Monday, August 8, 2011

Guest Post: An Online Path to Health

I recently posted an Idea about offering twitter support from a Dietitian for folks wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle Caitlin commented that her research project looked at folks using online tools to lose weight and it really helped. I asked her for a guest post to give tips of how using online and social media tools help in our quest to be healthier. Caitlin is a fellow blogger, be sure to visit her blog Feed between the Lines and a brand new registered dietitian :-)

An Online Path to Health

Caitlin Leff, MS, RD

Hi Chow and Chatter readers.  My name is Caitlin and I am a Registered Dietitian and food lover who writes over at “Feed Between the Lines”.   Much of my Master’s research was in the influence of online resources and technology on our ability to make healthy changes in our lives.  Being the online social networking expert that she is, Rebecca kindly asked me to share my research with you.

While technology has in many ways made us more sedentary (think back to your childhood versus the amount of time the average child spends in front of a monitor – be it TV, computer, or smart phone) there are also many ways that technology can actually help us make healthier decisions.   The amount of exposure to people, ideas, and resources available via the internet is vast.  The best part?  Your online path to health can be completely individualized to your needs - key for making successful changes to your health habits.

Here are four important ways you can utilize your love for social media and social networks to lead you down the path to a healthy lifestyle:
Track.  Tracking what you eat, how much you exercise, or how your food and mood are connected are all cornerstones of successful weight loss and health behavior change.  This does not mean you need to spend the rest of your life counting calories but instead tracking in the beginning stages of weight loss can help you become more aware of what you eat, how much you eat, and the effect of portion sizes.   This used to be a tedious process but now thanks to such free/paid online programs and apps as “Lose-it”, “My Plate” and “My Food Diary” you can easily search through comprehensive databases making it easier to become mindful of what you eat.  Many of these sites also allow you track exercise, water consumption, and vitamins.

Peer Support.  Feeling supported by others as well as having the ability to access advice is extremely valuable when making healthy lifestyle changes.  But sometimes we may be embarking on a journey to health alone and are not fully supported by our family or friends.  Luckily the internet is filled with like-minded people who may become your friends and biggest supporters.  These cyber-friends can help keep you accountable, cheer you on as you make progress, and encourage you to keep going when things seem tough.   Whether it is through weight loss blogs, online weight loss communities, or facebook groups finding peers from all across the country to support you is an extremely helpful tool.

Professional Support.   More and more Dietitians have virtual counseling, websites, and online articles to help you from the privacy of your own home.  Use them!  They can help you with meal plans, cooking ideas, and any other nutrition advice you may need.   They can also keep you accountable with emails, text messages, or supportive tweets!   For a list of Dietitians who have blogs and websites online check out the Nutrition Blog Network.

Modeling.  We often learn or are influenced to try new things by other people around us.  And believe it or not – your actions are influencing someone else as well.  The internet is filled with modeling resources from healthy recipes, to people sharing success stories, to motivational tips for working out.   Even better - studies have shown that just by reading about someone else’s workout or healthy recipe you will be influenced to make healthier decisions.

As you are blog readers you are already utilizing the internet for health information.  What other resources besides blogs do you use to help you on your path to health?

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