On average, Australians spend a whopping 3.6 hours a day on social media. While there’s no doubt too much sitting time can contribute to an expanding waistline, you’ll be pleased to know that burning a small amount of digital energy tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming about your daily health activities may actually help you to shed kilos.
“Social media is the perfect forum for the sharing of ideas,” says accredited practising dietitian Lyndi Polivnick. “Many users on social media love sharing their tricks and strategies for staying healthy. Using social media can help inspire you to try a new food or recipe or encourage you to exercise more.
The research says...
An emerging body of research is investigating the link between social media usage and weight loss. One of the most recent studies, published in Health Affairs, found weight loss interventions that incorporated social media produced a “modest but significant” reduction in body mass index. Further studies have identified links between increased tweeting as part of a weight loss program and weight lost and, contrary to what you might think, revealed that looking at too many pictures of food on Instagram can actually make it less enjoyable to eat.
How social media can support your goals
A raft of anecdotal evidence suggests using social media to aid weight loss is an area of huge potential. Psychologist Glenn Mackintosh from Weight Management Psychology set up a Facebook page specifically for his clients.
“It’s just fantastic to see the women supporting each other,” Mackintosh says. “My clients post motivational messages and problems that they’re having, and within an hour a few people will list different solutions. It’s lovely to build a community because for women who are looking to manage their weight, the broader social media environment can be very negative and unhelpful so it’s it nice for them to have a space where they can feel safe, comfortable and supported.”
Life coach Susan Santoro says social media communities – like those developed through the Fernwood Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages – are “completely positive” because they help women develop an extra support network and connect with people who share similar goals.
“Fernwood members thrive thanks to the constant support, motivation and encouragement,” says Santoro. “Being in an online arena helps our weight loss mindset as it provides instant access to getting specific questions answered and assistance with the online strategy. We are all motivated by different aspects that drive us, but being women, our number one motivation is through connection, chatting and encouragement.”
The best social medium for weight loss
No one social medium has been shown to be most effective, but Polivnick says you’ll likely get better results by choosing the medium that best suits your message. “Instagram is ideal for meeting likeminded people and provides day-to-day inspiration such as meal ideas, fitness motivation and health tips,” she says.
“Most of us are already on Facebook so following health accounts can be a great way to add some health inspiration to your daily grind. Health and fitness Facebook pages regularly share health information and advice with links to videos, blog posts or new stories. It can be an ideal sharing platform between friends and may help inspire positive changes.”
Polivnick recommends Twitter for finding out the latest health and wellbeing news – and interacting with your favourite health professionals and celebrities – and Pinterest for gathering inspiring images and new recipes.
A combination of social and face-to-face support works best
Like most aspects of social media, virtual support will never completely take the place of face-to-face consultations with your personal trainer, psychologist or dietitian. “A combination of face-to-face support and other methods is effective,” say Santoro. “I still enjoy sitting and connecting with people, and enjoy the combination of face-to-face discussions and online help and support.
“When it comes to weight loss, my strategy is to combine the two elements of support. I like to have the physical ‘team’ around me – my personal trainer, my fun group fitness classes, my partner who loves to walk with me on weekends and a girlfriend I can do yoga with. But I turn to social media and my special interest groups for daily support, and have my Fitbit to keep me accountable as well.”
Be careful about who you follow
Don’t forget that in the age of self-publishing, not all information on social media is factual and what you see may not be an accurate depiction of your friend’s cousin’s neighbour’s body, diet or attitude. So be picky about who you follow and how seriously you take their advice.
“If you follow someone who constantly shares images of unrealistic bodies or whose account makes you feel worse about yourself, unfollow them,” says Polivnick. “Not only are these accounts unhelpful, but they may be compromising your mental health and therefore sabotaging your journey to wellness.
“And be careful of the social media comparison trap. On social media, we only share our highlight reel showcasing our best moments and happiest times in our life. Social media is not a true reflection of life and everyone – even social media superstars – has bad days.”
Try not to compare your diet and exercise habits with the glossy experiences showcased on social media of everyone from an old school friend to a much-publicised celebrity mum. How you eat, exercise and see the world defines your health so it’s important to monitor the information you allow to affect your mind. Just like you can choose what goes into your body, you can choose which media and advice is trending on your weight loss journey.