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How Cognitive Overload Hampers “Normal” Eating and Rational Decision Making

  • Eating

On one of my favorite TV shows about politics, I heard an enlightening explanation of the term cognitive overload when a panelist described how constantly being lied to affects our brains. She said that ideas “land” on us and that we need time to process them to decide to believe if they are rational or not. However, when lies fly at us at too rapid a pace, one after another, we don’t have the focused ability to analyze their veracity, and so they remain “landed,” that is, we simply accept them. Politics aside, this analysis seemed applicable to two client situations.

Says Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D.: “Information or cognitive overload can lead to indecisiveness, bad decisions and stress. Indecisiveness or analysis paralysis occurs when you’re overwhelmed by too many choices, your brain mildly freezes and by default, [and] you passively wait and see. Or you make a hasty decision because vital facts get wedged between trivial ones, and you consider credible and non-credible sources equally. When you can’t tolerate the overwhelm any longer, you just go for it (and likely go with the wrong choice). When the overload is chronic, you live in a state of unresolved stress and anxiety that you can’t meet ongoing demands to process more information.” (“Overcoming Information Overload” by Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, Psych Central,, retrieved 5/7/18)

This dynamic illustrates why abused clients whose partners lie and keep changing their stories, a hallmark of sociopathy, become confused and emotionally paralyzed. Simply put, when, in short order, they are told one thing and then another that contradicts it, and then another that contradicts that, they cannot process the information quickly enough and don’t know what to believe. It’s as if sand is shifting beneath them and they lose their balance. And this loss of balance and certainty about what is going on creates undue anxiety. Unfortunately, high anxiety is exactly what they don’t want, as it undermines their ability to think clearly and shuts down their executive thinking.

In another article, I found a description which explained why multi-tasking and not focusing exclusively on “normal” eating, may make it difficult to do it. “Cognitive load is typically increased when unnecessary demands are imposed on a learner, making the task of processing information overly complex.” Specifically, we are hindered by whatever else grabs our attention, in that, “…we are all prone to losing focus in a learning environment when distractions are present”…“As a result of higher cognitive load, a stimulus is more difficult to pay attention to, rehearse and remember, making learning less effective.” To improve memory cognition, the article recommends that we “remove competing stimuli in order to avoid the split-attention effect.” (“Cognitive Load Theory,” Psychologist World,, retrieved 5/7/18). In short, do one thing at a time, including eating mindfully with no distractions.



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