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Unrealistic Expectations About Food and Body Image

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There’s something almost erotic about images of food, and unlike actual porn, it’s SFW (safe for work). I could (and have) spent hours watching baking videos or stalking images of my favorite dishes. People love looking at food as much as they love sharing it. The hashtag #foodporn has over 186 million posts on Instagram and #instafood has 137 million.

Perhaps the only downside of watching and looking at “food porn” is that it’s just not as good as the real thing. After watching a minute long video of gooey chocolate chip cookies there is the sudden urge to go out and just eat one. Whether we are aware of it or not, photos and videos of food have a huge impact on our diets. It’s a double-edged sword: hashtags and posts of food can be a great place to discover quick and healthy meal recipes or healthy alternatives but they are also full of guilty pleasures that, in excess, can harmful to our health.

Instagram Food and Nutrition

Dieticians are aware of how food bloggers influence their audience’s eating habits. “It is positive that people are looking to improve their lifestyle and I think that it can be a great platform to promote healthy eating and help to fight against obesity, but it also may hurt that what may seem healthy on a screen may not be individually the best choice,” Eliza Savage, R.D., a dietitian at Middleberg Nutrition in New York City, explained.

Keep in mind that nutritional needs vary from person to person. That means that our diets should be tailored to us. What might work for a healthy food influencer you follow on Instagram might not work for you. Also, bear in mind that Instagram is a page that can be specifically curated. You don’t actually know what the person behind the account is eating or doing in their free time to look the way they do.

Casey Seidenberg, author and co-founder of a D.C.-based nutrition education company, wrote “everyone is unique, and so are diet needs.” Instead of immediately jumping on to the latest diet trend, people should listen to their body and discover what foods makes them feel good.

The Toxic Tea

Instagram influencers are also notorious in promoting detox drinks and extreme cleanses, a trend that a lot of nutritionists are against. Weight-loss teas (commonly known as “Teatox,” lol) are promoted as safe and natural ways to slim down. In reality, they’re not. In fact, the main ingredient in weight loss teas is senna, an herbal laxative often used on patients who need to empty their bowels before surgery or colonoscopies. Although it’s FDA approved, it is considered dangerous if used long-term. According to the U.S National Library of Medicines:

Don’t use senna for more than two weeks. Longer use can cause the bowels to stop functioning normally and might cause dependence on laxatives. Long-term use can also change the amount or balance of some chemicals in the blood (electrolytes) that can cause heart function disorders, muscle weakness, liver damage, and other harmful effects.

Additionally, there is no evidence that a teatox effectively helps you lose weight. So really, these influencers are promoting a product that is not only potentially dangerous, but it also doesn’t do what it purports. And if we’re being really realistic, I doubt any of the influencers promoting the teas are even drinking them.

the dangers of food and social media

Oversized Portions

Even healthy foods can be harmful if consumed in large proportions. Most food bloggers will focus more on the aesthetic of a dish rather than portion control and how much you should be eating. For example, the ideal portion size of a medium-sized avocado is a quarter of it, but how cute do avo’s look when they’re perfectly sliced in half?

A food trend that has an overwhelming and long-standing presence on Instagram is the Açaí bowl. The problem with them is they are presented in obnoxiously large portions on the internet. “These bowls are usually two to three servings, covered in toppings like granola and chocolate shavings, and have WAY too much sugar to be considered a balanced meal,” stated Gillean Barkyoumb, R.D., founder of Millennial Nutrition. “An Açaí bowl can be a part of a healthy diet, but you need to consider portion size and ingredients.”

Beware of the Mukbang

The word mukbang is a combination of two Korean words, “muk-ja” (eating) and “bang-song” (broadcasting). Mukbang is an extreme eating trend where people order large quantities of food and film themselves eating it. Yup. Taking SDL (sad desk lunch) to a whole new level.

Watching other people consume copious amounts of food is oddly entertaining and besides being a little gross, seems harmless. But it’s actually promoting the idea that binge eating is okay and consuming thousands of calories in one sitting is but an amusing eye-buffet. This has become such a problem in Korea that the health ministry has planned to develop guidelines and monitoring systems for advertisers and media platforms that promote overeating.  

If you do ever find yourself in the bowels of the internet watching mukbang videos, keep in mind that this may be a one-off scenario and most of the people on the other side of the screen aren’t eating like this on a regular basis.

Instagram: The Most Depressing Social Media Site

Instagram can be a beautiful place to find flawless images of people, places, and most importantly food. But it has a dark side and was actually declared the most depressing social media platform.

According to a study by the Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement, Instagram is the worst media platform for mental health of young adults and Snapchat came in as a close second. The study revealed that individuals who use these apps more frequently are more likely to experience mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

“It is interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and well-being – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,” said Shirley Cramer, CEO of the Royal Society for Public Health.

Perfect photos of attractive people also have a huge impact on how young people perceive their body image. They create an idealized conceptualization of body shapes and makes it a lot harder for younger people to have a positive relationship with their bodies.

One should always prioritize their physical and mental health when it comes to engaging with social media. Before you try a new diet trend being promoted by your favorite influencer, do your research. Remember it’s okay to indulge every now and then in a decadently sweet recipe, but make sure you’re not letting #foodporn, and pretty images of desserts coerce you into an unhealthy lifestyle.

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