Research says it helps keep you accountable.

By Jillian Kramer
Updated May 24, 2017
Land O'Lakes Instagram Food Donation
Credit: © Getty Images/Cultura RF

Stop snapping a photo of your lunch and read this: A new scientific paper shows posting your food pictures to Instagram does more than gain you a social media following. 'Gramming your edible goodies can also help you eat healthier.

University of Washington researchers interviewed 16 people obsessed with posting what they're eating to Instagram. These social media food fiends use the app to post everything they gobble up in a day, tracking each meal with the hashtags #fooddiary or #foodjournal. The photos become a food log of sorts, allowing the users to get a clear picture—excuse the photo pun—of how much and how well they're eating.

In other words, the researchers say, Instagram keeps these users accountable for what they eat and how often they're noshing. And using the app, they argue, is more fun than a more traditional tracking system—and that means people who use Instagram as a food diary are more likely to continue tracking what they eat.

"The benefit of photos is that it's more fun to do than taking out a booklet or typing hundreds of words of description in an app," lead author Christina Chung explained.

Not only that, but when you're faced with photos of your food, you can't exactly trick yourself into thinking you're eating better (or less) than you actually are. There are images to prove otherwise if you try to lie to yourself. "When you only have one data point for a pizza or donut, it's easy to rationalize that away as a special occasion," senior author Sean Munson said. "But when you see a whole tiled grid of them, you have to say to yourself, 'Wait, I don't actually have that many special days.'"

Lastly, these users said that Instagram provides them with a community of support, people who comment on their healthy meals, encouraging them to keep up the good work and keep 'gramming, of course. That accountability can keep people on track.

Of course, this paper, which will be presented at the CHI 2017 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May, seems to contradict other recent research that showed following food trends on Instagram can be detrimental to our diets. That research, from the National Osteoporosis Society, came to the conclusion that watching others' food intake on Instagram can cause young users to try fad diets or cut out foods they need for optimum health, like limiting their calcium intake.

Even this new paper presented its own problems: some users said they had trouble staying honest in their social media food diaries, because they didn't want to show off pictures of food they don't think they should be eating. Overall, however, the researchers still believe that using Instagram to track what you eat—if you can do it honestly, and often—can help you hit your food and dieting goals.