Is Food Photojournaling Really Just Disordered Eating in Disguise?

This is a cross-post at WeAretheRealDeal.com. You can read it here or after the jump.

Have you seen this article in the New York Times — First Camera, Then Fork?

MizFit brought it to our attention today and I knew I needed to write a post about it … especially since it was relevant to our panel discussion last month at FitBloggin.

There, during our session where we tackled the topic of Body Image & Blogging, I sucked up my courage and made this bold assertion to a bunch of food and fitness bloggers:

I think some food bloggers are (unknowingly) masking disordered eating issues … and that photographing every morsel can lead to DE issues.

While I can’t say this is the case for everyone, I have to say, I see lots of signs in the blogosphere. In fact, I raised this issue about a year ago on my own blog (you can read the post here).

After I said it, I held my breath and waited to be booed off stage (as many attendees were food bloggers).

But to my surprise, a lot of heads started nodding and we opened up the discussion.

The consensus among the group seemed to be that while some bloggers are genuine foodies who love to eat and probably have no eating issues and just like to take pretty foodie photos (and, alternatively, photo-journaling food helps some people from a weight-loss perspective) the inherent act of photographing every morsel (i.e., putting 6 almonds, 4 chocolate chips in your palm to snap a pic with your iPhone) just seems a bit MUCH.

A bit disordered in and of itself.

And yes, this is coming from someone who will have been on Weight Watchers for six years as of April 13! Yup, you heard me right. For six years, I’ve written down/logged practically everything I’ve eaten … even weeks I go wayyyyy over, even on vacation.

But yet even I see a distinct difference between food journaling in private and photojournaling.

Even at my most obsessive moments a few years ago, I didn’t whip out my journal at the table … nor do I today. Instead, when I get back home or back to my desk (if I’d been at work), that’s when I jot it down/log it online. It’s done discretely, and for my own records. I know journaling helps me, mentally if nothing else. But no one else needs to know about it.

In fact, the LAST thing I want to do is call attention to the fact that yes, I still care very much about what I eat and how much; it’s just a habit.

Similar to a food journal, I think often people start out using photojournaling as a dieting tool … but then it backfires into an obsession where one can’t eat without taking a photo (as in the NYTimes piece) … and how is that healthy? Or apologizing to one’s readers for eating something they didn’t photograph? I’m sorry but that seems very obsessive to me.

And photojournaling might seem like a great idea for you, the blogger … but you also have to think about your readers … which could be at wild ends of the spectrum.

For example, let’s look at portion sizes and how they appear on camera — sometimes readers end up comparing themselves, which could be totally unhealthy if they’re in a delicate state of mind. While it’s not necessarily the blogger’s responsibility to be able to guess what triggers someone else, often-times people with EDs will gravitate to these types of blogs for “food-porn.” NOT HEALTHY.

I know I might be unpopular for saying this with the food bloggers out there, but I read a lot of their blogs and — maybe it’s because I’m coming at it from my own perspective — but I see a lot of disorderedness being masked in the blogosphere or, in other words, a lot of orthorexia that is going undiagnosed.

(For those unfamiliar with orthorexia it is “a a form of disordered eating characterized by going to extremes in pursuit of a so-called healthy diet. Literally translated, it means “fixation on righteous eating.” A person with this condition obsesses over the quality of the foods they eat, in an attempt to perfect his or her diet.”)

While I know not every food blogger has — or will end up with — disordered eating issues, I definitely see how it could happen … especially since the blogosphere can be a fairly competitive environment, stirring up thoughts such as “her spinach salad looks prettier than mine” or “her pasta dish is so teensy compared to what I’d eat.”

If I could give any advice to food bloggers, it would be to take a good look at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

And if you start to feel overwhelmed with uncomfortable feelings of anxiety … maybe it’s time to take a step back and reassess.

Even a healthy mission can become unhealthy when taken to extremes … This is a lesson I’ve learned all too well. Trust me when I say, I speak from experience.

How about you? Do you think photojournaling is disordered eating (DE) in disguise, or could lead to DE issues?

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18 thoughts on “Is Food Photojournaling Really Just Disordered Eating in Disguise?

  1. I, too, have seen signs of orthorexia in a lot of food bloggers. You’re right on the money (sad as it is to say).

  2. I am a recovered anorexic and photojournalistic food blogging stresses me out BIG time. I’ve had to unsubscribe from a number of popular blogs that focus on food tracking because it made me feel more controlling and restrictive with my own food.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

  3. I’ve recently entered into the “food blogging” world in less than 6-months ago. I didn’t realize these blogs were even out there (I’ve been blogging since 2008). To be honest, yes, I do think some disorders can come from it especially when comparing weight. I know many bloggers won’t mention their weight on their blogs but a lot do even if it’s only in one post or in their “about.” This hit me because I’ve struggle with my weight my whole life. Seeing some bloggers say that my current weight is overweight and a “scary” weight to be at really irks me considering how healthy I am and how I really do eat similarly to them. However, on the contrary, I have learned a TON from these blogs. What foods are healthy and how to make them taste great. I think the benefits outweigh the positives but I do see what you’re saying.

    Sometimes, when I consider becoming a food blogger, I worry about photographing “snacks” that I may have that other people may not agree with. I don’t want to get in a debate with someone over my eating habits.

    Still considering it though…

    Wow, long comment! Great post 🙂

  4. I keep a food blog as part of my site because it has helped me analyze my eating patterns, keep ideas around, etc. It’s been really helpful. I’m on the weight loss side of things and was always told journaling food could help, but I felt pressured to do it and it always backfired on me. Taking pictures is fun for me and let’s me journal my food in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming but I still get the benefits.

    I don’t really expect anyone to read it, and I don’t read other food blogs. I tried reading them for a while but on a lot of them it seemed like it was an obsessive task to eat the healthiest. Any little “bad” food would illicit mean, snarky comments or justifications from the blogger about their choices. Ugh. There are some genuinely cool ones out there and not everyone is a disordered eater, but I think there is a lot of the issues you mentioned going on.

  5. I’ve had to stop reading some “food blogs” because I feel like they have disordered eating. I am not a doctor and of course can’t say that they do for sure, but when you post ALL of your food for the world to see, they do kind of open themselves up for different opinions.

    I had a week (or maybe 5 days?) last year that I did post all of my food…and it felt strange. When I was hungry, I wanted to eat. I didn’t want to think about what others might want to see, or if they would think I was overeating, or if they thought I ate too little. It kind of messed with my head.

    That said, I can see how food blogging is positive for those who are trying to lose weight. Like an online food journal, of sorts.

  6. Love that you brought this up. I too have wondered the same thing for a while. *I* can’t do any type of food journaling bc of my past ED and it makes me become obsessive about tracking everything, which then leads to becoming obsessed with scale numbers…

  7. I guess I just don’t think about these things… I never really compared myself to anyone else because I was always the heaviest. Now that I have gotten to where I want to be, I don’t compare because I don’t think I was groomed, for lack of a better word, to be like that. When you are the fattest, everyone is comparing themselves to you in a dear god I hope I don’t ever get that way way. It never occurs to me to look at other people’s food pictures and think similar thoughts like above. I try super hard not to judge, not my job and what you put in your body is your choice. But mostly I just ignore the photos. Unless artistically awesome, and just came across one… I know what I want, need and like to eat.

    I do agree it is a bit much. This journey for me has been long but I know I am on a new path now. One where I trust myself to eat and eat well. Small preachy moment… now that I am thinking about this. I am not sure that you can learn to live with food if you are photographing every bite. When I was 345 pounds I thought about food all the time. I don’t miss those thoughts, took years of careful paying attention to get to where I am now, but it’s liberating not to consider everything.

  8. VERY interesting post and good for you for bringing it up even if it might be unpopular or not accepted by some. Or, ahem….a little TOO true to whats going on.

    As a recovered disordered eater, I have recently started a sort of foodie photo blog, sort of sustainable food blog (but I usually only do a food post, what I cooked or a sustainable restaurant I ate at, about once a week)–and I found the other day while sitting down to dinner that I felt compelled to take a photo and at least tweet it out or blog about it later. It was like I didn’t want to eat my food until I had photographically recorded it. Like I wasn’t eating for me anymore, but eating for the blog, and if I didn’t take a picture it was like I was “wasting” that food in a sense. If that makes any sense. I went to get my camera and then had to take a deep breath and think about what I was doing, it was actually really scary for a second because it was like I was about to head down a really steep slope into another form of restrictive eating–to not be able to enjoy something unless I had shared it with the world. I am that way about photo taking though. In Sydney, Australia I opted not to do the bridge climb because you couldn’t bring a camera up. I figured, if I can’t take pictures, why waste my money on a touristy attraction? So I didn’t do it.

    But the other day, I didn’t take that picture of my dinner, and after I was done eating I was glad for that.

  9. I read a lot of food blogs and I do think that many are promoting restricted eating and, especially, compulsive exercising. The exercise habits of many of the most popular food bloggers I follow are very similar to my exercise habits 4-5 years ago when I was at the worst point of my compulsive exercising. They train for race after race, each one longer and more challenging than the previous one. They do two-a-day training sessions. They proudly boast that they only take “active” rest days and never take true days off. In addition, it seems to me that the women in the food blog world are on a quest to outdo each other with who can do the most exercise, and I imagine that this doesn’t make their readers feel very good about themselves.

    That said, I continue to read these blogs because I enjoy them, but I always have to remind myself not to take them too personally. After all, bloggers are real people, and even though their lives may seem “perfect,” all of them go through struggles and challenges that they don’t write about. I hope readers realize this.

    By the way. I am competing in my first race since 2006 next weekend! It’s a really short local triathlon – a far cry from the insane endurance events I used to do. My philosophy towards racing has changed 100% since then, and rather than going into this trying to win my age group, I’m going into it trying to finish and have fun. 🙂

  10. Very insightful post. It’s a subject I haven’t given much thought about. But… way back when, before my site was my site, I journaled online so that I wouldn’t have to haul that thumb drive around. I am a bit “laid back” (euphemism for lazy) on certain things, but I am a bit neurotic on others, like data (I am an economist and statistician by trade and training, so numbers are my gig).

    I took all of that mess down when I realized people actually read and commented on it (I wasn’t smart enough yet to make it private).

    My opinion is that journaling can be healthy, as long as it doesn’t become obsessive. There are gaps in mine, as numbers focused as I am, and it doesn’t bother me.

    I do think it’s like anything else… if you feel like you can’t “survive” without it, it has become an addiction. And rarely, if ever, are addictions a good thing.

    Nice, thought provoking post!

    Ben (@benjamteal)

  11. Great post. I recently started my blog to document my journey on becoming a healthier (mentally & physically) person. I had toyed with the idea of keeping track of my weight each week or the foods I was eating, but I agree that this is private for each individual. If I have a great meal and want to share a recipe, then I do that. I do keep a food journal, but it is my private journal and some days I don’t feel like writing it down, so I don’t. I completely see the connection though between going from obsessive eater to obsessive food journal/blogger. Very good point.

  12. I read the “oatmeal parade” blogs for a while, but I have now moved on to reading blogs that focus more on balanced living, health, and fitness. I will sometimes post a recipe or put a picture of something fantistic on my site, but not on the regular.

    For the most part, I think that food blogs that are more about “here’s what I ate all day today” rather than “food is awesome, look what I made”, are masking eating disorders and perpetuating the problem of eating disorders and body image.

    As someone who had bulimia for 15 years, oatmeal parade blogs tested my coping skills, made me feel triggered, and took my focus off of the ultimate goal: my own health.

  13. The thought or reading or posting all that I or someone else eats gives me butterflies in my tummy. Beyond that, I think it’d be boring as anything. This doesn’t mean I don’t love cookbooks, and haven’t learned to cook the occasional item from youtube, or never picked up a recipe from a blog, though that’s a bit rarer, since I’m picky and don’t like diet food.

  14. Wow everyone, thank you for such insightful comments. Typically I’d respond to each individually but I want to let this have time to sink in/digest and I might do a follow-up post.

    I’m glad to know I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling, but it’s also good to see how, for some people, there are pros to photojournaling.

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