Is There Too Much Sugar in Your (Information) Diet? - THINKERS Notebook

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Is There Too Much Sugar in Your (Information) Diet?

By now, you surely know the damaging effects of eating too much sugar.

It's bad for your body. It's bad for your mind. It's bad for ... basically everything, except for those few fleeting moments of pleasure you get while the sweets are tickling your taste buds.

(And no, I'm not writing this with any sense of guilt or regret after over-indulging on our stash of excess candy after Halloween -- why do you ask??)

The problem, of course, is that avoiding sugar in our food is really hard. It comes in so many different forms, has so many different names, and is included in so many different foods (pasta sauces?) that its presence in our daily diet can become insidious. 

Which means that to limit our sugar intake to reasonable levels we have to be intentional. It won't happen by accident.

We need to have strong food label literacy skills, and we need to develop processes and habits that make eating healthy food the norm rather than the exception. 

It might feel like we're giving our brain and body what it wants by constantly indulging its sugar cravings, but we're not. We're actually creating a dangerous anxiety loop that can be difficult to break.

Which brings me to a different kind of sugar -- a figurative one.

Let's talk about the sugar we feed our brain

Instead of the sugar that we eat, let's look at the sugar we read, watch, and listen to -- because sugary content has a similar effect on on our mind that sugary foods have on our brain and body.

What do I mean by "sugary content?" I'm guessing you probably already know.

  • Shallow social media conversations that might be fun, but distract us from more important endeavors.
  • Shows or videos that might offer distraction or laughter, but that don't actually teach us anything worthwhile.
  • Podcasts that mindlessly fill idle time when we might otherwise be able to spend time exploring our thoughts or just enjoying some quiet solitude.

In other words, it's content that serves the same purpose as a candy bar: it satisfies an immediate craving for something, but doesn't actually offer any sustenance that will stick with us once the moment is gone.

And that's fine ... every now and then.

But just like avoiding too much sugar in our food diets requires focus and intention, the same has become true of avoiding sugar in our information diets. We have to be particular about who we follow, discerning about who we subscribe to, and strategic with how we choose to spend our time.

  • Instead of quickly retweeting an article because the headline is good, stop and read the article and then offer a thoughtful comment (if you have one).
  • Instead of doom scrolling looking for the next bit of outrageous news, pick up a history book so you can put the news in proper context.
  • Instead of filling your ears with a podcast recounting ephemeral entertainment news, take the headphones out and spend some time in a moving meditation.

These are just a few ideas among many.

I know it's hard. I'm writing this essay as much for myself as for you. Between sports picking up and the craziness of the 2020 election, I've found it even more difficult lately to manage my intake of sugary content.

But as you'll see in the links below, I'm far from the first person to draw this analogy between sugary food and sugary content. There is a real cost to letting sugary content comprise the bulk of our information diets.

On the bright side? You have agency. You can exercise control over your environment and your behaviors to build the habits that will help you consume more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.

Hopefully these words serve as a reminder to veer back on course if you've started to drift.

Now here are three links that will offer more insight into why you need to read, watch, and listen to more substance and less sugar.

Beware of Internet channels that strip out the most important parts of communication


“It’s important to note, too, that just as we are wired to require whole foods to best meet our nutritional needs, it seems we are also wired – including neurologically, physically – to engage in whole human communication.

"And just as we need skills to learn how to find and prepare foods to make sure we get sufficient quality nutrients, we need to learn skills to be able to engage with each other – to get our social nutrients – in whole human communication."

Read: Social Media is the Refined Sugar of Communication (Wellthlab)

It always comes back to dopamine, doesn't it?


"Interestingly, social media provides the same rush of dopamine as does eating sugary foods. The American Marketers Association states: 'According to recent research, people get a rush of dopamine when they post, share or ‘like’ something online.'

"Mauricio Delgado, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University, makes the connection plainly when he states, 'The same brain areas [that are activated for food and water] are activated for social stimuli.'"

Watch: Is Social Media as Addictive as Sugar? (Discover Organically)

How about "nutritional labels" for media?


"We were building a world where anyone could be heard but we ended up with a propaganda machine that amplifies everything that we want to hear. We blame our unwillingness to pay. We blame our unwillingness to look outside of our bubble. The problem, however, is that Social Media became the new fast food industry."

Read: Social Media is the New Refined Sugar (Medium)

Quote of the week

“Fill your brain with giant dreams so it has no space for petty pursuits.” 

-- Robin S. Sharma