Instagram has clicked again‚ this time with people trying to lose weight and eat healthily.
Using the image-sharing app to display photos of everything they eat helps them to stick to their goals‚ a small study has found.
“Plus‚ it’s more socially appropriate for people who are trying to track their diets to snap a photo of their plate when they’re out with friends – everyone’s doing it and it doesn’t look weird‚” said Christina Chung‚ the lead author from the University of Washington‚ in the US.
Millions of food photos get posted on Instagram‚ “whether to show off a sophisticated palate‚ make friends drool over chicken and waffles or artfully arrange colourful macarons” she noted.
The researchers found that sharing food photos made it easier for users to track their intake and be publicly accountable for what they ate.
A visual record of the volume and quality of what one eats also alerted users to bad habits.
Senior author Sean Munson said: “When you only have one data point for a pizza or doughnut‚ it’s easy to rationalise that away as a special occasion.
“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’.”
Snapping photos is quicker than writing a journal or logging food descriptions on an app‚ and it’s more fun.
Sixteen people who consistently recorded and shared what they ate on Instagram were interviewed for the study.
The social and emotional support they got from other users had helped them to stick to their goals‚ the participants reported.
One said she used to make excuses for not logging food‚ like a bag of chips‚ because it was tiny.
She said: “With Instagram‚ it helped me because I was taking a picture of it . . . [the] visual image really helped me stay honest.”
The users said they could easily find followers with similar interests and because Instagram allowed them to create multiple accounts for different purposes‚ unlike Facebook‚ they could avoid sending friends and families food pictures of no interest.
“You can have a separate part of your profile dedicated to food journalling and you don’t have to be worried that your family member or neighbour who just wants to see pictures of your dogs or vacations will be turned off‚” Chung said.
People did experience tension about wanting to be honest but feeling reluctant to shoot “undesirable” food.
But those who met their goals and stayed on Instagram found it helped them to stay mindful about health‚ the authors said.
Said Munson: “Maintenance becomes pretty boring for a lot of people because your quest to hit a goal has worn off.
“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.”