Your attitude on Twitter may predict whether your weight loss efforts will be successful, researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology recently reported. They found that how likely or unlikely you are to succeed at dieting corresponds to the sentiment of the words and phrases used on Twitter. This method was 77 percent accurate in predicting the success or failure of dieters.
“We see that those who are more successful at sticking to their daily dieting goals express more positive sentiments and have a greater sense of achievement in their social interactions,” said Assistant Professor Munmun De Choudhury, lead researcher on the project. “They are focused on the future, generally more social and have larger social networks.”
What words and phrases did the successful dieters use? “Train smart like a trainer…win like 6 time champion [sic],” “If your not failing your not trying hard enough…[sic],” and “If we never stumble we never fall. If we never fall we never fail, and if we never fail we never grow!” were some examples.
The researchers found that Twitter users who were the most successful at losing weight tended to be more focused on topics related to health and fitness and were more socially interactive.
“We see that these users are much more likely to share healthy recipes, offer tips on nutrition and exercise, and report on their own progress,” said De Choudhury. “Their larger network of friends and followers, and increased engagement, means that they tend to also have stronger support systems, which positively impacts the likelihood of dieting compliance.”
People who were unsuccessful in meeting their weight loss goals posted Twitter content with a noticeably negative tone and tended to be more uneasy and fearful in their posts.
“These users tend to be more anxious seemingly because of a lack of emotional control, and because of certain activities and events of daily life,” said De Choudhury.
Examples of Tweets by unsuccessful dieters included, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose my mind. Completely lose what little is left. I cry at the thought of stupid things…” and “Feel rough as old boots this morning :/ Ankle hurts, shin hurts, chest hurts, head hurts.”
Studying the words posted on Twitter by itself would have offered insights into dieters’ health status. But this study was notable in that the study group included people who connected their MyFitnessPal (MFP)—a calorie-counting app—and Twitter accounts.
“These areas have been individually observed to glean health indicators,” explained De Choudhury. “However, considering these data sources together and applying an established causality testing methodology allows us to validate for the very first time the efficacy of social media and quantified self-sensing in revealing risk to diet compliance.”
The study authors looked at more than 2 million tweets and 100,000+ daily MFP entries from nearly 700 individuals. The researchers identified qualified users by searching publicly shared posts with the hashtag “#myfitnesspal” and that contained an embedded link.
An individual’s MFP food diary entries were paired with Twitter posts from the corresponding time period. Using this information, researchers compared how well the subjects met their set dieting goals to attitudes and behaviors expressed in the tweets.
The scientists evaluated the tweets for linguistic characteristics that signal links between a person’s behavioral expression and their health and well being.
Researchers believe that in the future, using information like this derived from social media can lead to statistical models that can help explore dynamics of events around when or how soon an individual’s diet is likely to fail. According to De Choudhury, “This would allow for proactive measures to be taken to help ensure more positive health outcomes.”