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Can You Track Macros by Taking Photos for Instagram?

by Matt Weik

It seems like competitors and those trying to lose weight all have one thing in common—they’re posting images of their meals on social media. More specifically, on Instagram. I sat back and thought about this for a while and I’m truly torn on the subject. I can see the good as well as the bad in doing such. Are you someone who’s doing this? Want my take on it? Let’s discuss.

The Good

As I scroll through my Instagram account (which by the way, if you aren’t following Weik Fitness, you’re missing out), I notice plate after plate with food on it. Cool, you’re interested in capturing unique dishes that you ordered. Then I come to find out it has nothing to do with unique dishes and everything to do with weight loss goals. Interesting. So, I dug a little deeper.

For those who absolutely hate tracking macros in a journal or app on a phone, many instead have turned to social media to keep them accountable. They post each of their meals on Instagram so they have something to fall back on later in the day to see how much more they should be eating. This brings up a “bad” point that I’ll touch on later. But for them, this is a useful way to keep track of their meals for the day as well as get feedback from their peers and followers. They can scroll through their images and see how many times a week or month they cheated on their diet and ate donuts or whatever vice they have. It is a way for them to record everything and have images to fall back on later.

Research surprisingly agrees with these people that posting pictures is indeed helpful. One researcher mentioned, “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. Plus, it’s more socially appropriate for people who are trying to track their diets to snap a photo of their plate when they’re out with friends—everyone’s doing it and it doesn’t look weird. Maintenance becomes pretty boring for a lot of people because your quest to hit a goal has worn off. This made things more interesting and meaningful for people because after they got to their goal, they turned to thinking about how they could help others and stay accountable to people who were relying on them for support.”

Another researcher said, “When you only have one data point for a pizza or donut, it’s easy to rationalize that away as a special occasion. 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.’”

When Instagram users were questioned about utilizing this technique, one stated, “With Instagram, it helped me because I was taking a picture of it—It’s real and it does exist and it does count towards what I was eating. And then putting up a visual image of it really helped me stay honest.”

Some Instagram users mentioned that they have separate accounts which some other platforms do not allow, such as Facebook. One account on Instagram can be used for friends and family while the other is dedicated solely to taking photos of their meals and tracking their food. There are even groups and communities who come together to motivate each other and help each other stay on track. Many of them are using key hashtags to communicate with these groups such as #foodjournal and #fooddiary.

The Bad

Now for the rebuttal. Don’t get me wrong, if the above “good” is working for you and you’re losing weight, who am I to say you’re doing it wrong? But, I see a lot of holes here and room for excuses and failures. Look, I can buy a pizza, take a picture of it, post it and feel a sense of accomplishment that I documented it and was “honest with myself.” But all the calories in that photo are still going to add up. This is real life. Just because you have a photo of something doesn’t mean you’re doing the right thing.

Not only that, but if you have no idea about correct portion sizes, you can THINK you are eating a balanced meal and yet be completely backwards. I feel it’s important to track your calories and macros either on paper or in an app like MyFitnessPal if you truly want to lose weight. If you don’t know the difference in calories between a four-ounce steak and an eight-ounce steak, or a baked potato versus something like broccoli, by the end of the day you could be missing your mark by a lot—especially if you are just eyeballing everything without knowing exact weights/amounts.

If you need to feel like you’re a part of something, there are groups on MyFitnessPal and you can even share your information and progress with friends to help and challenge each other. Taking a photo and posting it on Instagram I don’t see as a true way to manage your weight if you don’t know the caloric contents of everything you are eating. If you need to feel like you have a support group, get others in your family active in their own weight loss and exercise journey—or even some of your close friends who might want to do it with you.

I guess in the end, to each his or her own. But in my eyes, you don’t have a plan in place without concrete numbers and data to fall back on. Taking pictures of three meals and some snacks during the day will not tell you how many calories you have left to eat to reach your daily intake goals. However, again, if it’s working for you, then good for you—but I see a sticking point in your future that you won’t know how to get through. I just know from working with hundreds of clients, that taking a picture in the grand scheme of things does nothing other than show others what you are eating—both the good and bad choices. If you want to get real results and get them faster, in my opinion you need to record each item you consume. So, there you have it. My opinion on taking photos of your food for Instagram. #notforme #writeitdown


Materials provided by University of Washington.

University of Washington. “Food photos help Instagram users with healthy eating.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 April 2017. .

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