Instagram ‘food porn’ has negative effects on health, eating habits

By Molly West

A giant heart pops up, the quick double tap of a thumb and then it happens. The giant picture of a bright pink, strawberry milkshake covered in melted chocolate and rainbow sprinkles appears.

As high-resolution pictures on Instagram fill Mia Wennick’s iPhone screen of brightly-colored, gooey cheeseburgers and decadent desserts, her stomach growls with desire. Wennick, an SMU student, never thought she would have to think twice about the extravagant food accounts she follows on social media.

I think there is a strong relationship because seeing the foods makes me crave them more and I am much more likely to go out and get a cheeseburger if I just saw a picture of one on Instagram,” Wennick said.

Wennick is not the only person who is discovering these affects. Studies have shown that Instagram has an affect on people’s eating habits.

New research from “Brain and Cognition” shows that gazing at what others call, “food porn” can lead to weight gain. It also shows that digital media influences more than 70 percent of food Americans eat.

“Social media has really changed the way that our brains take in information,” Andrea Bey, executive health coach at Bey Health Solutions, said.

This research shows that virtual food exposure is triggering physiological hunger more frequently than usual. These pictures can increase snacking and disrupt eating routines.

Mackenzie Ruh has used Instagram for three years and, as a CorePower Yoga instructor, she is required to post inspiring pictures of a healthy lifestyle, opposite of the “food porn” accounts.

“I think that they [food accounts] make people hungry and make them crave the bad food,” Ruh said. “When people look at pictures of food or watch cooking videos they get hungry and then they snack more.”

Studies show that what happens after seeing these photos is harmful to one’s body. When people look at pictures of mouth-watering food, usually high in calories, their bodies release hormones that tell them to eat, “Brain and Cognition” explains. These hormones can even make people’s hearts race, insulin levels spike and salivary glands to go into overdrive. This explains why Wennick, along with other Instagram users, are likely to desire and then pursue the unhealthy food they just saw.

“When we eat healthier foods, it not only helps us keep our waist lines in check, but we have overall better response to stress,” Bey said. “We have overall healthier mental function.”

Bey works with more than 30 clients and helps them balance their eating habits along with their overall mental and physical health. She emphasizes that the more frequently social media millennials are exposed to these foods, the more likely they are to indulge, leading to possible weight gain.

“It is hard to keep people consistent. Most of the processed foods with refined sugars tend to be highly addictive,” Bey said. “If people aren’t setting the necessary boundaries when it comes to unhealthy foods, it can keep people in a pattern of food oppression.”

Sharing pictures of food on Instagram has become so popular that people of all ages have created food accounts for fun. SMU student Chloe Marciano has a food account, eat_sleep_crave_repeat, where she posts a wide variety of food options every week. However, she does not believe there is a correlation between the pictures she sees and changes in her diet.

Personally, I don’t think that following food accounts has made a difference in my diet, so I don’t really think it has a huge affect on weight gain,” Marciano said.

But it is not all bad. People feel that following healthy fitness and nutrition accounts also motivate them to live a healthier lifestyle.

When I am trying to be healthy I tend to follow more healthy accounts, which is good as it inspires me,” Wennick said.

Bey said that there are just as many healthy accounts to follow as there are unhealthy. For every truffle picture there is a healthier image of a fruit bowl.

“I think it has been positive and negative,” Bey said. “The good thing about it is that we are seeing lots of creative ways to make healthy nutritional food. However with unhealthy processed foods being featured just as much, it is hard to keep people consistent.”

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