How Social Media Can Help Weight-Loss Goals

By now, we’re well aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media. Most of us have probably gone from good mood to bad or vice-versa with a quick refresh of our feed. And all the food porn, motivational quotes, exercise challenges and Photoshopped thigh gaps can be even more challenging to navigate when you’re trying to lose weight.

Fortunately the solution isn’t giving up Snapchat and Instagram cold turkey. Instead, it requires a new approach to help you reach your goals. Recent studies found engaging in an online community may actually lead to greater weight loss. Specifically, Instagram may help you accurately track calories and Twitter may provide support and accountability especially to those who lack support in real life.

Here’s how experts recommend turning your feeds into a great weight-loss tool:

You don’t need to be a researcher to know that seeing people’s seemingly perfect bodies and diets can be emotionally draining. “When we look in the mirror, what we see often isn’t what we see on Instagram where people are posting the best moments of their lives. It can feel like ‘Everyone else is doing so well and I’m not,’” says licensed clinical psychologist Sherry Pagoto, PhD, author of the study on how Twitter can provide support.

You can’t pick your family, but you can pick who you follow. Unfollow anyone whose posts make you feel like you’re not good enough and keep following those who make you feel confident. #yougotthis

Following people whose lifestyle seems unattainable can be demotivating. “You went to gym five times this week and are feeling good, then you see someone who has been lifting weights for six years and competing, and you can feel hopeless,” says personal trainer and body image coach Jessi Kneeland, adding that “it can create a downward effect on healthy habits and self-care.” Instead, follow people who may have similar struggles, but who are making similarly realistic health progress.

“People who get high numbers of followers tend to look a certain way. We cling to these people and think, ‘If I don’t follow them, how will I get motivated?’” Kneeland says. “But it can backfire.” Instead of caring how many followers a person has, fill your feed with a diversity of bodies who empower you to do what they are doing — and weed out those who make you feel uninspired or unmotivated to follow your healthy habits.

In Pagoto’s study, people were least likely to post on social media when they were struggling and most likely to post when things were going well. However, posts about hard times got the most engagement. “That’s when really great conversations start happening,” she says. “People swoop in and say, ‘I can totally relate.’” Not only can this reduce those feelings of not being “good enough,” you can also get some helpful tips. And don’t forget to help those you see having a hard day.

Because social media communicates an abundance of content to anyone, some information may be inaccurate, says Mark Kligman, MD, director of the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Center for Weight Management & Wellness. Examples of this are the sharing of Photoshopped photos, diets and exercise regimens going viral and before and after testimonials. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and paralyzed by it all.

Don’t judge a source by how many followers she or he has — look for credentials. If they’re giving workout advice, are they a certified trainer? If they’re giving diet advice, are they a registered dietitian or a certified health coach? Also watch if they’re pushing products, and always be skeptical: “If something sounds outlandish, it probably is,” Kligman says.

Join a monitored community. Kligman’s patients have access to a Facebook group where they get support and also share advice. This page is monitored — if anyone shares inaccurate information, the monitor (or even other patients!) steps in and corrects them. “We make sure the information is sensible,” Kligman says, adding that “a monitored forum may be a better solution for social support and education than Instagram or Pinterest.”

Honestly tracking your eating will help you know what you are doing. “Apps [like MyFitnessPal] with a social aspect keep you accountable,” says University of Maryland Medical Center dietitian Alexander Pictor, MSPH, RDN. “If others see you haven’t logged exercise for a few days, they can encourage you to be more active. If you know someone is watching, you are more likely to stick to your plan.”

If your feed is filled with food bloggers and food porn, it can impact your focus on food. “This has the potential to sabotage your goal,” Kneeland says. If you find yourself stressing or obsessing about food a particular diet it might be worth unfollowing those handles.

Even further, consider checking your social feeds less if you find it’s becoming an unproductive use of your time and energy. During hectic times like the holidays, it may be worth setting time limits. “The holidays require lots of extra self-care and nourishment, and sometimes having a strong boundary with social media is the healthiest form of self-care,” Kneeland says.