Healthy Discussions: Facebook and Behavior Change Support

One of my public health colleagues/friends in the area, Ann Houston Staples, recently caught my attention as I was looking at her status on Facebook. She did something that struck me as interesting – she started sharing her eating habits on the social network. Having a food journal is nothing new, but with the opportunities that social networking brings, she is able to share for more eyes. I decided I needed to pick her brain on why she did it and hoping that this would yield great information for those in the social marketing world.

Pulse/Signal: What prompted you to think of this as an idea? Most people would be scared of sharing their diet with Facebook.

I lost 30 pounds during 2010 by adopting and sticking with a more healthy lifestyle all-around. But some old, bad habits kicked in around Thanksgiving, and an emotional family issue got me back on a roller-coaster of emotional eating — that it, eating when I was not hungry, and making food choices and eating portions that were not healthy. Every day or two I would start over, using strategies that had worked for me before, such as keeping a food log. I discovered that since no one was reading my food log but me, I was lacking accountability, and that made cheating very easy to do — and I was doing it with no end in sight. By the end of January, I had gained back 13 pounds of the 30 I had lost. Devastation!

I noticed that a lot of my FB friends occasionally posted photos and descriptions of their meals. I thought that if I made myself do that for everything I ate, I would have more accountability in my eating life, because I would be ashamed to post the way I had been eating.
So — I know what is right, in terms of how to eat — I just need some accountability to keep me on track.

Pulse/Signal: Why choose Facebook as the platform and not something like Flickr or maybe even Twitter?

Simple answer here. I’m pretty active on Facebook — and I’m not doing Flickr or Twitter. My friends are already on FB and are already supportive and care about me and my success.

Pulse/Signal: Do you think that social networks can help improve behavior changes such as better eating?

I worried a bit that some of my Facebook friends would get bored with my “What’s Ann eating” postings — and maybe “hide” me. And some may have done just that. But many friends are telling me that my postings are making them more mindful about what they eat, making them consider making healthier, dietary changes as well.

For me, this strategy is working, because it is helping me be more mindful about what I eat. There’s this time there to consider that comes while I’m preparing to make a photo of what I’m getting ready to eat something. Maybe I don’t need those cookies after all. I can wait until my next meal — or have something healthier instead. This combination of accountability and mindfulness is helping me make this behavior change.

Pulse/Signal: In case others were interested in doing the same – what are the details behind your FB diet sharing plan? Taking photos each time? A description of the meal and calorie count?

I know how I want to eat: more fruits, veggies and whole grains. Healthy fats. Less dairy. Less meat. As little sugar as possible. Not eating after 7 or so at night. No sugary beverages. I photo everything before I eat it and post it with a brief description of the meal. I also talk about what I may have done that was even more healthy for the future — no cheese, for example.

Pulse/Signal: When did you get started and do you think you will carry this on for a while?

I started one week ago tomorrow. I will probably carry on for a little while. My daughter has suggested I remove this from FB at some point and start a blog. I don’t follow a lot of blogs, but my daughter’s roommate especially likes “healthy lifestyle” bloggers and is going to send me some links of ones she likes for me to check out.

For right now, FB is working really well for me. Like I said, my friends are already there — cheering me on to success! I’d like to lose the extra 13 pounds and another 30 by the end of 2011!

Pulse/Signal: What do you think you will get out of this plan? Have you had good support so far?

My FB friends have been wonderful support. They tell my how yummy my healthy meals look. They encourage me to keep going when I stumble. They even make suggestions on how I can make my snacks and meals even more healthy.


Andre’s Notes: Such great, valuable information here for those interested in social marketing and innovative ways to approach positive behavior change in health. So many things hit me from this interview – mainly from the first question that gave insight into why she started it. She was already tracking her food but needed accountability and for her support system to help her do that. Facebook is a perfect tool for this. Also, the use of the social network to put more thought into her decisions because other people were watching is a fantastic nugget of information.

Another piece is that she is already informed of how she wants to eat – now she just needs a way to keep it a lifestyle, something engaging.

Relevant Resources:


Ann knows a thing or two about health too – she is a health educator in the state health department here in North Carolina. Her main areas of expertise are in media relations and media advocacy. Ann’s interests include poetry, the arts, history and Chinese culture. She has studied Tai Chi for about 12 years.

Original post

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply