These days everyone and their mother is practicing “intermittent fasting” or more appropriately labeled “time restricted eating.” It’s the latest health craze with all of the worlds top health/self improvement/productivity personalities touting the benefits of fat loss, lean muscle growth, and anti-aging effects.
I won’t lie/knock on it though, the science is pretty compelling. I too have been practicing eating in a time restricted window, and I feel great while doing it. It’s another one of the fun discipline experiments in the crazy world of Troy that seems to be sticking.
For those of you who don’t know what intermittent fasting is, it’s basically a diet that has you fast (not eat/drink anything other than water) for around 12-16 hours a day. So that means if you ate your last meal at 8pm, you shouldn’t have your first meal of the day until 8am at the earliest, and 12pm for optimal results. It’s like a miniature fast to start your day everyday.
Nonetheless, this whole concept of intermittent fasting got me thinking the other day…
I’ve always looked at diet in two ways. The first is the obvious diet – the food that we consume. But the 2nd diet, the equally important but often overlooked diet, is the INFORMATION that we consume on a daily basis.
Your information diet is simply the external information you’re allowing into your world, what I like to call “inputs”. The pictures, videos, reading material, even conversations that you have. All information from the external world that then enter into your internal world.
While many of us pay attention to the food that we eat, we don’t pay attention to the information that we consume. We spend our days on instagram and facebook absorbing and consuming inputs left and right. In reality we don’t even choose to take in most of this input, as we are BOMBARDED with it on a day to day basis.
Not only are we taking in more input than ever before, but we’re doing it at all times of the day. Many of us wake up and immediately check our phones, and then the last thing that we look at before we go to bed is our phone as well.
But what if, in the same way that we only eat at specific times of the day, we only consumed external information at certain times of the day?
What if, in the same way that via time restricted eating we stop eating food at a certain time of day, we stopped consuming information after a certain time of day?
What if, in the same way that we can take extended breaks from eating food, we took extended breaks from consuming INFORMATION as well!
just like there are enormous health benefits from fasting from food, I believe that there are remarkable benefits that come from fasting from information as well!
You see, I recently became familiarised with a fancy scientific word called “cognitive load” that is used to explain the amount of information that you have on your mind at any given point in time. More or less, your brain has a limited capacity for holding short term information, and if you overload it, there will be side effects.
In the same way that your stomach can only hold so much food, your brain can only hold so much information. In the same way that if you eat too much there will be side effects and you will get sick, if you consume too much information there will be side effects as well in the form of anxiety and cloudy thinking.
This is backed by science too. As cognitive load increases, so do beta waves in the brain, and as beta waves in the brain go up…so does ANXIETY!!!
Plain and simple, when you have a lot on your mind, your brain can’t process it all. It’s FULL! But rather than throwing up or giving you a stomach ache like happens when you consume too much food, your brain will give you stress and anxiety as well to signal you to STOP CONSUMING INFORMATION!
On the flip side, when we give our body a break from food, it gives it time to PROCESS. It gives your digestive system a break for a little while. Similarly, if we take a break from new information, your brain will process the existing information it already has within.
For example, for the last few years I’ve accidentally dabbled in this while doing 10-day Vipassana retreats. I’ve always found it interesting how the first few days are filled with lots of thoughts about your day to day life. Your mind is preoccupied with the recency effect. It likes to think about whatever is happening most recently in your life.
But as the days continue on, your brain will begin to think about things that you haven’t thought about in a while. Things you’ve been avoiding. This could be unpleasant memories, or relationships you’ve lost track of, or simply random things that you haven’t thought of in a while. I will almost always get memories from a long time ago that don’t have any particular resonance, but they just seem to pop up.
Shorthand version = as time goes on, I start to remember a lot of things I had previously forgotten. ’I’m no longer concerned with the shallow thinking of my day to day life. Instead the thoughts go deeper because I’m not talking to anyone, not reading anything… for the most part i’m not taking in any new inputs.
I’ve always found this process to be very valuable and leave me with a serene feeling of peace and calm. It’s like I was able to let go of a lot of the random shit I was previously thinking about, and my brain was able to reprioritise to find the shit that I SHOULD be thinking about instead.
This is intermittent information fasting in action. When we stop consuming inputs, the brain is forced to process the existing inputs, make new connections, and re-prioritize based on what you actually need to be thinking about. This process of mental cleaning and reorganisation gives me a ton of clarity because my brain is literally not as full of random thoughts.
That is why I have recently started to practice what I call “intermittent information fasting.” After around 8pm at night, I stop consuming all new inputs. No phone, no computer, no books, just me, myself, and I. I actively take a break from the consumption of new information.
And just like intermittent fasting lasts for 12-16 hours, so does my information fast. It’s much harder to get to 16 hours because of work demands, but I try to get at least a 12 hour break of any new information so that my brain has time to process and let go of the previous day.
On weekends I’ll try to do a full 24 hour fast when I can. I’ll go cold turkey no phone no anything and just give my mind space to decompress. I think for many of us this is actually the more realistic option as well, because information fasting during the week is that much harder.
The effects have been beautiful. I have more clarity, less anxiety, and overall feel much calmer and more at peace. It’s been a truly fantastic experiment! Great food for thought! (Pun intended 😉 )
So that brings this meandering philosophical rant to a close. In the same way your body benefits from a break in eating, your mind benefits from a break in consuming new inputs. Give yourself some time to practice intermittent information fasting. Do it for as many hours as you can. Get to 12 hours. 24 hours. Take a weekend off.
Although your body needs food, your mind doesn’t actually need new information. In fact, it does quite well without it. You can starve the mind and reap the benefits along the way!
So that’s it, stop reading this article and go take a break from new information for a while. Get a nice fast in and then tell me how it made you feel afterwards 🙂