Editorial: Instagram for weight loss?

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Social Media could a new way to jump-start your weight loss plan.


One of the hardest parts of making a big change is getting and staying motivated. There are many tips and tricks to staying motivated and inspired to continue on your path to better health and weight loss and one of the biggest ones is at your fingertips nearly all of your waking days. That item is your trusted cell phone. I usually recommend that my patients take a before and after photo to inspire them to lose weight and keep it off.

Most cell phones have a camera and readily available to document your journey and on its face, it would appear this tool is a perfect tool to document your success. Documenting the changes could be the perfect tool to build confidence and look back to build motivation to avoid weight regain. Up until recently, there was limited research to back up the use of photos or Instagram to assist in weight loss. The good news is that research seems to back the use of internet communities such as Instagram to improve your level of success.

Sitting at table with laptop
Sitting at a table with a laptop

As early as 2004, research began to show that support from a group online or in-person could build on weight loss success​[1]​. In this study, participants assigned to an internet-based weight maintenance program sustained comparable weight loss over 18 months when compared with individuals who continued to meet face-to-face. Although not Instagram, the study determined that internet support appeared to be a viable medium for promoting long-term weight maintenance. The best part of the internet is that it has a sider reach and cheaper.

In 2009, a study looked at how internet weight loss communities and their role in weight loss​[2]​. The study found that an Internet weight loss community plays a prominent role in participants’ weight loss efforts. Clearly, understanding these communities and their impact could improve how we evaluate, build, harness, and manipulate social support for weight loss. It is clear that the internet and online communities are one means to assist those overweight.

Another study from 2017 looked at Instagram as a means to teach dieters about healthier meal choices​[3]​. The study tracked support in participants in their pursuit of healthy eating goals. They sought social support for their own tracking and healthy behaviors and strove to provide that support for others. People adapted their personal tracking practices to better receive and give this support. The online support resulted in the subject making healthier meal choices.

Although not well studied, I would argue that posting photos online or just taking them on the phone to document your success would also build support and confidence. We know that the internet and online forums and communities can help people lose weight and keep it off. Instagram is poorly studied but the use just makes sense. I do nto use Instagram, but I do sue my phone to take photos during exercise 3-5 times a week. I have found that it encourages me to stay the course.

The primary problem with the obesity epidemic is to the obesity epidemic is the stigma associated with obesity. The sigma inhibits suffers from seeking assistance. In-person support and assistance may come off as blaming and inhibits people from seeking the support needed to lose the weight. This attitude causes a lot of harm instead of proving the assistance they so vitally need. Social media could be the perfect approach to avoid stigma by limited influence to like-minded participants and still provide a cheaper form of assistance.

Another benefit is the social and emotional support they received from other Instagram users helped keep them accountable towards their goals. Like-minded people tend to provide honest support that keeps each other focused on their final goal. Maintaining motivation and focus is the key to weight loss success. Participants support each other to meet their weight loss goals and maintain weight loss. This culture of accountability needs to be researched on Instagram and other online communities.

The bottom line: Online support is effective to support weight loss and maintenance. Instagram has only been in existence since 2010 and research on the platform is limited. I would like to see more weight loss and maintenance. Utilizing a social media platform to track success and encourage dieters to meet health goals could be a useful strategy. Social support within Internet weight-loss communities merits further evaluation as a weight-loss resource for those that need weight loss assistance.

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  1. [1]
    J. Harvey-Berino, S. Pintauro, P. Buzzell, and E. C. Gold, “Effect of Internet Support on the Long-Term Maintenance of Weight Loss,” Obesity Research, pp. 320–329, Feb. 2004, doi: 10.1038/oby.2004.40. [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/oby.2004.40
  2. [2]
    K. O. Hwang et al., “Social support in an Internet weight loss community,” International Journal of Medical Informatics, pp. 5–13, Jan. 2010, doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2009.10.003. [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2009.10.003
  3. [3]
    C.-F. Chung, E. Agapie, J. Schroeder, S. Mishra, J. Fogarty, and S. A. Munson, “When Personal Tracking Becomes Social,” in Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems  – CHI ’17, 2017, doi: 10.1145/3025453.3025747 [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/3025453.3025747
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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