Are you a Victim of Food Porn?

Having trouble resisting food cravings?

Is there too much “food porn” in your life?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words,

but what about all these pictures that seem

to be worth a thousand calories?

In the age of social media – Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest  and so many more – exposure to pictures of food side by side with tantalizing recipes are hard to miss. This overexposure could be derailing your diet. It’s time to turn off the food porn and turn on to healthy.

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What’s Happening?

If your evening consists of eagerly perusing the  600,000 images in Flickr’s Food Porn Group collection or repinning photos from the fastest-growing category – Food & Drink – on Pinterest, it is time to take a step back. A study, published in the April 2012 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, found that “beauty shots” of delicious foods lit up the reward center in the brain, causing the subjects with the most active mental responses to overeat. Of course, it is also good old mother nature at work – another study published in the research journal, Obesity, uncovered evidence that eyeing a gorgeous spread of fabulous treats and eats increases levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone – even when you have just finished meal.

And, to add insult to injury, unlike with real food, viewing images of food does activate the self-control response center of the brain. Belgian researchers discovered evidence of just how little self-control you may have over your appetite after viewing food porn. In one study, women who viewed images of chocolate were more likely than women who sat in front of a plate of actual chocolate to overeat for several hours following the visual stimuli.

Why? Why! WHY!?!

This news could be seriously frustrating, especially if you get your kicks from indulging in some of the intense food imagery out there. Why is this such a problem?

Amy Sousa, Ph.D., an anthropologist of a research firm consulting firm that tracks food culture, told Women’s Health magazine, “Food was never meant to be experienced from just a visual perspective. When we see food, we need to fill in the blanks of what it will taste like. Merely looking makes for an unsatisfying experience.”

“Food was never meant to be experienced from just a visual perspective. When we see food, we need to fill in the blanks of what it will taste like. Merely looking makes for an unsatisfying experience.”

Food shots of modern-day are larger than life. You can zoom in and see every tantalizing morsel, making the whole experience quite intimate and causing you to eat more. And it doesn’t matter if the image is only a tiny little bite of absolute perfection – your mind still desires super-sized indulgence.

Not to mention, of course, that we are hard-wired to crave the things that are less than healthy for us – shiny fats and brilliant butters – and then there is the money-shot that allows you to imagine piercing the crust of with your fork and feeling the flavors and textures dance on your tongue. There is no escape – your mind and your body want to be satisfied.

How do you Stop the Madness?

  • Change the channel. You don’t have to stop following your favorite foodies online or refrain from ever seeking a recipe complete with pictorials, but you do need to change what you are looking for. Seek out the healthy foods. Find decadent shot of yummy and nutritious salads, vegetable spreads and lean dishes. If you love gazing at well-done food photography, feast your eyes on the low-fat delights.
  • Swap addictions. If your diet is being seriously derailed by food porn, it is time to find a new visual obsession. Instead of pouring over mouth-watering dishes, let your mind drool over vacation plans to beautiful beaches and top-rated resorts or swoon over the new arrivals from your favorite online boutique. These fantasies have limits – you don’t need them to survive, so looking won’t expand your waistline.
  • Find fitness. Research has shown that physical activity can turn down the temptation ringing in your head. Regular exercise can pacify the food-reward center of the brain and leave you less susceptible to uncontrollable cravings, even when visually stimulated.
  • Get some sleep. 2012 has been the year of sleep. This year numerous studies have proven that your weight and health are directly linked to how much quality sleep you get each night. One such study found that cravings for junk food increase with too little sleep and you are more susceptible to the appetite-inducing effects of food imagery when sleep is insufficient.
  • Be inspired. The most promising solution to the food porn craze however, is to spend more time in the kitchen – cooking. When you actually experience all the sensual pleasures of food, including preparation, you are less likely to be affected by sightly images. So, when hunting online, seek out images and recipes that you can and will effectively make. You will be less likely to over-indulge in a can of Cheez Whiz and a box Wheat Thins or head through the drive-thru after drooling over food photos online.

Update from the author: I composed this article on a Sunday afternoon and, after perusing research and about a million delicious pics of food, I shut down my computer and went about my day. But, lo and behold when it came time for dinner, I couldn’t stop at a reasonable portion… No, I ate dinner and then proceeded to raid the fridge and the pantry and anything else in my home that wasn’t tied down. This is not my usual behavior. When I got into bed my belly ached from over-consumption. I told my husband, “I’m a victim of food porn!” (I simply had to add this update because I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of the impact, but it is clearly a very real phenomenon! )

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One comment

  1. Wow! I do love food…. exercising has helped!!

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