A new investigation has found that posting photos of your food on Instagram can help with your diet. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Washington, tracks down how some people who post photos on Instagram to measure their food intake or to be held accountable by followers in social media easily achieve their goals for eating healthy or losing weight.

Researchers will present the paper at the CHI 2017 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May. They interviewed 16 people who regularly recorded and shared their meals on Instagram, about the perks and challenges of using social media platforms to accomplish their fitness and eating goals.

Instagram Food
The study’s authors will use the results to develop tools to support healthy lifestyles. Image credit: Instagram via @symmetrybreakfast.

Posting photos of food on Instagram helped users achieve their eating goals

Instead of using traditional food journals or apps that require the user to write down everything they ate on the day, the interviewees took pictures of their daily meals and shared them on Instagram using the #foodjournal or #fooddiary hashtags. Some of them even used the photos as a reference to remember to log their food later in the day.

Instagram Food
Having a visual evidence of everything one eats in a day, regarding volume and quality, can help sort the person’s trouble. Image credit: Instagram via @theboywhobakes.

“The benefit of photos is that it’s more fun to do than taking out a booklet or typing hundreds of words of description in an app,” said lead author and University of Washington engineering doctoral student Christina Chung.

Chung adds that it is also more socially appropriate for people who are trying to track their diets to take a photo of their meal when they are out with friends, as everyone else does it, and it doesn’t look weird.

“When you only have one data point for a pizza or donut, it’s easy to rationalize that away as a special occasion,” explains senior author Sean Munson, assistant professor of human centered design and engineering at University of Washington. “But when you see a whole tiled grid of them, you have to say to yourself, ‘Wait, I don’t actually have that many special days.’”

The interviewees mentioned that social and emotional support from their followers and other Instagram users helped them follow their healthy eating goals, and many of them provided that same support for other users. Researchers note that sometimes, feeling accountable to other Instagram users caused people to be more sincere about their eating habits.

A woman who previously used the MyFitnessPal app to track down her diet said that she would make excuses to herself about why she didn’t need to write down a bag of chips she ate because it was so tiny. She noted that when posting the photos on Instagram, it helped her because she was taking a picture of it, as it existed and did count toward what she was eating. She said that it also helped her stay honest, as the visual image served as a record.

Users used different Instagram accounts to post their daily meals

Instagram allows a person to create different accounts for different purposes under the same profile, so people reported that they were able to find communities and followers with the same interests by using weight loss or healthy eating hashtags. In doing so, they could avoid annoying friends and family who weren’t interested in seeing daily photos of everything they ate. That feature sets Instagram apart, as other social media platforms like Facebook don’t allow multiple accounts or identities.

Instagram Food
“This is what I’m cooking this weekend. A quick easy tart with all the new spring veg and some sunny yolked eggs. Easy but looks like it took ages. Good for show offs,” said Instagram user Anna Jones. Image credit: Instagram via @we_are_food.

“With Instagram, you can have a separate part of your profile dedicated to food journaling and you don’t have to be worried that your family member or neighbor who just wants to see pictures of your dogs or vacations will be turned off,” said Chung. “It’s not funneling to the same channel.”

The interviewees reported they sometimes felt uncomfortable when sharing photos of food that would be perceived as undesirable and struggled to remain honest about what they ate because of it. However, the study found that users who met their weight loss, fitness or eating goals, and who mentored and encouraged other users, found it easier to maintain their healthier lifestyles.

According to Munson, maintenance becomes pretty boring for most people because your quest to hit a goal has worn off. He adds that posting photos on Instagram makes things more interesting and meaningful for people because after they had reached their goals, they started thinking about how they could help others and also remain accountable to people who were relying on them for support.

Source: Science Daily