Instagram and other social media platforms influence us in both positive and negative ways. For example, social media can help shape how we eat, what we want to eat, how we feel, what we care about and many other aspects of our lives. Some research suggests social media use may also be related to depression and other negative emotions like isolation and envy. On the other hand, social media can have some potential benefits. For example, it can help us connect and stay connected to people all over the world.
Instagram, in particular, is usually associated with being a pleasant, positive social media outlet as the emphasis is on pictures, not on personal rants or rhetoric. Over the years, Instagram has increasingly expanded our love and desire for delicious, perfect food pictures. Millions of food-related photos are on Instagram. It has indeed changed how most of us think about and experience food. How Instagram changes our relationship with food can have both positive and negative influences.
The good: Encourage healthy eating
Of course, you can find a range of pictures of food on Instagram from decadent cakes, your favorite comfort foods, elegant fine dining and beautiful healthy dishes. A positive aspect of Instagram is it has helped make healthy eating trendy again with a wide assortment of beautiful fruit and vegetable-based food pictures. In fact, posting your food intake on Instagram can take the place of a food journal which may be recommended at the start of a weight loss program. Posting anything to social media can create, for better or worse, a diary of sorts of where you are at with your goals, plans or daily habits with the support of an online community.
According to Science Daily, research from University of Washington suggests posting pictures of food on Instagram may help with tracking food intake and accountability for health goals. For some, snapping pictures of your food can be more practical than writing down your food in a journal. It’s easier and can also provide a way for online support.
The accountability and emotional support for tracking your food photos in accordance with your health journey may be helpful for some people to reach their health goals. In this way, Instagram can have a positive role in food choices.
The bad: Is Instagram destroying your diet?
On the other hand, a January 2018 Shape article suggests Instagram food trends could actually be destroying your diet. The beautiful photos of colorful acai smoothie bowls, over night oats, “healthier” desserts or veggie filled sandwiches may actually be contributing to you eating too much, even if it is of healthy food.
In order to get the “perfect” food photo, you may feel the need to add more texture, more color—i.e. more food—to create your best photo op. However, over-glamorizing your food photo may mean you are inadvertently adding a few hundred unnecessary calories to your plate just to get a better photo op. In this instance, Instagram can have a negative pull on your health goals without you even knowing it.
It may sound silly, but let’s talk about the hashtags. It can be easy to create a health-halo around food just because we can throw some healthy-sounding hashtags on like: #paleo, #glutenfree, #healthyeating, #cleaneating, #vegan, #healthyliving etc.
Just because something is #paleo #vegan #cleaneating doesn’t mean it is best for you to eat and you can eat as much as you want of it. Just because you eat something #healthy, don’t assume it is! Do your homework on what your body needs and don’t let social media tell you what is healthy.
What can be helpful for seeing what honest, healthy food pictures look like is to follow health professionals like dietitians. Following health experts, not just social media influencers, can help guide you to what practical, healthy eating can look like.
Insta-reality, not perfect
We can easily fall under the illusion that other people have “perfect,” have-it-together lives from what they put on social media. We post the beautiful, styled plates—not the everyday un-pretty happenings. It can be easy to fall under the impression our meals always need to look Insta-worthy or we’re not doing it right. However, the un-Insta-worthy meals can actually be just as good, if not better for you, than the prettier plates.
Do you really need to take a photo?
I am not belittling or questioning people who post food pictures on Instagram: I love looking at food pics online and sometimes post food pics myself. However, I do honestly wonder if we are made to blast to the world what we are eating every single time we put something in our mouth. Can we just simply enjoy our food without posting a photo first and wondering how many likes we will get?
Food is meant to be enjoyed. A shift can happen when choosing what we eat goes to how many likes we can get on Instagram. This shift in how we choose what to eat can override the natural cues we have for listening to our body for what to eat and when to stop. Just remember this food for thought next time you are scrolling through your Instagram.