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Good news, foodies: Those photos you’ve been publishing on social may have more power than you think. A recent study reveals food snaps may be a smarter way for folks to track their dietary intake and successfully adhere to their health goals.
In the study, University of Washington researchers interviewed people diligent about posting what they ate daily on Instagram. The interviewees snapped pictures and shared them on Instagram using the #fooddiary or #foodjournal hashtags. Some also used the photos as a reference so they could remember to log their food later in the day.
The result: Individuals began to eat healthier and lose weight.
Why? It increased accountability, explained Jennifer Peyton, clinical dietitian at Indiana University Health.
“Putting diet goals out there publicly and increasing the transparency of how you plan to move forward opens the door to a bit of peer pressure,” Peyton said. “Knowing that others are going to be looking at your meals and that you will be too (visually seeing what you eat daily and documenting that) this can be a great way to assess your daily nutritional intake.”
It also provides a reality check, said the study authors.
"When you only have one data point for a pizza or donut, it's easy to rationalize that away as a special occasion," said Sean Munson, senior author of the study. "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.'"
Study participants also conveyed the that social and emotional support that they received from other Instagram users helped them stick to their own tracking and healthy eating goals, and many strove to provide that support for others.
In some cases, feeling accountable to other Instagram users and followers also caused people to be more honest about their eating habits. Users who ultimately met their weight loss, eating or fitness goals also found that remaining on Instagram -- and helping mentor and encourage others -- made it easier for them to maintain their desired behaviors and to continue to be mindful about their health.
"Maintenance becomes boring for a lot of people because your quest to hit a goal has worn off," Munson said. "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."
That said, it’s also important to remember that some photos can be deceiving.
“To be truly successful with food tracking, it’s essential to be honest,” explained Peyton. “What you see on social media isn’t always what you get. Like all photo driven work there can be a difference between what looks healthy and what truly is from a health standpoint. So, it’s important to keep this in mind.”
-- By Sarah Burns