Truth Or Clickbait? Dr. David Perlmutter Says Social Media Makes You Fat

By Michael Levin

It sounds like the clickbatiest of clickbait headlines, but it’s true. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, Brain Maker, and his newest book, Brain Wash, written with his son Austin, also an M.D., simply watching news on TV or online, and doing social media, can make you fat.

And depressed.

And physically ill.

“We’re coming out of a time of intense fear and anxiety,” Dr. Perlmutter says. “and many of us have developed what you could call an addiction to watching news and to following the pandemic story on social media. But there’s a real problem.

“The news is no longer about reporting facts. Instead, it’s about scaring you so that you’ll keep watching. What people don’t realize is that they’re paying a phenomenal price in terms of their emotional well-being, and that translates not just into higher levels of anxiety and depression, but also to loss of health and weight gain.”

Dr. Perlmutter quotes the news industry adage, “If it bleeds it leads.” He adds, “news is so much fear-inspired in trying to catch your attention, because that translates into advertising dollars. When you see the headline ‘breaking news,’ you say to yourself, ‘oh, I don’t want to miss that.’ You have a desire to be informed, but you’re actually being manipulated.”

Dr. Perlmutter accuses news sources of “trying to sell your consciousness to the highest bidder. That’s bad enough, but the real problem is that news taps into the part of the brain called the amygdala, which causes us to make impulsive decisions, instead of being more thoughtful about how our decisions will affect ourselves and our communities.”

When our amygdala is activated, Dr. Perlmutter says, we tend to make poorer choices around the basic activities that are the foundation of good health — getting exercise, eating properly, getting to sleep on time, treating others well, and planning for the future.

“There’s another part of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex,” Dr. Perlmutter says. “Your pre-frontal cortex, or PFC, exercises what you could call top-down control, to keep your amygdala quiet. The PFC is the adult in the room, and the amygdala is like a child.

“The news, fear, threats and terror wire us into the amygdala. They make the amygdala the boss and give it decision-making authority in all the important areas in our lives. The amygdala is therefore able to shut down the more thoughtful PFC, the adult in the room, which is the more empathetic, sensible, and compassionate part of our brains.

“This is why people have been struggling with being overweight so much over the last 15 months. No matter how much they want to eat properly, the amygdala is in charge. It wants continued stimulation. Once you turn off the news or social media, that stimulation comes from sugar, white flour, or other substances that feel good in the moment but have a terrible effect on our health.

“When the amygdala is in charge, we are living life on high alert at the expense of empathy and compassion, for others or for ourselves. And the idea of sticking to a healthy diet under those circumstances? Forget about it.”

Dr. Perlmutter says that the amygdala promotes impulsive behavior such as binge-watching the news or other things online, staying up too late, not exercising, eating poorly, and no longer caring about other people.

“When the amygdala is running the show,” Dr. Perlmutter says, “it becomes a ‘me’ world, where people are obsessed with comparing themselves to others, taking selfies, reacting negatively when they don’t get enough likes on social media, and so on. We are basically allowing all those news sources and social media platforms to hijack our decision-making abilities. We aren’t recognizing the cost of having our attention manipulated.”

In Brain Wash, Dr. Perlmutter offers what he calls ‘the test of TIME.’ He suggests asking how much Time you’re dedicating to exploring online, asking whether it is Intentional and Mindful, and then Empowering yourself to recognize attempts to manipulate your attention.

“It’s an inflammatory lifestyle,” Dr. Perlmutter says, and we all know, or should know, that inflammation is the precursor of disease. So if you want to be healthy and lose those extra pounds you maybe put on during the pandemic, the first step is to go on a news and social media diet. Without that, going on any other kind of diet is all but impossible.

“So if you want to lose weight, or just be happier, tune out social media and the news. You’ll feel better practically from the first day.”

New York Times bestselling author, Michael has written, planned or edited more than 700 business books, business fables, and memoirs over the past 25 years.