your weight loss journey: Finished a new strength workout? Let 'em know. Discover a divine, low-fat frozen pizza? Spread the word!

Journal Reference:
Gabrielle M Turner-McGrievy, Deborah F Tate. Weight loss social support in 140 characters or less: use of an online social network in a remotely delivered weight loss intervention. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 2013; DOI: 10.1007/s13142-012-0183-y