, trying to lose weight involves dieting and exercise. But what about Tweeting the entire process, including your weight and how much you ate on a given day? New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter is doing just that. And it’s a far cry from the old days, when dieting was something vaguely embarrassing you did on your own or with an AA-like plan like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers. How useful is Twitter — or, more to the point, public accountability — in successfully kicking a habit?
Stelter started the project in March, weighing in at 270 pounds. In his article published today about the process, he writes, “I knew that I could not diet alone; I needed the help of a cheering section.”
And the plan worked! Dude’s lost almost 75 pounds so far. And people are legitimately interested and following along (as of this posting he has almost 700 followers), even though most of his Tweets are something like, “Tues: yogurt (80), F1 bar (140); gr bar (150); 6oz salmon fillet (300), veggies (~75), 1/2 wheat roll (70), breadstick (30?)”. It makes the entire Fake Kaplan Twitter thing look entirely too effort-heavy.
Anyone who’s ever tried to diet knows that you’re encouraged to keep a food diary. Stelter’s project is a food diary squared; both involve the idea of accountability, but with the addition of an audience, the pressure’s on. A diary won’t tell you it’s disappointed in you if you fuck up, and neither will it applaud you when you reach a goal.
But your 700 Twitter followers will do both, if they can deal with the daily updates on saturated fat and calories, as if we all don’t spend enough time thinking about those things, anyway.
And that’s the thing: It’s reasonable to think that these people aren’t necessarily following Stelter’s progress because they want to cheer him on, but because we’re a culture that’s hungry to see if weight loss is even possible. It’s the same sad, processed-food-eating, weight-obsessed culture that has no idea how to eat right anymore, or what real food even looks like. So when someone shows people how it’s done, we get hooked.
Why watch Celebrity Fit Club? Or The Biggest Loser, which — for fuck’s sake! — almost indicts viewers with that title. But the people who lose weight on those shows are succeeding in essentially the same way as Stelter: They’re succeeding because if you have people watching you, and you fail, then that’s the most humiliating type of failure.
Using Twitter for dieting is simply the more simple, text-heavy version of this. It’s the public part of it that’s key.
What if people in drug rehab tweeted their progress? Would that help? “Wednesday: 1 line of blow. Disappointed.” Or Alcoholics Anonymous (accountability to other people is how AA works, anyway, with the sponsors and speaking to the group and so forth). These aren’t bad ideas, nor are they particularly out there. You’ll hear it repeatedly, because it’s true: as more and more of our private life has moved online, this kind of thing is bound to happen more often.
Another question, though: What if Stelter was a woman? Would he be getting pats on the back? Or would he be lumped in with the rest of us neurotic, weight-obsessed, insecure chicks? Probably the latter. And that’s something to consider.
But when it comes to losing weight, or kicking any kind of habit, I guess it’s “whatever works.” And Stelter’s method is working. Excuse me while I go start a Tumblr charting the progress of my kicking this pesky [nail-biting/glue-huffing/Internet] habit.