I used the social media platform to transform what I ate
Instagram’s carefully curated world of mason jars lined with quinoa and berries, of Tupperware meticulously labeled by date and time, sends most of us into a low-grade depression. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the filter” might as well be the platform’s tagline.
But a study out this week shows that Instagram may actually help people meet their eating and fitness goals. The 16 participants, who snapped photos of the food they ate each day with the tags #fooddiary or #foodjournal, said that the social and emotional support from other Instagram users helped keep them accountable. As one user put it: “With Instagram, it helped me because I was taking a picture of it — it’s real and it does exist and it does count towards what I was eating. And then putting up a visual image of it really helped me stay honest.”
And that’s not the only way Instagram helps you stay healthy, as I’ve recently learned myself. I use the beautiful photos of food to inspire myself to pack lunches for work each day. Now rather than hastily flinging greens into a container in a rush, I pack nutritious and appetizing food for each workday in an ever-rotating assemblage of sizes and colors of Tupperware (and, irritatingly, mason jars). I save about $2,500 a year by not buying lunch out, and save myself the last-minute anxiety of staring down an empty plastic container, willing it to be full, already. I do this using what psychologists call “implementation intention,” in which you use something – in my case, carefully curated Instagram feeds – as a way to visualize meeting your goals.
Those Instagram feeds serve as both a daily reminder to pack my lunch, as well as a step-by-step model for how to do it, says Barry Schwartz, a longtime psychology professor at Swarthmore College. They are “forcing you to lay out in your mind the steps you’d need to go through to achieve your objective,” says Schwartz. The catch: the motivation already has to be there, you just “don’t know quite how to do it,” he adds.
The key is to follow people whose lifestyle, careers or hobbies you admire; people whose Instagram feeds give you inspiration. Use those feeds to make a roadmap to your goals, whether you’re looking to eat better, like me, or feel better or look better. And if someone’s social media style turns you off or makes you green with envy? Unfollow, stat.
Look, I don’t know the Instagram meal preppers personally. I don’t even know if we would be friends, getting together every Sunday evening to distribute grilled chicken slices among five days’ worth of containers, texting each other tips on lugging lunchboxes back home. And It doesn’t matter. I have them right where I need them.
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