The In­sta­gram diet

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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.

Key lime ice cream with cracker crum­ble.

I only drink smooth­ies that match the decor.

Squid and Granny Smiths – this is not your av­er­age salad.

Mac­arons for break­fast, of course.

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