Giving up Mental Junk Food

I’ve spent much of my career as a consultant, which means a lot of travelling. Travelling means a lot of eating out. Fast food breakfasts, diners for lunch, strip mall chain restaurant dinners. When you’re always on the road it’s nearly impossible to eat healthy, and I was too busy being a rock star know-it-all consultant to even think about eating right or exercising. Years of this took its toll on me and my body, and before long I was easily 60 pounds overweight.

Shortly after my biological calendar clicked over into my 30’s my doctor casually put me on cholesterol and blood pressure meds, which was a bit of a wake-up call for me. “This isn’t you” I thought to myself, although clearly it was. I was out of shape, overweight, and it was affecting my health, and 30 seemed seriously too young for that to be happening.

Over the subsequent years I began to make personal changes. I joined a gym and slowly rotated my diet away from carbs and meat and junk, and towards fruits and vegetables. It’s now more than 10 years later and I’ve never been in better shape. I even ran my first half-marathon last year!

But, as I talked about last week, the effort to improve your Self never ends. Building Maple has opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of self-care: Personal Growth. Improving your emotional and mental well-being is as much a struggle as dieting and exercise. It’s hard, there’s no time for it, and junk food just tastes so, darn, good.

This is the BS I find that I give myself on a daily basis: “I’m too busy to meditate today;“ or “I’m so stressed about paying the bills, I don’t feel like writing a Reflection today;” and “No way am I going to find time to write in my journal, I’ll just go on the Internet for a few minutes instead because I need and deserve some fun, mindless entertainment.”

2 hours, 50 vacation photos, and 45 funny cat videos later, and you’re left with low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. In this way, Social Media and fast food hamburgers are very similar. They are both easily accessible, they are built to trigger the reward centers in your brain, and they are empty and lack anything essential for your well-being.

If Social Media is junk food for the mind, then Maple is a nice kale and cucumber salad on the side of grilled salmon and some sparkling water. Studies have shown that personal growth exercises (such as journaling) have literally the opposite effect on stress, anxiety, and depression than those found in social media users. Just like with your diet, feeding your mind healthy nourishment is so much better for your health long term.

We all know this, but unfortunately junk food is so much more accessible, and it COMES WITH FRIES which are full of salt and fat but so damn delicious!

Just like changing your eating and exercise habits, adding personal growth work to your schedule doesn’t come easily or quickly. When I started dieting all those years ago I switched my evening snack from regular potato chips (Dill! Cheddar! Sour Cream and Onion) to baked chips (BBQ-flavored Cardboard!!). At first, the new snack was hard to swallow. Literally. But after a few weeks, I looked forward to my baked chips snack as much as I had the regular full-fat-and-salt-chips.

Most importantly, after a month or so, I couldn’t even eat regular chips. They just tasted too heavy, too salty, and made my stomach hurt (which they should – have you SEEN what they put in that stuff???).

Starting a change in habit is hard. As someone who had excelled at quitting smoking before I finally quit for good, I can tell you that the first few days of change are the hardest. The next few are a little easier, the next few easier still. After weeks of change, you won’t even recognize the person you’ve become. And you’ll crave the new habit you’ve created instead of the old.

Try it yourself by making healthier choices online and with your time. Your mental and emotional well-being deserve it – and both are crucial to a happy and healthy long life. Instead of going on Social Media to see what your “friends” are up to, write a Reflection in Maple. Go to the library and get a few good books to read on the porch this summer instead of browsing other people’s vacation pictures online (and don’t forget to put your favorite book quotes into Maple!).

Personal Growth isn’t as instantly gratifying as spending hours online slipping through other people’s thoughts and ideas, but it won’t take long until it becomes your new addiction. And it’s one that is healthier for you now and in the long term. As I’ve found, life is way better when you’re healthy enough to enjoy it.


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