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Could Social Media Help You Lose Weight?

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Social media has come a long way. It’s no longer just a platform to see what you’re old school friends are up to. Instead, a quick scroll down your timeline will provide you with anything from educational videos to useful links, hints and tips.

And several new studies are showing that if you want to lose weight then social media is the way forward. Others though show that if you don’t use it properly then it can also break your diet and ruin your progress.

In this article we’ll take a look at exactly how social media might help or hinder your weight loss journey. And give you our best advice to use it to your advantage.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • A matter of calories
  • The role of social media in weight loss
  • How to avoid social media pitfalls
  • How to use social media to lose weight successfully

Healthy Weight Loss – A Matter of Calories

From a purely physiological point of view, you’ll lose weight, shed fat and tighten your physique by hitting a calorie deficit. 

That means taking in less calories than you burn off each day. When you achieve this your body unlocks stored fat and is happy to use it as energy.

It is currently recommended that your calorie deficit is around 20% lower than the energy you need to sustain your body weight. Any higher and you’ll lose fat at a slower rate.

Any lower than that and you’ll likely not succeed – you’ll be too hungry and won’t be able to keep it up. On top of that, your body will break down muscle as well as fat. This could lead to long-term weight gain.


Could Social Media Ruin Your Diet?

The key to successful weight loss is finding a balance. It’s easy to say that all you need to do is eat a little less and exercise a little more. But in reality it’s more complex than that.

And whilst this is correct, it doesn’t take into account the social triggers that can put the brakes on your progress.

Does this scenario sound familiar?

You’re scrolling through your timeline in an attempt to take your mind off of your diet.

All of a sudden you stumble upon a picture of a cream donut, cake or sweet pudding – one of your friends has posted a picture of the delectable dessert they’ve just eaten. All of a sudden you’re feeling hungry and you can’t get it out of your mind. The result? You cave in and hit the sweet cupboard.

You feel guilty and all of a sudden your healthy diet is over.



Eating with your eyes – pictures of food can make you hungry

Research in Brain and Cognition [1] has found that your brain and visual system are closely linked to food collection. What does this mean? You see food, your brain does everything it can to coax you into grabbing it.

As far as it’s concerned it doesn’t know when or where your next meal is coming from so it makes sense to trigger a hunger response. Its called the forage and feed response. 

And what does social media present us with?

Not only basic pictures or videos of food, but ultra-high resolution shots with lurid, bright colours. They look so good you’re almost right there with it. The food industry calls it gastro porn or food porn. They know that if they get the images just right, you’re almost helpless to resist.

It triggers a response in what researchers call the hungry brain – the part of your nervous system that helps to regulate hunger.

According to the study, “there is a profound effect that viewing such images can have on neural activity, physiological and psychological responses, and visual attention, especially in the hungry brain”.

Food for food’s sake – pics can make food less enjoyable

Not only could social media food images make you more likely to break from your diet, they might also make that food less enjoyable.

As soon as you start to see pictures of a food, your senses begin to kick in. You can almost taste it. And how does this affect you? Well, by the time the food arrives, you’re already tired of it.

This could leave you in a negative emotion spiral that ultimately leads you to overeating and throwing in the towel when it comes to healthy dieting.



Key Point: The constant barrage of food pictures on social media can leave you feeling hungry. It can also affect how you much you enjoy your food too.


But Social Media Could Also Boost Weight Loss Too

Once you’ve made the decision to unfollow those pages with delicious (but unhealthy) pictures of food you might find yourself in a better place to follow a successful healthy eating plan.

And when used properly, social media can help you reach your target much quicker too.

“Online social networks have extensive reach, and they use technology that could enhance social support, an established determinant of physical activity. This combination of reach and functionality makes online social networks a promising intervention platform for increasing physical activity” [2].

Here’s how it can help.

Community support

Continued support from family and friends can be the key to success when it comes to weight loss. But sometimes this support just isn’t enough. And that’s where online communities and forums come in.

There are a number of groups that are set up to allow like-minded people to share stories, journey and ideas that could help put you in the right direction.

Some community groups are competitive; others are more like buddies. Whatever your favoured approach to weight loss, it’s got you covered.

Motivation and inspiration

You need new ideas for recipes? A new workout to do from home? All of these are just a click away.

With some of the leading chefs, fitness models and expert trainers giving the best information away for free, finding the motivation to step your diet up a notch is as easy as it’s ever been.



Information and education

Whereas some social media icons will motivate you with simple training and diet videos, others provide useful articles on weight loss strategies and overall lifestyle education.

A simple search can bring you educational resources that help you avoid mistakes and pitfalls. They can help optimize your progress with sample programs, eating plans and hints and tips.

Accountability

Telling everyone how your progress is coming along helps you to feel a level of responsibility. If you failed it wouldn’t just be you that you let down; it’d be those following you too.

A study published at the University of Houston [3] found that when women posted pictures of at least seven meals per week, they were much more likely to lose fat than those who only posted three meals.

Why? Probably because they felt obliged to prepare (and eat of course) healthier meals, rather than letting a few cheat meals fly under the radar.


Summary

With such an extensive reach, social media is able to help you connect with a global audience. This can either help or hinder your weight loss progress.

If you decide to use online platforms to help you reach your goals, we suggest trying to set up some healthy ground rules. Avoid pages that regularly provide you with junk foods or tempt you to deviate from your program. Instead focus on education, community support and motivation.


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References

  1. Spence, C et al. Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation. Brain and Cognition. 2016; 110: 53-63
  2. Cavallo, DN et al. A Social Media–Based Physical Activity Intervention. Am J Prev Med. 2012; 43(5): 527–532 
  3. Ayoko, E et al. The Use of Social Media to Achieve Weight Loss Goals. University of Houston. https://www.coe.uh.edu/features/student-success/ayoko/eayoko_research.pdf


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