The Instagram diet
anxiously with their food and scanning the room for free seats. I have spent 15 minutes styling my wrap without taking a bite. The female half of the couple gives me a pleading look. The male half shoots me a glance of venomous disgust. They’re not wrong to despise me. By the time I finish arranging my food, I kind of despise myself. Plus, I’ve lost the will (and time) to eat it. No wonder Instagram girls are so skinny.
By day three, I’m getting the hang of it. A few discoveries: nobody posts pictures of soup on Instagram, because all soup looks like body fluid when you photograph it. Hummus is an uphill battle. Ditto scrambled eggs, unless you cover them with caviar (and I’m quickly going broke). Most meats look repulsive, so I’ve been 90% vegetarian.
On day four, I stop at a popular bakery in the centre of town and wait 30 minutes in line to buy three cronuts. (This month’s flavour: brown sugar rhubarb with lemon thyme sugar!) I have one for breakfast and the other two for lunch with coffee.
By 1pm, I feel just like a dishcloth – squeezed and spent, simultaneously starving and stuffed. I snap at one of my colleagues, then dart into the office stairwell to prevent myself from committing other blood sugar-induced errors of comportment. I want a bowl of lightly steamed vegetables so badly I could punch a wall.
For supper, I visit a friend’s house. The friend is a former professional skateboarder turned screenwriter who happens to be a talented (and artful) cook. He serves bowls of homemade ceviche festooned with avocado, purple cabbage and sliced cucumbers. Protein and vegetables all in an aesthetically pleasing format. I’m so grateful I could weep!
By Friday, I’ve realised that my diet is lacking in restaurant food, and I commit to eating the bulk of my meals outside the house. While waiting for my breakfast – mango with mint and carob seeds – I watch a waitress deliver dishes to the quartet of women who are sitting next to me. As if on cue, all four of them whip out their phones. They nudge their bowls and position their spoons at precise angles and lift their devices far overhead to achieve the tablescape that will elicit maximum likes. When my food comes, they’re still at it. I take only one photo, almost in protest.
Later, I click on the restaurant’s geotag to find the photos taken by my neighbours. One of them has more than 500 likes. The image looks artfully dishevelled, but I know it’s ‘effortless’ only in the way that tousled beach waves or French women are ‘effortless’, which is to say it’s not.
Effortlessness is a lie that we tell the world in order to seem cooler (#Iwokeuplikethis). I know this on a primal level because the photos I’ve taken over the course of the week with a genuine lack of effort – hurried photos snapped when I was late for a meeting or too hungry to fastidiously curate my meal – turned out dreadful. The wrong light makes matcha look like pond scum and a biscuit parked diagonally on a paper towel next to my laptop resembles something you’d find at a sad motel buffet. These are the foods we actually eat – they’re not the foods that prompt anyone to hit the like button.
The Instagram Diet was never about losing weight – even though by the end of my week, I have lost exactly half a kilo. I attribute this to two factors: first, the hurdle of photographing every meal means I’ve snacked less. And second, I’ve walked an average of 7.5km per day going from restaurant to café in search of perfect lighting. I’ve also spent more than R300 on vegan cinnamon buns, elaborate pastries and salads of spring peas with mascarpone and prosciutto. I’ve bored my co-workers and irritated my friends. But on the upside, I have 12 new followers on Instagram.