Related Article: The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature
Related Episode: E11: How WIll You Measure Your Life?
[00:00:00] Welcome back to the I Hear You podcast. I’ve given today’s topic quite a bit of thought over the years because it’s something that I still struggle with on a daily basis. As my friends and family can attest, I have quite a sweet tooth and I’m also a sucker for Pringles and a few other specific snack items. And while I generally make healthy choices, to be fair, when it comes to my actual meals, I definitely struggle at times like when I’m tired or stressed or whatever to actually prepare a meal and eat that versus just grazing and snacking all day.
[00:00:37] But why is Michael talking about his eating habits? Well, it’s because a couple of years ago I had one particularly indulgent Saturday night where I just wanted to escape reality for the evening. I don’t remember what it was, probably just a stressful week at work and everything. And I thought, okay, here we go. Time to just relax, unwind, and so I bought a bunch of my guilty pleasures, plopped down in front of the TV and binged my way into a sugary, salty, Netflixy coma.
[00:01:06] And it felt great, in the moment. Because the next morning I woke up in a total funk. I felt depressed, disconnected, lonely. I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to eat anything. I didn’t really want to talk to or get together with anyone, I didn’t want to go to church. I felt full, yet I felt completely undernourished. And I still wanted something, but I just didn’t feel good.
[00:01:36] Then in that moment, it hit me. I mean, it’s no secret that the vast majority of our processed foods fill us with calories that might satiate us in the moment, yet they provide virtually zero nutrition. So it’s not no secret that that’s not good for us. And I fully expected to feel the way that I did because of the way that I ate.
[00:01:57] And yet in that moment, I realized that what I was feeling was actually more than just a result of the actual food I had eaten. I realized that my recent emotional and spiritual diet was actually impacting me just as much as my physical diet.
[00:02:13] Think about it for a moment. Social media, television, gaming, pornography, addictive working, you name it. A lot of these things that we have in front of us in the world, they all taste great in the moment and they promise to fill our bellies, so to speak. Yet they provide little to no actual nutrition at best, and it can even be downright poisonous at the worst. And on top of all that, they’re designed to be addictive, just like those Pringles, just like my chocolate covered cinnamon bears, whatever it was. There’s a lot at play in our world right now, there’s a lot available, I should say, in our world that feels great in the moment that might make us think that we’re having certain real needs met when actually in reality isn’t. In fact, when in reality it’s actually harming us.
[00:03:09] No, I’m not here to suggest that social media or television or gaming are inherently evil and should be avoided at all costs. That’s not what I’m saying. All I’m saying is we have to be conscious of and deliberate about how much of this emotional junk food we consume.
[00:03:26] So for today’s episode, I’m going to take a sort of eat this, not that approach to these things. I want to talk about five categories of emotional junk food and five real food alternatives to each. It’s not enough to just stop consuming so much of the junk. We, of course, need to replace it with what our minds, bodies and spirits are actually needing. If we want to have greater emotional health, strength and connection, let’s dive in.
Junk Food #1: Social Media
[00:04:14] Ok. Getting right into it. Junk food, number one is social media. What to replace this with? Well, that actually depends. A 2018 study found that participants who reduced their social media usage to 30 minutes a day reported having overall improved well-being with a notable decrease in depression and loneliness. On top of that, their anxiety and FOMO, fear of missing out, decreased too. Now, I’ll include a link to that and a lot of research that I’m going to reference in today’s episode in the show notes on my Website, so you can check that out if you’d like to dig a little deeper, because I’ve been careful in this to not just spout my opinion out there. You know, frankly, some of my opinions and thoughts shifted as I started doing some of the research here into these topics.
[00:05:02] Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s any secret that social media, for all the good that it brings and it does bring a lot of good. It does have a dark side and it’s important to be aware of that. You know, for some of you, social media is how you found this podcast. For many of us, Facebook and Instagram allows us to keep up to date with people’s lives, leading to more meaningful conversations when we actually do get together with those people. So my aim here in bringing this up, and I term it junk food because there’s just times when you want to use it and there’s times when it can even be healthy food.
[00:05:38] So perhaps it’s a bit of a misnomer. But bear with me here, let’s let’s kind of roll with this here, because it can very quickly turn negative if we’re not aware of how we’re using this and how much of our diet is provided or is made up by this media. So if you are actively engaged in social media and you read the research and you feel like, well, yeah, you know what? I don’t feel that happy when I spend all this time on it. What could you turn to instead? If you’re not going to eat so much social media, what might you partake of instead? Well, that depends on why you’re turning to social media. So to determine the healthier alternative for you, you have to first understand what you’re seeking. You know, when you hop on Instagram or Facebook or Tick-Tock or whatever it is, you know, the latest craze. What are you looking for? Are you looking for entertainment? Connection with others? Just casually seeing what your friends are up to? Are you looking for an escape from stress or anxiety? Whatever your reason, see if you can find something that will do a better job of actually filling that need.
[00:05:38] So, again, the reason I’m using the term junk food here is that I’m not saying that it’s bad, I’m saying that oftentimes it fills a need without all of the nutrition that we’re actually looking for. So if you’re looking for connection, yeah, social media might provide some of that.
[00:07:08] But check to make sure the way you’re using social media is actually connecting. If you’re just flipping through everyone’s pictures and you’re thinking to yourself, gee, they’re all having a great time, my life sucks. Well, are you really connecting the people that way?
[00:07:23] On the contrary, if you’re using it and you’re reaching out to people, you’re posting positive comments. You know, you’re engaging in meaningful conversations. Then social media may very well be the best tool to build some of that connection. If you’re on there to look to see what people are up to, perfect. There’s likely no better way to do that than social media.
[00:07:42] If you’re looking for an escape from stress or anxiety, then you may want to consider something that’s proven to help with that rather than something that’s been proven to hurt, right. We just talked about there’s a lot of research that shows that if you hop on there, it can increase your anxiety, it can increase a lot of those unhealthy thought patterns and unhealthy feelings of ourselves.
[00:08:06] Some examples of alternatives there might be meditation, getting together with a friend or going for a walk. And finally, if you’re hopping on social media, simply looking to be entertained, again, that might be just fine for that, depending on how you’re using it. But if you find yourself going down harmful paths, feeling bad about yourself and so forth, then again, consider an alternative form of entertainment that will inspire and uplift. That’s junk food number one, social media. And again, I use social media, don’t frankly love it, but it definitely has its upsides and I recognize that. So I am not anti social media. Just be aware of how you’re using it.
Junk Food #2: Time in Front of a Screen
[00:08:47] OK. Junk food, number two, it kind of relates to this, time in front of a screen. What to replace some of that with? Time in nature. My wife and I just got back from a hike actually this afternoon and boy did I need that because I spend way too much time in front of a screen. I don’t know if I want to say it that way because oftentimes it’s very productive and I’m working on things like this podcast and such that I’m passionate about.
[00:09:15] Nevertheless, I know it is not healthy for me to spend all that time staring at the computer monitor or a phone or a TV without breaks in between and this afternoon was no exception. I was working on this outline for this podcast and I was getting stuck. I wanted to make sure that I was providing the most value possible and I was playing with different ideas and back and forth and back and forth. And my frustration started building and I thought, you know what, I need to get out, it’s a beautiful day outside and my wife and I had already talked about going on a hike so we headed up to the mountains, we’re fortunate to live close to many hikes. And we just got out there for an hour, maybe even a little less than that.
[00:09:54] It was amazing at what it did for my emotional health. It just helped me clear my mind, got the blood moving as we’re hiking along. And sure enough, I was able to get unstuck. My wife suggested another junk food item that we’re gonna talk about later in this episode that gave me what I needed to finish this out.
[00:10:14] And believe it or not, research backs all this up. Research has shown that exposure to green space can reduce the risk of anxiety, high blood pressure and mental illness all while increasing our productivity, our immune systems and of course, our overall feeling of happiness. In fact, one study from the University of Michigan found that participants who spent an hour interacting with nature had 20% stronger memory and attention spans than those who did not.
[00:10:45] And interestingly enough, that improvement was consistent across different seasons and temperatures. So it’s not even that you need to be living in a lush, green part of the world to reap this benefit. There seems to be something about nature. I don’t know if it’s simply the absence of all the chaos that is part of busy cities and the urban lifestyle, or if there’s really some energy or there’s something in the plants, in the trees, in just the sky and the sunshine.
[00:11:16] I don’t know what it is, all I know is it’s real and these are just a couple of studies that I’ve referenced. If you take to Google, you’ll find countless. If you want to skip all the studies and just try it, just go outside, take a break, take 15 minutes out of your workday and leave the office and walk around the block, especially on a beautiful day. It’s amazing what it does for every aspect of your health.
Junk Food #3: Texts and Emails
[00:12:08] So there’s definitely a time and a place for text messages and emails. Very, very convenient. You fire it off, if it’s not important, you can just wait. They can get back to you in a minute or two days. You know, it’s kind of fun, you got all kinds of emojis, there’s all these reasons to love them.
[00:12:23] I am mourning a little bit the loss of the art of the phone call, so I’m quite young, I’m 32 at the time of this recording, but that’s old enough to remember times before text messages, even times before cell phones. But even the time when we had cell phones and text messages were still, you know, five cents a message, I just called people, you know, I looked forward to the evenings and weekends because my cell phone provider offered free nights and weekends. And so I could talk with my girlfriend all night long. We’d have all these conversations and it was it was fun.
[00:12:58] And texting has replaced some of that and you still get a lot of the benefit, but I also think that we’ve lost some of that. There’s a lot that you get from a phone call that you lose when it’s just written communication. And that’s true on the positive side, when you’re just trying to build a relationship, when you’re sharing great news. It’s especially true on the negative side if you are upset with someone or if you are in an argument of any sort. Do not carry that out via text message, please.
[00:12:58] I hear that from a shocking number of people who reach out to me, you know, whether they read my book or listen to a podcast or read my blog posts where they say, well, I’ve been texting my husband or my wife back and forth about this and she always misunderstands me and I don’t know how to handle it.
[00:13:44] Well, the very first thing I say is stop texting and talk to each other. Of course there’s going to be misunderstanding because it’s just text and if you’re angry and you just fire it off quickly without even thinking about it, you’re going to be misunderstood. You’re going to cause more work for yourselves than you need to. You know, I talk in my book about how researchers estimate that as much as 70% of communication is nonverbal. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s all body language either. Much of that is made up simply by the tone of voice that we use when we’re talking.
[00:14:19] But when you’re texting or emailing, not only do you lose the body language, but you also lose the verbal intonation. You lose all of those additional cues that help communicate sarcasm, that help communicate compassion or concern versus anger or, you know, shortness of temper or what have you.
[00:14:37] So the phone calls have so many benefits and I’m a big proponent of them, mixed in with your text messaging. They’re quicker when you’re trying to resolve something if you need an answer right away, don’t text somebody, just call them. They include all that emotion that we just talked about, for good or for bad. But they help you have accurate conversations. And then perhaps my favorite point here, because they’re rare. That makes them that much more meaningful.
[00:15:04] You know, I have a buddy of mine. He’s actually a former employer and I think he happens to be my mom’s second cousin or something. Anyway, a guy I really look up to and ever since we’ve been working together, he’s called me every year on my birthday without fail. And I love that because I know I’m not the most important person in the world to him. But without fail, he takes time out of his day every year to call me up, I always say hello. And he starts singing a beautiful rendition of Happy Birthday to me. And we chat for a few minutes and we hang up.
[00:15:42] But it’s so cool. He could just as easily have sent me a text message, which I would have appreciated. But the very fact that he takes the time to call me up takes a few more minutes, it makes a big difference. So if you want to replace a little bit of that junk food of texting and emailing with something else, I highly recommend trying the Good Old-Fashioned phone call.
Junk Food #4: Constantly Going
[00:16:05] All right. Coming in at number four on our list of junk food, constantly going. And what I mean by that is just constantly doing, constantly working, constantly reading, whatever it is. Really, it’s the absence of any time of stillness or thought or meditation. An I just gave away what you would replace it with. You replace the constant energy, constant going with, time to ponder and meditate.
[00:16:34] And you don’t have to go out up to the Himalayas. You don’t have to become a monk. You don’t have to change your whole lifestyle here. It could be five minutes, it could be one minute. I don’t know what it is for you, but this is powerful. And truth be told, this is one of the reasons why I’m recording this podcast, because I’m probably the worst at this. And yet I know I need it. So I work a full 9-5 job currently, I own a rental property, I serve in my church, I produce this podcast. I do interviews about and market my book, I recently developed a new hardcover version of my Three-Minute Morning Journal, which I’ll talk more about later. And my wife and I are developing a mobile app on top of all of this.
[00:17:17] And I don’t say that to brag, I’m proud of all the stuff that I’m working on. I love it and I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, and it’s becoming too much. It just is. And when I take time to deliberately put my phone down, close my computer, just take five minutes to just think, it’s amazing what comes to me. And that’s something that I have to be careful of. And I know I’m not alone in that. Because in today’s world, it’s easy to feel like if we’re not always going, someone’s gonna pass us up. Somebody is gonna beat us to that product.
[00:18:02] Somebody is going to outperform us at work and they’re gonna get that promotion. Whatever it is, it’s probably true. First, if you take time to slow down and breathe and meditate, then maybe you say yes to one less project than you would have, someone probably will take that. Someone probably will beat you to the punch on certain things. But that might not be a bad thing. Because history is full of people who push themselves beyond their limits, who sacrificed their family, their health, their own happiness to try to get ahead or to try to keep up with the Jones’ and died prematurely or got some form of serious illness that affected their lifestyle in a way that they could no longer do the things they loved.
[00:18:50] So we talked about this in an earlier episode titled How Will You Measure Your Life? And this is something I have to keep reminding myself of because it’s all too easy to get caught up in all the work and all the opportunity and everything we want to do and neglect the things that really matter most to us at the end of the day. So if you feel like you’re constantly going, even if you feel like it’s all good, they’re all good things, you’re running errands for the family, taking your kids to practice, you’re doing all these different things and you feel like, well, I can’t stop any of that. You don’t have to stop any of it.
[00:19:24] But you might want to take five minutes out of one of those things and take time to think. I promise you from personal experience, your health will benefit, your physical health will benefit. Again, there are plenty of studies to talk about that. Your emotional health will benefit and you will find greater clarity on how you’re currently spending your life and how you might want to tweak things. Gotta take that time, you’ve got to replace some of the constant going junk food with a little bit of a healthier, more fulfilling time to ponder and meditate.
Junk Food #5: Anything Else You’re Self-Medicating With
[00:19:57] All right. And wrapping things up here with number five, junk food, number five, this is really a catchall. It’s anything else you might be self-medicating with. And this is anything you suspect you’re overdoing or overusing in life. What to replace it with? Well, healthier options that fulfill the need you’re looking for without hurting.
[00:20:24] So a lot of these things, they do help us in the interim. They feel good in the moment, but they carry with them some side effects. They can ultimately do more harm than good. So this might look like over eating, right? Actually eating real junk food or even good food just taken to the limit can still be harmful. You know, alcohol, obviously, pornography, sex, any form of drugs, video games, television, overworking, even religious addiction is a thing. You know, being so focused on something that you start to neglect others or neglect your needs or use it in a way or over use it is what I should say.
[00:21:10] That’s a sign that you’re masking something. That’s a sign that you’re medicating with something and there’s probably something deeper at play. And that’s where some of these faulty core beliefs that we’ve talked about earlier might come into play. That’s where you might need to start looking at and applying some of the other principles we talk about on this podcast to start healing the root of those addictions, habits, whatever you want to call them, but things that are hurting you more than they’re actually helping you.
[00:21:39] You know, on that hike today with my wife, I was telling her about how I’ve noticed an increased tendency in myself to overeat. You know, and I believe it’s directly tied to the stress that I’ve taken on all the different things that I’m working on. That, again, I love, I’m not a victim to it. I’m choosing to do all this and I enjoy it, I genuinely do.
[00:22:02] And yet I recognize that I’m not acting responsibly in certain instances there and that I’m turning to food, whether it’s actual junk food or just over eating other good foods in a way that’s not healthy, and I don’t want to put on weight. I want to stay healthy and fit and strong. And so for me, taking my own advice here, I’m having to step back and say, OK, little red flag popped up. I see that I am now using food as a drug. What am I going to do to change that? How can I replace it?
[00:22:34] So then I look at it, I say, well, what am I trying to fulfill? Well, I’m looking for some relaxation, I’m looking for some release. I’m looking for something to make me feel better while I’m struggling with difficult challenges and trials, trying to figure out how to address them. Although I have to abuse food to get that? No.
[00:22:53] There are countless other ways to do that. Some of them we’ve already mentioned on this, getting outside, going for a hike, exercising, reading a good book, talking with friends, you know, finding healthy, truly healthy snacks and treats that I enjoy that don’t destroy me calorically, if I can say it like that. There are options out there.
Wrap-Up and Invitation
[00:23:14] And so if you identify something here in category number five, which again is a catchall, anything that you suspect that you’re using in a way that’s not healthy, look for something else that fills that same need without side effects. And that really leads me to today’s invitation. And it really is just that, pick one of these five quote unquote junk foods that we’ve talked about, that you know, you’re consuming too much of, and make a commitment to yourself and then share that commitment with someone else, because accountability is huge here to replace at least some of it with a healthier alternative.
[00:23:54] I’m not saying you need to stop eating food if you’re addicted to food, I’m not saying you can’t use social media, I’m not saying you shouldn’t text people anymore. You get that, I think I’ve made that abundantly clear on this episode.
[00:24:05] But, you know, when you’re using it too much. You know, when it’s not healthy for you in the way or the dosage that you’re taking it. So I’m inviting you to take a look, pick one of those things and make a commitment. It could be to meditate for five minutes a day, it could be to cut your social media time down 30 minutes, it could be to watch one less episode of a show on Netflix this week.
[00:24:26] Whatever it is for you, I invite you to make a change for the better. I’m inviting you to become aware of how much time you’re spending doing them and then ask yourself if those activities are actually nourishing you and filling those needs. And if they’re not, find a healthier, more satisfying alternative.
[00:24:48] That’s going to do it for today’s episode. Thank you again to those of you who have left a positive review on the show. And if you haven’t done so, I ask that you please consider doing so now. And finally, amidst everything else that’s going on in the world today, I hope that you will choose this week to be kind, to reach out to others who may be lonely or struggling and to take the opportunity to add a little more light into the world. With that, we wrap up and I look forward to talking with you more next week.