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Why posting weight loss selfies can do more harm than good

Your social media feeds are flooded with weight loss selfies and #TransformationTuesday posts documenting your friends’ fitness journeys, but should you jump on board? 


As possibly the most annoying answer known to man, there’s simply no clear evidence (yet) whether documenting weight loss on social media is, in fact, helpful.

What is clear, however, is that photo documentation itself can be an incredibly motivating tool to help you stay on track to achieve your weight loss goals. In fact, a recent study performed by a physician and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alicante in Barranquilla, Colombia, found that when 271 patients at a nutrition clinic were asked to take weekly full-body photos in addition to traditional measurements, such as BMI, waist-to-hip ratios and food and exercise diaries, a full 90-percent completed the program and more than 70-percent achieved their weight loss goals.

More: Must-see before and after weight loss pics

What’s particularly interesting about this study is that waist circumference — one of the most obvious visual changes seen in photographs — was particularly motivating to participants. They liked seeing their bodies transform, and they were motivated by the transformation.

So much so that even with 50 percent of the patients electing to participate in the program remotely — phoning in their measurements and emailing their pictures each week rather than walking into the clinic — there were no discernible differences in outcome. In other words, seeing changes over time was motivating enough that patients could literally phone it in and still see results, no in-person accountability required.

More: 10 women prove yoga has no body type

But how does that relate to what’s seen on social media? If photo documentation is helpful, should it be shared in a public forum?

I tried to find studies to support or refute this position and came up empty handed. While many studies do, in fact, suggest that social media and online weight loss programs can benefit those looking to lose weight, I couldn’t find anything that looked specifically at photo documentation through social media.

Instead, I came up with my own very small, very unscientific approach: Ask my friends about their experiences. While my giant sample size of three respondents had varying goals and results, what they could all agree on was that photo documentation, as a whole, was incredibly motivating, For instance, Linda, a blogger at The Fitty, emphasizes, “Photos tell me more than the scale does. Ultimately, I don’t care what the scale says so long as the photos tell me I’m looking thinner or slimmer.”

Christie Joyce, a personal trainer who was once overweight and wasn’t sure how to start her own weight loss journey adds, “Seeing myself every day, it becomes difficult to tell if any progress has been made. It starts to play games with my mind. Comparing a current picture with another picture taken two or three months back truly brings out any changes my body went through over that time.”

But while photo documentation can be helpful, that doesn’t mean social media documentation is. Elisha Letizia, a vegan mom who turns to social media to document her healthy lifestyle choices decided to stop sharing her weight loss photos over time. “Photo documentation is helpful for me as I’m a visual person. It allows me to see where I am and envision where I want to be. But I became self conscious about [sharing photos] after some negative comments about my weight gain.”

As we all know, people on social media can be cruel — even people we think are supportive. Letizia found the negativity surprising and disconcerting. “As soon as my weight started to climb, I saw an increase in negative comments. I was surprised how fast people noticed the weight gain and how critical and negative they could be.”

So what’s that mean for you?

Photo documentation = good. Go ahead and snap progress pics, aiming for one every other week or once a month. Keep them in your phone or print them out and post them somewhere you’ll see them regularly.

If you want to document through social media, think carefully before you start. What’s your intent? How do you want social media to help you? Are you prepared for potential negativity?

Linda chooses to post to social media because “It helps keep me accountable, it’s easy to upload, it keep everything organized by dates and it also motivates my audience.”

Christie Joyce had a similar motivation. “I post my progress pictures not only to document my wellness journey, but to show other women that I’ve had my struggles, and what’s possible for them through exercise and healthy eating.”

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