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When Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) decided she wanted to lose weight, she announced it to nearly 60,000 Twitter followers: "I'm tired of looking and feeling fat. Maybe talking about it publicly will keep me on track as I try to be more disciplined. Off to the gym."
And as the Huffington Post's collection of her weight loss tweets shows, the Senator kept her followers in the loop with regular updates like, "It's official. I have divorced bread and pasta. I'm hoping someday we can be friends again."
Now here's a sampling of tweets and Facebook updates from my non-public figure friends: "I've now done bikram yoga twice and know I can sweat from everywhere and it isn't completely hellacious." "Just bought a bag of individually wrapped boxes of watermelon Nerds, and I'm not even pretending they're for trick-or-treaters." "My bathroom mirror is so unflattering that I look like a cyborg goat and this is what rules all the decisions of my day."
Yes, my friends are hilarious. But as social media lets us live more public lives, it has also created a much bigger platform for the kind of diet kvetching that we used to share only with cubicle mates. Add to that the number of apps, like RunKeeper and Calorific diet tracker, that encourage you to update Facebook every time you clock "38 minutes of yoga" or "run 2.8 miles," and dieting becomes not only public domain, but also a kind of competitive art form.
On the one hand, I love that this creates opportunities for friends to encourage each other from afar when we try new things (hooray bikram yoga!). When my husband completes the New York City Marathon on Sunday, you better believe I'll be proudly Facebooking about it. Adopting any healthy habit, whether you're trying to eat more veggies or quit smoking, is hard and public support and accountability can go a long way.
But if you need that level of external validation every single time you eat an apple or break a sweat (as the workout apps offer), I'd suggest you need to look more closely at your motivations for these changes, to figure out why you're having such a hard time doing it all by yourself. If your 5 a.m. bootcamp workout doesn't feel complete without a sanctimonious Facebook update to let the world know how amazing you feel for dragging yourself out of bed... maybe you should just sleep later. And keep it to yourself.
And since social media offers a peek into the brains of our loved ones (and random people from high school), it's downright depressing to see how often food guilt and body shame are running themes in my friends -- and senators -- lives. For the most part we aren't using social media to improve our health at all. We're showing how we let our weight define us. Sen. McCaskill said it herself: She decided to lose 50 pounds not for health reasons, but because she was tired of looking and feeling fat. Except "fat" isn't an emotion.
So as Erin Gloria Ryan puts it so well on Jezebel: "Can we please stop setting public weight loss goals?" If you're excited because you just started trapeze lessons or renewed your passion for Zumba, tweet away. But if you're divorcing carbs because they make you feel so fat, think twice before you share that negativity with the class. I'm not sure it's a messsage your 60,000 Twitter fans need to hear.