On a recent Sunday night, Liz Paul was tired. She'd worked in the morning, spent a full day with her family and she did not feel like going out for her daily jog.
"I tweeted out, 'Well, it's 9 p.m. on Sunday and I didn't work out,' " she says, "I really shouldn't go run in the dark should I?"
The response was immediate. The network of people Paul is relying on to help in her battle to lose weight chimed in with advice. Some tweeted back, "Yes, get out and run." Others offered alternatives like a video workout. But everyone said, "Do something!"
Paul, who is 35 years old and lives in Eagan, Minn., got up and went for a three-mile run. "I wouldn't have done something if it was just me," she says, "I would have given up. I would have said 'Oh well, I'll do it tomorrow.' "
Several studies, albeit small ones, show that social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can help bolster weight loss. Researchers in London recently analyzed 12 studies involving nearly 1,900 people in the U.S., Europe, East Asia and Australia. They found those who used social networking sites lost modest but significant amounts of weight.
It's the social push that helps make people accountable, says Christopher Wharton, assistant professor in the nutrition program at Arizona State University. And accountability can be a powerful motivation to stay on track with a weight-loss plan. In-person support groups definitely help, he says, but most only meet once a week, while social media is ubiquitous.
"Even though you are virtually dispersed," he says, "you can sign on to those platforms multiple times a day and talk about your progress, your perceived failures, and immediately receive support from friends and other acquaintances who are connected to you."
Wharton says people can also take advantage of some easily downloaded phone apps to help them keep track of what they eat. In a recent study, he found a smartphone app was the best way to tally up the day's calories, which is key to weight loss. "That might have something to do with how easy it is to pull a phone out of your pocket or purse and type in information and then be done with it," he says, "rather than carrying around paper and pencil and manually writing things down."
Liz Paul, who has lost more than 100 pounds since giving birth to her second child last November, is taking her digital weight loss efforts one step further. She now blogs about her struggle with weight in the blog Prior Fat Girl.
One recent post helped her figure out why she felt like eating, "everything in sight." As she wrote she realized she was overly anxious and stressed. She started blogging about the behavior and ended up discovering what the root cause was. Once she understood that, she says, she was able to get back on track.
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Rachel Martin is here with us for the next week, week and a half, however long you want to stay.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
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INSKEEP: Welcome. Now, today in Your Health, we're going to talk about dating after weight loss. First, we ask how you lose that weight in the first place.
MARTIN: Apparently, social media can help and so can your smartphone. That's because you're more likely to exercise when someone else is tracking your progress. Here's NPR's Patty Neighmond with the new research.
PATTY NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Liz Paul is 35 years old, works full-time, is married with two children. She also struggles with her weight. She has for years, but now she's finding much-needed instant support in the digital world.
LIZ PAUL: I don't think I would be half as successful if it was just me alone.
NEIGHMOND: Take this recent Sunday night. Paul worked in the morning, spent a full day with her family and didn't get out for her daily jog.
PAUL: And it was 9 and dark, and I really didn't want to go out. I was looking for an excuse and I tweeted, well, it's 9 on Sunday, and I didn't work out. I really probably shouldn't go run in the dark, should I?
NEIGHMOND: The response was immediate. Some said, yes, run. Others offered alternatives like a workout video. But everyone said do something.
PAUL: And, of course, I ended up going out, and I did my run. And I got 3-4 miles in, and I wouldn't have done something if it was just me. I would've given up. I would've said, oh, well, I'll do it tomorrow.
NEIGHMOND: It's that social push that helps make people accountable, says Christopher Wharton, a researcher who also teaches nutrition at Arizona State University.
CHRISTOPHER WHARTON: That idea of accountability, not just to yourself but to others as well, can play a strong role - especially in weight management.
NEIGHMOND: In-person support groups definitely help, he says, but the problem is most meet only once a week.
WHARTON: With social media, even though you are virtually dispersed, still you can be signing out to those platforms multiple times a day - talking about your progress, talking about your perceived failures, whatever the case may be - and immediately receiving support from friends and other acquaintances who are connected to you.
NEIGHMOND: Researchers in London recently analyzed 12 studies involving nearly 1,900 people in the U.S., Europe, East Asia and Australia. They found those who used social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, lost modest but significant amounts of weight. For Liz Paul, she's lost more than 100 pounds since giving birth to her second child last November. And she credits Twitter, friends on Facebook, food and workout ideas posted on Instagram and her blog, priorfatgirl.com. One recent post helped her figure out her overeating had a lot to do with stress and anxiety.
PAUL: I started writing about, gosh, I don't know what's going on. I'm eating just everything in sight this week. I'm really hungry. I'm having a hard time tracking. And by the end of the post, I'm like, oh, wait, this is starting to make sense. Here's some of the underlying stuff I'm realizing. So I started with the behavior, and I ended up, you know, diving into what the root cause was by the process of blogging.
NEIGHMOND: Researcher Christopher Wharton says that tracking what you eat is also key to losing weight. And in a recent study, he found a smartphone app was the best way to tally up the day's calories.
WHARTON: That might be something to do with, you know, how easy it actually is to pull the smartphone out of your pocket or purse and type in information and then be done, versus carrying around paper and pencil, diet log, having to pull that out and manually write things down.
NEIGHMOND: And another small study from Northwestern University found that calorie tracking apps, along with nutrition information and routine check in with weight loss coaches, helped people lose weight and keep it off. These and other findings are leading researchers to look at the new market and weight-loss apps and digital programs as promising new tools in the fight against obesity. Patty Neighmond, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.