We’ve all seen it on social media: the perfectly steamed fish with a pile of greens and a side of quinoa. The homemade juices. The “zoodles.”Amplified by clever hashtags and beautiful filters, these pictures provide what I’ll call a “health halo” to the people who post them. And then, on the flip-side, are the pictures of glorified, unhealthy indulgences. Things like pancakes, mac & cheese, and ice cream are all over my feed, too – sometimes from the very same people.
I was reading through food industry research last week when a stat caught my eye: 28% of survey respondents said they’d bragged to friends about their healthy eating habits. That number jumps to 36% for respondents under 45. These stats didn’t surprise me, but they did make me reflect on the role food plays in how we construct our identity. Food may be a necessity, but its role in our lives is incredibly complex. As special diets and eating trends continue to evolve, we hear more people talk about their eating approach as a philosophy or way of life. Clearly, there are specific facts: produce is good for you, dairy has calcium, etc. But the conversation is much more charged than that, and often becomes quite personal.
The word “brag” is key to this research stat. It carries much more weight than a phrase like “I talk about healthy eating.” And that’s probably why the research company chose to use”brag” in the first place: it’s a much juicier piece of data. “Brag” implies that you think you’re doing the right thing- and that means other people must be doing the “wrong” thing. We do indeed see a lot of elitism around eating habits these days. How someone chooses to eat is a personal choice, and yet many people like to tell others what to do. The healthy eating posts on social media are often simply celebrations of cooking accomplishments or personal fulfillment – which I salute. Sometimes, though, the posts read more like a lecture. “Look at how I’m eating,” they say. “You should eat like I do – or else you’re doing it wrong.”
This research also made me think about my own posts, and what they say about me. My newsfeed definitely skews toward indulgence-brags rather than health-brags. In fact, my two most recent posts were both about junk food. One was about Nutella, and the other was a recipe post from my baking blog. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I only eat Nutella and cookies. To the contrary, my day-to-day diet is very healthy- and also really, really boring. Just ask my coworkers: you don’t need to see pictures of my lunches. I choose to post about dessert indulgences because baking is a passion, and I have a ridiculous sweet tooth. I’d rather talk about dessert than the salad I had for lunch. Does that mean people question my eating habits? Absolutely. But readers- we all know that social media posts only show part of the story. Anything you post on social media is a choice for how you want to be portrayed. So whether you’re bragging about being healthy or unhealthy or gluten-free or gluten-added: it all says something about what you want the world to think about you. It doesn’t mean your way is any better or worse than anyone else’s. It’s just your way.