Clues #27: Body and Mind are one. Fast food and fast information. Lots of new content on Clues Dot Life.
Body and Mind are one
“There has been a revolution in medicine concerning how we think about the diseases that now afflict us. It involves recognizing the interactions between the body and the mind, the ways in which emotions and personality can have a tremendous impact on the functioning and health of virtually every cell in the body. It is about the role of stress in making some of us more vulnerable to disease, the ways in which some of us cope with stressors, and the critical notion that you cannot really understand a disease in vacuo, but rather only in the context of the person suffering from that disease.” — Robert M. Sapolsk
Sapolsky, along with others like Dr. Christopher Palmer and Bessel van der Kolk, have been leading a recent crusade to educate our healthcare system, and the masses, about the integrated nature of our health. Some refer to this as dualism — the idea that our mind and body are two distinctly different entities.
Historically, there’s been a tendency to view parts of ourselves as separate from other parts of ourselves, and to even view ourselves as separate from our environment. The brain-body duality is a common example.
There will come a time when we cease speaking of our health in a compartmentalized way. The brain and body do not exist in isolation. Neither does the brain and our environment. What happens around us, also happens to us. And what happens to one part of our body, happens to other parts of it.
When we drop the compartmentalization, and embrace the integrated nature of our mind and body we’ll experience a global shift in how we design our healthcare systems, the food we manufacture, the nature of our work and how it’s balanced with our non-work lives, and more. It will even change how we perceive and treat each other because we’ll understand that much of who a person is in the present is a result of the environment that person was in in the past.
Sapolsky is not exaggerating when he says that our experiences “can have a tremendous impact on the functioning and health of virtually every cell in the body.” I’m in the middle of writing a book review of a book titled “Brain Energy” by Dr. Christopher Palmer where he traces the relationship between the food we eat, the impact of our diet (and other lifestyle choices) on the function of mitochondria within our cells, and how that contributes to mental illness. Included in his research is the impact of common psychiatric medications on our body’s metabolism, and how those can also negatively disrupt metabolic function, which in turn may make psychiatric symptoms worse, not better!
Your body on fast food and your mind on fast information
The industrialization of food manufacturing began in the United States around the 1870s. This period marked significant changes in the way food was produced and processed, including the introduction of new technologies such as canning, refrigeration, and mechanized food processing equipment.
The industrialization of food manufacturing later evolved into the development of the fast food industry, which emerged in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, new technologies and industrial processes made it possible to produce large quantities of food quickly and efficiently, which paved the way for fast food mania.
One of the key innovations that made fast food possible was the development of the mechanized assembly line, which allowed for the mass production of food items such as hamburgers and fries. This, combined with the growth of the automobile industry and the construction of highways, made it possible for fast-food restaurants to be built on a large scale and for people to easily access them while on the go.
The first fast food chains, such as McDonald's, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), were established during this period and quickly grew in popularity. They were able to offer affordable, consistent, and convenient meals to customers, which helped to make them a staple of American culture. Eventually, fast food started to become associated with unhealthy eating habits and dietary concerns in the 1970s and 1980s with these brands at the center of it.
Convenience, selection and price is the holy trinity of any consumerist economy.
Take Amazon as a modern example of the holy trinity in action. Anytime they make shopping more convenient, increase selection, and lower price their business accelerates. Amazon Prime is an obvious example.
However, in the drive to push the holy trinity of consumerism even further, the industrial food industry let the profit motive and trinity motive push into unhealthy territory.
One of the main reasons why fast food became unhealthy is due to changes in the way it was prepared and marketed. To make food cheaper and faster to produce, fast food restaurants started using lower-quality ingredients and increasing the portion sizes of their meals. This led to an increase in calories, fat, and sodium content in their menu items, which contributed to the rise in obesity and other diet-related health problems.
Fast food restaurants also started using aggressive marketing tactics to target children and young adults, which had a significant impact on their dietary habits and preferences. The use of toys, colorful packaging, and other gimmicks made fast food more appealing to children, which made it difficult for parents to control their children's food choices.
Overall, the shift towards unhealthy fast food was driven by a combination of factors, including changes in the food industry, marketing strategies, and dietary trends. Today, there is a growing awareness of the importance of healthy eating habits and the harmful effects of fast food, which has led to a push for healthier options and greater transparency in the food industry. Hopefully this trend continues and we evolve our food production in the direction of the quaternity:
Convenient, lots of selection, low cost, AND healthy.
Understanding the evolution of our food system, and how it made us physically unhealthy, enables us to understand how our current generation of fast information is leading us mental sickness.
Tip of the hat to Awais Aftab from Psychiatry at the Margins for making me aware of this brilliant quote from the 30th edition of Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology
“The current moment, in my view, represents a crisis in the history of editing and editorship. Digital communications have liberated communications worldwide. However, this liberty has come at the cost of colossal amounts of material not worth reading and an explosion of divisive, destructive discourse. Even worse, internet "trolls" on social media have moved bullying out of the schoolyard and into international cyberspace. Determining what is worth reading has moved away from a cluster of (hopefully) responsible editors to anyone who wants to go to the small effort of silencing others through online harassment and even violent threats. Such cyberbullying does not eliminate elitism, but instead substitutes a toxic online “elite” without principle other than self-promotion and the alienation of others. Our contemporary online culture has yet to figure out how to shape what is, and is not, worth reading. My wish and intent for the future of PPP is to maintain and grow our place of rational, deliberative, and open discourse, even in the face of such disruptive cultural change.” — John Sadler <create clues link>
We’ve had a very similar evolution in how information is produced and consumed as compared to our food.
Industrial innovations —> food manufacturing—> fast food —> lots of fat, sick, and nearly dead people.
Software innovations —> information manufacturing —> fast information —> lots of biased, misinformed, and polarized people.
With processed food, the signs of sliding into illness present themselves in clear and visible ways. Our bodies change. We observe the accumulation of fat and feel the physiological decay, whether it’s with our labored breathing after minor efforts or the aches and pains from carrying around too much weight. We can see the transformation in the mirror. We can measure our physical illness through our blood and other simple instruments.
But with processed information, the decay into illness is less obvious since the mechanism of observing illness is the object that becomes ill itself — the mind.
A sick mind has a hard time recognizing that it is sick. And so, with each bite-sized nugget of vitriol, hysteria, and misinformation we slide into ideological camps, deadset on proving that the other side is wrong. It’s the dogmatic equivalent of two obese, diabetic people screaming at each other, “No, my chicken nuggets are healthy! Yours are not!” Meanwhile, they’re both sick and unable to see it in themselves.
The point of this is to say that it’s imperative that you protect what information you allow into your mind in the same way you protect the body from consuming caustic calories.
“We know that a steady diet of news about violence and corruption and incompetence does create in people: depression, apathy, learned helplessness, stress, all kinds of things. And it’s really bad for the news business. We are selling a product that people find painful to consume. I think anyone would tell you that that’s not a good business model.” — Tina Rosenberg, co-founder of Solutions Journalism Network
Let me say it more directly. If you watch Fox News and think that CNN is full of shit but Fox isn’t, you’ve been duped. If you watch CNN and think that Fox News is full of shit but CNN isn’t, you’ve also been duped. You’re both eating icecream while believing that you’re eating broccoli.
Like our food, you must hunt for the information that is direct from the source. Everything else has been rinsed, washed, and transformed into a distant perversion of its original nature.
Updates to Clues.Life
If you didn’t get the last update, I recently launched a new publishing platform that I’ll be using to create a large, interconnected library of knowledge and resources on mental health, personal transformation, and the pursuit of meaning and purpose. I’m creating it to help others discover the clues to the life they want for themselves. Hence the name Clues Dot Life. Here’s a list of new material that I published on the site over the last 7-10 days.
I made updates to the lessons on the evolutionary model of the mind, the developmental model, and the cultural model as part of the Models of the Mind course that I’m currently creating. Think of it as a form of radical self-inquiry through 13 different lenses of how the human mind works according to the field of psychology. This course is still in progress but I expect it to be complete in another 2-3 weeks. I’ll post more updates along the way.
Lev Vygotsky: he was a Soviet psychologist whose work was relatively unknown to the West until it was translated in the 1960s. A collection of his writings on childhood and adult development within the context of our culture called Mind in Society, is full of novel concepts that inspire new questions and ideas. For anyone interested in contemplating how the culture we grow up in shapes our process of childhood development, Lev Vygotsky offers fertile ground. Here’s a juicy quote from Lev for you to chew on: "People with great passions, people who accomplish great deeds, people who possess strong feelings, even people with great minds and a strong personality, rarely come out of good little boys and girls."
Sigmund Freud’s concept of the Id, Ego, and Superego: the notion that the mind has multiple “compartments” is perhaps the most lasting and important concept to come from Freud (in my opinion). Often, we find ourselves in conflict with the many parts of ourselves, and the way through that conflict begins with an analysis of the many parts of ourselves that we experience in our minds. A more physiologically rooted version of this might be someone with PTSD whose Amygdala (the alarm center of the mind) is in conflict with the Cortex, the analytical aspect of the mind. Although the environment the person is in may be peaceful (and the Cortex knows it), the Amygdala may be firing off false alarms, creating conflict between the alarm center and the rational part of the brain, which is a form of internal conflict that PTSD sufferers experience.
David Geary: he is an expert at the intersection of evolutionary biology and culture and how both biological and cultural factors shape who we are. Recently, he has engaged in the debate about sex-based work disparities (e.g. the pay gap), offering a balanced approach to explaining how evolutionary factors are involved in the differences between men and women. Some would argue that work-related differences in men and women are solely explained by cultural factors, yet that ignores the entire field of evolutionary biology and the role that evolutionary pressures have played in shaping sex-based differences. Yes, gender bias and cultural factors play a role in partially explaining some of the disparities. But to say that biology plays no role is pure ideology with no basis in reality.
Bessel van der Kolk: he is the superstar author of The Body Keeps the Score. In my view, it is one of the top 3 books that someone should read if they wish to understand the biopsychosocial model and how traumatic experiences may shape our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and even our likelihood of developing a physical illness as a result of psychological trauma. Fair warning that some of the anecdotes from trauma victims may be difficult to read. Take your time with this book if you need to.
Robert Sapolsky: Robert Sapolsky is an extraordinary individual, who has dedicated his life to studying the complexities of the human brain and behavior. He is a renowned neuroendocrinologist, primatologist, and professor of biology, and has made significant contributions to our understanding of stress, mental health, and social behavior. Sapolsky's work is characterized by his deep curiosity and passion for exploring the biological and environmental factors that shape our thoughts, emotions, and actions. His research is not only groundbreaking but also highly accessible, making it possible for people from all walks of life to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the human condition. His books are remarkable. Try this one on for size: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
Also, if you’d like to support my work in building out Clues Dot Life, please consider becoming a paying subscriber. 100% of the subscription revenue will go towards building out more mental health content and resources for others to use and explore.
"To make food cheaper and faster to produce, fast food restaurants started using lower-quality ingredients and increasing the portion sizes of their meals. This led to an increase in calories, fat, and sodium content in their menu items, which contributed to the rise in obesity and other diet-related health problems"
One minor nitpick on the above quote is that fat consumption is actually down, carbohydrates and sugar consumption are up. In the misinformed "fat free" craze, many manufactures began offering "low fat" alternatives that loaded up instead on sugars. It's the sugar/carbs and insulin resistance that ensues, that is primarily to blame for obesity and chronic health issues, not fat.
To your general premise though, you are correct. As I wrote: "food processing tends to strip nutrition from food...Bacteria, like any other organism, seek out nutrients. To extend shelf life, food needs to be unattractive to bacteria and insects, thus the nutrition must be removed.
For the same reason, modern food production has thrown our Omega-3/Omega-6 ratio woefully out of balance. Omega-3 fatty acids break down and spoil quickly, so food production and selective breeding began selecting against Omega-3 long before science had even identified its existence. In the meantime, the availability of Omega-6s fatty acids has exploded. We are getting far too little of the former and far too much of the latter."
In short, we are getting more calories and less nutrition, this is the core of the problem.
I love that you pointed out the problem fast food and media. A lot of people understand the importance of organic, unprocessed foods but spend hours on instagram and don’t pay attention to the stress induced unnecessarily by constant Apple News notifications. At least I didn’t until I took stock of my mental health and what was “mental junk food”. The cool thing was I took the same approach to media as I did to my diet. (Elimination diet works for food and media).
1) eliminate all social media and news apps tv movies etc 2) add in sparsely and assess how much it helped or hurt your mental health and assess if there was any benefit. Today I spend less time on social media platforms and when I do there is usually a reason (education, art etc) vs scrolling pointlessly. My mental health has improved tremendously and I’m always looking for ways to improve.
Thank you for writing in detail about this. I read a book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman in college and I often find myself wondering what he would write if he were alive today. Postman argued that TV was causing us to be distracted, unproductive and unhealthy. I’m sure he would have agreed with this essay. Would love he know more about how you maintain “social media mental hygiene” lol if that makes sense