Does this delicious image sway you to order out?

·2 min read

Possibly an obvious take on psychology, but some scientists are voicing concern that when we see images of food online, it influences our eating habits. An article from the BBC reports that seeing more “unhealthy” food on our social media feeds may influence unhealthy eating in our daily lives.

Normally, I wouldn’t argue with science, but this one does have me a bit conflicted. On one hand, it makes sense that seeing an image of a stacked burger would make me crave a burger for lunch. However, I’m also a human being with free will, and if I crave a burger but decide to just eat what I have at home, has the image really “won”? Suzanne Higgs, professor in the psychobiology of appetite at the University of Birmingham, UK says there is evidence that images of food can lead to a desire to eat. But Higgs also notes that whether or not people act on that desire is influenced by other factors such as availability.

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“Our eating habits are also influenced by what we see,” the BBC explains. “Scientists say we favour ‘oozing’ protein, a dribbling egg yolk, or bubbling mozzarella, for example.” I wouldn’t say I like my proteins to “ooze,” but I can admit that some melty cheese does draw my attention. Who wouldn’t be drawn to that?

Higgs says, “If all your friends on social media are posting pictures of themselves consuming fast food, it’s going to set a norm that eating fast food is what people do.” This strikes me as the equivalent of, “If all your friends decided to jump off a bridge, would you jump, too?” Social media has an influence on all of us, we know this already. That’s why there are people whose literal job title is “social media influencer.” But, similar to alcohol, we should all learn how to consume social media responsibly and in moderation.

While I appreciate some good food science, I do think we need to give people some credit. Influence can be strong, but my love of grilled vegetables can be stronger. It’s all about balance.

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