Are food selfies really motivating?
Posted April 22
Looking at social media pictures of a healthy or “clean” plate of food sometimes does the opposite of motivating me.
I recently read an article online about how country singer Martina McBride’s home cooking has led to her husband’s lifestyle change. Under the picture she posted of salmon and salad was a caption that read:
“I don’t know why we like to post pictures of our food. Maybe to encourage ourselves or others. Or maybe just because we like sharing that part of our lives. I know I love posting pictures of something decadent as much as I love posting pics of something healthy … because I believe there is room for both in life and it should be a balance.”
McBride says she posted the pic for several reasons.
“One … because it is my first really healthy meal after a whole weekend of decadence and I’m proud of it. Two because I’ve never really cooked much fish and I’ve always been somewhat intimidated by cooking it … but I made this super delicious salmon in less than 20 minutes with just a few ingredients.”
I don’t know why seeing videos of people sharing their workouts on social media or delicious perfectly portioned macro-balanced meals makes me roll my eyes. I guess it’s mostly out of insecurity for my lack of self-discipline. It’s not that I don’t like people who like being healthy. But healthy people are on a mission. They want to "encourage others," as McBride said. And they do that by trying to make everyone else around them healthy, too. It’s like they can’t not talk about their last high-intensity interval training (known as HIIT) workout or piece of avocado toast with roasted veggies.
But I really love that McBride also included decadence. I need a treat every night — strike that — every now and then to reward myself for making it through another day of keeping my boys alive after they slid down the banister or used the toilet water to brush their teeth (true story). I fall into bed at night grateful that no one went to the ER and celebrate with a brownie from Kneaders or sugar cookie from Parsons' Bakery.
I have a major sweet tooth. But a recent Feel Great in 8 food and exercise challenge has slowly been changing the way I look at clean eating — and clean eating pictures.
In my childhood and adolescent years, I was skinny, but not because I worked out a lot (remember my recent column about hating exercise?). My slim figure was mostly a mixture of great genes and home-cooked meals. We rarely ate out, and we never drank soda. Cold cereal took the place of heavy desserts most nights, and I never felt I needed to eat a lot to feel full.
Then I hit college, and for the first time in my life I gained a few pounds. I think it was all those midnight Denny’s runs and massive pink sugar cookies and Slim Fasts from the vending machines in the hallway of my dorm.
I began working out more and stayed pretty stable until I got engaged to my husband, and then I lost that freshman five plus some. In fact, I was down to double digits when I got married, weighing in at a whopping 98 pounds.
I cannot even imagine that now.
Now, at 32, my lack of exercise and late-night sweet snacks are catching up with me. Gaining and losing over 120 pounds over the past eight years growing humans and then being their sole source of nutrition for a year-plus after their births while breast-feeding has made me focus much less on my own health. I have a few souvenir pounds, mostly around my very stretched-out middle, that are hanging on for dear life.
I want to change that. But I also want to eat that cookie.
Then my mom called and challenged me to do a little health program with her and my sister called Feel Great in 8. It’s pretty simple, really. You get points for working out and eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, along with things like saying your prayers, reading your scriptures and reaching out to others. It’s supposed to help you feel good about taking care of yourself physically and spiritually, not keeping up with that ripped chick on Instagram.
I am four weeks into the eight-week program, and besides losing a few pounds, I have to admit, I have felt really good. But not just because I am slowly — very slowly — seeing my body get stronger, but because I am setting goals for my personal health and well-being. When I think about getting to a certain weight or restricting food from my diet so I can look like those amazing girls on social media, I get discouraged. But when I think about getting into shape and eating well so I can be well, and do well, and get through the day with more energy and alertness so I can be the best me for my family, that is what’s motivating.
Reading inspiring posts from people like McBride or hilarious ones from women like me who are “attempting healthiness,” as my friend Stacey Sargent puts it, is also motivating.
So go ahead and post your pics of plain Greek yogurt and frozen berries with chia seeds. I may even stop gagging and actually try it.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News. Her email is email@example.com.