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The Brain and Obesity. Part 7 – Weight Loss by Managing the Cognitive Capacity of our Modern Teenage Brain!

The Brain and Obesity. Part 7 – Weight Loss by Managing the Cognitive Capacity of our Modern Teenage Brain!

This is part 7 of 7! Just kidding – this is part 7 of 8. #sorrynotsorry but I got really excited about this topic. As my assistant continues to tell me, the people, as in you, my wonderful followers, prefer shorter-ish blogs, and similar to me, you have busy lives and limited time! I mean, I could probably cut out some of the tangents, analogies and run-on sentences, like this one right here, but I like to write how I talk, so f*ck that and multi-part series it is!  

Anywho, I don’t have a nice segue to shift to our final topic, so we are just going to jump in and start talking about what cognitive capacity is (at least my definition of it) and how we manage it to support our weight-loss efforts! There are a few definitions of what exactly cognitive capacity means, but I will provide you with my definition. 

Dr. Dan’s definition of Cognitive Capacity: 

The daily capacity of our brain to acquire new knowledge and memories, make decisions, perform executive functions, apply self-regulation, and manage our everyday life. 

Every day, you wake up with a finite amount of cognitive capacity. I like to think of it like this – each day you start with a certain number of coins and over the course of the day you spend those coins going about your daily activities. 

Let me provide you with an example of how your day and coin spending might look: 

You start your day with 34 coins. You get out of bed, shower, decide what to make and eat for breakfast, and what to wear; that costs 2 coins. Then driving to work, getting into a fight with your spouse, and yelling at poor drivers on the road all costs 3 coins. Finally, you get to work and focus intently for 4 hours on a large project due at the end of the week; this costs you 5 coins. It’s now lunchtime and sh*t, you forgot your lunch at home. Now you have to go out and find something to eat; this process costs you 2 coins.

You spend the rest of your afternoon in mind-numbing meetings that could have been done via email. At 3 PM you realize the spicy fish tacos you had for lunch have decided they need to evacuate your bowels immediately; this costs 6 coins. It is now nearing 4 PM. You are basically coasting at this point, just waiting for the day to end; suddenly, your stomach starts to growl. Double sh*t – you don’t have any snacks handy because your lunch is still at home. So now you are gritting your teeth against hunger as you sit in traffic on the way to pick up your spouse, trying to remember what stupid thing they said that pissed you off this morning to see if they apologize when they hop in. Nope, no apology and they act like this morning’s fight didn’t even happen. F*ck you asshole. This costs 10 coins. 

You make it home, and oh look, your lunch has been on the counter all day at room temperature, and now you can’t have it for tomorrow’s lunch unless you want to have another ‘spicy taco experience’. So f*ck it – let’s just make dinner and end this day. You have spent another 4 coins. 

Now you only have 2 coins left. Usually, you go for a walk after dinner and relax watching TV and munching on some veggies and hummus. The walk alone costs 3 coins and applying restraint to have veggies and hummus instead of chips and dip costs another 3 coins. After a day like today, a walk sure-as-hell isn’t happening, and you still don’t have enough coins to restrain from the chips and dip! This could be a toss-up, as you can dip slightly into the red with your spending and muster the willpower to have veggies and hummus OR you say f*ck it and have the chips and dip. Then likely spend your last 2 coins and then some mentally beating yourself up for eating the chips and dip before going to bed. 

Wasn’t that fun? 

 

What the hell just happened? 

When it comes to increasing and managing our cognitive capacity, our goal is to increase the number of coins we have to spend in a day and manage how we spend our coins throughout the day. I am sure you have all heard and seen that Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs both wore the same outfit every day. They did this to save coins on trying to decide what they should wear each day, not because they were new-age hippies trying something new, although after reading Steve Jobs’s biography, he was definitely a bit ‘new age hippie’ but also effin’ brilliant so who cares. Now I am not saying that you need to wear the same outfit every day, but you will want to think about how you can save your coins. 

 

Plan, plan plan

This is where planning ahead can be beneficial. For example, doing some meal prep on Sunday can help ensure you have lunches ready for each day of the week and can even ensure you have dinners prepared. This will save you the coins needed for thinking about what to pack for lunch each night or finding lunch during the middle of the day and having to use restraint to choose a healthier option than a pizza. And the same thing goes for dinner. In our above example, if the individual had remembered their lunch, they would have saved some coins! 

Similarly, every time your modern brain needs to apply restraint against the primal brain because you are hungry, tired, or cranky, this will chew through your coins very quickly. Again, in the example above, in addition to their a*shat partner, dealing with hunger the entire drive home cost them a lot of coins! If they had had a snack available, that would have alleviated some of that primal brain pressure and likely would have helped them be less pissed off at their partner, ultimately leading to less coins being spent. I am sure we all have been ‘hangry’, when everything seems to irritate you, but you need to keep being nice because that is society’s expectation. At this point, you are just throwing your coins into a fountain, and no wishes are being granted; instead, a little d*nk named Timmy is going swimming and using them to buy Slurpees.

Planning ahead and thinking about how you can ‘hack’ your environment will allow you to spend fewer coins or cognitive capacity in order to engage in the behaviours you want. Another example is wanting to do a workout when you get home. If your gym clothes are all the way upstairs still tucked into your dresser drawer, you are going to expend way more coins pushing yourself up those stairs, changing into your gym clothes then going back downstairs to workout, versus if your gym clothes are right by the door when you come home. Much less cognitive capacity is needed – in fact, it might require more cognitive capacity for you just to ignore your gym clothes than putting them on. Remember, your brain is composed of a cranky old man and a lazy teenager – if sh*t is too hard, they are not going to do it. I mean, life, in general, is effing hard, so why make things harder for yourself? 

Until we start to increase the number of coins we have, which I will cover in part 8, we need to work with what we have and manage the coins we have, similar to managing an actual bank account. Yes, in some instances, we can go into the red and still be ok but, that will likely cost us later, and more often than not, it will not lead to the outcome we really want! 

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So that is it for part 7, you beautiful people – how to more effectively manage the coins or cognitive capacity you have in a day! In part 8, we will discuss how to increase the number of coins or cognitive capacity you have. 

Until then, always remember small tweaks lead to massive peaks! 

-Dr. Dan 

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