We are learning to eat in distorted ways.
We are learning to think in distorted ways.
We are in the midst of a mental obesity epidemic.
The rise in physical obesity mirrors the rise in mental obesity and gives us a lens to understand the world we find ourselves living in. Mental obesity is an invisible destroyer of our societal health.
Before we begin, I want to mention that I desire to be sensitive to folks that have some fat they are proud of and who feel body shaming has gone too far. I believe a healthy amount of fat is actually good for us, and the focus on our bodies has been amplified by social media in a harmful way. However, I believe we each have an amount of mass that if exceeded would be undesirable. I call this “obesity”.
How did we get here?
Problems of Progress
Our bodies and minds have evolved to survive and thrive in an ancient world that is far removed from the modern world we find ourselves in.
Scientists call this evolutionary mismatch.
Our bodies are not suited for an infinite supply of the tastiest foods. Our ancient world was scarce in supply of things like salt, sugar, and fat that we needed to survive. We evolved taste to help us. Tastiness is the body’s way of saying “This is good for us! Give us more!” Tasty food contains salt, sugar, and/or fat.
Our minds are not suited for an infinite supply of irresistible content. We are wired to be social. Our superpower as humans is our ability to work together in large groups and we use this social ability to collaborate.
Also, our ancient world gave us the drama and news of about 100-150 people max. We are not suited to handle the stream of content from 8 billion people.
Increased Gulp-abilty, Increased Gullibility
Physical obesity makes us more susceptible to diabetes, strokes and heart disease.
Mental obesity makes us more susceptible to depression, anxiety, groupthink, and conspiracy theory thinking. Premature conclusion satisfaction. Excess conviction erodes our critical thinking. We now believe more emotionally and are losing our ability to reason.
Perhaps the worst fake news comes from our own brains.
Let’s dive in to the delicious details…
“We’re giving them what they want”
Waistlines and mental unhealth have increased as large profit-maximizing corporations give us more of what we “want”.
Big food noticed sales increased when they gave customers what they wanted. They added salt, sugar, and fat to their foods because sales rose when they did. Profits grew.
Big tech increased engagement when they gave users what they wanted. They adjusted their algorithms to deliver more emotional and sensational content. People spent more time on site. Profits grew.
Give the customer what they want. Make the shareholders happy. Everybody wins.
Get your fix
Cheap and tasty food gives us a rush of dopamine. So does cocaine. We became addicted to low quality, highly tasty food. Our waistlines grew.
Emotional and sensational content spikes our social brains. Likes and comments give us a rush of dopamine. We became addicted to our screens searching for that next tasty bite of content.
Mmmm did you get your 3 servings of outrage today?
Fixed in place. Fixed in views.
Bodily obesity results in excess weight. Gain too much mass and we become FIXED in place. Too big and inflexible to move around as we desire.
Mental obesity results in poor thinking and decisions. We have gorged on an endless supply of emotional and desirable content. Our minds have become too full to visit viewpoints beyond our own. Too convicted, emotional, and reactive to touch another viewpoint. FIXED in view.
Empty Calorie Everything
Junk food is known for it’s empty calories. High calories but little nutritional value. It tells our bodies “This is needed for survival” but really it might not be.
Junk food content is similar with it’s high emotional content. Lots of calories, little to no nutrition. We consume for pleasure. Indigestion everywhere.
“You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet”
Monoculture fields dominate our farmlands. Corn and soy crops abound with little diversity around. Our topsoil weakens, no longer held together by a community of organisms. Ready to blow away in the wind at any moment.
Monoculture minds dominate our society. Social media amplifies our echo chambers. Finely tuned algorithms feed us “proof” for any interest and view we hold. No longer exposed to diverse viewpoints, our mind’s immune system weakens. Reactive. Ready to revolt against anyone that disagrees or expresses a truth we don’t like.
Sales and profits grew by providing more tasty low-priced foods, and we watched this cheap food become more numerous in our grocery stores and as more 24/7 fast food restaurants opened. Our options expanded. We could now have as much salt, sugar, and fat as we wanted anytime we desired.
Crammed to the brim.
Imagine if you could eat as much of your favorite food as you wanted without becoming full, one treat after the next. Then imagine there is a magical portal in your pocket that gives you an infinite supply of this too tasty food 24/7. This is THE FEED. Big tech developed the feed style content delivery system so we could scroll and scroll until our appetite was full. The only problem is that we never really get full.
Num num num num [burppp]
Hungry for more
As we have seen, the rise in mental obesity has many striking similarities to the rise in physical obesity. Waistlines and mental unhealth have increased as large profit-maximizing corporations give us more of what we “want”. Cheap food fills our stomachs but without nutritional value leaving us still hungry for more just as highly emotional and sensational content fills our attention but leaves us still looking for the next rush of dopamine. We rely less on our internal wisdom as we are fed more fast food facts. We have become addicted to our screens just as we have to salt, sugar, and fat. The FEED style of our social platforms has given us an endless supply of content but left us malnourished and monoculture group-think threatens our societal fabric.
There are other characteristics of mental obesity that I could not match to physical obesity. Numbness, disconnection, the rise in scapegoating, and naive realism are a few. These may just be more signs of our declining individual and societal health.
What is our path forward?
Perhaps our ancient past has insight and solutions for us. Personally, I have found higher quality health by leaning into how my ancient pre-civilization ancestors probably ate. Fewer ingredients. Less processed things in packages. It’s interesting that the latest health discoveries tell us a diverse gut-flora is essential to health.. Perhaps focusing on viewpoint diversity and content with less sensational ingredients can help.
Perhaps our mind is the mouth that feeds and delivers the incoming information to our body that digests and delivers us bodily felt “knowing”. Somatic wisdom. The body keeps the score.
Where do we apply medicine and healing methods? Individual or systemic?
Is this a failure of each human to choose healthy options?
Do we focus on the system? Taxes and censoring have not been shown to be effective methods.
Perhaps the solution is for each of us to learn better skills to navigate this new world. Perhaps the system itself creates the conditions for un-health.
How do you think we should treat mental obesity and awaken vibrant health?
I hope you’ve found the concepts I’ve shared here to be nourishing and helpful.
Wishing you health,