More and more, restaurants are posting nutritional information next to the selections on the menu. One health-oriented research group, Cochrane, reported that when calories are disclosed on menus, people order meals with 7.8% fewer calories. This is a good example of how the mere awareness of what we’re ingesting has a significant and beneficial effect of the choices we make. The restaurant is not telling us to order differently; it simply is making us aware of the health value of the food we’re consuming. This makes it easier for us to order mindfully instead of mindlessly.

You are what you eat

Even though we don’t always make the best choices, when it comes to food at least we understand the general notion that, “You are what you eat.” In other areas of life, however, we seem to pay even less attention to the health value of what we ingest. In particular, it is easy to not notice the unhealthy or even toxic ingredients in the massive amounts of television programming, social media apps and various tech and screen activities that we expose ourselves to each day. Undoubtedly, there can be healthy components to all of these activities. But it would behoove us to be pay more attention to the potential toxic elements as well.

You decide

There is no clear consensus on which ingredients are toxic and which are healthy. With food, some say it’s best to avoid sugar, carbohydrates or saturated fat. Some avoid meat or all animal protein or gluten. You get to choose what you consider to be healthy or unhealthy. Similarly, with regard to the images, language, implicit messages and moral content of our television, social media and internet activities, there are varying opinions about what constitutes safe and healthy. Researchers argue about whether violence in video games has a deleterious effect on our youth. People have different thoughts about the appropriateness of sexual material on our various screens. You can decide what complies with your personal values. 

Is it working for you?

What is unfortunate is when we are exposing ourselves to large quantities of data and pixels without awareness of that which we are consuming. One way to work on your diet is to pay more attention to how you feel after you eat certain foods. How do they affect your stomach, energy level, mood, sleep, blood pressure or arthritis? Similarly, how do you feel after hours of Facebook, political badgering on TV or explicitly sexual or violent material in games or other internet activities? Are these hours spent enhancing the quality of your life? Are they nourishing your mind or spirit?

Some of the potentially harmful ingredients are obvious. Others are more insidious and may require a more thoughtful approach. For example, How much gossiping are we exposed to or participating in on social media? How about ingredients like jealousy, envy, vanity or hate? We may not think about how much of this we are consuming or the effects it has on our quality of life. Is my screen time stimulating, relaxing, entertaining or educating? Or is it numbing, depressing, disturbing or irritating? Are we aware of the impact of being bombarded by pop-up advertisements which relentlessly compete for our time and attention?

Choosing mindfully

There is a healthy version and an unhealthy version of most things. This applies to what and how we eat as much as it does to the things we consume and expose ourselves to as we use our tech devices. The choices are ours. Let’s examine closely the value of the things we consume, in order to make these choices mindfully.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of Alvimann/ morguefile.com

Articles

Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.