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What your dinner photos on Instagram say about you

BY Darren Stanton

10th Aug 2023 Life

What your dinner photos on Instagram say about you

Foodstagram is where Instagram users go to share the meals they're eating—but the type of food they share could reveal lots more about their personality

Why do we feel the need to post on social media?

Posting pictures on Instagram is a modern day version of writing a journal. It’s all about creating a connection between ourselves, our lives, friends, family and the wider public. We have a fundamental need to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Each day, at least 95 million posts are shared to Instagram's grid. Typically, there are three reasons why people choose to post online.

The first is wanting to share your experience with others—these people tend to post every day as a social record of what they’ve been up to.

"Posting pictures on Instagram is a modern day version of writing a journal"

The second reason is wanting attention and the need to feel special and appreciated online. For some, they want to stand out from the crowd; for others, posting regularly can be a sign of low self-esteem or confidence.

The need to post daily and the desire to accumulate likes can make a person feel good. Doing so gives them the social validation they’re not getting in real life—it psychologically helps to raise their mood and release their endorphins.

The third reason could be a sense of altruism—a selflessness in wanting to help other people by reposting others’ content or sharing advice. Posting in this way is motivational for the poster, rather than trying to gain something for themselves.

Why do we like to post our food online?

The types of content we choose to post also holds significance. Some people will post photos of their pets, their holidays or their social life—but in recent years, posting photos of the food that we eat conveys to the viewer something about the person posting, their personality and pathology.

"Food is a topic that helps to form a connection between people"

Food is a topic that helps to form a connection between people and feeds into a human’s fundamental need to be a part of a group. It’s relatable content that feeds these online interactions that we crave.

Types of Instagram food posts and their hidden meaning

Posting a home-cooked meal is a way of convincing others that you’re a "capable" person

Person posting home cooked meal on InstagramPosting a home cooked meal on Instagram implies a need to look "capable"

If someone posts photos of a meal that they have just cooked, the message they’re trying to convey is that they are a person who is "capable".

For example, if someone is on a health kick, they often seek social approval. If they’ve made a really healthy meal, they will typically post it with hashtags like #diet or #health, which tie into other people’s experiences. It’s the same idea as wanting to feel part of a community. 

Posting dinners from a restaurant is a way for people to boast

Women posting photo on Instagram of food from restaurantSharing dinner photos from exclusive restaurants is a demonstration of status

There is also a growing trend of people taking photos of their food when they dine out at a restaurant. This idea of "food-stagramming" generally implies an attempt to associate with luxury and taste.

Such a post boasts, "I’m the sort of person that goes to an expensive restaurant like this." 

These Instagrammers often tag places that are considered selective or to have a certain clientele, like celebrities—by associating yourself with that place it conveys that you’re a person of worth.

It feeds into our need for social approval and is a way of boosting our own self-esteem and ego.

Posting a cup of coffee during the day appeals to herd mentality

Person sharing photo of coffee on InstagramThe morning coffee is a popular ritual, so posting yours to Instagram could signal a need for community

Coffee, like food, is a form of social connection—grabbing your daily caffeine fix is a relatable routine that most people carry out day in, day out.

Documenting such a habit and tagging your regular coffee place within your posts is a form of "herd mentality". It suggests a person wants to be involved in a bigger, unified movement, where other people follow them or they look to follow others.

Posting your diet progress is a form of accountability

Person sharing photo of healthy food to InstagramPosting meals to Instagram can help dieters stay publicly accountable for their health goals

If people are on a diet or trying to eat a bit better, they can use platforms like Instagram to track what they’ve been eating.

It’s a way of motivating other people as well as holding themselves accountable, while subconsciously saying, "I’m the sort of person who takes care of myself".

Sharing your diet is a way of both getting attention and taking accountability from a wider audience.

Posting unhealthy foods shows you’re willing to take risks

Person sharing photo of cheesecake to InstagramPosting your unhealthy treats to Instagram shows your mischievious side

When we post things that we know aren’t good for us, say unhealthy treats like cakes or biscuits, it suggests that a person isn’t afraid to be seen as self-indulgent and acting against the grain.

Doing so also indicates that such a person likes to take risks and push the boat out sometimes—they are mischievous, as a lot of people tend to avoid sweet things and will restrict themselves, hiding such behaviour from others.

Sharing your indulgences online can also be relatable, however, and again plays into a person’s need to feel accepted. If others approve, they feel more satisfied in their choice to indulge when they know they probably shouldn’t.

Darren Stanton is a behavioural expert speaking on behalf of Slingo

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