Photo Journaling: Helpful or Harmful?

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As you probably have figured out, I am not really what you would call a ‘food blogger’.

I don’t take pictures of everything I eat; I instead like to focus on a variety of topics that appeal to me. On average I probably post 1 meal a day and I also enjoy posting healthy baking recipes often too.

As Dr. Phil would say:

“How’s that working for ya?”

I really enjoy blogging and I have especially enjoyed focusing on writing- it is one of my passions!

I like the freedom I have by not taking a picture of everything I eat. I like to be able to just sit down at the table and not have to worry where my camera is.  I like to be able to stand at the counter and munch crackers from a box mindlessly (Hey it happens!). Given my history with disordered eating, I really don’t think it would be wise for me to take pictures of everything I eat. Right now I think I have achieved a nice balance in my life.

Yesterday, I read this great article on a new study that was done on the topic of food journaling. Lydia Zepeda and David Deal from the University of Wisconsin-Madison wanted to find out whether taking pictures of one’s food would be more beneficial for weight loss than simply writing it down.

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Does taking pictures of one’s food make one more mindful of what they are eating?

Zepeda and Deal asked 43 participants to record what they ate for one week in words and as pictures. This required that participants snapped pictures of their food prior to eating it.

When researchers quizzed the volunteers, they found that photo diaries were found to be the most effective tool.

Taking pictures of one’s food appeared to provide a strong visual reminder of what was consumed, including binges. Snapping a couple shots immediately prior to eating served as a critical evaluation point and made participants mindful of the situation.

In comparison, written food logs are often seen as less effective because they can be written hours later when it is already too late. Many dieters will sit down before bed and write down what they ate. This may not be as effective a strategy as people assume.

The results of the study allude to the possibility of the usefulness of the photo journaling tool. Dietitians are beginning to ask their clients to take pictures of what they eat as it is a much more precise gauge.

My Take:

I can definitely see how taking pictures of one’s meals can result in making better food choices! Images are such a powerful tool. I think this study is a bit similar to the study about participants who eat their meals in front of a mirror. Guess what? They eat less! The mirror serves as a ‘visual’ reminder of what they are putting into their mouth. Other research shows that people eat more in dimly lit rooms. See a pattern here?

I think that photo journaling would be a great tool for dietitians to obtain a better ‘visual’ of what their client is eating! However, it isn’t fool proof, I mean…who really knows if someone is truly photographing everything they eat.

Taking pictures of one’s food can be problematic though. As I indicated above, taking pictures of everything I eat probably wouldn’t be a good idea for myself. For others it is a great tool that keeps them in check and tells them if they are eating enough. It is quite similar to people who have told me that they count calories to make sure that they are getting enough calories in a day. If they don’t count calories, they usually end up eating too little. So I definitely think that like everything in the health world, it can have a positive or negative influence on someone.

I know some food bloggers who have told me that taking pictures of everything they ate made them crazy and obsessed and they had to stop. Conversely, many have no problem with snapping pictures of what they eat and do so without the blink of an eye! It is simply a quick blip during their day that they have become accustomed to.

Taking pictures of one’s food is not going to work for everyone! Many people would find it bothersome. On occasion, when I plan to snap a few shots of a meal it can be annoying! Sometimes I just want to eat!! Eric gets to happily munch away and I have to try my best to take professional looking pictures. Taking pictures of my food can be a real drag! There, I said it!!

I love the freedom of taking pictures when I want to. I guess I am a bit rebellious that way and don’t like to feel that I have to do something. I think if I felt like I had to snap all of my meals it would take some of the joy out of the process for me.

My questions for everyone today are:

  • Do you take pictures of what you eat? Why or why not?
  • Has taking pictures of what you eat ever caused problems for you?
  • Do you think it is a helpful tool for weight loss?

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I’m off to bake, bake, bake! Baking madness in the kitchen today! See you tonight for some fun pictures!!!!

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Caroline June 5, 2009

I’ve been without a computer for a few weeks and I definitely notice myself indulging more when eating than I would if I were taking pictures of my food for the world to see. I haven’t been food blogging that long, but knowing that someone (my mother at least!) reads regularly makes me think more of what other people would think, how they’d judge. Something I usually try to avoid thinking about, but in this case it helps me!

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Ashley June 5, 2009

ange, this post really hit home. I actually semi hit on it in my post yesterday. I started out taking pics of most everything that I ate. Slowly it has started eating at me and i felt obligated to, and in turn i think compared myself to other bloggers and always wanted to make sure the meal was perfectly well rounded and “blogworthy”. It actually ended up with me gaining some weight unknowingly. I didn’t understand? I am eating all the “right” things but have gained some weight? Turns out I was eating the right things but too much of them. I have decided to stop taking pics and posting every meal and focus on meals that i find interesting. This way, I realized that now I enjoy my meal more without having to think about grabbing my camera and has helped me be a little less obsessive about my meals. I think I was thinking about everything way too in depth and way too much. Now i feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and now I am going to add in different aspects to my blog that i’ve always been interested in. Beauty products, lifestyle posts, etc. I”m excited! You are such an inspiration, thanks for all you do for your readers! :)

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Whitney June 5, 2009

•Do you take pictures of what you eat? Why or why not?
I do take pictures of what I can, but I don’t usually get everything. It helps hold me accountable and cut back on binges. I don’t want to have to post a big eating binge!

•Has taking pictures of what you eat ever caused problems for you?
Not so far, but I’ll get back on that later if it does!

•Do you think it is a helpful tool for weight loss?
VERY much so. It’s easier to see what you ate rather than just writing it down. Plus you go to such lengths to make it interesting for the blog. I lurve it!

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ari June 5, 2009

i don’t have a food blog or take pictures of what i eat. i think that because of my struggles with disordered eating and being obsessed about counting calories and food, taking pictures of my food would create lotsss of problems for me.

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Ashley June 5, 2009

I’ve attempted to take pictures of everything I eat, with the idea that I’d post it on my blog, but then it starts to drive me crazy and I over think everything I’m eating. So I’ve just stopped attempting it, at least as an everyday thing.

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Tammy (Defining Wellness) June 4, 2009

Hey Angela,

I learned about your blog from Caitlin over at Healthy Tipping Point, and I’m so glad I found it! This is such a great post! I, too, have suffered from disordered eating, and in fact, am newly recovered (the blog world helped me tremendously). I started a blog called Defining Wellness because I am a health educator and I’m very passionate about all things health and wellness. But, like you, I DO NOT think taking photos of everything I eat would be a good idea. I usually pick one or two meals or snacks to post each day (and sometimes none). I think that wellness is so much more than what we put in our mouths!! However, I love reading food blogs and think that, like you said, some people have it down to a science. If you’ve never suffered from disordered eating, it’s probably no big deal at all. In fact, if you’re a foodie, you probably love it! I’m really glad you brought up this topic, though, because I have wondered if the idea of posting everything you eat seemed too time-consuming and potentially problematic to others. Thanks for bringing up the subject!

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Faith June 4, 2009

I agree with you, Angela — sometimes I just want to eat without the photographing formalities! Generally, the only times I take pics is when I make a special meal, or when I’m posting a recipe.

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Meghan June 4, 2009

When I started blogging I decided I definitely would not be taking photos of all of my meals. I enjoy looking at photos of food, but I think it would make me crazy to photograph everything. I think people should choose what is best for them, and for me I could see this as becoming a problem.

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Hannah June 4, 2009

Ever since I’ve been reading food blogs I’ve been taking pictures of what I eat. After a while, it has become cumbersome and annoying. And now that I’m on a vacation, I feel awkward pulling out my camera to take a photo of my food at a restaurant or a party. How do other people deal with public use of photographing their food?

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Bec June 4, 2009

I dont post everything I eat just because it would be to much work and I would drive myself crazy but I do think documenting my food with photos helps me to make sure I get all my fruits and veggies and makes it easier for me to add those extra cals like PB with my carrot sticks since I know ppl will see the picture.

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Vanessa (Last Night's Leftovers) June 4, 2009

I consider my blog less of a food journal blog and more of a “I love food, look at what I made today!” kind of thing. If I used it as a way to journal I don’t think it would be nearly as much fun!

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Hangry Pants June 4, 2009

I do not use my blog as a food journal because I have no reason to do that. I did, however, try to show more food when I was training. I like to munch from the box too and I’m not ashamed of it!

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kayla June 4, 2009

My friend and I made the raw chocolate chip cookies today.. All i can say on how they turned out: Is it bad that i’ve already ate three?? :0 they are a tad addicting IMO..btw do u know the nutrition info on these?? im curious Thanks for the amazing recipe, next me and my friend are baking the donuts!! im pumped :)

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Gillian June 4, 2009

I think taking photos of your food privately could be dangerous for someone with an eating disorder. However posting them publicly can encourage healthier eating if you know you have an audience.

I normally never food journal but was requested to on my site and have been doing so this week. It’s been a little stressful and some things I describe rather than snap photos of. It does encourage me to eat healthfully though as I want to be a positive source of inspiration and show how I get through the day.

I think it would drive me crazy doing this all of the time though!!

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SarahF June 4, 2009

I’ve never had a food blog but when I first discovered them about a year ago I seriously considered starting one. However even with the thought of starting a blog I would often find myself having 2-3 glasses of wine and a big bowl of popcorn on a Friday night and think to myself “Well it’s a good thing I’m not a food blogger…this wouldn’t look very good”. So I can definately see where the accountability would play in for food blogging. However, due to those thoughts, I realized that for myself it would end up being too restrictive and would ultimately be harmful to me..which is why I don’t have a blog (though I do enjoy reading everybody elses).

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april June 4, 2009

I’m new to food blogging but have found it does get annoying when I am extremely hungry and just want to dig in! I have been enjoying it though because it is a reminder of what I’m putting in my mouth and helps me make better choices!

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katecooks June 4, 2009

i try to take pictures of everything i eat and if i can’t i mention it in my post for the day. it can be a little nerve wracking at times, but it also helps me to stop and actually look at what i made or what i am eating. ive come to really love photography and not dig into my food the second it is finished. part of the reason why i do it is because i started the blog for myself as a food diary and that’s still what it feels like to me! also, i really hated reading blogs that sounded and read like a diary but then the blogger would casually mention that usually they eat 2 snacks and a bar of chocolate every day but never mention that.

with your blog, that doesnt bother me because clearly your blog isnt a food diary but it was so discouraging to me to read these blogs and think that people never ate some cereal out of the box, never snacked on some chocolate after lunch. how come i always did that?! it made me feel badly about my own habits and then i realized it’s often an illusion of what a person actually ate that day anyway! so me docummenting everything is also representative of what i want to see from a food diary — honesty!

it can become a little neurotic though. the whole thing is one big experiment/learning process i think!!!

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