Can social media, specifically Facebook, interfere with your diet goals? A new study points to yes, though positive aspects are still present.
The study was conducted by a team at the University of Michigan and indicates that those who announce weekly diet and exercise goals on Facebook didn’t experience fast weight loss compared to than those who refrain from “sharing.”
“One of the most common recommendations for people who want to lose weight is to share their plan with family and friends. The theory is that being accountable to, and encouraged by, their social support system will increase their chances of reaching goals,” said Paul Resnick, the Michael D. Cohen Collegiate Professor of Information at the University of Michigan.
Resnick and his team discovered that sharing weight loss goals was actually a “double-edged sword.” One side is the encouragement from friends and family. The other is being loathe to share. This causes people to refrain from setting goals at all.
“Public accountability is great, but not if it keeps you from making commitments in the first place,” Resnick said. “We have a ways to go in figuring out how to leverage public commitments in health behavior change.”
The 12-week, randomized trial included providing 165 obese participants with FitBit pedometers and access to a custom website created by researchers. The website allowed participants to view how many steps they had taken that day or week, and to decide whether to set a goal for the following week. Researchers found that public accountability actually decreased the desire to set weight loss goals. However, positive effects were also noted.
“It was heartwarming to see how many people offered emotional support, or even offers to walk together, watch kids, give rides or let a friend borrow a dog, in response to people sharing their walking goals,” said Sean Munson, assistant professor at the University of Washington. “Our application shared people’s goals along with a request for support. Compared to just a dry post with numbers and statistics, I think their friends knew better how to respond to that request, and I’d like to see more applications adopt this approach.”
The takeaway? Facebook and other social media sites can function as excellent weight loss tools…but only to a certain point.