Does Tweeting Really Make You Skinnier?
Trying to keep up your New Year’s resolution to get fit? Having a hard time getting to the gym because of your social media addiction? Well, now you can multi-task and do both: lose weight and let the world know how you’re doing it on the new Twitter diet!
The hype, simplified, is this: the more you Tweet, the more weight you lose.
The truth is this: the study followed only 96 men and women for six months. Half of them used Twitter and saw an additional weight loss of 0.5 percent. The study broke Twitter use down into active users, readers, and those who did neither. The researchers also categorized the tweets into five categories, such as “informational” and “emotional support.”
I tweet and message with some friends-in-weight-loss, but I’m not sure how the study would categorize our updates. In what category does: “Dear Peanut Butter, F*#k You,” belong? It’s emotional, sure, but is it supportive? What about a category for, “I think I might be dying,” which came from a friend on a juice cleanse, and is exactly the message I sent when I found out that wine “cost” four points on Weight Watchers.
The study has many flaws besides the low sample size and short period of time: most participants were white; most were women; their tweeting habits changed over the course of the six-month period and the change wasn’t accounted for, etc. But that didn’t stop GMA, Fox News, and countless others from lead stories with headlines like “Tweet On with the Twitter Diet,” “Tweet What you Eat” and “Desperate to lose weight? Logging on to Twitter could help you shed the pounds.” The Daily Mail went so far as to state that “Twitter can speed up the rate at which we shed the pounds,” which is simply not a finding of this study.
I got OCD on this, of course, and kept reading what people were saying, wondering if I was missing the facts that were making such an impact that everyone was talking about it. While googling around I kept my “weight loss” search to the last 24 hours and saw one new study that says men lose weight faster than women. Um…haven’t we known that (additional) unfair physical disparity between the genders forever? And yet another “new” study released this week showed using less sugar will help you lose weight! I mean — who knew? As a woman who has dieted off and on since she was 13, I am stunned that this is news. As an academic and co-editor of a non-profit literary magazine, I am stunned that someone is funding a grant to study these issues.
While these studies are 1) useless and 2) redundant, I guess at least these bits of diet news are not contradictory, like parenting advice. Most diets come down to eat less/weigh more, even if they differ in food choices, from no grain (Paleo) to high fiber (Livestrong). Sharing your food intake, activity, and motivational tips is pretty much what everyone is doing with their food porn and humble brags (I just ran a 5k!), right? Or is this a form of the Public Humiliation diet? (One-year-later followups on the mother who put her 7-year old daughter on a strict diet and wrote about it for Vogue are in the media now. Daughter is down 16 pounds. Mom got a book contract.)
I do think, however, that it’s interesting the media didn’t run with the study that the New York Times published that showed that folks who are 20 pounds overweight have a longer life expectancy To be clear: those whose B.M.I. rank them as overweight have less risk of dying than people of normal weight or low B.M.I.
Was this report, based on nearly three million people and looking at more than 100 studies, unlike the sketchy Tweeter study, merely overlooked by the media because it ran on New Year’s Day, when everyone wakes up with resolve (and a hangover?).
Or was it ignored because there is no way to reduce the study into something cute, clever, like “Tweet What You Eat?”