Make Pinterest Your Personal Health Coach

A healthy addiction: Use Pinterest to achieve your personal health goals.

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Have you found yourself sucked into the online world of Pinterest yet? If not, you've been warned. Ask any Pinterest fan to describe the website, and chances are they'll do so in one word: addicting.

Melinda Johnson
Melinda Johnson
Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. It's like browsing through a cooking magazine, travel brochure, fashion column, and decorating magazine at the same time. It has the power to suck hours out of your day, leaving you with nothing planned for dinner and no time for exercise. A popular quote that's frequently pinned on the website sums it up: "Honey, can you pick up pizza? I spent all day pinning healthy recipes on Pinterest."

Last week, I posted about mindful eating. A fellow dietitian joked with me on Twitter that she might need a lesson in mindful tweeting. That got me thinking—can we do some mindful pinning, to better our health? Can the power of Pinterest be harnessed into a useful tool, or does it need to be tossed into the "fun but frivolous" category of our lives?

It turns out that plenty of registered dietitians are already using Pinterest to help their clients get healthier. The power is in how it's used. Julie Schwartz, a registered dietitian in Atlanta, uses Pinterest to provide recipes and motivational tips for her clients. "Pinterest can influence people's health with 'sound bites,' and the influence can be positive or negative," she says. Another registered dietitian, Kait Fortunato, who's based in Washington, D.C., agrees. Her clients successfully use Pinterest to organize recipes, follow her circuit-workout board, and create their own boards with motivational quotes.

If you want to try some mindful pinning for the sake of your health, here are two things you'll need to do:

1. Schedule your Pinterest-ing. The big time-wasting element of Pinterest can keep you from taking care of business and skipping health-related activities. On top of that, scrolling through the Web site is a sedentary activity—those workout tips need to be put into action to work! This simply means you need to set time guidelines for yourself. Allow a set amount of time each day to log on and lose yourself; 15 to 20 minutes is a good goal. When the time is up, log off. You'll be back!

2. Follow wisely. The pins you view on Pinterest can be tailored to your needs—if you're serious about getting healthy, groom the list of people you follow so that you see posts from health professionals and similar users. With this technique, you'll be receiving tips from the minds of experts, for free.

While Pinterest is loaded with calorie-bomb recipes, there's a board that's a must-follow for healthy (and seriously yummy) recipes. It's a shared board called Healthy Aperture that's created and curated by registered dietitians. Pop in on a Sunday afternoon and pin your weekly meals with this board—you can't go wrong with recipes like "pumpkin fruit dip" or "black bean and spinach enchiladas."

Speaking of registered dietitians: Food & Nutrition magazine's account is like the mother ship for nutrition experts. It's specifically published for members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, but it's free and available for everyone to view. It's a smorgasbord of all things healthy, offering up nutritious breakfast ideas, recipes for food allergies, and even a board on healthy bison recipes.

There are a lot of other expert "pinners" on Pinterest—try searching for "registered dietitian" in the people search to find some that appeal to you. Happy pinning!

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.