Food Porn: The Phenomenon of Eating in Cyberspace

If you’ve ever groaned out loud at the sight of a gooey chocolate chip cookie on your Instagram feed, or stopped yourself from licking your phone screen as a Buzzfeed Tasty chef demonstrated a cheese-pull, you’ve experienced food porn. I began to reflect as I scrolled through expertly crafted food porn on social media while eating my daily bowl of air-fried, salt and peppered vegetables (occasionally I’ll add garlic salt to mix things up), and I started to wonder why I love looking at food online if I’m not going to actually eat it.

Besides the term “food porn” being a marketing strategy by advertisers to play on the theory that “sex sells,” there is evidence that mouth-watering images of food may have sexual connotations. The way these food advertisements are directed using extreme close ups, slow moving cameras, and photoshop is similar to actual porn. In a more abstract sense, Professor Tisha Dejmanee, an assistant professor of communication at Central Michigan University who’s published numerous research papers on gender and digital media, likens the “oozing” of pictured food to the sexualization of the female body (full article here.) And fMRI studies have shown that pleasure sensations from food and sex occur in the same regions of the brain (orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens,) and with similar patterns of activity.

Although we might process pleasure from sex and food similarly, the result and goals of food porn versus actual porn are very different. As award-winning chef William Goldfarb puts it, “the Food Network makes food look pretty so that consumers will go out and buy a blender, but you don’t watch porn to buy the mattress on which the actors are having sex. Sex is not consumable in the same way. Where porn is a substitute for the real thing, food television is not a substitute for food.” 

But could it be?

Dr. Anna Lavis proposed the phenomenon of “eating in cyberspace” in her exploration of food porn on pro-anorexia websites, and this type of consumption is backed by other scientific studies. Eating might not have to involve physically putting food into your mouth, but can be defined by the feeling of having eaten, which can be produced by looking at pictures of food.

Dr. Jeffrey Larson and other professors at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management investigated this phenomenon by having half of their subjects look at pictures of salty snacks and the other half look at desserts, and then gave both groups peanuts to eat (full study here). Those who looked at pictures of salty snacks enjoyed the peanuts less than those who saw desserts, and subjects who were shown 60 salty snack images also enjoyed the peanuts less than those who saw only 20 pictures. Looking at food porn seems to induce sensory boredom so when eating a similar food after, you enjoy it less. 

This proposed satiation effect of food porn could be negatively affecting individuals who do not need to be suppressing their food intake. People suffering from anorexia nervosa told Dr. Lavis that they’ve used and shared food porn on pro-anorexia websites to satisfy their cravings, further perpetuating their illness. 

But food porn could work to the advantage of obese individuals who may be able to use it as a tool for weight loss. In one study conducted by Dr. Olivia Petit at the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia, obese subjects were shown pictures of healthy foods in an fMRI scanner and reported whether or not they would be willing to eat that food at the end of the experiment. When subjects focused on the fact that the food was healthy, the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) region of the brain, responsible for self control, was activated, and they made significantly healthier choices. That being the case, obese individuals may benefit from looking at health-focused food porn because those food pictures may cause them to make healthier choices.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the opposite effects were found with pictures of unhealthy food in the same study. There was an increase in activity in the reward center of the brain (OFC), but a decrease in the connectivity of this area to the self control region (IFG) in the obese subjects. The pleasure sensation from looking at unhealthy food pictures outweighed their self control, causing them to make unhealthy choices. Therefore, obese individuals exposing themselves to unhealthy food porn on social media and the Internet are at far greater risk of further weight gain.

Food porn affects all of us physiologically, and tech companies and social media platforms have taken advantage of the fact that imagining eating food can create similar bodily responses to actual consumption. Researchers at the University of Tokyo developed the technology MetaCookie+, a piece of not exactly subtle headgear (see this video) that uses virtual reality to allow users to taste the same food differently without changing the food itself. The MetaCookie+ cookies are recognized by the headset, which shows a visual of a certain flavor of cookie onto the tangible cookie itself, accompanied by the smell associated with that flavor, creating taste perception. A sugar cookie to someone wearing the headset could look, smell, and taste like a chocolate-coated cookie. The same cookie can take on an array of flavors. Knowing that, imagine the future implications for any kid (or adult) who refuses to eat vegetables. For me, anything green used to instantly be deemed inedible.

Metacookie+ isn’t the only company that has delved into the fact that society’s interest in food isn’t limited to the tangible and even the visual. The Japanese company Scentee has turned multisensory food experience into a small plug-in accessory for your smartphone that sprays a fragrance of your choice every time you receive a notification, with possibilities including fried corn soup fritters from KFC Japan and a Korean BBQ collection. This technology is available for gamers to link certain actions during gameplay, so it seems like Scentee could merge images of food on social media with their fragrances in the future.


Social Media

Besides those tech-savvy individuals who have had access to products from MetaCookie+ or Scentee, food porn reaches a diverse and wide audience through social media. Unlike the research articles cited earlier, the sample size of social media food porn includes people on a vast spectrum of health and wellness practices. Even for those who are reasonably healthy, being overstimulated by food porn is bound to impact the way you eat and perceive food. 

From cooking tutorials to food bloggers to restaurant promotions, food porn thrives on social media, with #food having roughly an average of 3.2M views per hour on Twitter. A survey by Bolthouse Farms found that 66% of food related hashtags on Twitter and Instagram were attached to unhealthy foods, which, as deduced from the fMRI study mentioned earlier, is likely inducing unhealthy food craving and consumption in real life.

Despite that, there are also a lot of food bloggers who focus on healthy eating. From the research, healthy food porn doesn’t seem to induce as much of a craving for tangible food compared to unhealthy food, but may instead lead to misinformation and an obsession with clean eating

While most foodies are probably well-intentioned, whether indulgent or otherwise, there are so many problems with how food is portrayed on social media. A systematic review of studies concerning social media concluded that social media engagement of healthy young adults is correlated with higher body dissatisfaction, dieting/restricting food, and overeating (full article here). The influencers who showcase an array of decadent, high calorie foods could be contributing to overeating in social media users. These unhealthy foodies, who look reasonably fit and healthy, are most likely keeping up with an intense exercise regime and/or are simply not eating all of the food they photograph. But when all the follower sees is the influencer posting about unhealthy foods daily, they’re led to a flawed perception of the amount of indulgence that’s healthy. Taking that into consideration, it’s understandable how this propaganda can lead to overeating and body dissatisfaction.

Even the influencers who are promoting healthy eating habits and intuitive eating can have negative effects on the health and wellness of their viewers by promoting obsession with clean eating and food in general. Unhealthy fad diets were more popular in the early 2000s than they are now, and even though modern food influencers might be focusing on healthier eating practices such as intuitive eating (which we’ll come back to later), they’re still providing fuel for the mental turmoil of a preoccupation with clean eating simply by posting pictures of healthy foods. As Professor Tisha Dejmanee argues,”the rhetoric around eating and body image has shifted from dieting to health and from slenderness to fitness, so have the prevalent pathologies of eating transformed from restriction-centered anorexia and bulimia to consumption-centered binge-eating disorder and orthorexia.” 

The collective perspective has been changing from feeling the need to eat significantly less and lose weight, to feeling pressure to eat and think about food more. Orthorexia is classified as an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, and has been noted by nutritionists as a recent increasing trend, although it’s still absent from the DSM. This eating disorder isn’t just having the desire to eat healthy but is characterized by that desire pervading and interfering with everyday life. It’s when patients will avoid situations where they can’t control what they’re eating, limit eating in front of other people, and have anxiety about foods they perceive as “bad” (e.g. sugar and carbohydrates). They tend to think about these indulgences as foods to totally “cut out” of their diet, rather than ones to limit. Such black and white thinking can ultimately lead to binge eating when these individuals give in to their cravings. 

But how does this relate to food porn?

Registered dietitian Renee McGregor says that social media can contribute to orthorexia-related thinking by promoting misinformation and marking people’s eating and wellness practices as their identity. Many food influencers are self made, with no background in nutritional science, and some of them haven’t graduated from high school or college. The health tips and tricks these influencers are giving could be spreading false information to followers, even if it’s unintentional. A recent study looked at 10 of the UK’s biggest health social media influencers, each with at least 80k followers, and found that 9 out of 10 of them gave inaccurate health information. It’s worth noting that influencers who are that famous on social media are able to make money by posting sponsored content and promoting certain products, which could be skewing the health information they’re putting out.

These Instagram accounts are totally dedicated to food, health, and wellness, and it makes the account owner’s identity seem to revolve around what they consume. This mindset of associating identity with food overstates its importance in our own lives – of course we have to eat to survive but what you eat on a day-to-day basis does not define you. Healthy eating can look different for everyone, and focusing on meeting an unrealistic standard from social media food porn can lead to obsession and unhealthy habits. 

Even after learning all of this information about food porn, I’m still working on fixing my own relationship with food and limiting my virtual intake on social media. After my school sent us home because of COVID-19, I started thinking way too much about food. This was definitely precipitated by no access to my usual gym and the pressure I put on myself to maintain my grades. Eating was one of the only things I felt I had control over, so I controlled it to the maximum extent that I could. I would constantly plan when and what I was going to eat that day, and I would hate being in situations where I couldn’t choose what I ate. It got to the point where I broke down crying when I found out my sisters were making homemade pasta for dinner, because I hated the idea of simple carbs sitting in my stomach.

I knew subconsciously that eating pasta one night wouldn’t do anything to my body, but the added stressors I was experiencing made my emotions supersede my judgment.

From this research, I’ve realized that my perception of what’s healthy has been strongly influenced by the food accounts I follow. A lot of the health-focused accounts I’ve looked at tend to post foods with gluten-free alternatives, which gave me the perception that gluten and bread products are unhealthy, would make me gain weight, and that I shouldn’t eat them at all. Once I actually researched, I found that gluten isn’t bad for you. It’s not really adding anything to your diet – gluten is a protein that’s present in such small quantities in food that it doesn’t have much of a nutritional effect on your diet at all. The explosion of the gluten-free trend has been fueled by social media with little scientific evidence, and the reason gluten-free diets have made some people lose weight is probably because it involves cutting out many processed and unhealthy foods. According to Dr. Robert Shmerling at Harvard University, gluten-free substitutes have less nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B, and fiber than the equivalents with gluten, and they’re higher in sugar and fats. Like with the gluten-free trend, social media can promote unsubstantiated beliefs and anecdotes about food as facts, and makes it easy to get sucked into false information. 

The bottom line about food porn on social media and how it’s affecting us is wrapped up neatly in a statement by Professor Dejmanee. She says that ‘food porn’ represents a false liberation, celebrating these contemporary consumption disorders while doing little to challenge the overwhelmingly rigid standards to which [our] bodies continue to be held.” With high definition lighting and elegant camera angles, food porn has created the sensation of eating in cyberspace that can provoke satiation or increased cravings, depending on the type of food one gazes upon. However the underlying long-term negatives of food porn such as perpetuating anorexia and orthorexia, spreading false nutrition information, and creating unrealistic ideals of food and body image can outweigh the immediate visual appeal.

Since food porn has pervaded the Internet so extensively, it’s pretty hard to avoid it even if you tried. While there’s some marketing on social media that’s out of our control, a lot of what we see depends on who we choose to follow. It was hard for me to acknowledge that these accounts were contributing to my negative outlook on food. After all, we eat and watch others eat all the time in real life – how could the digital form have such worrisome implications? 

The idea of social media posts encompassing one’s identity, as McGregor introduced, seems pretty straight-forward – we have the collective understanding that everyone who runs their own account is in charge of posting their own content, and is therefore associated with that material. Even so, social media as a concept is a vehicle for marketing: marketing what you look like, your ideals, and sometimes, what you eat. Our social media presence has become so intertwined with who we are as people that it’s difficult to separate ourselves from it. It’s no wonder then that we fail to distinguish someone’s food post from their actual persona, leading us to subconsciously obsess over food, similar to how social media stimulates obsession with physical appearance. 

Since I’ve started writing this article, I’ve unfollowed all food accounts on my feed and started working on eating intuitively, which means listening to what food my body wants to eat, only eating when I’m actually hungry, and stopping when I’m full. Intuitive eating is a practice that dieticians teach to orthorexia patients to promote a healthier body image and change their outlook on food. Even for the general population it can lower BMI, improve self esteem, lower the risk of developing an eating disorder, and intuitive eating programs have high retention rates, meaning that people are likely to stick with them.

There’s a lot of things I still have to work on with intuitive eating. But for the record, since I’ve started writing this article, I gradually re-introduced pasta into my diet. Now I eat it about once a week and enjoy every second of it. 

While it’s easy to mindlessly scroll through social media, it’s definitely worth considering what your eyes have to feast on. Our brains are constantly saving and processing information, and the things we see or read make lasting impressions on us whether we know it in the moment or not, especially when it’s related to something as essential and celebrated as food. Although food porn can be satisfying in the moment, the image lasts longer due to the imprint it leaves behind. My advice is to be a little bit more intentional, and take an extra second to think about the accounts you’re following and if they’re enhancing or inhibiting your mental health, especially right now when our physical interaction is at a low and social media use at a high.

Now that you know how food porn affects your brain and influences your eating behavior, how will you change how you navigate the virtual world saturated in it?


A Deeper Look Into Intravenous Ketamine Infusions For Treating Depression


As depression is on the rise, there is a race to discover an optimum treatment that is best suited for those affected. One such treatment that is yet to gain FDA approval for its use in treating depression is intravenous ketamine infusion.

Over the years, more and more people are turning to intravenous ketamine infusion due to its immediate relieving effects, but there has been much debate on whether this is an effective form of treatment.

Ketamine, an NMDA receptor antagonist, mainly functions as a general anesthetic. The NMDA or N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor is a glutamate receptor important in the function of memory as well as regulating synaptic plasticity. It plays a role in regulating the neurotransmission of glutamate in the brain. When this function is disrupted, depressive symptoms may arise. Ketamine blocks the NMDA receptor, which can help to counteract this disruption. This may produce some side effects in the form of vivid dreams and possibly a dissociative effect.

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How Baby Diapers Will Change How We Study the Brain

There was a sudden pounding in my chest, blood rushing to my head, and sense that life suddenly seemed unreal. I did not know what was happening, but somehow, instantaneously, panic had consumed me. I was eight years old, sitting in my third grade classroom, listening along as my favorite teacher was reading us a story.

I interrupted her mid-sentence, which was uncharacteristic of the shy girl I was at that age, and yelled out, “I have to use the bathroom!” I will never forget the startled look on her face as she granted me permission. I rushed out of the classroom, took a sip from the water fountain, and washed my hands, doing anything that could make me feel normal again. I regained composure and returned to my seat within minutes, utterly frightened and bewildered with what had just happened to me, and embarrassed to have drawn attention to myself.

I associated this experience with medical causality, and kept telling my eight-year-old self I was suffering from a gastric related disease or perhaps there was a tumor growing in my brain. Instead of accurately describing what had happened, which was a


I told my parents I had had a bad stomach ache that day. I could not articulate the foreign, sharp stab of fear I felt in my belly. For years thereafter, I suffered infrequent, random panic attacks and was still unable to articulate what I was struggling with, instead describing these episodes in terms of somatic (bodily) symptoms rather than psychological ones. Thanks to researchers, doctors and psychologists, we have made a dent in discovering neural mechanisms that are responsible for our physiological sensations or behaviors.

What I initially thought to be a somatic medical condition was what I eventually learned to be a product of my brain’s over-excited flight-or-fight activation response. But why did this happen to me?

Doctors still do not quite have a perfect answer. There is yet much to be learned about pathways in the brain and how they affect our mind and body. The brain is made up of nanoscopic particles called biomolecules, and these molecules make up the cells of the brain, called neurons. These neurons communicate with one another via electrical currents that create synapses, and when these synapses misfire, disease can transpire. MRI scans and microscopes can only allow us to see either large regions of the brain affected, or the microscopic level of neural activity. Because there are billions of neurons and subsequent connections, there is great difficulty in pinpointing specific patterns of molecular activity that cause brain disorders due to the sheer magnitude of neurons and infinitesimal nature of the brain.

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Yoga Teacher Umit Sedgi on the Ego

When we think about who we are individually, what do we identify ourselves with? Maybe it is our name, culture, religion, or personality. What about our ego? Do we ever think about our ego as an entity separate from our essence?

Yoga teacher Umit Sedgi believes the ego can, and should, be separated for a better understanding of who we are. Umit Sedgi believes that humans identify themselves with their egos; the entity in our being that constantly emphasizes itself and demands things. He became interested in the practice of yoga in an effort to understand himself and his ego more closely. “It is constantly giving you demands, asking you to fulfill its desires.” He discussed how the five senses used by the ego within our brains satisfies its cravings.

“We are constantly in search of stimulating our five senses to enjoy our surroundings. Eating unnatural foods for their towering taste, going to shows to satisfy our eyes, and different sounds to entertain our ears… we use our senses to enjoy as much as we can in this limited time in our lives. But when you start paying attention to the idea that this is not all that there is, you start to see that there is much more beyond the five senses.”

Umit Sedgi’s story of becoming a full-time yoga teacher started off by what he believes to be karma. It was, as he described, something that  he felt was meant to happen.

In 2012, the stress of working at an electronics company started to become overwhelming for Umit, when the dynamics with the people he worked with became unhealthy. His older sister suggested he try yoga.“In the beginning, I was practicing every other day, and within a week, it became as frequent as every day. Teachings on self-discipline and spirituality was what I had been looking for. I thought it would be my path to the light so I decided to become a yoga teacher,” he said.

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Nikita Kapur: Nutritionist with a Holistic Approach


Nikita Kapur, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), uses her credentials to “help fix the problem, and not just put on a band aid” for her diverse clients.

She is an RDN and manager at the nutrition clinic, Compass Nutrition, based out of NYC, which focuses on the holistic component of functional nutrition. The Compass Nutrition team ensures to treat their clients as a whole person, taking into account their cultural backgrounds to meet their needs. Nutritionist Nikita Kapur says the secret to their success is that “we see our patients as a whole person and our job is not to preach or convince you to do something, our job is to educate and empower you.” Implementing elements of behavioral psychology for those seeking healthy eating habits has shown to be successful in treating their patients.

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Noelle McKenzie: A Top-Tier Personal Trainer


If you’re not a fan of using machines for working out, Noelle McKenzie may be the personal trainer for you. This fitness trainer uses unconventional methods for her devoted clients. She reminds us that “you can do an entire body workout with just your body.”

Noelle McKenzie’s career of fitness training happened by accident. Starting off as a model, she would not have predicted being a personal trainer to become her primary career. She has been on the cover of Runner’s World magazine, on Reebok, on the cover of romance novels and even on billboards in Times Square. She has also been featured in a couple of short films. She began working sporadically as a personal trainer part-time to work with her modeling and acting schedule, and within the first year of working in New York City, she built herself from the ground up as a top-tier personal trainer.

“I was with the gym for two and a half years, but I got tired of the monotony of being in the same place all of the time. I felt boxed in. I wanted to try fitness training on my own and took a leap of faith. Four of my clients at the time followed me, and within two to three years, I began fitness training full time.”

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Joel Elfman: NYC Hypnotist Inspires Resiliency

new york city

We enter trance-like states more often than we’d believe. Falling asleep, waking up, conversing with others and scrolling through our phones are all forms of trance, according to NYC hypnotist Joel Elfman.

When coming across the word “hypnotism” one is likely to imagine a cloaked sorcerous figure swaying a swinging clock in front of their eyes, chanting, “You are in deep sleep,” as movies and entertainment have conditioned us to envision. Modern hypnotism is not quite as mystifying, but it can indeed be life changing. Hypnotist Joel Elfman uses his hypnotism skills to incite positive change in people’s lives. He can help modify habits and beliefs, and create confidence and relaxation for many people. The therapeutic technique of hypnotism has the power to “find or tune into people’s passions and purpose,” says Elfman.

Twenty years ago, Elfman wanted to make some changes in his life.

He had no idea how he was going to do it, until he had stumbled upon a newspaper in New York City advertising classes for hypnosis. Interested in science fiction and the power of the mind, this class changed Elfman’s life and prompted him to start a hypnotherapy career of his own. He had spent 100 hours of training through Neuro Linguistic Programming, a forty-year old method combining communication, personal development and psychotherapy. “What we are doing is based in science,” he told me.

“Basic rules of neuroscience show how the brain operates. When two or more sets of neurons (brain cells) fire together, they wire together. So a major requirement is intensity or repetition.”

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Personal Stylist Tavia Sharp: Men’s Fashion Mastermind

tavia sharp personal stylist in nyc

“He went from getting barely any dates to a few dates a week. His transformation was so dramatic,” says Tavia Sharp about her client, Shir Aviv.

Tavia Sharp shows people how to achieve their own transformation. Tavia is a Men’s Fashion Expert and personal stylist, and her company, Styled Sharp, is geared towards helping men gain confidence personally and professionally, through wardrobe changes and coaching.

“There are so many personal stylists for women, but not as many for men. Girl friends, guy friends and boyfriends used to always keep asking me for male clothing advice. A lot of guys really need help with this. That’s where I saw the need for men’s personalized consulting.”

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Pilates: How It Started & Why You Need It

Pilates reformer

Pilates is an exercise that was developed in the 20th century. Originally called Contrology, Pilates focuses on increasing bodily strength, flexibility, and mental awareness.  The exercise is often praised for injury prevention and healing.

The name comes from its inventor, Joseph Pilates.

Joseph, born in Germany but an immigrant to Britain and then the US, was ill as a child. He searched for a method to build strength, and ended up body-building through his childhood and teenage years. He studied exercise methods from both the East and West, and practiced gymnastics, Tai Chi and yoga. While practicing each exercise, Joseph observed the effects on his body, and tied the effects to his study of anatomy and motion.

During World War I, the British interned Joseph as a German enemy alien, where he worked as a nurse. 

Through his experience, he experimented with his patients, by attaching springs and building contraptions, to help them tone their muscles on their hospital beds, while they recovered. It was this time in his life that provided him with the inspiration to create what we now know as the Reformer, a machine designed for isolated muscle toning.

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Not All Personal Trainers Are Qualified

qualified personal trainers

In this health and fitness-crazed era that we live in, we often hear about people seeking out personal trainers. While television and the media have painted a certain picture, every personal trainer is unique and comes equipped with their own approach and personality. They can be either male or female, and not all of them will push you to the point of exhaustion. While some may have this approach, not everyone does. Personal trainers have many skills, and the successful ones seek out education and certification.

Personal trainers are people who are passionate about fitness and have a desire to help others reach their health and fitness goals.

Some of the common traits personal trainers share are:

  • Knowledge of human anatomy and exercise
  • Ability to design individual and group exercise programs
  • Conduct fitness programs in a safe and effective way
  • Motivate others to improve their health and fitness holistically

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