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.

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“Letting Go” Of The Past Is Bad For You

“Letting Go” has been a catchphrase for the personal development industry for ages. Coaches and motivational gurus speak of the power of letting go – with the past being termed “baggage” that you’re not supposed to carry into your present. This idea of distancing yourself from your personal history is so pervasive, that people with a beautiful and fulfilling present find themselves locked in an emotional battle to purge their past – that often taints their experience of the moment.

I say, Don’t Let Go. Us humans are experiential creatures. Everything that we are in the moment is a sum total of our history. For those consciously aiming for self-actualization, introspection and analysis of these experiences are a key part of the journey. Framing past adversity as “baggage” that needs to be discarded is a denial of a massive part of the emotional self and is a rejection of the context in which we view the present. Sometimes when we get too involved with “the present” or “the moment”, the past begins to seem like a fog – the memories are dim at best. We need the mementos – we need to remember that there were moments of joy, of contentment, of anguish, of achievement, because in our hyperstimulative today, it’s very easy to lose touch with the self. Now I’m not saying that we should dwell in the past – that is unhealthy – but I think we do need to appreciate the anguish that we’ve endured and perhaps be a little smug about our triumphs.

A view of the past is crucial to self-improvement. All organisms behave in patterns. Feeding and mating for instance, have established protocols in every species. Humans, however, have public and private lives that are substantially more complex than the average cheetah or dung beetle. The tendency to act in patterns and protocols detracts from our opportunities to appreciate and experience the infinite possibilities that life offers. This is why we should remember our past – there are patterns for joy and happiness that we should preserve, there are also adverse patterns that lead to failure, unhealthy relationships, addiction, and poor health that we need to observe and break. In fact, the “emotional avoidance” advocated by the Letting Go clique is a key hurdle to therapeutic approaches to emotional and psychological trauma.

So, don’t let go, but don’t dwell in the Past. A difficult balance to achieve. Lots of the pain that the Past causes is due to a toxic game of “what if”, where people speculate about possible outcomes if they (or others) had acted differently. Mindfulness, in its radical acceptance of the present, is a powerful tool to deal with such negative tendencies. Denying or ignoring the emotional burdens of the past in the name of “letting go” is the worst possible way of dealing with trauma. Instead, catharsis – through a journal or talk therapy – is a good way to go. Anger, sadness, guilt, and other such emotions must run their course, and contribute to one’s emotional and psychological fortitude.

Chemical Lessons

addingjuicetothebrain-800px

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.

A Mindful Approach To Emotional Pain

Every one of us nurses some sort of emotional trauma. It could be disappointment related failure, grief at the loss of a loved one, perhaps the agony of a broken relationship or even the numbing melancholy of loneliness. Such pain takes long to disappear, if ever, and often comes right back, triggered by the faintest memory.

Mindfulness, derived from Buddhist meditation practices, is a system that teaches practitioners to focus on sensations and emotions as they occur in the present moment, purely as what they are, by suspending judgment and self-criticism. In the book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World, Mark Williams suggests that emotions and sensations are like seasons that pass, and that enduring sorrow and unease is a result of self-criticism and a preoccupation with what is long gone.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to meet a European psychiatrist who claimed to have worked widely with PTSD sufferers. Drawn in by the prospect of obtaining free medical advice, I began to talk to him about some of the unpleasant incidents that I had experienced in my past – that I felt controlled my life, even at that point. Moving our conversation to a more private location, he asked me to get specific, to recall events and emotions.

The exercise was extremely painful, and left me in tears. While I was composing myself, he called for a dozen notepads. When these arrived, he told me to write down my account in as much detail as possible. When I was done, he laid it face-down on a coffee table and asked me to do so again. I did this perhaps ten times while he proceeded to drain the hotel room’s rather varied mini-bar. This took around six hours.

When the coffee table was covered with notepads (or more likely, the bar was empty), he asked me to pick up and read aloud the first account that I had written. When I was done, he asked me to pick up the last one and read it aloud too. It was incredible. In the course of that one evening my recollection of the emotions surrounding those events had changed substantially. I realized that perhaps my mind superimposed emotion on those memories each time I recalled them.

Williams discusses this in his book. He talks about how we exist on two planes – thinking, and doing – and how, while these are states that are essential to human existence and individual growth, their overuse or unnecessary application yields negative results. Williams goes on to describe a third state – being – when one exists in a state of acute awareness of sensations and emotions that one is experiencing at that present moment. This is the state that Mindfulness meditation strives for.

Nowadays, whenever a negative emotion strikes, I look at it objectively, and try to establish if the pain is just because I am being judgmental of myself. While it is normal to experience sadness, anger, and despair in the course of life, a vicious cycle of self-loathing is perhaps at the root of chronic unhappiness and myriad addictions.

Mindfulness has been a useful tool for me to find balance. Never being a meditating person myself, I found it extremely hard when I first began. Now, I long for those fifteen minutes of quiet each day. It has changed the way I think and react.

References: Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World

Buy on Amazon India at the link below.

Paperback version:

Kindle Version:

Buy on Flipkart at the link below:

http://dl.flipkart.com/dl/mindfulness-practical-guide-finding-peace-frantic-world-english/p/itme3h3z6myya3zg?pid=9780749953089&srno=t_2&query=mindfulness+frantic+world&affid=ajitnatha

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.

 

Don’t Shun Water!

In the quest to lose weight, curtail ageing, and deal with many chronic illnesses, one of the most overlooked tools is Water.

 The human body is over 70% water, and even a 5% deficit triggers severe symptoms like nausea, fatigue, and disorientation. It is surprising though, that most people today live in a state of chronic dehydration. Indeed, many problems, ranging from obesity, to kidney and bladder complaints have been linked to insufficient water consumption.

 Water, in its capacity as a solvent, is a potent cleanser, and helps eliminate toxins via sweat and urine. Without adequate water intake, this mechanism is impaired, resulting in an accumulation of toxins in the body that could cause other illnesses. Also, water is very important for fat loss, as it plays a major part in fat metabolism.  Additionally, when water intake is inadequate, the body may retain water to compensate, adding weight, and a visible bloat.

 Also, for those worried about the effects of ageing on skin, increasing your water intake will restore cellular hydration and improve the elasticity and suppleness of skin.

 Dian and Tom Griesel, in their book Turbocharged, suggest that people often mistake thirst for hunger, and thus consume unnecessary calories, contributing to weight gain. In fact, this diet, that worked best for me, has a very strong emphasis on water consumption.

 Those of us who work in an air-conditioned environment are most certainly dehydrated, as the air is usually dry and the temperature delays the perception of thirst till it manifests as a dry mouth. The fact is, if your mouth is dry, you’ve likely been dehydrated for quite some time, and the effects of dehydration have already started to manifest.

 The most effective way to tell if you’re dehydrated, is from the colour of your urine. If it is dark yellow or brown, you may be dangerously dehydrated. Clear to pale yellow means you’re alright – the clearer the better. Caution though, certain medications and vitamin supplements tend to colour your urine, so you may want to be careful while making such a judgment.

 If you feel lethargic in the middle of your workday and have difficulty concentrating, you are likely dehydrated. It is best to carry a water bottle and sip every few minutes, so that your water intake remains adequate. For the first few weeks, you will be dashing to the rest room every now and then, but as your system expands its capacity, you’ll be able to go for longer without even noticing it.

 If you’re working out, the stresses on your body may make it harder for you to perceive dehydration. Make sure you sip water between sets, as dehydration also saps your athletic performance and thus your ability to get a good workout. Remaining hydrated during a workout also helps your body flush the by products of metabolism accumulated in your muscles. Several studies have also found a connection between muscle cramps and dehydration, so if you’re an aspiring runner or are taking part in any form of endurance exercise, keep this in mind.

 How to get water? The simplest way, of course, is to drink water itself! Carbonated drinks, coffee, and alcoholic beverages, though water-based, may actually contribute to dehydration through the diuretic action of some of their components. Fruits are a good source, with watermelon being my personal favourite source of water. 

The Turbocharged Diet:

http://turbocharged.us.com/

PS// I have used the Turbocharged Diet, and have had good results from it. I am not being compensated for this endorsement.

Lifestyle U-Turn

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” – Benjamin Franklin

September 2010 (93 kilos)

April 2012 (76 kilos)

Hardly a week goes by without someone familiar looking at me from head to toe, smiling wistfully, and saying that they should really get back to the gym to get in shape. Even more frequently, people ask me for advice on losing weight and ‘getting in shape’.

The former usually never get to the gym, and the latter tend to tune out when I get to the importance of diet in any weight-loss programme.

“Oh man, dieting is not for me”

“The gym? Went for three days, it’s not for me”

“I’m a foodie, I just can’t help it”

The truth is that your body is in the shape it is because of a set of habits that you have picked up and followed for years. It could be the Friday night drinking spree, the 2 litre bottle of carbonated beverage that you go through in two days, the dessert binges every other day, or as in my case, all of the above!

‘Getting into shape’ often needs sweeping changes in habits, and not all of these come easy.

In my opinion, the desire to change is the most important. It is this desire that inspires changes, and ensures that you get back on the wagon every time you fall off. Your desire for change must be stronger than your craving for your favourite junk food, a slothful week, or anything that gets in the way of your fitness goals.

Another important thing is your support structure. It is very important for those close to you to understand the changes that you’re trying to make, and if not help you with them, at least not try to pull you down.

A year ago, when I decided to give up all alcohol for a month, a long time friend wouldn’t buy any reason for me not having a drink. I had to tell him that I was on antipsychotic medication that reacts terribly with alcohol before he stopped badgering me! I wouldn’t blame him though, there was a time when the two of us were called ‘bar bankrupters’, because between us, we could drink a small home-bar dry.

Like him, many friends will not understand the ‘change’ – some might resent it, some might try to roll it back, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find those who will pat you on the back and help you deal with it.

Luckily for me, most of my friends though, have been very understanding of my diet choices, and even help me work meal/activity plans around my needs.

The most important thing is persistence. There is a strong possibility that you will fall off the wagon. I did, every weekend for six months. When you do mess up, don’t get back on your programme from ‘tomorrow’ or ‘Monday’, do it right then. Stop what you’re doing and fix things from the next meal itself.

Suppose you miss a couple of gym sessions, don’t let the guilt get to you, just get back to attending from your next session. Every day off your program will subtract seriously from your gains.

The best way to manage a lifestyle U-Turn successfully, is to ease into it. If you make too many changes at the same time, things will become difficult.

Say, on a given Monday, you decide to hit the gym, start a diet, and quit smoking, by Thursday, you’ll be faint from the sugar/carb cravings, sore from the exercise, and psychotic from the nicotine deprivation.

The best way to do this is to start simple – eliminate the harmful stuff first. Say on day 1 you quit smoking. Once you’re properly off cigarettes for a month or so, begin a diet. Once you’ve been able to stick with the diet for a couple of months, start working out. This will ensure that your body beats these stresses one at a time instead of all at the same time, increasing your chances of success.