Foodstagram vs. Obesity A Press Release by Anna Knes

I have a secret that nobody, until now, has known...

I have a Foodstagram: An account solely for posting photos of food.

Were you surprised? Do I look like someone who’d create an account dedicated to food? While food has always been central to society, social media has magnified this love and transformed it into an obsession.

The average Foodstagram posts one to three times daily [1], but have you ever stopped to think about the type of person running these food-obsessed accounts?

Although food obsession might sound like a precursor or hallmark of obesity, the connection between these ideas is not straightforward. In fact, most food-obsessed posters, bloggers, and vloggers tend to also be fitness gurus, chefs, and overall, of average weight. How do we explain this discrepancy – that those we’d assume to obsessively overconsume food aren’t actually running these Foodstagrams?

A recent study conducted by Soussignan and colleagues [2] showed overweight/obese individuals (determined by BMI) have different reactions to food relative to normal-weight individuals. Specifically, despite expressing similar food preferences, overweight/obese individuals gazed at food images with an enhanced and narrowed focus. From “gross” to “great” (i.e., vegemite to cake), they paid more attention towards food images overall, suggesting a heightened attraction to food itself.

Which makes you more excited?

While obesity is often assumed to be the result of overindulgence – an unending quest for pleasurable and delectable food – this research suggests that pleasure isn’t the defining trait between those obese/overweight and those not. In fact, researchers were surprised to find that the pleasure derived from looking at food was not what was driving this enhanced and narrowed attraction. Instead, they found that obese/overweight individuals showed similar levels of pleasure regardless of looking at liked or disliked foods.

Rat brain of 'liking' and 'wanting' pathways

These findings suggest that our desire for rewards (in this case, food) and the pleasure our body derives from them are dissociable. While we assume that wanting and liking are synonymous, they may actually function through separate neural pathways: we can want without liking and, conversely, we can like without wanting [3].

Human brain of 'liking' and 'wanting' pathways

Our perception of food is heavily influenced by the social context in which it is experienced. Everyday social cues from other people (through social media or in person) affect our approach to food.

To address this, Soussignan examined whether the emotions of others could affect an individual’s reaction toward food.

Researchers found that normal-weight individuals were highly influenced by other peoples’ emotions and closely mirrored others’ happy and disgusted expressions.

Overweight/obese individuals, however, were unfazed by these emotions, remaining fixated on the food itself.

Some individuals may not be obsessed with food itself but rather the aesthetic of the food and how it might be viewed by others, leading them to become Foodstagrammers. Others may not care for social media because their obsession is not driven by the pleasure associated with food’s appearance.

Despite a shared obsession, two distinct societies exist – one socially-accepted and the other socially isolated. How this obsession is expressed can determine whether an individual is praised as #trending or criticized as “unhealthy.”


  1. C., L. How Often Should You Post on Instagram in 2019? [Website]. Retrieved from https://socialbuddy.com/how-often-should-you-post-on-instagram/
  2. Soussignan, R., Schaal, B., & Jiang, T. (2019). Watching happy faces potentiates incentive salience but not hedonic reactions to palatable food cues in overweight/obese adults. Appetite, 133, 83-92. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.10.024
  3. Berridge, K. C. (2010). Incentive Motivation and Incentive Salience. In Encyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience. Retrieved from Elsevier Ltd.

Images Used

  • https://www.theodysseyonline.com/lets-take-break-from-our-stressful-lives-to-look-at-some-delicious-food
  • https://www.pinterest.com/pin/499829258639424297/?lp=true
  • https://chasingbleu.net/foodstagram-food-photography-tips/
  • http://native.srednja.hr/koliko-sati-muzike-serija-i-preuzetih-skripti-stane-u-gigabajt-prometa/
  • https://www.pinterest.cl/pin/113364115604862483/
  • https://www.pinterest.com/thepreviewapp/food-instagram-feed/?lp=true
  • https://cdn-ap-ec.yottaa.net/573f35be312e58621600215c/o~f_webp/v~4b.44.0.0/https://dam.kraftheinzcompany.com/adaptivemedia/rendition/138280_3000x2000.jpg?id=49fdab4f7bf207b3cc31f72186c86b0a642f0802&height=650&width=3000&clid=pim
  • http://www.trbimg.com/img-5ad120ad/turbine/sns-dailymeal-1702459-vegemitetoast20crop-20180411/1440/1440x810
  • http://chittagongit.com/icon/smiley-icon-png-9.html
  • https://www.azamaraclubcruises.com/it/blog/mediterranean-food-flavors-our-favorite-travel-destinations
  • Robinson M.J.F., Fischer A.M., Ahuja A., Lesser E.N., Maniates H. (2015) Roles of “Wanting” and “Liking” in Motivating Behavior: Gambling, Food, and Drug Addictions. In: Simpson E., Balsam P. (eds) Behavioral Neuroscience of Motivation. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, vol 27. Springer, Cham
Created By
Anna Knes

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