Being Mentally Overweight

We live in a culture obsessed with what we put into our bodies. New York City seems to be leading the charge on what’s socially acceptable to eat and what’s downright evil. First it was large sodas, now it’s butter.

This got me thinking: in a world obsessed with caring about what we eat, where is the equal concern about what we consume with our minds?

In fact, the arguments seem to be going in opposite directions. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to eat “unhealthy” foods, but totally acceptable to consume “unhealthy” thoughts, images, or ideas.

Now before someone calls the First Amendment Police, I’m not suggesting banning ideas or speech. (Just like I’m not advocating eliminating yummy, delicious butter.) I’m just asking a question. Why do we think the only thing that matters going into our bodies is what we eat, and not what we think?


Nothing in this universe is static. You can’t consume something without a reaction. If you throw wood on a fire, the fire grows. If you remove wood from a fire, the fire stops burning. You can’t eat unhealthy amounts of butter without gaining weight. You can’t skip the gym and expect to be in great shape.

Our minds work the same way. You can’t consume unhealthy television shows without becoming mentally unhealthy. You can’t avoid learning and expect to make good decisions. You can’t read only one side of an argument and not become hateful toward the other side.

We can deny this. But isn’t that really just a result of being “mentally overweight”? We can deny needing exercise, but if we’re overweight that’s exactly what we need. In fact, one of the fascinating things about the TV show The Biggest Loser is exactly that-many of the people on the ranch specifically deny that they are unhealthy. Why? Because admitting that they are unhealthy would mean they’d have to take steps to change that. And that would be hard. It’s easier to deny the truth.

Going on a Diet

Now I’m not being a hypocrite. I already know I consume way too much junk information. Too many news shows. Too many controversies. Too much mindless television. (I’ve seen all the episodes of The A-Team more than once.) But the more I work to improve my performance in both my life and in my work, the more I realize I have to be on a mental diet as much as I am on a physical diet.

At it’s core my job involves creating something out of nothing. In fact, as I write this, I just finished developing a 6-month training program. Before I sat down to write it, it had never existed. I needed to call on every bit of creative energy that I had to pull it off. And what I found is that, on the days I didn’t take care of my mind by reading, resting, and consuming “healthy” thoughts, I didn’t work at my best. A big part of creativity is learning to take old ideas and twist them into something new. You can’t do that if all you consume is junk information.

For me, an overweight mind also contributes to how I behave as a father. Being a sports fanatic, I take it very personally when my teams lose. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into watching the games. So when they lose (like the Spurs recently did) it takes days, sometimes weeks, for me to emotionally return to “normal.”

This is unhealthy!

This is not good for my wife. It’s not good for my family. It’s not even good for me! Which is why I’m in the process of trying to figure out if I have to give up all sports or if I can find a way to tone down the “highs and low” of “thought-binging.” I don’t want to be mentally out of shape. And yes, it’s absolutely a tough choice. I do love sports. But I love my family more.

So how about it? Are you willing to go on a mental diet with me?

Photo Credit: Angel Schatz

About Eric Barrett

Eric Barrett is an organizational psychologist who specializes in connecting the dots of work, life, and meaning. He has worked as an organizational psychologist for over a decade, and is most recently working on developing social media guidelines for a real estate company. He also teaches psychology at Xavier University. In his spare time he… wait, who are we kidding… he has no spare time. You can follow him on Twitter @MeaningToWork or his blog at Meaning to Work.

Speak Your Mind