#Gym or #Dessert

Sweet versus sweat. Candy versus crunches. Happy birthday cake versus happy baby pose. It’s the eternal conflict for those of us who appreciate a fantastic donut but also care about our figures – and really, isn’t that everyone? However, the struggle seems to be more real in some places than others, so we took to social media to find out which states are downing desserts and which are doing jumping jacks at the gym. Over 300,000 Instagram posts later, this is what we found.

Cookie Capital

When it comes to dishing about dessert, the District of Columbia takes the cake. Its residents used the hashtag #dessert over 45 times per 100,000 people, whereas New York, the runner-up, used it 28 times, and third-place Nevada used it just nine times. Why, exactly, our nation’s capital is so obsessed with sweets is anyone’s guess, but it may have something to do with the fact that it’s home to one of the most popular bakeries in the country as well as a traveling cookie-mobile. What’s not to love?

D.C. may ’gram its desserts most often, but the award for the sweetest tooth actually belongs to Utah; the state also buys candy at almost twice the national average rate and is the only U.S. state where the most popular food-delivery item is something sweet (cinnamon sticks) rather than something savory. Perhaps those wondering how to lose 5 pounds in a week should choose a different home state.

Sweating on Social Media

On the other end of the spectrum, the state that tagged the most #gym posts per 100,000 residents was none other than New York. But before you assume that citizens of the Empire State must also be in the best shape, consider that you have to scroll down to spot 22 on the list of fittest cities before you see a city in New York, and that New York was No. 2 when it came to sharing online about sweets. It seems that New Yorkers may spend all that time at the gym to compensate for extra calories consumed. (The District of Columbia, on the other hand – which holds the No. 1 spot for posting about desserts – consistently ranks near the top of the fittest cities in the Union. Go figure.)

However, these areas of the country may have motivations for hitting the gym other than the desire to work off extra dessert weight. New York City, for example, is a major player in the fashion world, where image is everything. And Florida, which used the hashtag #gym almost as often as NYC, is home to world-renowned beaches and resorts. In beach towns, bikini bodies and washboard abs are a year-round concern, which may explain why 4 of the 50 fittest cities in America are found near the state’s coasts.

State Showdown

While some states post about fitness more than others, nearly all states place it, tag for tag, ahead of dessert. There are a few notable exceptions, and many seem to be in New England. The Northeast’s love for and loyalty to their desserts is no surprise when you consider that Maine is embroiled in an interstate feud over the origin of the whoopie pie, Vermont is the nation’s maple syrup capital, and Massachusetts is home to the Fluffernutter – a sandwich filled with spreadable marshmallow and peanut butter. These states are serious about their sweets!

Sit-ups and Selfies

On an individual level, posts about the gym versus posts about desserts were about a 60-40 split, with exercise coming out on top as the more prevalent Instagram topic. One problem with social media, however, is that people (and companies) often use it to portray unrealistic versions of themselves. It seems that America may be doing that en masse with its fitness posts, which just don’t match the reality of the obesity epidemic in this country. And while we certainly applaud anyone taking steps to live a more active lifestyle, unnaturally posed gym selfies and fitness inspiration (fitspo) posts may end up doing more harm than good. So keep those #gym posts coming, but it’s important to let followers see the less photogenic side of fitness, too.

We All Scream for Ice Cream

No hashtag exists in a vacuum, and we wanted to explore what other subjects and words popped up most often in connection to gyms and desserts. On the sweet side of things, one of the phrases most commonly associated with dessert was “food porn,” a term that made its way into popular usage in the early 2000s. It often involves close-up shots of carefully arranged food that are designed to look appetizing but, like true porn, “manufacture[s] a desire that it can’t satisfy.”

The most referenced dessert item was cake, which is hardly shocking when you consider how many forms of cake we now enjoy: mug cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, ice cream cake, and more. Cake is also a staple at birthday and wedding celebrations (infinitely Instagrammable events) and claims 3 out of the 20 spots on the list of most Instagrammed dishes in New York City.

Gym Jargon

When it comes to words and phrases associated with the gym, many are exactly what you’d expect: workout, bodybuilder, fit, and life – just to name a few. Surprisingly, renegade row didn’t make the cut. Each of these terms are easily connected to a fitness-focused lifestyle. But a few others, like eat, weight, and diet hint at an important connection that’s all too often overlooked by amateur gym junkies. If weight loss is your main goal, then exercise alone – even when it includes the most rigorous planking challenge – will rarely do the trick. No doubt that hitting the gym and doing that plank challenge can have an array of benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease, improving mental health, and strengthening muscles and joints. But weight loss is achieved by burning more calories than you consume. For most people, diet is the important part of that equation. Being careful about how many calories you consume in the first place is generally easier and more effective than trying to burn them off on the elliptical afterward. Reading a few yoga quotes for inspiration is always helpful too.


Friendly competition between the states aside, exercise and eating can – and should – peacefully coexist. It’s only when you have too much (or too little) of one or the other that problems arise. If you find yourself struggling to stay fit and keep sugar cravings in check, consider naturally sweet food alternatives like fruit and yogurt in place of typical desserts like cookies or ice cream. Because when it comes to health and fitness, reading all the motivational workout quotes in the world won’t change the fact that sometimes you just can’t have your cake and eat it too.


We looked at over 300,000 Instagram posts for hashtags related to gym and dessert. Posts were collected between July 08, 2016, to August 29, 2016. We found over 200,000 of the total posts to be related to #gym and over 100,000 to be related to #dessert. We calculated data featuring the top states for the hashtags #gym and #dessert by the number of related posts per 100k residents according to the U.S. Census population.


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