Woman eating an apple while on a computer
A new technology trend could help dieters the world over strike a happy balance between relying on community support and holding themselves accountable. It's called Tweet What You Eat (TWYE), and it may be on to something. What is TWYE, you might ask? To understand this latest movement toward the digitalization of daily life, we'll need to start first with the phenomenon that is Twitter.

For those of you who have not yet succumbed to the urge to update everyone on anything you can fit into 140 characters or fewer (I myself relented a few months ago), Twitter is sweeping the globe as a fantastic social connector and, now, an innovative diet aid. At first, most laughed at Twitter as a preposterous model—after all, who wants to write or read about such banal, everyday facts as what you had for breakfast this morning? Turns out, the answer is everyone.

It seems there is no end to the uses people have found for Twitter. The flexibility of this model to incorporate the creativity and ingenuity offered by its millions of "tweeple" (Twitter users) has been touted as part of Twitter's genius: It has become a beast of the user's creation, far and beyond what its original creators could ever have imagined.

TWYE is just one of the latest and most provocative online movements spawned by and for Twitter users, leveraging Twitter's community-based model to make dieting a team effort (or a guilt-trip). Touted as "the easiest food diary you'll ever keep" TWYE encourages users to give every morsel that passes their lips a life online. Participating users send real-time, digital updates (a.k.a. "tweets") to the community of TWYE followers on, well, what they ate. The tweeter can either try to guess how many calories he or she consumed or allow a nifty new service called CrowdCal to automatically guesstimate the calorie count for a particular food based on similar entries from the community. TWYE also offers a service that allows you to track any weight loss to see if a particular diet is working.

Who Uses TWYE? 
As of January 1, 2010, TWYE had nearly 18,000 followers, people who actively use the tool to track their own and others' eating and who serve as each other's online dieting community, offering support and advice in much the same way a real support group might.

At first, this idea of sharing everything you eat with a world of strangers and opening yourself up to the possibility of ridicule seems a bit odd, even horrible. True, it bears some resemblance to the Weight Watchers model. But we have to remember that the TWYE community voluntarily takes it upon themselves to update everything they've eaten in real time, remotely. They are creating their own crowd of onlookers who will hold them accountable, but they are not receiving the human interaction location-based diet groups offer. So the question is: Does online community match the effect of human community for inspiring people to actually stick to their personal resolutions?

In the end, it seems the lack of physical human contact may be effectively combated by the intrusiveness of TWYE. Whereas pre-TWYE diet groups simply ask you to come in and be weighed once a week (true, the scale never lies) and discuss with a support group as necessary, TWYE is a more personalized experience. The system's effectiveness depends entirely on the honesty of you, the participant, in reporting precisely what you've eaten—an act that forces you to be constantly aware of consumed foods and therefore of how well you are following a given plan. This is arguably true of all food journals, though no others make this information available for others to see, an added incentive to stick to your game plan.

TWYE also offers dieters the ability to rely on a support group only as needed. If they abide by the TWYE rules, tweeters cannot fudge how well they stuck to diet guidelines or how many calories they consumed—it's all there in cyberspace for the community (not just a group leader) to review. But it is not essential that TWYE users actually interact with the people who see what they eat day in and day out. The accountability ultimately falls squarely in the individual's lap, where it belongs.

While both TWYE and regular diet groups require your commitment and participation, only one requires your hour-by-hour personal accountability. Perhaps TWYE is therefore a more sustainable model, because it encourages you to do it on your own: You make the action plan, and whether you stick to it is up to you alone. It allows you to have the aid of online supporters when you require it, but it also bolsters your own self-monitoring because you won't constantly have someone looking over your shoulder, watching the scale. Best of all, it can be used anywhere in the world, for any amount of time.

In a world where promises to ourselves are given the least priority, the flexibility of TWYE may be just what we need to help us regain faith in our own fortitude and keep a resolution or two.

More of Daphne Oz's weight loss advice. 


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