5 Ways Facebook Is LITERALLY Making You Sick (Says Science)

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Is your relationship with Facebook keeping you from being healthy?

There’s almost no getting away from Facebook. Even if you’re not much into social media, your friends and family are there and Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with them. But once you’re there, it’s all too easy to “Like” and “Follow” a mind-numbing and time-sucking number of pages. Between posts from your friends and family and status updates from pages you follow, you get an awful lot of input on a daily basis. But what does your relationship with Facebook do for you and your health and your self-esteem?

You are what you feed

Most of us check our Facebook news feed at the beginning of the day and what we find there can set the tone for our day, help us focus — or distract us from our goals. Though it may sound silly and trite, there’s a lot of science to back up the idea. Your health, happiness and habits can be greatly affected by your Facebook feed. What is your Facebook feed doing to you?

If you’re trying to eat a healthier diet, getting daily recipes for cupcakes, posts on the best new pizza places and deals at your local ice cream parlor aren’t going to be much help.
Think of Facebook pages the way you do your friends. If you want to be more responsible, you hang out with people who already are and spend less time with the old party crowd from high school. If you want to get and stay fit, you spend time with friends that are committed to a healthy lifestyle.

The same principle is true with Facebook. Your news feed should support and encourage the day you want to have, the person you want to be and the life you want to live.

Research from the fields of science and psychology is starting to show us just the measurable effects that Facebook can have on health and behavior. Here are five of the unexpected ways your Facebook feed may alter your health. Plus, several healthy ways to combat the effects of social media on your mind and body.

1. Facebook can increase your appetite.

Looking at photos of food can activate your brain’s reward center. The release of these chemicals can actually push you to overeat, with one study showing that peeking at pictures of food images after a meal can still trigger hunger (via Women’s Health). Another study from 2009 found that exposure to food advertising during television viewing may also contribute to obesity by triggering automatic snacking of available food. Children consumed 45% more when exposed to food advertising. Adults consumed more of both healthy and unhealthy snack foods following exposure to snack food advertising compared to the other conditions. In both experiments, food advertising increased consumption of products not in the presented advertisements, and these effects were not related to reported hunger or other conscious influences.

Is your feed a constant stream of food photos? Review the pages you’ve liked and turn off notifications from pages that don’t match your most important health goals. Just as you are what you eat, you are also what you feed your brain through your Facebook feed.

2. It increases peer pressureeven for adults. 

A recent study by HP Labs invited 600 participants to look at photos of babies and select which one was cuter. Whichever photo they chose was rigged to be less popular, as shown by a Facebook-style “like” system. Participants were then given a chance to change their selection, with nearly 22% altering their initial opinion. If the approval of “cute babies” is up for grabs, can you imagine how flexible your mind is when bombarded with images of unhealthy foods, desserts and habits that are “approved” and “celebrated” by with dozens, hundreds or thousands of likes?

Knowing about this effect can help you combat it. Likewise, following only the people, pages and events that support your most important priorities is a real way to make social media a healthy experience.

3. Social media can change your brain.

I’ve discussed the effects of behavioral priming recently, and Facebook is a great example of how this phenomenon affects the subconscious mind.

Priming is a non-conscious form of human memory concerned with perceptual identification of words and objects. It refers to activating particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task. For example, a person who sees the word "yellow" will be slightly faster to recognize the word "banana." This happens because yellow and banana are closely associated in memory. Additionally, priming can also refer to a technique in psychology used to train a person’s memory in both positive and negative ways.

So, if you log onto your Facebook feed and see a stream of unhealthy foods, negative posts or worrisome articles, these are the things that will be at the front of your mind. Your brain will focus on the things it has most recently read and use that information to mold your behavior and your mindset.

I’ve always said “to be successful, find someone who’s doing something you admire and copy them.” Who are the first names, faces and pages to pop up in your Facebook feed? These are literally your “Facebook mentors.” What messages are they sending you? You can be certain your subconscious is picking up on them.

4. Facebook can affect your mood. 

Studies have shown that what we see on Facebook does effect our moods, in both positive and negative ways.

One of the most common negative emotions connected to Facebook is envy. Researcher Hanna Krasnova of the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University conducted a study recently that found that one on three people felt worse after checking Facebook than they did beforehand. Interestingly, people who browsed Facebook or checked their feed without interacting were affected the most.

“We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” Krasnova told a reporter for Reuters.

The study found that other people’s vacation photos were the biggest source of envy, while comparing the number of birthday greetings, likes and comments they got to those of others was another big hit to the ego. It also found that people in their mid-30s were most likely to envy family happiness, men were most likely to envy accomplishments and women were most likely to envy physical fitness or beauty.

Have you noticed this trend in your own life? Sitting back and scrolling through other people’s lives is no life at all. The science is real. Now the question is–what are you going to do about it? How are you going to put a stop to unhappy, unhealthy behaviors? Easy solution: unfollow.

5. It affects your happiness.

The things you see and read about in your Facebook feed actually alter your happiness levels.

“…The research appears to confirm what so many of us believe about the infectious nature of happiness. Exposing yourself to negativity begets negativity. Exposing yourself to happiness begets happiness. That’s not just conjecture — it’s science.” (R. Montenegro, Big Think)

Researchers found Facebook users who saw words like “happy” or “excited” in their Facebook feed were significantly more likely to post positive updates.

Let’s talk about this in terms of your health. Are you more likely to feel powerful and in control of your diet, your fitness and your health when you feel depressed and anxious? Not likely. These are the times most people turn to comfort foods, roll up into their cocoon, and try to protect themselves. So a daily feed that focuses on happiness and health is more likely to keep you active, motivated and striving for health.

Your Facebook feed isn’t just a good, daily read. It’s actually a screen for your brain, your thoughts and ultimately your habits. What is your Facebook feed saying about you?

How To Change Your Facebook for the Better

It’s important to surround yourself with people who share your goals, interests and values and who make you feel good. This is just as important online as it is in “real life,” especially since many of us interact with our friends online more regularly than we do face to face.

Nothing will bring you down more than being embroiled in or just a witness to a friend’s constant drama or an acquaintance’s consistently negative attitude. If you’d walk away from this kind of person in your real life, why are you letting them into your head on a daily basis through your Facebook feed?

Whether your friends are people you’ve met online through a group or page or they’re your best friend from high school, you need to surround yourself with positive, encouraging and uplifting people.

Also, if almost all of your social interaction is online, you run the risk of being subjected to lots of posts about other people’s busy social lives, while you’re sitting at home night after night. This is no good for your morale or your relationships.

TRY THIS: Look for local meet-ups based on things you like to do. Meetup.com is a great place to start, whether it’s wine-tasting, roller-skating or just trying out new restaurants. Then commit to attending at least one every month. You could also sign up for free or low-cost classes at local malls, community colleges and other venues. You can find classes on everything from healthy cooking to oil painting and you’ll meet people there who share an interest. Then you can stop looking wistfully at pics of everyone else’s busy lives and start sharing your own.

Take a Digital Detox

If you find yourself scowling or feeling down about yourself after checking through your Facebook feed, you may need to do more than just choose your "follows" more wisely.

Try taking a Digital Detox weekend and feed your brain some fresh air, literally and figuratively. Get outdoors, even if it’s just to play in the yard with your kids or your dog. Get some books from the public library and read in a park or at your favorite café. Invite some friends over for a potluck or cuddle on the couch with your mate and watch a great movie, or even a really bad one.
You’ll be amazed at how freeing it is to get away from the computer and the iPhone for a weekend. You’ll also be amazed at how much extra time you have to enjoy yourself.

This is something I personally take time to do each year. Despite a busy schedule,  I make the time to Digital Detox annually. During this week, I unplug completely from electronics, but especially from social media. The week away from constant electronic chaos allows my brain to rest. Studies show a digital detox literally boosts mental clarity, increases concentration, improves health and promotes healthy sleep. The effects of that last one alone are profound. Healthy amounts of sleep has been linked to everything from longevity to boosted metabolism — two things every person deserves.

Try Something New

When you get back from your digital detox, I recommend find some Facebook pages that will bring healthier “food” to your feed. Hunt down some favorite feeds and “like” them.

  • For daily fitness & recipe inspiration, follow me on Facebook here.
  • Want to be less focused on yourself and more focused on others? Check out Official Peace Prize.
  • Need a daily dose of positive motivation? Happiness In Your Life is very aptly named.
  • Looking for some serious energy? No one does it better than Tony Robbins.

You don’t eat a Twinkie every morning for breakfast and expect it to make you feel better or feel better about yourself. What your feed feeds you is no different.

Yuri Elkaim is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and author of the NYTimes Best-selling book "The All-Day Energy Diet." In his upcoming book, "The All-Day Fat-Burning Diet" (Rodale, 2015) he walks readers through a 5-day food cycling program guaranteed to double your weight loss. Look for it in bookstores December 2015.



This article was originally published at Yurielkaim. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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