Want to lose weight? Start snapping selfies

By  | 

NEW YORK (CBS) Gina Licata is documenting her physical transformation for the world to see, snapping selfies, gym pictures and posting before and after shots on Instagram as her followers cheer her on.

"At first, I didn't really tell a lot of people in my personal life about it, it was just strangers on the internet," she said.

She's lost 80 pounds over the last year and a half, and she credits much of her success to that social media support group.

"Just wanted to hold myself accountable and be sort of a member of this community and just have that support," Licata said. "It helps me think like, 'Well, you know, I should get this workout in because then I'll have something to post to Instagram.'"

A recent study in the Journal of Interactive Marketing finds virtual support communities are, in fact, helpful and that sharing successes and disappointments online can be a key part of reaching weight loss goals.

"So we were able to see all of their achievements, their milestones, their setbacks, over that year time period. And we saw that people really used this forum as a way to commit to these goals and achieve them one by one," said Sonya Grier, a Ph.D. at American University.

Licata has more than 14,000 people keeping track of her progress, encouraging her to keep going, calling her incredible and congratulating her.

Her weight loss secret? Just old-fashioned diet and exercise.

When she looks at her before and after pictures, Licata says she feels proud. And her digital followers consider an inspiration.