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food and facebook: you are what you post

Posted on Sunday, September 19th, 2010 at 9:16 pm

A former housemate of mine loves to bake and frequently posts photos on Facebook of her elaborate culinary creations: decadent, meticulously crafted cakes, pies, tarts and countless other confections, each shot from multiple angles, as though being photographed for a spread in a gourmet food magazine.

I have another Facebook friend who chronicles most of his meals in his status updates, and another who uses her profile to record her diet progress pound-by-pound and showcase photos of the new, thinner her.

Probably none of this seems out of the ordinary, let alone troubling. Of all the oversharing that happens on Facebook, food- and diet-related photos and status updates seem duly insignificant.

But are they?

Psychology Today blogger Susan Albers recently wrote about the psychological motivation for posting food photos on Facebook. Albers, a psychologist who specializes in body image and eating issues, lists 10 reasons we may feel compelled to make food a part of our online social experience. She points out that we may be seeking to alleviate guilt or regret over our food choices — akin to the person who announces “I’m so fat” in a group of friends, knowing the statement will be swiftly shot down by an adamant chorus of no-you’re-not.

More seriously, Albers says posting food photos on Facebook may signal an unhealthy relationship with food and eating.

My former housemate fits with this proposition. What isn’t obvious about her based just on her Facebook divulgences — and what I know only from living with her for two years — is that she doesn’t eat a morsel of any of the food she bakes. She subsists entirely on fruits and vegetables. She exercises obsessively. She is very, very thin.

The Mayo Clinic identifies cooking elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat them oneself as one of the signs of an eating disorder. Perhaps soon we’ll find “persistent posting of food and diet Facebook fodder” on such lists.

One of the great luxuries of Facebook is that it allows us to show only the aspects of ourselves that we want others to see. Yet what Albers’ analysis indicates is that, unconsciously, we may be revealing more through Facebook than we think we are.

What is my relationship with food and with my body if I want to reveal to my online social circle (which, for many of us, includes more acquaintances than true “friends”) what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, how much I weigh?

Food for thought.

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3 Responses to “food and facebook: you are what you post”

  1. Shelley says:

    Very interesting post. I wonder how much this phenomenon of FB food photos coupled with a disorder has to do with people attempting to assign a new role to food. Instead of food as “object for consumption,” food becomes something else: art. Shaping glorious-looking foods, photographing these beautiful food objects, and then displaying them publically as if in a museum can all be seen as occurring in the spirit of an artist, not in the spirit of an eater. Perhaps repurposing food as art makes its presence — its temptation — easier?

  2. Megan says:

    What a fascinating approach, Shelley. Your point about repurposing food as art adds yet another strand to the complex web of roles we assign to food — food as friend, food as comfort, food as fury, food as entertainment.

    Detaching all of these extra roles from food seems to be the key to establishing a healthy relationship with it. From my own experience, the struggle comes, then, when food is no longer comfort. What takes its place? If, as you’re saying, food has become our art, our self-expression, we will then lose a part of our identity and part of how we deal with the world if we try to change that. Are we strong enough to find another, less-obvious, not-as-readily-available way to fulfill ourselves?

    Thanks so much for reading, and for your thoughtful comment!

  3. Shilo says:

    I don’t know if it’s ALL bad . . . there are a lot of dieting sites that are all about talking about exercise and dieting.

    And you’re supposed to keep track of what you eat, right? Maybe some people use that for facebook :D

    I can definitely see it being a sign of an eating disorder, but only if coupled with other signs.

    Posting pics of food and dietary habits in and of itself shouldn’t be a huge cause for alarm.

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