Commentary: Food Photo-Blogs & Recovery

christmas-carouselSome of my very favorite blogs to read (besides celebrity gossip blogs!) are non-weight-loss-related, healthy living food blogs.

I LOVE the work my blogging buddies are doing, and love to get ideas from all of you. I wouldn’t have known about Barney Butter, were it not for these awesome food bloggers, for example!

I also read quite a few recovery blogs. I love seeing others grow and get better, and it’s helpful for me, as a reader, to see what others are experiencing. But lately I’ve had a bit of a nagging concern that I debated mentioning …

And so because I can’t keep my blogger-trap shut … I have to put this out there — and please know, in no way do I mean to attack those recovery bloggers, because you know how much I care about each and every one of you and you do it because you believe it’s a positive tool, or you wouldn’t do it — but to me, it seems that photo-journaling food —specifically on recovery blogs — might do more harm than good in the recovery process.

I mean, how does it NOT fuel the obsession? How does it NOT add to the fixation? How does it NOT just keep the cycle going, around and around? I honestly want to know.

The lyrics of Lifehouse’s “Sick Cycle Carousel” come to mind:

If shame had a face I think it would kind of look like mine
If it had a home would it be my eyes
Would you believe me if I said I am tired of this
Well here we go one more time

I tried to climb your steps
I tried to chase you down
I tried to see how low I could get down to the ground
I tried to earn my way
I tried to change this mind
You better believe that I tried to beat this

So when will this end
It goes on and on
And over and over and over again
Keep spinning around I know that it wont stop
Till I step down from this for good

I never thought Id end up here
I never thought Id be standing where I am
I guess I kind of thought it would be easier than this
I guess I was wrong now one more time
Cause I tried to climb your steps
I tried to chase you down
I tried to see how low I could get down to the ground
I tried to earn my way
I tried to change this mind
You better believe that I tried to beat this.

I wonder if it just contributes to the problem, or is part of the recovery solution?

Can one of the recovery bloggers (again, I’m not talking about healthy living/foodie blogs — I see the point there) maybe explain the other side of how it’s helping them on their path to recovery? I don’t mean blogging itself; believe me, I am fully in support of it.

I mean the photo-journalism aspect of it, or the cal counting. And I’m asking out of genuine concern/care … because the more I think about it, the more I see it as a potential negative.

For weight loss blogs, I can see how maybe it’s a good extra tool — the same way we journal food, to snap pics of what we eat.

But my fear is that when we’ve crossed from just healthy “weight loss” to unhealthy “disordered eating” or “eating disorder” territory, it seems to me that the very act of snapping a pic or talking about calories might be a negative … and could further fuel disordered eating behaviors for those of us like myself who are susceptible to fall victim to it.

(Which is why there have honestly been some days I couldn’t read some of my favorite blogs … food blogs, recovery blogs, weight loss blogs, alike).

That said, I really admire Lara from the healthy living blog Thinspired, who recently stopped posting cal counts of her food; it can be a trigger for many people, and not seeing it there (and coming at it from my perspective as someone learning to deal with disordered eating issues) is actually welcoming.

You know, I’ve been asked why I don’t photograph my food here. Here’s why: because my blog (and recovery) isn’t about food. In fact, the less I talk about food itself … the better.

Because I think we all know, with disordered eating — or a full-fledged eating disorder — it’s never about the food. Never. There’s always something else; an underlying issue at bay. For me, it’s anxiety. For others, it could be something else.

It’s about using food as a weapon, as a coping mechanism (by over-eating, under-eating, having an unhealthy relationship with food) …

And so by taking pictures of every morsel we consume, or detailing calorie counts … I guess I have to wonder, is that really helping?

I just don’t know … and I don’t think there’s a commissioned study from the NIH or NEDA out there that can answer me, so that’s why I’m opening the floor here … not at all to criticize, but rather to get your opinions.

I mean, sometimes I’ll share a recipe or a photo of something I’ve cooked if I am extremely proud, but if I snapped a photo of every single thing I ate … I think it might do me (personally, me, Melissa) no good.

It would just be another way to stoke the proverbial fire for me. Journaling is plenty for me.

And so for anyone who has recovered or is seeking treatment now, do you ever read food blogs (not necessarily healthy-living-focused)? I love to get ideas, but sometimes they can be seen as “food porn” — and I think sometimes I used to visit those sites instead of enjoying something in real life. Do you feel similarly?

I genuinely would love to hear your take on it, as well as anyone with a recovery blog or who reads recovery blogs. Let’s talk this through.

I hope you all know this is coming from a place of love, concern and support — not at all to be critical of my friends in the blogosphere. I really hope we can get an interesting, respectful dialogue going here today.

How about you? Does seeing the pics or reading about cal counts trigger you? Does it ever make you want to engage in negative behavior? Or has it helped you on your own path to recovery?

31 thoughts on “Commentary: Food Photo-Blogs & Recovery

  1. Wow Melissa, your song choices this week… it’s as though you’ve visited the Top 25 in my iTunes!

    I definitely see the point you’ve presented in this entry and while I don’t blog food, I do read a number of different healthy living/etc blogs and food is often pictured. I’ll curiously check back to see the comments.

  2. I enjoy taking pictures of my food b/c it allows me to get creative and share ideas with others. I have also noticed that others have similar tastes as me and they are at healthy weights , exercise regularly, and indulge every once in awhile. Some days I do feel guilty about what i’ve eaten but I have a blog to remind me that not all days are like this and my readers are very supportive.

  3. LOL, Bleach!

    I think for healthy living/food blogs it makes perfect sense … my concern is for recovery blogs, where recovery is the focus, but we still see images of food/cal counts. That’s where I begin to wonder if it does more harm than good — putting further emphasis on food.

  4. I am so happy that you wrote this because I couldn’t agree me. I find myself fascinated by these blogs and SUCKED INTO THEM. I’m addicted. I have lost a lot of weight and am now struggling to maintain in a healthy way. I read these blogs and think that they are more obsessive than I am and yet they claim to be healthy and it just doesn’t make sense. That sentence doesn’t make sense either, but I am keeping it there! Haha. I just don’t get how these “healthy photo food journaling” is TRULY healthy. I think it is just adding to the obsession!

  5. I love to read the foodie blogs as well as recovery blogs too and there are certain times when I’ve looked at so much food that I know it’s not a good thing. However, the argument that taking photos of your food could be negative could be the same as recording in a journal or on an online account (i.e. sparkspeople, etc). That is, the emphasis on the food is exactly the same, one is text (writing) and one is visual (photo). I know when I started my recovery I couldn’t write down what I was eating as recording my food was such a part of my ED.

    Lissa, I know that you recently tried sparkspeople (or a similar site) when preparing for Mexico, I’d love to hear your thoughts about if you agree/disagree that this type of recording can be as damaging or negative as photo journaling/.

  6. I think you raise a great point. I am not a blogger, nor am I in recovery from an eating disorder, but I do read food blogs – mostly with a healthy eating focus, but some of the “recovery” ones have great meal ideas and insight too and I’ve found myself glancing at them more and more. Anyway, from a purely outsider perspective I have noted that as bloggers get further along in their recovery they tend to either 1. Blog LESS frequently and/or 2. Shift the focus to other topics about their lives other than food. Blogging seems to be a great outlet and I don’t feel I can come down on either side of the “it’s healthy vs. it’s not healthy” debate, but I think that trend says a lot…

  7. I definitely see your point! For me, if I were counting calories it would become an obsession and I would be much more likely to restrict, leading to binging and purging. I don’t count calories anymore. My blog is for journaling and taking pictures of the food I eat because I love food and I love cooking and I have a strong desire to have a healthy relationship with food. Normal, healthy people wouldn’t have a problem maintaining a food blog so I see it as sort of a challenge to myself to become normal and healthy.

  8. Thanks for your input, everyone.

    Leila, I still keep a food journal and don’t think that’s the same somehow as photographing your food, which requires effort and is a more public thing. I don’t talk about calories on my blog often, but I know some bloggers do — some readers find it healthy and good, others find it a trigger. Hard to know which way is up, and it doesn’t mean “I’m right/they’re wrong” — I guess I am curious as to why that is helping.

    For me, a food journal on SP is not the same as when I was logging on WW, plus my spreadsheet, plus SP — that was obsessive. Food journaling is something I am at peace with and it doesn’t make me anxious anymore. If photojournalism doesn’t make these bloggers anxious, then I guess it’s the same! 🙂

    To me, it’s like an alcoholic taking pictures of drinks … I dunno, I could be way off base.

  9. As someone who did deal with an ED in the past I have often wondered the same thing about some of the recovery blogs. I guess it can really go either way depending on the person. I have been concerned a few times about things I have read on both recovery and purported “healthy living” blogs. comments about “oh I ate so much” or what not. But again, I know I am very sensitive to these things based on my past expereinces and my some what strange relationship with food.

    I have no problems keeping my food journal up (fitday) but teh idea of photographing and posting every morsel I ate would make me absoluately batty.

  10. Lara, thanks for sharing. I, too, am sensitive to these things. And I agree, journaling on SP doesn’t seem to be the same for me as posting every morsel. I just think, for me, it’d fuel my disordered eating even more.

    Though I have to say, some of the bloggies do suuuuch a beautiful job of taking pics of mouth-watering yums … but I’m really concerned only with the recovery blogs that photograph pics or journal food/calories.

  11. I am addicted to reading healthy lifestyle blogs, about food, fitness, and the like, and most of the time I love it. It works for me and I really enjoy my time spent doing it, although I must admit sometimes I do “waste” time blogging when I should be doing other things. However, every now and again, when my “disordered eating” raises it’s very ugly head reading any kind of blog can be a trigger. I end up comparing myself to the role model blogger and can sometimes be ridiculous cruel to myself. Unfortunately this then leads to eating too little, or eating way too much, and ultimately feeling horrible about myself and my most recent actions. Then again, on good days, as most have been lately, Thank God, I feel like it helps me to live the healthiest way possible. I get inspired to go out for a run or to make a healthy and delicious meal for my family and friends or simply love myself and my body. I think that the obsession can definitely have negative results but overall, for me at least, it has been very positive, and in having my own blog, very therapeutic. The blogosphere is extremely supportive and I feel like it is an incredible outlet and resource, your blog, of course, very much included. Thank you.

  12. Hmm, I think food blogging for those in recovery from ED can work in many ways. Sure, it’s possible that some of the blogs are actually as much a symptom of or a source of fuel for an ED, but I don’t think the majority are.

    If you’re trying to recover from restrictive habits, in particular, EVERY meal is a challenge, and taking a photo and talking about it A) keeps you honest (ie, making sure you’re eating enough, just as dieters might take a photo to keep themselves honest about over-eating) and B) turns the meal into a source of PRIDE. Putting in that extra effort to make something appealing and to present it that way helps move it into a more positive place.

    That said, I do not like seeing pictures of very restricted meals on the blogs of those who claim to be in recovery. As for myself, I only post meals that I AM proud of — or that I have a reason to talk about (a food challenge, maybe, or even something that was triggering, if I can use it to explain a point or examine some aspect of my disorder).

    Lastly, I think there’s a huge ‘everybody else is doing it’ factor. A lot of girls might not care one way or the other about photographing their food, but if the other bloggers are doing it, they will too. Because, really, the recovery blog community is about getting and giving support, so people want to do whatever they think they need to in order to get the acceptance of the community.

  13. Danielle, that’s how I feel. Sometimes I can’t even read the healthy living or fitness blogs b/c they just fuel it for me on certain days … I agree the blogosphere support is just uncanny … people who understand … it’s great! But sometimes, it can be a negative if we’re not reacting well to it.

    Hi Whatawalnut — I like the idea of turning the meal into a source of pride — and I think you’re right, lots of people photograph their food — so it becomes a trend.

  14. I find it can go either way and it all depends on where my head is at. If I’m deep in disordered thinking, reading about others can be a trigger but I find there are different kinds of blogs too and some are jsut enjoying life and eating good food. I love those ones since they aren’t trying to restrict in any way. As a recovering binge eater.. past restricter.. i have to really watch which blogs I read. I find a lot of the recovering bloggers are super low cal in their day and I can see that (as someone who can practically count calories through a pictures) so to see them recovering but coming from a different side of the spectrum than I am, it’s hard for me. Sometimes it triggers desires to restrict again. Which desont’ work and usually leads to a binge. In any case, I’m well aware that it depends on how well I’m doing.

    As someoen with an unhealthy relationship with food, most comments, visuals, etc, affect me because of my own issues, not because of what the other person is doing.

    Reading about people working to recover is really helpful to me in general though sometimes I skip by the pictures and any guilt talk about eating an extra apple. It just makes me feel guilty for my far more extensive list of eaten foods for the day.

  15. im not new to the ED scene, but pretty new to the blogging and the blogging + ED scene. so ive surfed quite a bit and your point lissa is one that ive thought a great deal about. im glad you have the strength to bring it up in the community. ill echo what others have said- it all depends on the person. for some recoverers it is probably helpful, others probably just another tool of ED to keep them in their disordered cycle. for some maybe it is their “calorie journal” to keep them moving forward, and others maybe they don’t recognize that it could be keeping them stuck.

    i think that is the big point- recognizing. and you are an awesome girl and blogger for keeping that issue open and alive.

    on a personal level, ive become pretty good about recognizing and owning my issues in some areas. others probably not, and i dont even know them yet! i for one turn and RUN if i see a blog that posts numbers. calories, miles ran, minutes exercised. that’s one of my demons.

    thanks for keeping this open lissa, you are strong and brave and appreciated.

  16. one more point on a personal level. the more i find myself looking at other recovery blogs with pictures and food descriptions, it seems that everyone eats the same things. vitamuffins. barney butter. oatmeal for breakfast. ogranic this/that. greek yogurt. etc.

    so, i find myself feeling that i have to live up to these other bloggers by eating the same or buying the same. and if i don’t, im not really “recovering” right, or good enough.

    the POINT is, ED is extremely COMPETITIVE. so just another thing for the recovery bloggers to recognize.

    and i just recognized it in myself so that’s why im commenting on it. today i drove an hour to trader joes to find vitamuffins.

    its the same thing with the numbers i mentioned before. competition.

    thank you for leading me to this recognition lissa.

  17. I completely agree with the competitive nature of ED. I’m glad you brought this up. This is precisely why I had to stop posting and making friends on the WW board!

  18. Clare, you make some great points, about the concept of recognition (yea you!) and the competitive nature of EDs and even blogging … We can learn from some of them, for sure. I actually don’t get food ideas from the recovery blogs; I get ideas from the healthy living blogs, personally. I like the ones that show clean eating … less processed stuff. 🙂

  19. I can also tally up calories pretty fast looking at the pictures and do feel alarmed when I see people who are still restricting so much. I know when you are in recovery that every meal can be a challenge and try not to “judge” anyone because you have no idea where they are in their journey. I do wonder why are they eating fat free yogurt, vitamuffins, low carb tortillas–all typical “diet foods” when they need to be focusing on wholeseome, calorie dense foods.

  20. Lara, it’s def. hard not to judge … I see so many FF/SF items … Not that I don’t enjoy some of those things, too … but I have tried really hard to focus more on healthy eats than FF/SF stuff. It was a crutch in the beginning of my WL journey … now I realize it can be a dangerous one if I’d end up eating 3 SF mini Yorks instead of 1 regular mini York, ya know?!

    It’s really just a gimmick.

  21. Lissa yeah the FF/SF items are crap for the most part. I personally don’t eat them but I have in the past and they can be helpful for someone when they start dieting to get over the hump. I was thrilled when WW introduced Core because I think it got many more people thinking about eating real foods. My concern is when I see these items on blogs from people who are recovering from ED where they need to gain weight.

  22. i agree with u Melissa.
    i used to keep a track of how many calories i ate every day as well as how much exercise i did. i stopped a few weeks ago, cuz it was one of the only thing that was left from the ED. I still count, cant help myself, after 10 years of counting, but i dont write down. Why would i need to? I used to go back in my calendar and checked my entries… :S
    Now, i dont write anything. If i ate like a pig for 3 days, well its behind and i dont need to keep track of it and make me remember how i felt those 3 days.

  23. So true. I do enjoy ff/sf pudding, but when I make it myself using skim milk. It’s chock full of sodium, but it does appease my sweet-tooth and I don’t OD on it. I absolutely agree; if someone needs to gain weight, they absolutely should be eating real foods. I love Lee’s (For the Love of PB’s) post about changing over to 1% — I think that is a wonderful step for her in her recovery!!! (Hugs to Lee!)

    Nikita, it’s funny but the calorie-tracking doesn’t really bother me; as Dr G would say, it’s something I’m hard-wired for and it doesn’t feel like a control thing. If I don’t have my computer, I jot it in a notebook or make a mental note. It USED to be much more of an obsession … but I do see what you mean!! Glad to see you, I’ve missed your comments!

  24. Just going through your posts and saw this–thanks for the shout out. I’m not in recovery but I do agree that photo journaling can lead to obsessiveness, which is why I frequently take breaks and have been trying to do posts other than “what I ate today.” However, until this point it has been a great tool for me.
    It’s hard as a blogger because there is this recovery community of blogs but also a group of weight-loss bloggers that really need/want to lose weight (no ED). Blogging what I eat every day helped me lose weight that needed to come off, but now that I am there I think I can let go a little bit.
    Ok, enough rambling. Good thoughts here, thank you.

  25. Hi Lara! Oh I knew you weren’t in recovery; I should have clarified that. I think I referred to yours as a healthy living blog, hope that was a good enough clarification. I love to know it’s been a great weight loss tool for you, much as journaling on WW online was for me — different things work for different people. I guess so long as it doesn’t ruin someone’s social life (in that they don’t leave the house b/c they can’t photo journal or journal) then it’s a healthy tool.

    I know what you mean, there are def two kinds. I really struggle reading recovery blogs b/c I want to say so much and can’t … so I like to read healthy living blogs now more than anything. It’s a double-edged sword for sure.

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