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Today’s post comes from my co-worker and friend Amy. Through hard work and dedication she has undergone an impressive 35 pound weight loss, becoming an inspiration to all who know her. Amy Weldon

She’s passionate about adopting a more healthy lifestyle, one that combines eating good food with hitting the gym. We often times chat about delicious meals we’ve made or great workouts we’ve tried. She’s done some writing over the past year about her weight-loss journey and I asked her if I could share.

As animal trainers we use positive reinforcement to produce desired behaviors. Can these basic principles be applied to healthy living? As Amy’s about to show you the answer is….absolutely.

Social Media as a Positive Reinforcer for Healthy Habits

By: Amy Weldon

What is positive reinforcement training?  Well I don’t have time to explain all of that but what you need to know is that when the behavior you want occurs (whether it be from yourself, your dog, your roommate, etc.) you reward that behavior simultaneously or directly afterwards in order to increase the chances of the behavior happening again in the future.

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It gets far more complicated than that based on how complex the behavior is and so on but the basic idea is pretty simple.

Recently, I re-read and took notes from a book that is pretty much the Bible for positive reinforcement training – “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor.  I was going through it for work as it is a mandatory read for all of our interns and I began to think about my recent slump in weight loss. I started seeing myself as the animal and losing weight as the behavior I wanted to reward – but like any good trainer, I realized this could not be done in one session but instead in many, small steps.

First, I identified good behaviors that lead to weight loss in order to find out what I wasn’t doing so that I could TRAIN myself to do it more often:

  • Working out – Definitely hitting the gym with varied, balanced workouts and at least 3 times a week.
  • Eating right – Have been buying all the best groceries thanks to the help of “Eat This, Not That: Supermarket Survival Guide.”  I cook A LOT now and there’s no soda or Little Debbies lurking in MY house waiting to foil my hard work!
  • Writing down what I eat – AHA!

Now, for those of you who have tried to lose weight before and incorporated the food journal, you know that it can be one of the hardest things to get used to and continue to do.

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But that’s just it!  There is no immediate reinforcer for writing down what you eat directly after (or before) you eat it… unless you use Hershey’s kisses or something… which is just MORE food to write down.  In most cases, the reinforcement doesn’t come until days or even weeks later – the tiniest movement of the scale numbers on weigh-in day.

So I came up with a plan.

We all know how great it feels to receive “Likes”, comments, retweets, re-pins, etc. on anything you post to social media websites.  There is nothing more satisfying than posting something funny or a picture of you that gets 10 Likes within several minutes of doing so.  It’s that “people LIKE me” feeling and it’s addicting.

Being a social media addict already, I decided to employ one or all of these resources as a way to reinforce myself for journaling my food.  After each entry I made on my Weight Watchers Online food tracker, I would immediately Tweet about how I had done so; my Twitter account is linked to Facebook too.  image

All of my friends on Facebook know I have been losing weight and working to get healthier as I have posted progress pictures, statuses about the gym, recipes and the like but what I did not anticipate happening was the close following of fellow-weight losers (that sounds bad) I created by doing so.  In turn, any time I posted “Hey I just logged my lunch and I already wrote down my afternoon snack!” or whatever it was, I would IMMEDIATELY have 2 or 3 “Likes” and encouraging comments.

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Boom. Immediate positive reinforcement for completing a behavior that was very challenging for me to stick with.

Now it’s only been a little over a week but I can already start to feel the balance shift.  Writing my food down is no longer an obligatory, guilt-laden thing.  It’s something I WANT and am HAPPY to do and in the long run, it will only yield more good things and strengthen the positive association!

Need proof?  Just ask my scale. :)

And take a look at YOUR Facebook timeline.  I don’t know about you but it seems like there are more and more people and friends of mine posting about working out and eating right and I could NOT be more excited!  Go us!

So to anybody out there reading this novel, go ahead… give it a try.  You know that if I’m your friend or following your posts, you’ll have at least ONE “Like” right off the bat!

Happy Training!  Happy Losing!

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Thanks again Amy for letting me share!

I want to know….

Do you use social media as a reinforcer?

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