Instagram Food Photos Help With Healthy Eating

Food photos are helping Instagram users to adhere to healthy eating, suggests a new study to be presented at the CHI 2017 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems next month.

We are in the era of social media, and we can’t get enough of posting our pictures online. Of course, this is not to the liking of everyone, and this habit is often criticised, given its near-obsessive nature, not to mention the growing number of studies associating selfies with narcissism. On the other hand, some might argue that social media help people connect with each other; experiences of some users are about feeling more united as a human race. Now, to add to the list of pros is a new research which has shown that food pictures on Instagram are helping people with healthy eating.

Conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Washington, the findings demonstrate how posting pictures on Instagram is just another method of tracking food intake. Also, IG users view this as a way to be held accountable when it comes to reaching goals pertaining to eating healthy and losing weight. The data comes from interviewing a group of 16 people who are used to posting pictures of their meals on IG, like healthy fruits, with hashtags #fooddiary or #foodjournal. Some of these users also the pictures as a reference for their food log to be filled later. They also share the benefits and challenges of using social media to fulfill their healthy eating and fitness goals.

Sharing pictures on IG is deemed more fun than to input the same information in booklets or apps, says lead author Christina Chung. She also adds that it is more “socially appropriate” to take pictures when you are out with friends if you are tracking your diets, because since everyone is doing the same thing, it does not look weird.

Another benefit is that a visual of one’s food items capturing both the amount and quality thereof can assist people in identifying missteps. For instance, if you have only one picture showing a pizza or a donut, you can easily dismiss it as a ‘special occasion’, as opposed to several pictures of this type of food which would compel you to admit the truth, explains coauthor Sean Munson.

Furthermore, the positive feedback from one’s IG followers is viewed as a great boost to adhering to healthy eating further. The participants of the study explain that the social and emotional support they get from fellow users, and followers assist them in sticking to their healthy eating goals. Another benefit is that some users are more honest about their eating habits because they feel accountable to other users. One such interviewee says that when she would use an app to record her diets, she would easily not input information about a “tiny” bag of chips; she would make excuses as to why she would not input the data. However, when posting pictures on IG, it makes it more real, and she can be more honest.

“With Instagram, it helped me because I was taking a picture of it—it’s real and it does exist and it does count towards what I was eating. And then putting up a visual image of it really helped me stay honest,” says the user.

The researchers also find that remaining on IG makes it easier for those who have already met their weight loss goals to stick to healthy eating. The users say that staying on IG (and encouraging others) allows them to maintain their good eating habits. This is specially relevant because consistency is, otherwise, boring for some people once they have already reached their goals.

“This made things more interesting and meaningful for people because after they got to their goal, they turned to thinking about how they could help others and stay accountable to people who were relying on them for support,” says Munson.

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