Is Instagram telling us what to eat?

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

Instagram has become a chaotic amalgam of photos of beautiful cakes, medium rare steaks and colourful non-alcoholic drinks, hashtags like #foodporn, #instafood or #delicious certify it. Just taking a gander at their numbers, you can feel overwhelmed: #foodpic has more than 32 million posts, #foodporn exceeds 216 million posts and #instafood grows over 161 million post.

In this mare magnum, instagrammers and influencers seek to increase the number of followers, likes and comments and we, participants in this game, get carried away by the trends that take us from one place to another. Here, at the same time we are victims and executioners, but the truth is that we enjoy more uploading a photo to Instagram than savouring the food itself.

We love to share food, not only in a purely physical sense, but also figuratively. Showing to the public what we are about to eat has a kind of meaning of power, we show our culinary skills when we upload pictures or we show our purchasing power when we tag that amazing meal in an exclusive restaurant. In a way, some animals do something similar: males woo females with food, for instance, the scorpion fly that needs to offer an edible large enough prey to the female to copulate while eating. (1)

Definitely, social media, and especially Instagram, shape people's tastes and preferences. For instance, according to the Annual Waitrose Food and Drink report 2019-2020, since streamlined cupboards and coordinated canisters have been featured heavily on Instagram, food-storage tubs sales are up 21% this year. (2)

Instagram was created 10 years ago but rocketed in popularity after Facebook’s acquisition in 2012 and it has been changing how do we see the food since then. Steve Zagor, Dean of Culinary Business and Industry Studies at the Institute of Culinary Education, said "There’s definitely a focus on looks rather than taste, and if you’re lucky, both exist simultaneously." (5)

Courtesy Hellomagazine

Certainly, there is a direct relationship between what we consume and what we see on social networks, but how does this affect eating habits? Are we changing the way we eat?

According to a study conducted by Efrat Neter, (2018), appetising food pictures didn't affect external eating (eating in response to food-related stimuli,such as smell sight or taste), food cravings, or the type or amount of food ordered. Additionally, viewing food pictures didn't affect individuals with disordered eating more than individuals without disordered eating. (3)

Another study conducted in 2016 states that the attentional capture by food images tends to be more pronounced in those participants who are hungry than in those who are sated. (6)

The belief that viewing food porn has a negative effect in health, Body Mass Index and eating patterns (4) should be reviewed and, although it could be true for some individuals, it would not be for everyone.


(1) Enrico Ceccarelli (2020). Cortejo animal (Spanish). Accessed 14 January 2020

(2) Waitrose & Partners. Food and Drink Report (2019-2020). Accessed 19 January 2020

(3) Efrat Neter (2018). The Effect of Exposure to Food in Social Networks on Food Cravings and External Eating (FEECAEE). Accessed 19 January 2020

(4) Sara Santarossa (2015). Exploring the Associations of Social Networking Sites and Body Image, Self-Esteem, Disordered Eating and/or Eating Disorders and the Impact of a Media Literacy Intervention. Accessed 20 January 2020

(5) Joanna Fantozzi ( 2017). Insider. Instagram has completely changed the way we eat and that's not a good thing. Accessed 20 January 2020

(6) Charles Spence et al. (2015) Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation. Accessed 17 January 2020


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