Bad Appetite

The social, psychological, and biological drivers of appetite.

Smile! You’re on <candy> camera.

Photographing your meals might help you lose weight.

Has anyone ever served you something so beautiful that it seemed a crime to ruin its appearance by consuming it? It sometimes happens to me with salad garnishes in the shape of flowers, or pretty pictures in cappuccino froth.

But fear not reader - there's no need to feel guilty. After reading an article on people who photograph their food I realize I've been a fool to subject myself to such moral agony. Because if you take a photo of your cake you get to keep it forever - and eat it too.

I actually know a lot of people who take photos of their food.

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Some of them do it to capture their own creations and showcase their enviable cooking prowess. Some of them are proper foodies with blogs about cheese, cupcakes, or new dining experiences. Others do it to remind them of a particularly pleasant taste sensation, or a fun time with friends.

But as an obesity researcher I'm also interested in another possible benefit.

For years, psychologists have been telling people trying to lose weight to keep a written record of what they eat - a kind of ‘diet diary'. Writing everything down makes you focus on what you're eating and helps you spot and exterminate unhealthy patterns.

For example, does your journal make you realize that you always get peckish at 11am and sneak off to buy a candy bar? Try thwarting yourself by eating something more substantial at breakfast.

Gaining some lost weight back and don't know why? Maybe it's that chocolate chip muffin you started eating for breakfast when granola and yogurt got boring.

The real beauty of it is that you don't even have to pore over your records to reap the rewards - the mere thought of having to confess your intake on paper can be enough to make you think twice about that third twinkie. There's research to prove it.

In fact, have you ever seen one of those weight loss TV shows where they pile up everything the poor subject ate that week and they start to cry? Or heard about Hollywood stars infuriated by the crazy paparazzi who rummage through their garbage?

The diet diary works on the same basic principles.

Of course the problem with the diet diary is that it's actually incredibly boring to write down everything you eat and no-one wants to do it. Photography, on the other hand, couldn't be easier, and it's likely to be a whole lot more accurate and produce more potent memories.

That's not to say it isn't slightly creepy to take a photo of everything you eat. The urge to comprehensively document your food intake can easily tip over into obsession, so it pays to keep it in moderation.

(For this reason I confess I was a little apprehensive when my friend and colleague Dr. Gene-Jack Wang starting photographing his food at an eating behavior conference in France last year. I relaxed when I realized he was simply preparing materials for his latest fMRI study, in which he plans to show delicious foods to obese people and watch how the reward areas in their brains light up.)

In conclusion, a little bit of food photography is enjoyable and may even help your health. So if you feel the urge you might as well give in, smile and say cheese.

Just remember one thing: editing out your extra french fries with Photoshop completely defeats the object.

 

Susan Carnell, Ph.D., is a research psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, where she studies what drives some people toward obesity.

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