Is food porn making you fat? - Juice Daily
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Is food porn making you fat?

Whether we seek it out or not, food porn is everywhere. Our Instagram feed is bursting with pictures of delectable delights, while cooking shows like Masterchef and MKR specialise in presenting plates of food that are as calorie-laden as they are tempting. TV commercials, billboards, food magazines, cookbooks… all present a feast for our eyes on a regular basis.

And while you might think it’s sin-free because you’re looking and not touching (or rather, eating), you could be wrong. Mounting evidence shows simply looking at images of tempting treats can create real physiological hunger where none might have existed otherwise.

A review of studies in the journal Brain and Cognition makes the case that when we see an attractive image of food, blood rushes to the part of our brain associated with taste. We experience the desire to eat, even if we’re not hungry. Professor Charles Spence, one of the authors of the review, says this has been measured in brain scans.

“The taste cortex lights up,” he told The Guardian. “There’s an increase in blood-flow and, depending on the state of the person, or how realistic the image is, it might be triggering restraint mechanisms. You’re seeing it and thinking: ‘I shouldn’t be eating that.’”

As the visual feasts continue to present themselves throughout the day, our restraint mechanisms have to continually kick in until we might eventually give up and reach for a slice of cake or overeat at mealtimes.

“The traditional notion is that [looking at food porn] is harmless fun and I can have the pleasure without the calories,” he says. “What we’re trying to say in this paper is that there are consequences from food porn. It’s a term that hints at the way that it depletes our resources of self-restraint. When we sit down for a meal at home after watching a cookery programme maybe we eat more than we would otherwise have done.”

Seeing images of food can physically affect us in other ways too, making us salivate, messing with our insulin levels, and even shaking up our heart rate — all in anticipation of eating the food you see.

alexangperth

Photo: Instagram @alexangperth

Sydney GP and author Dr Helena Popovic also supports the theory, telling a conference recently that highly stylised, appealing food images trigger the hunger hormone ghrelin, making us eat more.

Research showed ghrelin levels to be higher in the bloodstream of people shown images of food compared with non-food images. Not only does ghrelin increase food consumption, it also reduces the body’s use of fat stores, making it doubly dangerous for our waistlines.

Dr Popovic said there was also the added problem that ordinary food can’t compete with the “air brushed, glamorised, glorified images that you get in food porn” so, if we do give in and eat something, we’re likely to feel dissatisfied, even when our bellies are full.

To make matters worse, it’s been shown that people who were dieting were even more susceptible to the effects of both food images and ghrelin.

So, why is food porn so popular? Seems it’s ingrained in us from our caveman days. Back when we were hunter-gathers and needed to collect our own food to eat, we used our sense of sight to identify where food was and how to get it, known to scientists as “visual hunger”. Our brains learned to enjoy the sight of food because it meant we got to eat, with high calorie foods eliciting a more pleasurable brain response than low calorie foods, because they meant longer survival when food was scarce.

Today of course, food is always within easy reach, yet our brains are still programmed for our caveman days, meaning our elevated response to high fat, high calorie, high carbohydrate foods remains. This explains why gazing at pictures of decadent desserts, oozy cheesy sauces and baked goods is so irresistible.

So what’s the solution? It’s impossible to avoid seeing images of food porn altogether, but being aware of what it can do to us can perhaps see us try to minimise our exposure to food porn images… and maybe start following some healthy Instagram and blog accounts to use it to our advantage!

Zoe Meunier

About the person who wrote this

Zoe Meunier

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Zoe Meunier is a freelance journalist with over 20 years experience. A mum of two, she lives and breathes the daily challenges of trying to lead a healthy lifestyle while encouraging her kids to do the same. As such, she's always seeking out new ways of demystifying nutrition, fitness and wellness while making it accessible for all. She is especially interested in the health benefits of red wine and chocolate ...

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