I first heard the term “empty calories” from my first ever diet and nutrition book, referencing things like white bread, crackers, diet soda, and other such foods that might fill you up but have little nutritional value.
Empty calories are possibly more dangerous than “bad” calories (e.g. food high in saturated fats) because they go under the radar. At least when you’re eating KFC you know that you’re harming your body, but with empty calorie type foods you might easily make the mistake of thinking you’re being healthy.
When I read about this, it helped answer the question of why I was always a bit chubby despite “eating healthyish”. But what was even more helpful was applying this idea to other areas of my life…
In general, you can categorise anything in your life as one of these three levels of contribution (with respect to your overall quality of life, goals, and self-confidence):
1) Healthy / helpful
2) Unhealthy / unhelpful
This applies to activities, friendships, work, food, spending, and anything else.
Today, I want to call out the problem of the “neutral” category, as I believe it’s this that actually causes a large portion of the damage in our lives.
People often think of something “neutral” as also being “harmless”. Like, what’s the harm in binge-watching Netflix, or hanging out with people that are just kinda OK, or eating white bread, or buying myself a new shirt that I don’t totally need?
The harm is in the opportunity cost.
You have limited resources in your life: time, energy, money, focus/attention, health, ideas etc. That means, whatever you do is a consumption of these resources.
So doing something “neutral” can be reframed to a much more accurate description: stealing resources from healthier options.
When you fill up on crap food, you put your liver, kidneys, stomach and guts to work processing this junk, meaning they aren’t as able to correctly process nutritional food, plus you might feel too full to eat the good stuff.
When you spend time hanging out with low-quality connections, you have no space or time available to meet great people who are a good fit for you. Wonder why you can’t find a great partner? Look at where your social time is being stolen by low quality family and friends.
When you scroll on Facebook (with the exception of the BROJO group of course), you reduce your ability to pay attention and concentrate, which diminishes your capability in all other areas of life.
When you work a 9-5 that you don’t really like, you’ll be too tired to research better career options or start your own business, especially if you’re also neglecting health from other empty calorie activities (like watching TV instead of exercising).
You generally know when you’re doing something obviously unhealthy, like hanging out with discouraging people, or eating junk food, or blowing your money on gambling. But the harm caused by these are probably outweighed by the harm done through “neutral” empty-calorie activities.
Here are some things to think about – what are you losing, in terms of resources, when you engage in the following?
– Spending money on food, clothes, electronics etc that you don’t need instead of investing
– Hanging out with negative people instead of meeting new people or spending quality time alone
– Binge-watching Netflix instead of working out
– Gossiping with family about other family members instead of learning a new language
– Eating cheap takeaway meals instead of learning to cook healthy
– Playing computer games instead of journalling
– Scrolling through social media instead of pursuing a new hobby
– Working extra unpaid overtime to people-please your boss instead of starting a side-business
– Drinking alcohol instead of water
The list goes on and on, and once you start reviewing how you spend every minute, dollar, and kilojoule of energy each day, you’ll see how much of it is WASTED.
Don’t tell me you don’t have the time, energy or resources to learn, develop, grow or build something, until you have eliminated all the waste.