29 November 2004
Ellie Harrison has discovered one of the most novel ways to lose weight around. The 24-year-old artist from Nottingham photographed every morsel of food she ate for 365 days and found herself eating less and less. Here, she tells new! all about it…
“I’ve always loved food, and I based a lot of my work around the subject while studying fine art at Nottingham Trent University. In my first year, I did a project about the food people throw on pavements after boozy nights out, like kebabs and chips.
The Eat 22 project came about in my second year. In February 2000, when I was 21, I went on a four-day college trip to New York. I decided to pig out as much as I could as part of a photographic web project I was doing called Greed. I ended up taking a picture of everything I ate as I scoffed 34 different types of food – from Reese’s Pieces to pretzels and veggie burgers!
The following March, the idea popped into my head to extend the project from four days to 365. I thought it would be really interesting to see if I could be disciplined enough to keep it up. Some people get a bit funny about seeing themselves on camera, especially when they’re eating, but I have no problem with the way I look at all.
So, on March 11, 2001 – my 22nd birthday – Eat 22 was born. The most feasible way of doing it, time and money-wise, was to use a digital camera. So, the day before my birthday, I bought one.
The first thing I ate was half a slice of toast with Snickers spread. I had planned to have my birthday cake first, but I was really hungry. In fact, on that first day, I took about nine or ten photos. To be honest, I was really surprised at how much I managed to eat.
Each day would be the same – I’d download the pictures from my camera on to my website, www.ellieharrison.com, including details of the date, time and what it was I was eating. I know it seems like a pain, but it only took ten minutes a day. Any additional food not included in the photo, like extra helpings and desserts, had to be shot, too, but liquids weren’t included – except soup.
When I was out drinking with friends, I’d get them to take the pictures for me. If we went for a meal, they’d be there with the camera. Some of them would get slightly irritated at having to keep taking my picture, but that’s probably got more to do with my slightly obsessive behaviour!
There was no way I’d put the project at risk. If I forgot my camera, I couldn’t eat. Even when I was drunk, I’d remember to record everything I ate. In fact, the camera often came in handy if ever I was hazy about what I’d done the night before! I’d wake up and go, “Oh, so I had a kebab and chips last night.”
To be honest, taking my own picture, rather than getting my friends or family to do it, was a lot easier. I’d just set the camera on a timer.
Six months into the project the novelty started to wear off. I was bored with having to take photos, the monotony of the computer work and explaining a million times a day what I was doing to people who spotted me with a camera.
After nine months, I started to eat less often, just to reduce the amount of work. I got round it by eating massive portions at meal times, so I wouldn’t snack during the day. I didn’t put on any weight though, as I’m a vegetarian and am used to eating healthy stuff.
My 23rd birthday was a double celebration. The last thing I ate for the project was a cupcake with Eat 22 on it. I felt like I’d overcome a huge challenge – it was really satisfying. The day after the project finished, you’d have thought I’d eaten loads but, apart from the cake, I had half a grapefruit! I was too busy!
I lost about half a stone on the project, and afterwards I went on a “see food” diet – I’d see food and eat it! But doing Eat 22 hasn’t changed the way I eat long term. For two years afterwards, though, every now and again I’d eat something and then think “Oh, I’ve got to take a picture.” It was really weird.
In all, I ate about 1640 things, and made all the pictures into a film on my website. I’m really pleased with the result, but I wasn’t trying to make a statement about consumerism. It was just a personal thing.
Now that I’ve graduated, I’m working on other projects, like Sneeze, a record of how many times I sneezed in one year, which came out of a project to record 14 different types of daily data, like how many people I’d speak to every day. I’ve toyed with idea of taking photos of things I’ve eaten throughout my whole life – that would be fantastic, but a huge amount of work. I’ll give it some thought, though. Watch this space…