Food porn is one of the most hotly debated topics in the blogosphere right now. Some bloggers argue that food porn is a harmless way to help you enjoy your food, others say it’s contributing to obesity, and still others say it’s just a harmless way to show off your culinary skills. Do you need food porn? Is food porn something to be avoided? Should you show food porn to your family?

Food porn. That’s what this blog is all about. The way we look at food. The way we eat it. The way we think about it. Food porn. You probably think I’m being sarcastic, but, no, I’m not. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the kinds of food porn I make. Food porn is my passion. It is my creative outlet. It is an obsession. It is a compulsion. It is my life.

From television to computer screens, images of sexy food are everywhere. That’s why we have to be careful: Food porn encourages people to make poor choices and eat too much. Find out how and why in today’s update. Also discover what you can do to enjoy food while making wise choices.

I just saw the movie Silver Rings. In the movie, the main character goes into a restaurant and orders a bowl of Raisin Bran.

After that scene, all I wanted to do was eat raisin rolls.

If this subtle signal can make me want to eat sultanas bran – a product that isn’t even part of my normal diet – what happens when I watch Food Network or check out recipe blogs?

If you want to lose fat or maintain a healthy weight, you need to take this into account.

Indeed, we see, talk and think a lot about food these days.

Bruce Horowitz of USA Today explains:

Conversations on social media about food – and that’s where they happen the most – have increased by more than 13% in the past year…. The Food Network has grown from 50,000 viewers per night in the mid-1990s to an average of more than 1.1 million.

And as my experience with the sultana demonstrates, pictures and discussions about food can drive us to eat…. and even to overeat.

What is Foodporn?

Why is it called food pornography and not, say, food photography? By the way, why is the word porn in the NP?

Of course, the word pornography originally referred specifically to images of sex. But today the word is used more broadly to refer to the commercialization, simplification and imitation of an experience, person or thing.

Porn portrays a world where everything is better than in reality. Porn packs a part of life into a glossy, visually appealing, and easily consumable package of fantasy.

So you can have lifestyle porn (think Martha Stewart), home porn (think Architectural Digest) or even knitting porn.

And porn creates desire. This affects our primitive brain the way I want it to.

So food porn isn’t just pictures of food. After all, the representations of food in previous eras were quite simple.

You should not eat this dish before a dinner in 1960.

But today food is an industry in itself, with skilled photographers and designers, food stylists, product developers, celebrity chefs, social media and reality TV shows, and thousands of websites and amateur food bloggers.

The food seems much better than before. Images of attractive food are now ubiquitous. And these images can and do influence our food choices.

Why we eat

Many factors influence the type of diet, including

  • Intestinal/cerebral signals (e.g. low blood sugar, grumbling stomach)
  • Memorized behaviors (e.g., during lunch)
  • Thoughts (e.g., I’m on a low-carb diet; I haven’t eaten in 3 hours).
  • Habits (e.g. biscuits every night before going to bed)
  • the social context (e.g. it’s a dinner party, so I’ll eat).
  • Availability of food (e.g. I’m out of vegetables, so I don’t eat them).
  • External/environmental references (e.g., images of food, cooking shows, food blogs).

It turns out that the sight of food, or even images of very tasty food, can chronically activate our urge to eat, even when there is no actual physiological hunger.

Indeed, we don’t eat just to satisfy our nutritional needs. We eat for pleasure, too.

Pleasure and enjoyment

Highly palatable foods (in other words, foods that taste very good) are foods that are very enjoyable. And when we get very tasty food, we – and other mammals – eat more than our bodies need.

Even very tasty food seems to taste good to us. Whether it’s a juicy burger or a sparkling Jell-O, highly flavored foods are specially designed – not to mention developed – to satisfy all of our innate preferences.

We don’t normally eat many low-calorie foods, such as beans, meat, vegetables and whole grains. And few people would call lentils or a piece of chicken sexy.

But when low-calorie foods are processed or otherwise modified into carriers of sugar, oil and salt, they suddenly become much more palatable. This is the difference between a regular potato and a bowl of chips.

Attractive images of food can make us want to eat more of very tasty food. They can also increase our desire for less appetizing foods.

What you see is what you want

Go to the grocery store. Did you see all that candy at the register? It is strategically located.

We often regret impulse purchases of sweets and vow to avoid them in the future. But after a trip to the grocery store, our willpower weakens, especially if we are shopping after work, before meals, as many of us do. Food and food companies know this.

You’re looking at the product. It’s shiny and looks good. BAM! They’re dependent. You make a purchase.

If you had never seen the product before, you probably wouldn’t look for it or buy it.

Moreover, certain things can make us more or less receptive to food signals.

We crave food more in certain situations or moods – for example, when we limit our food intake or when our blood sugar is low.

Dieters are naturally more vulnerable

When we are dieting and/or restricting ourselves, we are more sensitive to images of food. And when our blood sugar is low (for example, when we’re shopping when we’re hungry), images of food can drive us to excess – and into the fridge.

Remember Ansel Keese’s starvation experiments?

The participants in this study agreed to follow an exhaustive low-calorie diet designed to mimic the semi-nutrition of wartime civilians. (Researchers hoped to learn how to help victims of postwar hardship.)

During the malnutrition phase, participants in Keys’ study became obsessed with cookbooks and images of food. One man said he had almost 100 cookbooks by the end of the year!

Many dietary athletes (bodybuilders and participants in fitness competitions) make the same comment.

Food advertising also works

Do you think the advertisers are aware of our vulnerability? Absolutely.

Not for nothing does the Institute of Medicine (IOM) quote these words: Advertising works. The more a company spends on advertising a particular food product, the more it will sell.

Advertising not only makes people want to eat, but also makes them want certain products, namely the products that companies advertise.

So when we are shown attractive images of food, we don’t just generally want to eat more. We want to eat more of certain foods – foods that make us fat and unhealthy if we eat too much of them.

(For more information, see the research report: Does Food Branding Lead to Childhood Obesity?)

And we’re surrounded by

Of course, unhealthy foods can tempt us. But this is not the only threat these days. With all the blogs, magazines and newsletters about a healthy lifestyle coming our way, we may even feel compelled to eat too many foods that are supposedly nutritious.

These vegan hemp and acai super snacks, chocolate and kale smoothies, paleo muffins and gluten-free cookies can be healthy (or not). But you can also eat too much, like a box of Twinkies.

So – a brief overview:

  • The sight of food is an important signal to start eating, especially if we are hungry or starving ourselves.
  • At the same time, more and more people are limiting their food intake or saying they are on a diet, making us more susceptible to food signals.
  • And we are constantly exposed to blogs, ads and cooking shows.

Wow. It sounds like a recipe for weight gain.

Why we respond differently to visual cues on food

But wait. Images of food have a different effect on each person. There are some variations in the way we respond.

Why?

Restricting our food makes us more sensitive

First of all: As noted earlier, it seems that restrained eating or dieting makes us more sensitive to visual cues about food.

People who restrict themselves from eating certain foods are more sensitive to external stimuli associated with those foods. This may explain the saying: There’s a serving for every diet. And this seems to happen regardless of body size.

People who have recently lost fat and have to get used to a new body are particularly sensitive to visual cues.

This may be because in order to lose weight, they had to follow at least a certain diet – controlling portion sizes, learning to cook differently, etc.

Imagination makes us more sensitive

The activity that occurs in the brain in response to food seems to depend on imagination.

When we see an image of a food but don’t imagine eating or tasting it, the brain doesn’t engage in the same way.

So if you see a picture of a delicious dish while your brain is focused on something else, it won’t inspire you.

If you have z. B. you’ve just found out your dog has cancer or you have to give an important presentation at work in 10 minutes, then even the tastiest food no longer seems so tempting.

So when our brains are busy with other things, we are less likely to eat after seeing images of food.

Tolerance makes us eat more

The classic aftershock reaction looks like this

1. A hint appears (for example, a new cookie recipe on a cooking blog or a liquor store sign as you walk by).

2. A signal then sets the action in motion: Ask for a cookie or a drink.

The problem is that regular exposure to this trigger (whether it’s very tasty food or alcohol) can lead to tolerance. As tolerance increases, we need more of the desired substance to get the satisfaction we seek.

Three years ago, a cookie would have been enough. Now you need five cookies washed down with a mocha latte.

Therefore, people who have developed tolerance will not only eat, but will eat more in response to cues such as images of food.

Overweight/obese people have higher response rates

People with obesity and/or eating disorders seem to have an overactive reward system when it comes to certain foods.

In other words: Compulsive eaters tend to have a higher hedonic motivation to eat. And their brains light up more when you show them pictures of good food.

Hedonic hunger

 

Hedonic hunger = the pleasure associated with eating very tasty food and the imaginary desire to eat, whether one is really hungry or not.

Compulsive eaters are not the only people who suffer from an overactive reward system in the brain. This also happens in the case of various forms of addiction.

For example, problem gamblers who were shown images of gambling showed greater brain activation in areas related to emotional motivation and attention control than problem gamblers who were shown neutral images.

Many people find that they have fewer hedonic cravings after gastric bypass surgery. Your gut and your brain can interact in different ways. It can also be a given, as eating large amounts of tasty food after gastric bypass surgery causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

This negative association can lead to a reduction in consumption, just as the experience of food poisoning can lead to avoidance of the food that caused the poisoning.

Dieters become uninhibited and may overeat

Non-dieters who eat without restriction and usually easily regulate their food intake according to internal hunger and satiety signals when choosing minimally processed foods.

For example, after a large meal they unconsciously choose a smaller or less energy-intensive meal. A day of indulgence will lead to a day of relatively light eating.

Nutritionists respond to the contrary. When dieters overeat, they don’t react by slowing down or stopping. On the contrary, they tend to eat more.

Eating large amounts of food can suppress the urge to eat that would normally be inhibited by dieting. It’s almost like pushing a button: I’m on the wrong track anyway, so I might as well keep eating before I go back on a diet.

Contrary to popular belief, many dieters find food more appealing when they are full than when they are physically hungry.

Higher activity in the reward centers of the brain and lower activity in areas related to cognitive control may contribute to the inhibition of eating.

It is an almost irresistible urge to eat beyond a pleasant feeling of fullness. And images of food can lead to disinhibition.

Insulin helps reduce hunger unless we are resistant

Insulin does not seem to be directly dependent on eating habits. But after a meal, insulin acts directly in the brain and affects satiety or the feeling of fullness.

Thin people seem to be more receptive to this message. This could indicate possible insulin resistance in the brains of people with high body fat.

Translation: The release of insulin after a meal helps thin people feel fuller and makes them less sensitive to visual cues about food.

But in people with more body fat (and less insulin sensitivity), this response is attenuated. They feel less full after a meal and are more prone to images of food.

Ghrelin makes us sensitive to food stimuli

Have you ever caught yourself dreaming about your favorite food or dish? Grelin probably played a role in this.

Ghrelin is a hormone secreted by the intestines that stimulates food intake. It is thought that ghrelin acts in part via the vagus nerve. (It seems that ghrelin can also cross the blood-brain barrier directly).

Ghrelin increases before meals and decreases after meals. Higher levels of ghrelin mean we reach for food. Ghrelin also seems to be linked to other drug-seeking behaviors.

The more ghrelin present in the body, the more sensitive we are to external food stimuli (e.g. images of food). And seeing food (or images of food) can lead to increased levels of ghrelin in the body.

From an evolutionary point of view, this is a very useful cycle that contributes to a regular diet for the survival of the species. But it’s not so helpful if you marinate in food photos to stay slim.

Women react more strongly to images of food

Women may respond more strongly than men to external food-related stimuli (including images of food).

Some researchers suggest that this may be related to the menstrual cycle and reproductive hormones. This could explain why women have a higher risk of eating disorders.

But greater brain activation doesn’t always have to be a negative force. Increased brain activation may also lead to a stronger satiety response after meals, allowing for better appetite control.

Eating disorders affect the desire to eat

Studies of people with anorexia nervosa show that even when they are shown images of food, their desire to eat remains unchanged.

Recovery from these cravings may not be possible because brain circuits seem to be constantly changing, even in patients who have regained weight with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa.

This is sobering information. Not only do hunger signals have a vital biological function, but the pleasure we derive from eating (healthy and in moderation) is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Maybe this will help us put the images of food in perspective. The pictures of the food are not bad.

If we understand the power of visual cues from food, we can even use them to our advantage.

Some possible solutions

Here are some ideas to help you deal with the onslaught of food images and take control of your cravings.

Accept the desire to eat.

Eating is a normal function. We have to eat to survive.

And with what you now know about the nature of food and its power over us, if you want to eat more of a certain product, prioritize it.

Put it on a shelf at eye level in the fridge and pantry. Watch recipe videos and cookbooks that use these products.

If you want to eat less of a certain product, move it out of sight or don’t buy it.

Recognize your hunger.

Learn the difference between the need to eat (physiological hunger) and the desire to eat (psychological hunger or desire stimulated by food signals).

Know thyself.

You are more likely to be receptive to attractive images of food if

  • have more body fat (possibly as a result of insulin)
  • hungry
  • to restrict their diet.

Even if you don’t normally suffer from images of food, you may be more receptive to signals or more easily triggered in certain situations or moods. Know your weaknesses.

You can recognise food pornography when you see it.

As the classic porn saying goes: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it. The same goes for food pornography.

If you are attracted to attractive images of food, stop and pay attention. Think about what makes these images so appealing to you.

Is it a matter of looks (so appetizing)? At what times do you see these feeding signals (e.g. late night commercials)? The place where you see these images (for example, in a supermarket)?

Understand that manufacturers and marketers desperately want you to consume these products and they know that images have power.

slower.

Triggers depend on our automatic response. Break. Take a break for a while. Decide slowly. Eat slowly.

This is how you hold up.

Minimise your exposure.

Make your life easier. If you know you are hypersensitive, avoid eating too many foods you don’t want to eat.

When you’re scouring food blogs for a hit or rummaging in the kitchen for a food advertisement, think about how you can adjust your food cues in the environment to block out those cues.

And, as Michael Pollan advises, treats like treats.

Distract yourself.

If you are fixated on craving food, distract yourself. Focus your attention elsewhere.

Notice how often your thoughts turn to food when you are bored. Do you need anything else to get excited about?

Food supply.

Meal delivery means you don’t have to spend time looking for recipes, cooking, buying ingredients, etc. In other words: They concentrate less on food.

Of course, make sure you order healthy food. Healthy food can be delivered in most cities.

This plan helps prevent impulsive decisions and overthinking about food. And plan when you feel safe, smart and confident.

Don’t try to… For example, plan for 19 hours after a hard day’s work.

Self-examination.

Eliminate sources of food pornography/food advertising.

See if you notice a difference. Keep a diary.

Think about your career.

Whether you’re a nutritionist or a chef, working with or around food will make you think more about food.

Dissemination of information.

Teach children how the brain reacts to food images to prepare them for a healthier life.

Shut down.

Separate the images of food from the flow of ideas about taste, the feel of food, etc.

If you absolutely cannot separate the two, it might be better to avoid pictures of food until you actually want to eat.

Supplement

In our food-obsessed culture, food porn cannot be ignored. And there is no doubt that images of food can drive us to eat, and even to eat excessively.

But with a little knowledge and foresight, you can control the effect of food images on you. Whether it’s your eating habits, your weight or your body composition.

Remember, images of food are not bad. Yes, you have to be careful. On the other hand, you can also actively use food imagery to change your eating habits for the better.

References

Click here to see the sources of information referenced in this article.

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Lowe MR & Butryn ML.  Hedonic hunger: a new dimension of appetite?  Physiol Behav 2007;91:432-439.

Jiang T, et al.  In anorexia nervosa, the enjoyment of visual and olfactory stimuli, which prompt the intake of energy-rich food, is reduced.  Psychiatry Res 2010;180:42-47.

Lowe MR & Levine AS.  Motivations for eating and the diet debate: eating less than you need or less than you want.  Obes Res 2005;13:797-806.

Mela D.J.  Determinants of food choice : Relationship to obesity and weight control.  Obes Res 2001;9 Suppl 4:249S-255S.

Lobstein T & Dibb S.  Evidence of a possible link between obesogenic food advertising and overweight children.   Obes Rev 2005;6:203-208.

Mills SD, Tanner LM, Adams J.  A systematic review of the literature on the influence of food and beverage advertising on adults’ behavior, attitudes, and beliefs about food and beverages.  Obes Rev 2013 Jan.

Boyland EJ, et al.  Persuasive techniques used in television advertising to advertise food to children in the UK.  Appetite 2012;58:658-664.

Halford JC, et al.  The influence of food advertising on television on children’s food consumption.  Appetite 2004;42:221-225.

Coon KA & Tucker KL.  Television and children’s consumption behaviour.  Review of the literature.  Minerva Pediatr 2002;54:423-436.

Sweets at the cash register. 20. October 2012.  A whole source of health. http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2012/10/candy-at-cash-register.html

Cohen DA & Babey SH.  Candy at the checkout counter is a risk factor for obesity and chronic disease.  NEJM 2012;367:1381-1383.

Holsen LM, et al.  Hypoactivation of food motivation circuits associated with hedonic and non-hedonic aspects of hunger and satiety in women with active anorexia nervosa and women with anorexia nervosa with weight gain.  J Psychiatry Neurosci 2012;37:322-332.

Goudriaan AE, et al.  Brain activation patterns associated with cue reactivity and craving in abstinent compulsive gamblers, heavy smokers and healthy subjects: an fMRI study.  Addiction Biology 2010;15:491-503.

Lesser LI, et al.  Outdoor advertising, obesity and soft drink consumption: a cross-sectional study.  BMC Public Health 2013;13:20-27.

Cornier M, et al.  Gender differences in behavior and neural responses to food.  Physiol Behav 2010;99:538-543.

Schultes B, et al.  Hedonic hunger is increased in severely obese patients and decreased after gastric bypass surgery.  Am J Clin Nutr 2010;92:277-283.

Cornier M.  Is your brain responsible for weight gain again?  Physiol Behav 2011;104:608-612.

Lagerros YT & Rossner S.  Treatment of obesity : What brings success?  Ther Adv Gastroenterol 2013;6:77-88.

Cornier M.  Effect of overeating and tendency to weight gain on neural responses to visual food cues.  Physiol Behav 2009;97:525-530.

Cornier M.  The effect of overnutrition on the neural response to visual food cues.  Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:965-971.

Flint A, et al.  The relationship between postprandial insulin and glycaemic response, perceived appetite and energy intake in normal- and overweight subjects: a meta-analysis of test meal studies.  British Journal of Nutrition 2007;98:17-25.

Heni M, et al.  Differential effects of glucose intake on neural processing of food stimuli in under- and overweight adults.  Human Brain Mapp 2013 Jan 10 (epub).

Martins C, Robertson MD, & Morgan LM.  The effect of exercise and restricted eating on appetite control.  Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2008;67:28-41.

Kroemer NB, et al.  Ghrelin levels during fasting are related to the brain’s response to images of food.  Addict Biol 2012 Sep 13 (epub).

Kullmann S, et al.  Connectivity of functional networks in food processing : Reduced visual information perception and processing in overweight and obese adults.  Cereb Cortex 2012 May 14 (epub).

Schussler P, et al.  Ghrelin levels rise after images of food.  Obesity 2012;20:1212-1217.

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Parigi AD, et al.  Mapping the brain response to hunger and satiety in humans using positron emission tomography.  Ann NY Acad Sci 2002;967:389-397.

Francoort A, et al.  Reward activity in overweight and obese women decreases during unbiased observation but increases when presented with a taste: an event-related fMRI study.  Int J of Obesity 2012;36:627-637.

Kroemer NB, et al.  (Always) wanting to eat: Insulin reactivity modulates the response to food images.  Human Brain Mapp 2012 Mar 28.

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