The Obesity Mind Virus

Your mind has been shaped by evolution to absorb the culture that surrounds you.

As a child, you ingest and collect the beliefs, attitudes and actions from everyone around you. Using this form of mimicry, you learn how to walk and talk and think and feel.

And, if everything goes well, you grow up to be a happy, well-adjusted, functioning member of society.

However, along with this amazing ability to absorb information comes a serious design flaw. As our infant selves suck up all of this shared knowledge, we are often unable to differentiate between useful and hurtful information.

Our baby brains are wide open to mind viruses.

Even as adults, we all exchange information with one another. Through language, we exchange ideas and beliefs. Through observation, we observe each other’s styles of moving and acting and dressing and are influenced.

But, how are we influenced by these shared beliefs (memes)?

For the good or for the bad?

In theory, as adults, we have the ability to filter the information that comes our way. We don’t have to absorb and believe everything that we see or hear. We can protect our minds from the harmful mind virus.

In theory.

In practice, all of us are infected with mind viruses.

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether our mind viruses are good for us or not.

  • Prejudice is a mind virus
  • Religion is a mind virus
  • Women with giant shoulder pads in the 80s was a mind virus
  • Capitalism is a mind virus
  • This song is a mind virus
  • Charity is a mind virus
  • Listening to the advice of your parents is a mind virus
  • Not standing out in a crowd is a mind virus
  • Being afraid of public speaking is a mind virus
  • Smiling at babies is a mind virus

And when it comes to obesity:

  • Believing that your dna makes you fat is a mind virus
  • Believing that you will never lose weight is a mind virus
  • Believing that yo-yo weight loss is inevitable is a mind virus
  • Eating junk food when you are sad, bored, nervous, happy, etc is a mind virus
  • Believing that you don’t like exercise is a mind virus
  • Believing weight loss is too hard is a mind virus
  • Believing that bodyfat offers some sort of emotional protection is a mind virus
  • Believing that food is a reward for good behavior is a mind virus
  • And so on….

So, what is holding you back from losing those extra pounds?

You already know what foods make you fat and which make you lean (if you don’t, start here).

You already know that your body needs to move to be healthy (if you don’t, start here).

And yet, more and more people get fatter and fatter year after year.


.Because they are infected with a mind virus that makes them fat.

.So, what’s your obesity mind virus?


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  1. How is not liking exercise a mind virus? The other things, like thinking your DNA makes you fat, I can understand, because that’s something people hear and start believing. But I don’t think this is in the same category.

    I don’t like exercise, and it’s not because of what I’ve seen or heard–it’s because I just DON’T. I don’t really get the “exercise high” people talk about, and I hate getting all sweaty and then being sore the next day (or few days). It’s not a belief that I can change, it’s a feeling that’s always going to be there. And it definitely makes it it hard for me to drag myself to the gym, when I’d much rather just stay in my apartment.

    In fact, I should go tonight. We’ll see if I actually make it.

  2. Hey Brit,

    Next time you’re around a bunch of toddlers, see if any of them prefer sitting on the couch watching tv over running around like a bunch of maniacs.

    It takes a while before the “monkey see, monkey do” programming kicks in and they become today’s lazy little kids glued to their Nintendo Wiis.

  3. Doug, this is a very good topic, one I think is often overlooked for more “exciting” topics relating to weight loss and the newest workouts etc….

    I am curious about how much our mind can hold us back. I remember one time in 8th grade during football a friend that could only bench press 145lbs wandered into the room where we had 185lbs on the bar. We told him it was 140lbs as a joke expecting a good laugh as he tried to bench press it….well he didn’t pay attention to the bar or the weights and just pressed it right up with np. We were dumbfounded, we then told him it was 185lbs and counted out the weight, he was then dumbfounded, and he could not press the weight again that year to save his life.

    I really believe our mind has a lot of control over outcomes in our lives. After 8th grade I was forced to move to a new state, the high school was at least 5 times larger than the one I was used too as well as being inside a huge city (I had moved from a town of 400 people, went to school in a city with 3000 so it was a huge culture shock), I had left all my friends behind (96 people in my class and we are all mostly friends), I was point blank depressed, stressed, and had little hope it would get better. I put on like 30lbs; I could not seem to fit in with any of the groups at this new school (only groups that wanted me were like….hey, let’s go slash the teacher’s tires! Which was not my type of people), I was basically an outcast. It got to the point where everyone was concerned, so eventually I moved back to my old state and lived with my sister to finish out high school. Within a month of being back in a familiar location and surrounded with friends, I lost that 30lbs and I was not even trying. Heck I could not even workout with the football team or other sports because of a law pertaining to guardianships, so it is not like I was doing anything different with exercise and my sister ate out a lot so my food was most likely even worse than with my parents! It was all stress related weight.

    I think I may still be battling that some now as an adult with general life issues; however it is not so easy to figure that part out so it has something I am working on along with exercise, diet, and so forth. It has and contimues to be a journey 🙂


  4. DR,

    True. But the question is, how much of that change from maniac running to sitting down is a “mind virus,” and how much of it is just growing up and maturing and losing that childhood energy? And I’m not sure I was ever an active kid. I don’t remember ever liking to run around.

    I’m not convinced that me not liking exercise is a “mind virus,” but let’s say it is. How does it change? I don’t see myself ever liking sweat and sore muscles.

    Oh, and I did manage to drag myself to the gym last night. My legs now hate me. Ow ow OW.

  5. Brit,

    You say, “It’s not a belief that I can change, it’s a feeling that’s always going to be there.” and “How does it change? I don’t see myself ever liking sweat and sore muscles.”

    First, you *can* change your beliefs. And then your actions will hopefully follow suit. I, for example, believe I eat when I’m stressed. I’m working on realizing that no, I’m actually a healthy eater, and I handle stress fairly well, considering the amount I’m under. If I believe that, my actions will soon support that belief. That’s how our minds work, in a way — whatever you believe, whether it’s factual or not, often becomes reality. (This is how so many people in hospitals, through meditation, positive thinking, etc, recover. Not saying it works in every case, but it has in many.)

    Being able to believe you can like exercise is key. The fact that you don’t believe you can change, AND saying you don’t envision yourself ever liking exercise, is going to keep you where you are. Change starts in the mind.

    Our beliefs have major influence on our lives. Whatever you decide to believe, good luck!

  6. Emily,

    Good points. I guess one thing that trips me up is being sore. How can anyone actually LIKE to ache and feel sore after they’ve worked out? It seems so masochistic.

    And thanks for the support. I’ve already lost about 30 lbs…but time will tell if I’m able to lose any more. I seem pretty firmly entrenched at this point.

  7. Hi Brit,

    Congrats on losing the weight! That’s really an accomplishment.

    And not to beat a dead horse, but if you think you’re stuck, weight-wise… you’ll probably get a less desirable result (ie, you will be stuck) than if you believed you ARE able to lose more.

    Regarding soreness, I actually don’t mind being a little sore because it’s evidence I worked kind of hard. Conversely, it could mean I overdid it. Are you trying to run too fast, for too long? Exercise doesn’t have to result in soreness. Maybe try different exercises? Stretching afterword is supposed to help, too (supposedly more effective than pre-exercise stretching).

    Whatever the case, you CAN enjoy exercise, I believe it! 🙂

  8. Hey Brit & Emily,

    I thought I was being original with my Mind Virus catchphrase but apparently Wayne Dyer talks about memes & mind viruses in his book Excuses Begone

    One of my other readers emailed me about this book. Don’t know if it’s any good, but I thought you might find in interesting.

  9. Emily,

    Oh, I know it’s physically possible for me to lose more weight. It’s just that it would mean making more changes (eating even less and exercising even more) than I already have, and I’m not sure I’m willing/able to implement them right now.

    The way you talk about this, I feel like you’re saying that there isn’t anything that people don’t like, they only THINK they don’t like it. Like, how most people have a food or foods they don’t like. Do you mean they’ve only been made to believe they don’t like it? Can’t people just dislike something because they do, and not because they’ve been made to believe it?

    (I promise that I’m not trying to be confrontational, just curious. Just wanted you to know. Tone can be hard to judge online.)

    I just…how do you make yourself like something you don’t? Fake it, and then you’ll eventually like it? 🙂

  10. Hi Brit,

    I don’t think you’re being confrontational, no worries!

    You have a point. I think you have to be careful in when you choose to apply somewhat more forced positive thinking — you don’t want to be fake with yourself, or become an uber-Pollyanna. As far as not liking a food, no, I don’t think that’s “all in the head.” I don’t really like carrots, and I’ve tried to like them. That’s legitimate — some things taste pleasing to us, some don’t. I think when it comes to preferences, sure you can argue that there are outside forces, etc, etc, but I think what you were talking about is more along the lines of personal goals — wanting to exercise more, for example. And in that situation, believing that you CAN like it may help you to actually like it.

    Here’s a good personal example: I have a roommate who’s really loud. Really. Loud. Kind of spastic at times. But she means well. I would get so stressed out living with her in our small apartment — but the rent is great, so I stay here. The frustration was awful, though. Then I realized one day, I spend SO much time thinking about how frustrating it is, of course I’m going to be super stressed. I realized you know, she’s not that bad. I discovered I was basically making the situation much worse for myself by focusing on it. So I just don’t worry about it now. Sounds simplistic, but I learned in a psychology class that “what you focus on appreciates.” Meaning whatever you devote your mental energy to, that’s what will grow in your life. I think there’s a neurological basis, in that you’re basically priming your brain to see whatever you tell it to see.

    Another example: When I studied for the GRE — those vocabulary words! — I suddenly began hearing them all around me, in peoples’ conversations. Did everyone around me suddenly start using GRE words? No. I was just more aware of them because I’d focused on them so much, so my attention grabbed a hold of them — they were on my radar, so I saw (heard) them. If I hadn’t been studying them, chances are I’d hardly have heard them in other peoples’ conversations.

    So that’s why I think it’s important to think about the things you want in your life, and to realize that how you think really can impact how you live your life. This isn’t meant to be a cure-all for life’s problems, and I’m not some annoying cheerleader who runs around telling people to smile. I have problems and issues like everyone. But (even though I don’t always follow my own advice!) I know that the way I think is one of my best tools for creating positive change.

    Sorry this is soooo long! DR might have more to say, too. (I don’t believe he likes zucchini, for example, so I’m sure he’ll agree that positive thinking won’t change that. But you never know… it might! The more you try something, the more you might like it. Like with music — have you ever heard a song once, thought it was sub-par, then five listens later you’re singing along?)


  11. Hi there.. I do agree with you. Read some books by anthony robbins or perhaps the 7 habits. Really good books that will give you tools to take control over your mind and your “virus” 🙂

  12. I’ve always believed healthy is a mindset more than it is any one dietary philosophy. You mentioned religion is a mind virus, well you could replace a dietary philosophy with religion in many discussions and they wouldn’t miss a beat.

    The point that you make though, which I think is extremely important, is getting thin, getting healthy, first requires that we get the right mindset. We must understand health doesn’t come in a magic pill, it a way of life.

    It encompasses the person as a whole and understands that who we are, what we believe, our personal preferences and our personalities all need to be considered when choosing the right healthy path.

    Running is a great fitness activity for some people. Low carb diets work for some people. Eating breakfast works well for some people.

    But regardless of what path you choose, you have to first get rid of the “viruses” the mental roadblocks that keep you entrenched in you dysfunctional way of life simply it is what we know or what is familiar and comfortable for us on some level. You need to address you mind first.

    That’s my take at least. As always a pleasure to read your thoughts.

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