If you're losing the battle of the bulge, turning to social networking could help you win the war. In a new study, dieters who used social groups in their weight-loss quest lost more than eight percent of their body weight in six months.
Using data from CalorieKing's online weight-loss community, a Northwestern University study found that dieters with "high social embeddedness"—people who logged onto the site regularly, recorded their weigh-ins and befriended other members—lost more weight in six months than those who were less engaged online. "Our findings suggest that people can do very well at losing weight with minimal professional help when they become centrally connected to others on the same weight loss journey," said study author Bonnie Spring, Ph.D., a professor in preventative medicine at Northwestern.So how many online "friends" does it take to coax the bathroom scale to a smaller number? Dieters who did not connect with others lost about five percent of their body weight; those with two to nine friends lost almost seven percent; and those with ten or more friends lost more than eight percent of body weight over six months. Luis A. Nunes Amaral, Ph.D., senior author of the study, said, "In this case, we found the larger your clique, the better your outcomes."
The level of engagement translated to better weight loss results. "We found that the frequency with which you report your weight is a good indicator of positive outcomes," said Amaral. "If you monitor your weight, you are engaged. If you communicate online with other people, you are even more engaged, and when you need support you might be able to get it. There are some nice characteristics about this social network."
We've long known that self-monitoring eating and exercise behavior correlates with greater weight loss; the surprise here is that even greater weight loss occurs among dieters who are highly embedded in a network with others also trying to lose weight. For dieters who lack time or geographical proximity to attend in-person weight loss treatment, an online weight loss program turns out to be a good alternative said Spring, particularly if they adhere to the self-monitoring and social networking features. As Amaral notes, "Modern life is so complex and stressful, to go somewhere for a meeting is not often practical."