What happened when I went on a brain diet

Do you ever consider the impact of your mental consumption habits?

A fork wrapped up in a measuring tape to symbolise dieting
Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Bikini, detox, beach body ready, wedding, 5–2, fasting, whole 30, Atkins, vegan, plant-based, is the start of an endless list of diets and health routines that many of us have tried and dabbled with.

Apparently, two-thirds of us Brits are on a diet most of the time.

It’s probably become quite an unhealthy obsession; sometimes fueled by the media and our social media feeds that portray the perfect body and the conscious or even subconscious comparison that we then make to ourselves. Regardless of the catalyst or the motivation behind wanting to lose weight we all understand that the key to success in achieving our fitness and health goals is discipline, consistency, and not falling off the wagon!

Ultimately, the benefit of the diet and its principles are the boundaries and rules we have to follow and implement. Whilst many of the activities are related to physical actions, the key to success is establishing the right mindset and having the mental determination to succeed. The mind will give up long before everything else!

So let’s focus on the mind now. Whilst we all understand that if we eat a lot of unhealthy food and are lacking in physical activity, over time we gain weight and risk health problems either immediately or later in life. There are negative consequences to our actions. But do we have the same outlook when it comes to our minds and brains; are we concerned with our mental consumption habits and the impact they have on us?

Might the same principles of traditional dieting and exercise also be successful when applied to the mind? Introducing the brain diet.

I marvel at any individual who has the self-discipline to gradually cut back; sadly that’s not me. So when it came to wanting to have greater control over my mental consumption, I knew I would have to go to the extreme from the get-go. Waving goodbye to all the social media apps on my phone actually felt like a huge weight off my shoulders, like removing the junk food from the kitchen cupboards.

Whilst estimates vary depending on the source, data, and ultimately the individual, we apparently scroll on average 5 miles a year on social media feeds. That distance, covered in thumb strokes is simply mind-blowing and I decided that I wanted to stop letting chance and algorithms determine what I was looking at.

Like most people for as long as I can remember in this smartphone era, the first thing I would do when I woke up in the morning was pick up my phone. Scrolling through Instagram, catching up on the news headlines, seeing what all my American friends were up to whilst I’d been asleep, etc. Before I knew it, 30–40 minutes had passed and I would have very little benefit to show for it.

The pandemic only exacerbated this, and I felt myself being zapped of energy with all the negativity and ‘doom-scrolling’; starting the day feeling uninspired, anxious, and mentally lethargic.

For the last 6 months, my morning ritual has started with reading books for 30–40 minutes, sometimes not picking up my phone until around 9 am. This has made such a huge difference in establishing a much healthier habit and being inspired and mentally nourished before the demands of the day kick in.

My wife has successfully done slimming world a few times and whether it’s counting calories or daily syns, it’s important to set up boundaries and limitations in order to achieve your goals and targets. Likewise, I wanted to mentally count calories.

I needed to become less of a slave to my iPhone, so I’ve set up Time Limits against certain app clusters. I now have just 15 minutes a day against news apps, which is more than enough to stay on top of the latest headlines. Similarly, I have 15 minutes for YouTube. I’ve not set limits against every app on the phone but rather attempted to take back some self-control and limit the amount of time I spend consuming content.

I think we can sometimes see restrictions as negative barriers, but in this instance, it’s more of an enabler in freeing up my time to spend on more meaningful and uplifting activities, such as being more present with family.

It’s important that we regularly check our progress and ultimately keep ourselves accountable — much like we would from hopping on the scales and hoping the number has got smaller. For me, this takes the form of finding some quiet solace; free from all distractions, and the opportunity to review the progress of the past week.

These quiet moments can be interesting to observe where the mind wanders, so I haven’t established too much structure other than attempting to answer the question of how am I doing. I am considering trying a more structured practice of guided meditation to try and stay focused for longer. Regardless, just finding 10–15 minutes to be in your own company is a precious gift.

For me, it was important to try and establish some new routines and rituals to prevent me from yoyoing back and forth between old habits and the new ones I was trying to establish.

It’s not been an overnight success. I’ve ignored those time limits on my phone many times and just because I’ve picked up the phone later in the morning hasn’t stopped me from spending more time engulfed in the screen for longer throughout the day.

But I’ve persevered and been determined to implement these lifestyle changes in order to have greater control over my mental consumption. The key has been to make a clear and simple, brain diet plan and to stick with it.

Ultimately, just as they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day — I’ve found the biggest benefit to my mental weight loss has been how I spend those first minutes of the day. Don’t leave it to chance, ditch the phone and pick up a book, exercise, write a journal, etc. Give it a try!

Husband, Father to 1 — lazy writer, marketing professional, recovering social media addict….trying to find more quiet time in this noisy world

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