With obesity on the rise all over the world, it is good to know the psychology on how society acts when confronted with food. We as a society love to take pictures of our food, this is a phenomena known as Camera Eats First. When someone gets a meal from a supermarket, or makes food for themselves, taking pictures of how good the food looks often comes far before the first bite.
How does this trend affect eating habits? Well, very little research has been done looking into the phenomenon, but the research that has been done has been telling. One large scale study encompassing millions of Instagram users in 2015 at almost 165,000 restaurants was analyzed. According to the study:
“Social approval favors the unhealthy foods high in sugar, with donut shops producing the most liked photos. Thus, the dietary landscape our study reveals is a complex ecosystem, with fast food playing a role alongside social interactions and personal perceptions, which often may be at odds.”
Smaller restaurants were associated with better healthy food choices, but altogether, the most popular pictures taken were those loaded in sugar. This is not shocking, as humans find foods high in sugar, fat, and salt to be highly appetizing, and potentially addicting.
Not all is for naught, however, as research has also shown that taking photos of your food and sharing it on social media can have a net benefit in healthy eating. Another study was published in May of 2017 that read:
“Our findings show that people's interactions with others can influence personal tracking behaviors. Prior research established that others, such as health care providers or family members influence people's tracking and health decisions and can help them maintain their health. Involvement of others can offer accountability and guidance on how to track as well as how to interpret and act on tracked data.”
This shows that tracking your food intake on Instagram by taking pictures can promote healthy habits if you are trying for them. Some research has shown that by detailing your food history on Instagram, that you are more likely to look back on your eating habits, which can create a sense of accountability that may otherwise not be present in traditional text-based food trackers.
There is also no limit to the large number of healthy food pictures, fruit platters, and plates of delicious vegetable stir fry on hashtags like #HealthyFood. However, the amount pails in comparison to the much more unhealthy foods shown on hashtags like #FoodPorn.
Since there are dramatic physiological and neurophysiological changes in the brain that can be seen when exposed to images of food, it makes sense that this digital epidemic of posting delicious-looking foods on Instagram can cause people to crave these foods more often. Studies have shown that exposure to these less healthy and more satiating foods can cause you to eat more. This is especially true for people who suffer from Binge Eating Disorder or Bulimia.
Hopefully as more information comes to light on the effects of food visualization and overeating, more people will go out of their way to promote more appealing looking healthier food choices.