What I Learned From Photographing My Food

I am not a food photographer.  While I share pictures of lots of things – my kids, my dog, the sunset – I’d only snap photos of what I was eating as part of a travelogue.  By the beach with the obligatory lobster roll.  At the bar with the celebratory special occasion cocktail.  In the seventh inning stretch with a somewhat disgusting yet surprisingly delicious hot dog topped with mac & cheese.

disgusting, yet delicious

I rarely gave thought to what I ate on a daily basis – those meals ingested in a rush, in the car, while standing at the sink – until a friend of similar life stage and I traded stories of slowing metabolisms and unwelcome weight gain.

What could we do about it, we fretted over lattes.  We’d start tomorrow, we swore over glasses of wine.  No, we didn’t want another cleanse or regimen of shakes or 30-burpees-for-30-days challenge.  We wanted to simplify the process by simply feeding ourselves nutritiously and lovingly.  But how to stay accountable?

In a flash of brilliance, she focused on the solution. Document everything we ate for a week via photographs and send the pictures to each other for motivation.  Would I really want to eat those half-dozen Thin Mints (OK, entire sleeve) if I had to confess to doing so by taking a picture?  No more cleaning off my kids’ plates, “tastes” while cooking or allowing my hand to reach incessantly into the box of Wheat Thins unless I was going to photograph every morsel. She vowed to do the same and the game was on.

Within a day it became clear the food I was eating wasn’t pretty.  Sad sandwiches.  Pathetic pasta.  An alarmingly-huge ice-cream cone. I was easily one-upped.  She’d send back pictures of crips greens, perfectly seared salmon, red quinoa.

My competitive fire kicked in and I fired up the grill.  I began preparing more colorful food – a multitude of greens – for greater variety in my photos.  She’d send shots of her bounty from the farmer’s market.  I filled my cart in the produce aisle, adding every hue, and plating my meal in more visually appealing ways.  She took out her wedding china for daily use.

A week wasn’t enough.  We swapped photos for a month, trying to outdo each other and ourselves with every meal. Plentiful salads, a rainbow of fruit, a moratorium on packaged snacks. I kept an album on my phone of my prettiest meals to look at to keep me on track.

I was so focused on the imagery that I hardly realized I was feeding myself better as well. Just as the lens craved more vibrant fare, my body began to expect and demand it and then display the benefits.

They say the camera adds ten pounds.  In this case, it took off ten.  Our friendly competition ended, yet I’m still motivated to snap a shot of my food before picking up a fork.  I’m not just documenting what I’m eating.  I’m taking stock of and offering proof of my commitment to myself, to only put inside my body what I’d be willing to exhibit on the outside.  With the camera lens came clarity and the chance to fill myself with something more ultimately more fulfilling.  I’m now nurturing myself with nutrition.

Valerie Gordon is a former Emmy-winning television producer and now the founder of career and communication strategy firm, Commander-in-She.  She uses storytelling to help clients create satisfying and successful next chapters.  Her next chapter includes her commitment to getting and staying healthy.   

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