Blame Mark Zuckerberg for your belly. While a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that just 5 minutes on Facebook can temporarily improve your self-esteem when you focus on close friends, here’s the bad news: Enhanced self-esteem actually reduces your self-control when you make decisions, like choosing a snack, after browsing.
Researchers surveyed 470 people about their Internet and Facebook use, plus their health and financial behaviors offline. The results: Frequent users with strong friend ties had an approximate BMI of 26, while infrequent Facebookers had an approximate BMI of 24. (A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy.) High use was also linked to an increase in binge eating.
Researchers also randomly assigned 84 Facebook users to read their news feed or to browse CNN.com for 5 minutes. After the task, all subjects had to choose between a cookie and a granola bar. While those who read CNN.com didn’t show an increase in self-esteem—sorry, Anderson—only 30 percent of readers chose the unhealthy option, compared to the 80 percent of Facebook users who reached for cookies (but had higher self-esteem).
What gives? “People use momentary increases in self-esteem as a license to indulge,” study author Keith Wilcox, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at Columbia University, tells MensHealth.com. “The key here is that [the study participant] did not actually do anything to merit a treat.”
If the possibility of gaining a few extra pounds isn’t enough to curb your hunger for Facebook, the study also showed that the inverse relationship between high self-esteem and self-control plays a role in your finances. Frequent Facebook users who focused on close friends had about $1,000 more credit card debt than infrequent users.
Relax—you don’t need to go completely off the grid to stay in control. “To overcome this potential issue, recognize that while social networks make you feel better about yourself, it’s not the same thing as actually feeling good about yourself because you did something, like worked out,” Wilcox says. “A bit of self-awareness can help you avoid engaging in this behavior. Facebook is not the problem. It’s the feeling of entitlement that’s the problem.”
Don’t freak out if you manage your company’s Facebook or Twitter account. Interacting with weaker ties, such as acquaintances, has less influence. Plus, you’re projecting the image of the company, not yourself.
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