My Instagram is full of lies.
Instagram has over 600 million users?—?and most of us are liars. We post only the most flattering photos of ourselves, or the ones in which we’re obviously having ALL THE FUN: our manicured toes on a Mexican beach, flawless cat-eye makeup or the flowers our date brought.
Our favorite type of pic to post to Instagram, though? Food.
I lost 100 pounds over seven years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten a degree in health coaching and focused my career on writing about food and wellness. I stick to a mostly vegetarian diet, including lots of #healthylatinfood.
And, of course, I Instagram photos of my brunch. What foodie doesn’t? The social platform took off, in part, thanks to users who embraced it to showing off #foodporn.
But in Insta-land, appearances can be deceiving. Recent revelations about a popular Instagrammer were sobering (literally) reminders that when it comes to what we eat and drink, things often aren’t as carefree as they may seem.
Louise Delage’s account started as a platform for the beautiful 20-something Parisian woman to post her pictures of the good life. Within a few months, thousands of people were following her adventures, eager to see what the cute girl was up to daily.
But there was something hidden beneath those pictures: a not-so-obvious addiction to alcohol. The final post is a video pointing out that in almost every photo, “Louise” is drinking or holding a drink. It turned out the fake account was part of a campaign created by French organization Addict Aide to raise awareness of how easy it is to overlook the signs of addiction.
Seeing “Louise’s” story unfold was a serious wake-up call for me. Yes, I had my own struggles getting sober?—?but Louise’s account was a different kind of wake-up call.
The truth about my own Instagram is that I tend to show off only the good side of being a healthy eater. I post the veggie curry I made for lunch and the watermelon salad I took to a potluck.
But I also eat plenty of dishes I would never post, including my deepest shame: Taco Bell.
I eat Taco Bell at least twice a month, and I love it dearly when I do. Fuck the vegetarian meals and the low-calorie Fresco Menu. When I go to Taco Bell, I order a Chicken Quesadilla, Nachos Supreme, Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes and the Cinnabon Delights 4-pack…and secretly hope I don’t have to share my dessert with anyone. I LOVE every minute of eating it?—?but afterward, I end up feeling sick, and disgusted at myself for consuming so much greasy, fattening food.
From there, it’s a downward spiral. My shame turns into guilt. I deal with the guilt by indulging some more, usually in a combo of Gushers and Wild Cherry Pepsi. The next day, I feel even worse?—?emotionally and physically.
But I keep my Taco Bell indulgences a secret from my followers, instead posting photos of the Mexican Quinoa Bake I made the night before. This culinary bait-and-switch happens a lot more often than I’d care to admit.
And I suspect I’m not the only one who does this. Shana Lebowitz at Greatist writes about the positive and negative ways technology affects our relationship with food. On one hand, social media highlights the many ways food positively affects our lives?—?especially in its social function. On the other hand, research suggests people eat less when they take photos of their meals. This could mean they’re being more mindful?—?or it could mean they’re dealing with some serious struggles around eating.
When I feel insecure about my own food choices, I try to remind myself that it’s dangerous to compare my behind-the-scenes life with everyone else’s highlight reel. And while social media may foster it, the guilt primarily comes from the high expectations I place on myself. If I declare I’m cutting out sugar for 30 days, I certainly won’t let myself post a cupcake photo just 12 days later. If I sign up to do Whole30, that totally non-paleo everything bagel with extra cream cheese won’t show up on my Instagram.
Whenever I feel extra guilty over a “bad” meal, I remind myself what my therapist told me recently: Be kind to yourself. I’m working on letting go of some of those high expectations for myself. And I’m trying to assess my body and my habits realistically: My weight is stable, I feel good and most of my meals are just as healthy as Gina Homolka’s. I know I’m not “undoing” all of my healthy eating with one bite of three-cheese ziti or one sip of a strawberry shortcake milkshake.
At the end of the day, I remember my favorite lesson from nutrition school: Eating 80% healthfully is still eating mostly well, and the other 20% shouldn’t matter so much. As I struggle toward striking a balance between achieving social media perfection and the reality of the food in front of me, I know one thing: IRL, I will never order a side salad instead of French fries. And next time I do?—?maybe I’ll post the French fries.