Is Social Media Abstinence The Next Diet Trend?

 

In mid-2018, I took a one-month break from Facebook. Though this hiatus was aimed at freeing up time and headspace to deal with the birth of my daughter, I found positive effects on other areas such as increased creative output and better focus on both my work and life. I eventually slid back into regular use, though at much reduced levels than in the past.

Three weeks ago, I dropped off Facebook again. I don’t log on to the platform, though the articles that I post on LinkedIn are posted to Facebook via the LinkedIn for Facebook widget. In a mere six days of abstinence, my writing output has shot up, and I find myself more focused. I now communicate one-on-one by Email or phone, and am drawing away from Whatsapp too. [since writing this, I briefly came back on the platform during the holidays]

I have discovered that I’m not the only person shunning Facebook. A number of people I have reconnected with in the past few days claim that they rarely log on anymore, and all of them report increased focus, better productivity, and improved mental health in separating from Facebook and Instagram.

In late 2011, I went on a low-carb diet to drop some weight. By July 2012, I had dropped to 74 kilos and 10% body fat from a peak weight of 110 kilos circa 2009. At that time, people following Low Carb, Paleo, and Keto diets were rare in India. However, now, with 2019 around the corner, almost everyone I know is on some sort of low-carb diet. In fact  These have become so popular, that here in Gurgaon, there are take-out kitchens that specialize in meals for those on Low-carb, Paleo, or Ketogenic diets. Considering the feedback that I’ve been getting from people who have cut back on Social Media use, could the Social Media Fast be the next diet trend?

With people now shunning Facebook in particular, it seems likely that Social Media has peaked. Multiple regulatory issues – starting with Cambridge Analytica – and now the indications of improper data sharing with Yandex and Netflix have revealed how the malevolent trinity of Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp is exploiting user data and driving social behavior. There is no hope of any imminent regulatory oversight of these social media platforms. Mark Zuckerberg’s five-hour appearance before a US Senate Committee – available in its entirety on Youtube – revealed that the political establishment is arrogant in its ignorance of the real issues in ethics and privacy relevant to social media.

These public spectacles have begun to change the way people regard Social Media. Perhaps its growth days are over and we shall soon she the kind of stagnation that has hit tablet computers and e-book readers. In fact, a contraction may be around the corner.

Another key factor is that Humans in general are trending to internal improvement and introspection. According to Forbes magazine, Headspace, an app that provides guided Mindfulness meditation sessions has been downloaded 11 million times and has 400,000 paid subscribers. Publishers in the UK and USA are reporting a spurt in sales of books on meditation and yoga, and globally, the number of yoga alliance certified instructors is increasing exponentially. Meditation and Fitness are not the only self-improvement businesses that are booming. Life, career, and dating coaches are a rapidly expanding sector of the self-improvement market. Two years ago, one of my mentors joked that “Coach is the new LinkedIn code word for unemployed”. He has since engaged a coach to improve his social communication skills. My own mindfulness and self-awareness based advisory practice has grown substantially solely by word-of-mouth since 2015. An increasing number of people now realize that material fulfillment and social media bragging do not bring happiness. Mindfulness and self awareness are incredibly demanding pursuits. A fair amount of time and emotional labour is needed in the early months, and I’ve noticed that my own clients and other people on mindfulness programs tend to draw this time by cutting back on social media.

The addition of one billion new mobile data consumers in the Orient may bump social media adoption figures, but it is likely that social media utilization has peaked, and as people look inwards in the economic and social volatility ahead, the Social Media Fast could become the new diet trend, and Facebook the new Refined Sugar.

If your 2019 goals include increasing focus, happiness, or energy; completing self-paced educational courses; or resurrecting a long-forgotten hobby, consider Social Media Abstinence. It’s probably the one factor that will decide success or failure.

Chemical Lessons

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My body reminded me of something important today. Due to unusual circumstances I ended up drinking two cups of coffee (double stovetop Moka Pot and a large mug of French Press) this morning. Today is a busy day – I’m traveling on business, and will be in the air for much of the day. I was trying to get as much done between 0700 and 0900. Within 20 minutes of the second cup I was in a near panic – dealing with things that are routine for me in the course of my work. What the hell was going on?

Sitting at my (home) work desk, I tried my three minute mindfulness meditation. It did centre me mentally, but I could feel the panic in my limbs – a scary sense of detachment very similar to being severely drugged – when your body does not feel the way your mind expects it to. I managed to get out of the house and to my cab with that lingering sense of dread. I did more breath meditating in the taxi – then it struck me. Caffeine. The jumbo overdose of caffeine.

Sitting here in the boarding lounge, it all came together. I recalled a period of three months last year when I went off all stimulants. This had been an intensely painful time for me, as I was dealing with a devastating life event. Life at that time was just work, exercise, yoga, and meditation. No sugar, no alcohol, and no coffee. The daily meditation kept me centred and functional – important when a desperate sadness is hanging over your entire life like a dark cloud. The sugar free diet kept my energy levels constant throughout the day – nice when you’re living a high-stress consulting industry lifestyle. The yoga and exercise gave me killer fucking abs.

So now I think back – perhaps that is a good way to be. Minus the chemical stimulants, perhaps I’ll be more focused and thus able to vanquish the distractions that mock my plans to study and write. There is the social impact of not drinking alcohol and coffee – but as with that time, people get used to it rapidly.

Desperate Measures

Every now and then, I see posts in the social media, where people wishing to “get in shape” go on a “program”, “cleanse” or “detox” for anywhere between three and 30 days. In India, this has hit a whole new level of insanity, where brides to be embark on an extremely aggressive programme that includes weight loss and skin lightening in the weeks leading up to their wedding. It is perhaps thanks to a culture of instant gratification where people expect tremendous results in an unrealistic amount of time. The fad diets aside, these unrealistic expectations coupled with a supersize helping of slothfulness have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry of pills, potions, and machines that are supposed to give you that body of your dreams.

Coming back to the fad diets and detoxes, a large number of these are “very low calorie diets” that will cause a serious calorie deficit, and consequently some weight loss. However, the first few kilos lost are usually “water weight” which will return within days of resuming old diet habits. Frustration aside, there are potentially dangerous side effects. Sustained low calorie intake can destroy muscle tissue and weaken vital organs. Fad diets that focus on a single food or food group can leave the body deprived of essential nutrients and trigger other illnesses. Even if there is some weight loss, it is unsustainable in the long run.

In my journey from 108 Kgs to a peak-fitness weight of 74 Kgs, I learnt 3 key lessons that ALL the information on weight loss breaks down to.

Firstly, no matter what TV infomercials, pumped up fitness trainers, or that overweight diet expert in your office tell you, weight loss is a function of calories consumed vs calories expended. If you burn more than you eat, you lose weight and if you eat more than you burn, you gain weight.

Secondly, good health has a little to do with calories and everything to do with nutrition. Your diet must include a complex range of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to ensure optimum health.

Thirdly, exercise is critical to preserve (if not build) strength, mobility, and endurance.

Getting healthy is not a weekend project or a month-long plan. It is an aggressive reprogramming of your mind and body and includes critical changes to every aspect of your life. If you make the changes and follow what works consistently, you will succeed – else, you will be stuck in the vicious cycle of crash diets and magical supplements.

Why People Fail At Weight Loss

I started my weight loss journey in March 2011, and achieved my goal by Feb 2012. Since then, my gains have increased, and I’m in the best shape ever. In the past few months, many people who have seen the changes in me over this period of time have asked me for advice, and in many cases, have started on a regimen similar to mine. Most of these people have failed to get remarkable results.

A search on Amazon for ‘weight loss’ yields over 123,000 results. Over 70,000 of these are books. A Google search for the same yields 320 million results! With that much of information around, why are so many people still overweight? Barring the very small percentage of people with hormonal imbalances or other pathological causes, the majority of overweight people are victims of a pattern of behaviour that they need to change to lose weight and keep it off.

Why do people fail?

1) Slothfulness

Weight loss is hard work. In its initial stages, it requires a commitment of time, energy, and money to get started, and break old patterns. With people hoping to get there with minimal effort, an entire industry selling magic machines, portions, and lotions has sprung up to relieve them of their cash. The only cure for this is information, and the willingness to do the hard work.

2) Misinformation

Lots of healthy foods aren’t. The food, pharmaceutical and medical industries are very aggressive in passing on information that is outdated, incomplete, or in some cases, false. In 2008, a physician told me that I would be taking antihypertensive medication for the rest of my life. I’m not taking it anymore, and have normal blood pressure. In 2009, another physician told me that my heart was at risk of damage if I exerted myself by running or other strenuous activity. I can today run several kilometres non-stop, and do interval or Tabata sprint training twice a week. Nutritionists and physicians who enquire about my diet are horrified by the fact that I avoid all grains. My point is simple – it worked for me! I am fit, have high energy levels, and have seen my performance skyrocket in all areas of my life! Even the results that I have achieved have been after years of digging through mountains of advice and information and sticking with what worked.

Food companies lie to you. Period. Physicians are mostly corralled by the narrow confines of the knowledge they received in medical school. The pharmaceutical companies just want you to believe that being unhealthy is alright – if anything happens, they have a pill for you to take to make you better. Look around for information on what has worked for people. You don’t have to fall for the $39.99 e-books that are available with 7 special gifts for a limited period only. Make your body your laboratory – try different stuff and stick to what works.

3) Complacency

Sometimes people are able to gain some success with their weight loss goals, but later get complacent and fall off the wagon. This is slothfulness lite. Like knowledge, fitness is progressive – just like Alice’s Wonderland, it takes all the running that you can do to stay in the same place, and if you need to get anywhere, you need to run twice as fast as that. Weight loss or fitness cannot be a phase – it needs to be a lifestyle that you refine with each passing day.

4) Cheating

A new diet or workout regimen causes sweeping chemical and physiological changes in the body. Diets like the Atkins rely heavily on ketosis that usually takes several days to set in – other low carb diets focus on breaking out of sugar or hormone cycles that drive hunger and satiety. These changes require the elimination of certain foods or food combinations, and the consumption of even a small quantity of these ‘banned foods’ can result in a complete chemical reversal that can destroy days of gains. This causes disillusionment with the diet itself. If you are on a diet, do not pat yourself on the back with a ‘cheat’ that you feel won’t make a difference – it will make you fail.

Once you have reached your goal, it may be possible for you to relax the rules a little bit, but be forever wary of becoming complacent.

5) Haters

This may be one of the biggest reasons that people fail. When you start getting results and your appearance begins to change, there will be people around you who will try very hard to make you fail. They will be trying to prove that your diet is a joke, and that you don’t have the willpower to make the changes that you desire. They will criticise you, ridicule you, and encourage you to cheat. They will say that you have changed, and that you’re making these changes because you think that you’re better than them.
If you have such people in your life, you need to cut them off immediately. These people do not just stand between you and a healthier you, they stand between you and a better life.

Instead, surround yourself with people who have goals like yours and understand the challenges that you’re facing. These new relationships will improve your chances of success.

6) Alcohol

This is probably one of the most common ways to sabotage a diet. Alcohol contains a huge number of empty calories, and is broken down into acetate by the liver. This acetate takes metabolic precedence over carbohydrate and fats, and thus as your body works to deal with the acetate, fat burning stops. Also, the snack foods usually served with alcohol are often unhealthy, and get stored away as fat while the acetate is dealt with.

The Bottomline

Yet, it is possible to drop weight and keep it off. The rewards are tremendous – you look better, you have more energy, and you are able to deal with stress better. In an age where medical care is horrendously expensive and medical insurance is a sham, health is wealth. Five years ago, if someone had told me  that my life would be so awesome if I fixed my habits and stuck to it, I would have done it from that day itself.

Food Emotions And Happy Places

For the past three weeks or so, I have been on a very strict diet, mainly as a test of my willpower and the social consequences of eating healthy no matter what. It has been rather easy so far. Breaking my Friday beer and chicken liver habit was slightly difficult, sticking to club soda at a recent birthday party wasn’t too hard, and politely dodging the sweets distributed at my office was easy too. Things however came to a head at a recent Freemasons meeting a few days ago.

After our meetings finish, we usually have a couple of drinks followed by a hearty dinner, with lots of jokes, and leg-pulling. I stuck to my club soda routine – not too difficult, because I’d done it before, and steered clear of all the eats, except for the green salad. The bretheren were quite supportive, as many of them have seen the drastic change in my physique over the past 12 months or so. Some even picked my brain on diet and exercise ideas.

Slowly though, I started feeling uneasy. I found myself craving a whiskey and soda. As dinner drew near and the fragrance of the rice and spices wafted through the air, I found myself craving the food that I had been easily avoiding for quite some time. While it would have been easy for me to say to myself ‘screw it’ and get a drink, I tried to follow the craving back to the emotion behind it.

I came to Hyderabad by myself in March 2009. For the first few months there, my evenings at the Freemasons hall were the highlight of my social calendar and being an outsider in a new city, this was one place I was comfortable, accepted, and at home. The smell of whiskey within the warm Edwardian building, and the aroma of Hyderabadi cooking wafting through the air were linked in my mind to a happy place. My diet plans almost got derailed after over a week of being firmly on the wagon!

This is a major challenge that lots of people face in eating clean. With meals being such a social event in all cultures, joyous events are linked to excessive meals everywhere. As one matures into an adult, years and years of this conditioning links that food to a ‘happy place’, and makes this pattern of eating harder to break.
The way out of course, is to de-link the emotion from the food. This is not easy at all, since humans tie in data from all our senses to form memories of our experiences. At the events like the one that evening, it is very unlikely that someone will coax or force you to eat or drink something that you don’t want to, but things might get more difficult at family gatherings or other social events.

My clean eating spree continues largely intact, except for a dinner at a friend’s place where I had to join in at a large social meal.

Slipping Off The Wagon

OK, so I went on a regimen of diet and exercise, lost a lot of weight, and made tremendous improvements to my athletic performance. These weren’t easy changes to make, but I pushed, and was able to stay on the wagon long enough to see some pretty remarkable results, but then the slide started.

 

Normally, I’d allow myself one ‘cheat’ meal every week. At this meal, I’d eat a small portion of one food that I absolutely love, but is prohibited by my diet rules. Soon after this meal, I’d get back to my usual programme, with perhaps a couple of slightly more intense workouts thrown in. However, over the past few weeks, I’ve become a little more casual about what I eat. I found myself breaking my diet rules ‘ever so little’ but much more frequently.

 

Now, instead of the one bite of dessert while dining out, there was a humungous piece of cake at a birthday party; instead of a little bit of Biryani I had a pretty substantial portion with lots of other things that would temporarily alter my body chemistry and take me out of my fat burning zone. Instead of sticking to a single beer and a few glasses of water to restore hydration, I went on a drinking spree almost as extreme as my bar bankrupter days.

 

The results were predictable – my gains have tapered off. I have made no gains in either inch loss or weight reduction in the past two weeks. Thinking back on all these events made me realize that I’m slowly slipping back into the pattern of behaviour that resulted in me being overweight in the first place! I’m back on the wagon now, but this has been a frightening lesson in how easy it is to slip back into old habits, and reverse the gains I have fought so hard for.

 

I have been uncluttering my life, hoping for more time to ‘stand and stare’. This has given me far more free time that especially on weekdays has resulted in moments of utter boredom. While restructuring my life a few months ago, I had been able to link this boredom to smoking and ‘grazing’, both of which I have cut quite drastically since. Maybe I do need to keep myself occupied, and perhaps this is the best possible time for me to get back to finishing that novel and screenplay.

I love my new body, It’s totally worth the fight to keep it like this 🙂

What About The Kids?

I have often wondered about the ‘genetic’ link to certain diseases. Could it be that people ‘inherit’ infirmities from their parents, not because of their ‘genes’, but because of inherited patterns of behaviour, including food habits?

A few years ago, I was at a shopping mall with a friend of mine. In those days, I myself was quite overweight, but my friend, a 40+ former military man, was in better shape than most people in their 20s. Suddenly, he stopped  dead in this tracks, turned to me, and said “Nate, when you were in school, didn’t everyone make fun of the fat boys?”

“Yes” I replied, cautiously.

“Well, by the time you have school-age children of your own, it’ll be the fat ones making fun of the thin ones!”

I looked around. He was right. Many of the children around us were overweight, definitely a greater number than were overweight in my class at school. All who were accompanied by parents had at least one chubby parent.

A number of people I know have jumped on the health wagon late in life, making changes to their lives in recent times. Some have modified their diet, some cut back on alcohol and smoking, some have even discovered the demerits of simple carbohydrates and sugar, and have given them up, but what about the kids?

Here are some of the scenarios I have noticed in India.

1) Parents are reasonably health conscious and don’t eat much junk food, but they take their kids to fast food places and load them up with unhealthy foods and HFCS laced drinks.

The most serious problem with this is that since many of these visits are presented as a ‘treat’, the child may form a psychological ‘pleasure connection’ with that kind of fast food, and later, as an earning adult who can afford to eat it three times a day, may turn to it for emotional gratification. Indeed ‘comfort eating’ is a major cause of obesity! Some of them end up messing up their diets because of the kids’ junk food lying around the house.

2) Health conscious parents who fall for marketing fads.

I know of many adults who are ‘health conscious’, but perpetually get their health information from TV commercials.  Their kitchens are often full of sugar loaded name-brand cereals that claim to have health benefits, added nutrients, etc. In their misguided quest for health, they’re actually feeding their kids’ sugar addiction. I don’t blame them, lots of these companies use cheap shots in advertising. Indian television is full of emotionally abusive commercials usually targeted at mothers that show children losing martial arts tournaments, being growth stunted, or underperforming at school because they don’t use a particular energy drink or breakfast cereal.

3) The indifferent ones.

I’m not implying that these parents care any less for their kids, but because of a lack of information, they fail to prioritise good nutrition.

4) The unhealthy ones.

These are parents that need the most work themselves, because they’re unhealthy themselves and are passing that behaviour on to their kids. Kids copy their behaviour of sedentary life and bad food choices, setting themselves up for a lifetime of battles with weight and poor health.

If there is something that you would like to add to this, please note it in the comments section below.