Losing weight is tough enough without trying to go it alone. Tons of research shows that you’re more likely to stick to a diet plan if you have support—you’ll eat better and work out harder; you’ll drop more pounds and keep them off. Some dieters rely on family and friends for support, while others turn to their computers and smart phones: “Social media, for example, is more and more popular among people trying to lose weight,” says Marjorie Nolan, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and certified personal trainer. From Facebook to smart phone apps, these different technologies offer at-your-fingertips access to weight loss strategies, motivation, and encouragement.
Here are 7 ways to get tech weight loss support and reach your goal.
Telling your mirror about your exercise plan may not keep you as focused as posting the proclamation to all 248 of your Facebook friends or Tweeting it to dozens of followers. For New Jersey resident Colleen Lange, 41, what started out as a little weight loss contest between a few close friends on Facebook grew into a group of more than 20 participants from 4 states—some of whom she’s never met. “We post daily—sharing recipes, supporting one another, even talking a little smack for extra motivation,” she says. Connecting with people who share the same goals is like having your very own cheering section, says Rachel Meltzer Warren, RD, a NY-based nutritionist—there’s always someone there to celebrate when you drop those first 10 pounds or help you get back on track if you re-gain 3. Personal stories show it works, and the scientific community is paying attention: Government-funded studies are underway looking at how technologies like social networking can help young adults achieve healthy weights.
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2. Keep a viral diary.
Blogging about all the ups and downs of your weight loss journey—the personal struggles and frustrations, breakthroughs and successes—and knowing there are people following your story, provides an accountability and adherence that you may not get otherwise, says Nolan. Posting photos of meals and details of workouts to her blog—called Carrots ‘N’ Cake—has helped Tina Haupert maintain a 20-plus pound weight loss for more than three years, but what’s kept her most on track is the support from her readers. “Anytime I struggle, I talk about it openly and honestly on my blog,” she says. “And whether I’ve gained a few pounds or overdosed on sugar, the comments and advice I get from people who I know are dealing with the same things I am helps me the most.”
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3. Join a virtual support group.
You don’t have to leave your house; you don’t have to face a room of strangers; you don’t even have to give your real name. And while it’s true that the more involved you get in the conversations, the more you’ll get out of the experience—if one day you just want to read about how fellow dieters are dealing with similar struggles, no one is going to stop you. That’s the beauty of online weight loss groups, chat rooms, and forums: They’re a convenient and anonymous way to connect with, be encouraged by, and learn from people in your same boat. The added bonus: These “meetings” are free.
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4. Keep track of the facts.
Interactive weight-management Web sites help you keep tabs on everything from your food to your mood—and research shows that the more you log on, the more pounds you’ll keep off. A recent study found that consistent users who recorded their weight at least once a month for two-and-a-half years maintained the most weight loss. The best sites, according to researchers, are ones that encourage you to consistently input your weight, exercise, and calories consumed; include tailored or personalized information; and allow members to communicate with each other and with nutrition and exercise experts.
5. Start an e-mail chain.
A new British study found that clients receiving encouraging e-mails from a dietitian were more likely to maintain weight loss; the same method could work between family and friends, too. “If your sister in another state is also trying to lose 20 pounds—and she’s the kind of sister who makes you feel motivated—agreeing to regularly e-mail or Skype can absolutely help keep you on track,” says Meltzer Warren. That’s what Julianne Mosoff, 22, from New York, does with her mom and three aunts every other Wednesday: “We set up an ‘accountability thread’ e-mail, where we can share all of our ups and downs with a weight loss progress chart at the bottom of the message. Knowing I’ll have to report my weight and confess if I skip a workout or eat a tub of ice cream really helps me on track. We’re all starting to show some success, plus it’s a fun way to diet.”
6. Turn your phone into a coach.
Need help counting calories? Wonder how far you’ll have to walk to burn off those fries? There’s an…well, you know the rest. Apps, as we know, abound, and diet and exercise ones are on the rise. Even better, they’re getting more personalized and specific to your needs. There’s one that tells you what to eat based on your favorite foods (for your iPhone; it’s called intelli-Diet). There are also ones that help train you for a 5K and teach you how to use those intimidating-looking machines at the gym.
Up to 15% of cell phone owners use apps to manage their health, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. With hundreds of thousands of apps available, how do you choose? “Browse for ones that match your lifestyle and needs,” says Nolan. “If you often eat out, download an app with restaurant calorie info; if you love to cook, pick one that generates healthy meal plans complete with recipes; there are also apps specific to disease conditions and food allergies.” You can even download an app called Cravings Manager: A 5-minute timer starts, encouraging quotes pop up, and by the end of 5 minutes, you convince yourself you shouldn’t eat. Ask your friends or peruse weight loss blogs for reviews and recommendations. A note: Apps are only as good as the user entering the information, adds Nolan, so make sure whatever you input is as accurate—and honest—as possible.
7. Snap pix of your plates.
Keep a daily log of what you eat, and you’ll lose twice as much weight, says a study from Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. But instead of the standard pen and paper method, take pictures of your daily meals and store your photo diary on your computer or phone: A small study suggests that doing so might improve your diet—knowing you have to take a picture serves as a speed bump in a sense; it may help you be more conscious of and perhaps think twice about your food choices before you eat. Plus, we all have a little selective memory when it comes to our diets, says Meltzer Warren, so recording what you eat as you go contributes to accountability and honesty. Take the pic on your smart phone, and down the road, new phone apps (in development) may be able to estimate the calories and nutritional content on the spot.