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January 6, 2015

Sherry Pagoto, PhD, offers tips on how to use social media for effective weight loss

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  • Medical School
Medical School's clinical psychologist Sherry Pagoto, PhD discusses weight loss and social media.

With each New Year come new beginnings and, for some, this means resolutions: resolving to perform better at work, to be a better person and to be more mindful of personal health.

One of the more popular perennial resolutions is to lose weight. With so many options, fad diets and outrageous exercise pledges, social media can be an effective tool to help an individual healthfully shed pounds and create a support network that can be vital to being successful in reaching goals, according to clinical psychologist Sherry Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine at UMass Medical School.

Dr. Pagoto, a staff psychologist of the Weight Center at UMass Memorial Medical Center who has published more than 80 papers on obesity and cancer-related issues, is involved with several groundbreaking studies researching how social media can be used as a tool to help people achieve goals and connect clinicians with patients. Based on her clinical and research expertise and her own experience creating the #plankaday Twitter group, Pagoto suggests five ways that people can use social media to select a diet that best fits their needs and goals and maintain motivation and support.

  1. Create a private Facebook group for friends interested in losing weight. How? It’s easy: Post on Facebook asking if anyone wants to join a private weight loss group. Then create a group page (private not public) and send invites to those interested. Identify a day where people report weight change from last week and a day to post goals for the week. Ask people to post helpful content such as recipes, exercise plans, questions, and struggles throughout the week. 
  2. Find an existing weight loss community, such as those on Sparkpeople, Weight Watchers, or My Fitness Pal websites. Many are free. Just be sure they are promoting healthy lifestyle change, not a particular specialized diet. 
  3. Most commercial weight loss apps allow you to ‘friend’ other users. Connect with other serious users to increase your social support and motivation.
  4. Hop on Twitter and engage with a healthy lifestyle community—there are many on there. Find them via hashtags: #C25K is used by people working on a Couch to 5K plan; #fitfluential, #girlsgonesporty, #fitbloggin, #fitfam, #wwchat and #plankaday are popular healthy lifestyle hashtags. Follow users of those hashtags to build your community; then engage with them. Cheer people on and they will do the same for you. Also search for health care professionals tweeting good information about healthy lifestyle. Examples include @yonifreedhoff, @drdavidkatz, @drsharma, @conscienhealth and @umwprc and, of course, @drsherrypagoto.

Keep in mind that the power of online social networks is the potential to connect with people with similar interests and goals. For this reason don't feel like you have to connect with people you already know, especially if you don't know many people interested in getting healthy. Your best weight loss buddy might be across the country.

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