Social Media As Subversive Force

The previous Childhood Obesity News post, “People of Size, and Their Voices,” could stir endless controversy. Do overweight humans deserve pride, self-esteem, and other attributes of mental health? Or does the world have an obligation to constantly remind them of their inadequacy? Must the obese bow their heads and agree to suffer ignominy as punishment for their unacceptable bodies?

Zach J. Payne wrote about losing a “stupidly huge amount of weight” in a piece subtitled, “And why it doesn’t matter.” Yes, between weighing in at 560 pounds and 480 pounds, a quantitative difference can be verified. But is there really a qualitative difference? Of course there is! “I can walk a few more steps without being short of breath.” As the kids used to say, Big Whoop! He figures it would require the loss of another 250 pounds to be significantly life-changing. As things are,

I still can’t comfortably fit into most cars. There’s still no chance of me ever being able to board a commercial airplane. I have to walk sideways down a bus aisle. I still draw looks and harassment.

And then, cussing profusely, Payne describes the monomaniacal state of mind that prevents him from focusing on anything but food:

Carole is talking about cookies and cakes again… Why is Jon sharing a Facebook memory about Cheese Sticks?

Why does anyone post food photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other SNS (social network sites)? Over the years, various theories have been proposed. Academic papers have been written about this topic, such as a very lengthy and detailed recent one.

The researchers wanted to know whether seeing appetizing food pictures (aka “food porn”) would result in more external eating, in both normal people and in those already known to have eating disorders. “External eating” is consumption triggered by the sight, smell, or thought of food, regardless of the absence of actual hunger. Observation of 165 subjects suggested that “while SNS use is correlated with eating patterns, it does not influence them directly.”

Some experts believe that taking pictures of food, to display to the world via social media, is either a symptom or a cause of mental illness. Food writer Josh Ozersky expressed the opposite view:

If anything, shooting food pictures is an act of impulse control, delayed gratification, and long-term planning. It would be a lot easier to just gobble that food up.

The harmfulness of “food porn” is an idea that will not go away. Two years later, an article titled “The Instagram effect: Are pictures of food fueling obesity?” included the term “digital grazing” and discussed an interesting piece that had been published in the journal Brain and Cognition. It is the kind of subject that can lead to philosophical rabbit holes. In a world where some people starve, and others carry around two or three times their natural weight, fancy pictures of food can arguably be regarded as obscene.

A 2018 article mentions a Registered Dietician who reportedly eats anything that social media contacts show her a picture of. That alone seems enough to close the case.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “I Lost A Stupidly Huge Amount of Weight,”, 10/03/19
Source: “The effect of exposure to food in social networks on food cravings and external eating,”, undated
Source: “Expert: Photographing Food May Be Sign of Mental Illness,”, 05/09/13
Source: “The Instagram effect: Are pictures of food fuelling obesity?”, 10/18/15
Source: “Are social media food photos ruining your diet?”, 08/24/18
Image by TT Marketing/(CC BY 2.0)

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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