Friday, January 22, 2021

Is Food Photojournaling Really Just Disordered Eating in Disguise?

April 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Dieting

Have you seen this article in the New York Times —  First Camera, Then Fork?

MizFit brought it to our attention today and I knew I needed to write a post about it … especially since it was relevant to our panel discussion last month at FitBloggin.

There, during our session where we tackled the topic of Body Image & Blogging, I sucked up my courage and made this bold assertion to a bunch of food and fitness bloggers:

I think some food bloggers are (unknowingly) masking disordered eating issues … and that photographing every morsel can lead to DE issues.

While I can’t say this is the case for everyone, I have to say, I see lots of  signs in the blogosphere. In fact, I raised this issue about a year ago on my own blog (you can read the post here).

After I said it, I held my breath and waited to be booed off stage (as many attendees were food bloggers).

But to my surprise, a lot of heads started nodding and we opened up the discussion.

The consensus among the group seemed to be that while some bloggers are genuine foodies who love to eat and probably have no eating issues and just like to take pretty foodie photos (and, alternatively, photo-journaling food helps some people from a weight-loss perspective) the inherent act of photographing every morsel  (i.e., putting 6 almonds, 4 chocolate chips in your palm to snap a pic with your iPhone) just seems a bit MUCH.

A bit disordered in and of itself.

And yes, this is coming from someone who will have been on Weight Watchers for six years as of April 13! Yup, you heard me right. For six years, I’ve written down/logged practically everything I’ve eaten … even weeks I go wayyyyy over, even on vacation.

But yet even I see a distinct difference between food journaling in private and photojournaling.

Even at my most obsessive moments a few years ago, I didn’t whip out my journal at the table … nor do I today. Instead, when I get back home or back to my desk (if I’d been at work), that’s when I jot it down/log it online. It’s done discretely, and for my own records. I know journaling helps me, mentally if nothing else.  But no one else needs to know about it.

In fact, the LAST thing I want to do is call attention to the fact that yes, I still care very much about what I eat and how much; it’s just a habit.

Similar to a food journal, I think often people start out using photojournaling as a dieting tool … but then it backfires into an obsession where one can’t eat without taking a photo (as in the NYTimes piece) … and how is that healthy? Or apologizing to one’s readers for eating something they didn’t photograph? I’m sorry but that seems very obsessive to me.

And photojournaling might seem like a great idea for you, the blogger … but you also have to think about your readers … which could be at wild ends of the spectrum.

For example, let’s look at portion sizes and how they appear on camera — sometimes readers end up comparing themselves, which could be totally unhealthy if they’re in a delicate state of mind. While it’s not necessarily the blogger’s responsibility to be able to guess what triggers someone else, often-times people with EDs will gravitate to these types of blogs for “food-porn.” NOT HEALTHY.

I know I might be unpopular for saying this with the food bloggers out there, but I read a lot of their blogs and — maybe it’s because I’m coming at it from my own perspective — but I see a lot of disorderedness being masked in the blogosphere or, in other words, a lot of orthorexia that is going undiagnosed.

(For those unfamiliar with orthorexia it is “a a form of disordered eating characterized by going to extremes in pursuit of a so-called healthy diet. Literally translated, it means “fixation on righteous eating.” A person with this condition obsesses over the quality of the foods they eat, in an attempt to perfect his or her diet.”)

While I know not every food blogger has — or will end up with — disordered eating issues, I definitely see how it could happen … especially since the blogosphere can be a fairly competitive environment, stirring up thoughts such as “her spinach salad looks prettier than mine” or “her pasta dish is so teensy compared to what I’d eat.”

If I could give any advice to food bloggers, it would be to take a good look at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

And if you start to feel overwhelmed with uncomfortable feelings of anxiety  … maybe it’s time to take a step back and reassess.

Even a healthy mission can become unhealthy when taken to extremes … This is a lesson I’ve learned all too well. Trust me when I say, I speak from experience.

How about you? Do you think photojournaling is disordered eating (DE) in disguise, or could lead to DE issues?


21 Responses to “Is Food Photojournaling Really Just Disordered Eating in Disguise?”
  1. Yum Yucky says:

    You bring up some really good points I had not thought about before the Fitbloggin panel, and the New York Times article further validates your points.

    I actually enjoy looking at the hungry-lovely food people post on their blogs. I mostly use it as a tool to “indulge” in my own food lust without actually eating the stuff myself. But for the bloggers actually posting the pics? I don’t lump them all into the disordered eating category (as I know you have not as well), but I think there are a few out there who certainly fit. And this phenomenon is growing.

    • lissa10279 says:

      Hey YumYucky, I definitely don’t think ALL food bloggers have EDs or a propensity toward DE issues … but I think it can certainly become obsessive and I will always think there’s something obsessive about someone snapping pics of 4 chocolate chips … but maybe it’s just me.

  2. Shelly says:

    There are genuine foodies out there. My friend is one of them. However, I have noticed this weird tend of people with eating disoders (and they admit they have eating disorders) photgraphing everything they eat. And they all seem to have this obsession with oatmeal. So bizarre. I love oatmeal. In fact, I eat it two or three times a week, but would I take a pic of it every morning and post a pic of it. Probably not,

    • lissa10279 says:

      Yea, oatmeal is a blogger obsession. The Green Monster was for a while … and then the raw movement, etc. I definitely see trends. Also, most of them are pitched the same products to review, so I guess that comes into play, as well. I will say, no one eats as beautiful oats as Kath! ( Hers is one of the few food blogs I can read and see it for the food beauty vs food obsession.

  3. Shhhh says:

    I actually find that taking pics of my food stops me from bingeing and making bad choices.

    • lissa10279 says:

      That’s an interesting point, Shhhh …

      • Shhhh says:

        Thank you.

        Half the time I come away from this blog not knowing WHAT to think. I do the things I do because I feel they are tools that keep me in control, and help me to keep the weight off that I lost. But then I open this to read about “shrouding”… um, I totally do that. But if I don’t I will pick at that plate until either the food is gone or the waitress comes to take it away. That’s my reality. I even shroud food in the garbage because I’ve been known to go back and pick it out and eat it! So shrouding is a disordered habit?? Not for me!

        Same with the taking pics. It helps me to take that one extra step in thought of “do I need this food, am I hungry or am I bingeing”. For me, it’s a great tool, but again, I come to this site and I’m faced with the thought that it’s possible I’ve picked up a bad habit.

        On the bright side, this blog has REALLY made me inspect myself, my thoughts and my actions. And as with anything, I take what I can use and leave the rest. Not everything applies to everybody. And I’m never ever against anything that makes me think.

  4. sleepydumpling says:

    Photographing food has been a healing tool for me with recovering from eating disorders. Years ago it could have been disordered for me, but these days it’s part of the sheer enjoyment of food. I love to capture how beautiful food can be presented, it’s textures and colours. I love to share that with friends and family. It’s all part of the process of my letting myself enjoy food, to learn to not view it as the enemy, as evil, dirty, sinful etc.

    But I can see that photographing the food INSTEAD of eating it can be very disordered. Or photographing it to somehow obsessively keep a record of it.

    • lissa10279 says:

      Again, an interesting perspective, Sleepydumpling. I’m glad it’s working for you. That’s kind of why I wanted to bring this up — to see if people had other arguments to make about it.

  5. Hangry Pants says:

    Brave post. : ) When I did my week of eats experiment my traffic nearly doubled. Granted, Mark and I posted more each day, but I really think people are interested in it. Because I am not an RD and have no other reason for showing everything I eat, I don’t do it regularly. It’s more for readers who might have EDs than for myself. Also, when I did it, I always put my phone in the pics. for comparison.

    I think that yes, there are people oddly obsessed with food who do this and it’s harmful on many levels. On the other hand, I believe that there are many people who are helped or motivated by these blogs, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bloggers responsibility to not post this way because of reader sensitivities.

    • lissa10279 says:

      Thanks Heather! 🙂 You’re def. not the food bloggers I’m referring to, but I do imagine people liked seeing it. And I appreciated how you used the iPhone for comparison.

      And I also see that for some, photo-food blogs might be a source of inspiration/encouragement. “I can eat like this” — I get that.

      But I still think some of them are using it to mask something else … or maybe I’m just passing judgment based on what I see?

  6. Hangry Pants says:

    No, I am sure you are right.

  7. Allison (Eat Clean Live Green) says:

    Great post! I just wrote about the same topic today – I think the need to justify ‘splurging’ when daily food blogging is a very slippery slope towards disordered eating.

  8. Hil says:

    Early in the life of my blog I took photos of all of my meals and snacks that required actual preparation, although certainly not every morsel of food that passed my lips. For me, photographing my food gave me an incentive to make my food pretty and make my meals well balanced rather than a) eating mindlessly or b) harping excessively on calories. I photographed everything rather than special meals because the whole thrust of my blog was about my attempt to eat well on a daily basis.

    There are some (actually a lot of) food blogs that definitely either make me concerned about the blogger’s relationship with food or that, regardless of the mind set of the blogger, are simply too triggering for me to read. I’m glad that you’re talking about this. But I don’t think the act of photographing meals is, in and of itself, problematic.

  9. cggirl says:

    I had no idea this was a trend. Though lissa, what you do sounds similar, except that you do it
    privately. But it still sounds extremely
    obsessive to me to track everything you eat all of the time. What if you just let go? Are afraid you would not have a common sense feeling of what to eat more and less of in your diet? And a physical sense of when to stop?
    It might be iteresting to try… I’m not saying point tracking is bad, it’s not my place to say, it’s just a thought…

  10. laurelg1 says:

    I can attest to this observation. I have been working on recovery from AN for going on 4 years. When I first came into the “world of blogging” I looked for food blogs that posted things like healthy foods an kcal counts… I even started my own blog, but realized after just a few posts that what I was doing was having a negative impact on my recovery. I closed down that blog and haven’t been back since.

    I did however start another food blog, but shyed away from anything “light” and I posted no numbers. Now that blog has evolved into more of a baking blog to which I only post when I think I have something with a little “shock and awe” to it.

    I have also witnessed what you have spoken of with photographing and posting on nearly every meal. Unfortunately, I do believe that feeds the DE and the sufferer of any ED.

    I do believe that those who admit they suffer from disordered eat, who have one of these blogs, should be handle it with caution, with at least one person in the support system watching over it. It can be helpful in moderation, but it can also be triggering.

    Love your insight in this truth, kudos for posting it.

  11. caitlin says:

    I think it’s clear that any group of people will include healthy and unhealthy people. of course some food bloggers have unhealthy tendencies, but i think that is fairly obvious after you read a few of their posts. some people just like to blog about food. that does not make them distorted.

    that being said, most people in america have NO IDEA how to eat a healthy diet at all. the majority of women are overweight or obese and most people survive on a diet of packaged foods and meat-centered meals.

    i blog my food to show people that you can eat healthy, well balanced meals without restriction. i think many americans need this kind of HEALTHY food blog, especially when women’s magazines suggest that we eat 1,200 calorie diets.

    in general, i think making generalizations about a group of bloggers based on a few people with disorders is extremely dangerous.

  12. Joshua Brown says:

    i like reading food blogs because i am always seeking for new recipes..;*

  13. i always bookmark food blogs becuase i want to look at new recipes.’;.

  14. Acne Treatment ` says:

    i love food blogs because i love to eat tasty and sweet foods,`”

  15. eating can be considered my hobby he he he. i would really love to visit foods blogs and see some recipes *”:

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