Can Facebook Make You Gain Weight?


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If you’re finding it hard to resist stuffing your face with holiday cookies, your Facebook profile may to be blame. Spending time on social networks can lower your self-control, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Researchers from Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh conducted a series of studies on social network use. In the first two studies, they found that people who were focused on their close friends while browsing Facebook had higher self-esteem after logging off. “We present an overtly positive view of ourselves on social networks,” says lead study author Keith Wilcox, Ph.D., assistant professor at Columbia Business School. “And we care more if that’s being seen by close friends. The more you focus on them while browsing, the more you’re thinking of the image you’re presenting to them.” (Your social media presence isn’t all about keeping up with friends. Learn How Facebook Can Help You Get A Job.)

That may seem like a great side effect, but their next study found this momentary ego boost led to lower self-control. After browsing Facebook while focused on their close friends, participants were more likely to pick an unhealthy snack and give up quickly on a difficult task. “It’s essentially giving you the same feeling you would get from a great workout, but you didn’t actually do anything,” says Wilcox.

It makes sense: Posting pictures from your epic Saturday night and knowing your friends will “like” them can give you a huge boost of confidence. And that momentary high causes you to let other things slide—like taking in extra calories or spending more money. Over time, those behaviors add up. In their final study, the researchers surveyed 541 participants and found that spending more time on Facebook was associated with a higher BMI, more frequent binge eating, lower credit scores, and more credit card debt. Yikes. (Are you ready to slim down? Follow this Metabolism-Boosting Total-Body Workout two or three times per week.)

But you don’t need to swear off the social network altogether. Just knowing how the site affects you can help you avoid the trap, says Wilcox. Still need a little extra help with self-control? Try these strategies to boost your willpower in any situation:

The situation: That chocolate cake is staring you down. Plus, you had a salad for lunch!
Do this: Reframe your thoughts
That same feel-good boost you get from Facebook can also come from making healthy choices. “Any time you feel like you’re doing well, it relaxes that willpower center in our brains,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. To boost it back up, reframe what your good behavior means. “Don’t look at the salad as evidence that you’re doing well, but that you’re committed to your goals,” says Carter. You’ll be more likely to stick with that progress, instead of reversing it.

The situation: It’s been a long day, and you’re really not feeling the gym
Do this: Get up early tomorrow (and the next day, and the next…)
Need self-control to stick with your fitness routine? Hit the gym in the morning. “Willpower takes a lot of energy. And like a muscle, it gets fatigued,” says Carter. That’s why you’re more likely to give in when it comes to ordering takeout and curling up on the couch after a long day full of decisions. (You can totally fit in a sweat session before work. Try this 20-Minute, Calorie-Torching Workout.)

The situation: You just passed a shoe sale and you need those heels
Do this: Vow to come back in a week
When temptation is right in front of you, it’s hard to turn down. “You don’t want to tell yourself no, because that makes you want them more,” says Carter. “Instead, promise yourself that if you still want them in a week, you’ll buy them.” Chances are you won’t feel the urgent need to spend once you’ve left the store.

The situation: Texting your ex seems like a fantastic idea
Do this: Delete his number EARLY
There’s a reason you have a sudden urge to call what’s-his-name after a long night out. “Your self-control is down when it’s the end of the night. You’re fatigued, and there’s probably alcohol involved,” says Carter. To avoid the midnight-dial, take extra precautions. Delete his number and give it to a friend in case you ever need it. Not ready for that? Change his contact name to something like “Bad Idea,” so you’re hit with a reminder every time you want to text him. (While you’re at it, you should cut another tie with him. Here’s Why You Need to Unfriend Your Ex on Facebook.)

The situation: You’d rather watch your DVR than get your work done
Do this: Take a short break
When stress depletes your self-control, it’s harder to resist quality procrastinating like a Downton Abbey marathon. “Give yourself 10 minutes to relieve stress,” says Carter. Go for a walk or take a quick nap. A rise in blood sugar can also increase your willpower, so try a healthy snack like a handful of almonds.

The situation: Well, everyone else ordered a third martini
Do this: Start the night with a plan
When you’re out with friends, it’s easy to get caught up and let our self-control off for the night. Counteract this by setting your limit before you go out. “People who make a plan are considerably more likely to stick to it than those you don’t,” says Carter.

—Casey Gueren, Women's Health


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