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The Brain and Obesity. Part 8 – Weight loss by increasing the cognitive capacity of our modern teenage brain!

The Brain and Obesity. Part 8 – Weight loss by increasing the cognitive capacity of our modern teenage brain!

We did it! We made it to the end of this series. You may be sad or not that it is ending. I am not sure how I feel. I have really enjoyed writing the last 8 blogs, but I have wondered at times if I do have a mild form of ADHD or not. It has taken a lot of effort for me to focus on the sameish topic for 8 blogs in a row. Or maybe I just get bored quickly and easily distracted by shiny objects. In which case, I basically have the brain of a dog. Or, as a very dear friend of mine may have more aptly described, my brain is a bag of squirrels. I will leave you with that visual for a moment, and you can imagine what it must be like living inside my head. 

Let’s make it rain cognitive capacity coins!

Today we are wrapping up our final blog of this series. If you remember, last time we talked about our cognitive capacity being like a pouch full of coins. Every day you have a finite amount of coins to spend on completing and managing your daily activities. When those coins start to run out, so does your ability to make healthier choices. Fortunately, every night you go to bed and get a restful sleep, those coins are replenished and ready to be spent on a new day of activities and choices. In part 7, we discussed how to manage those coins so you can spend them more effectively by planning ahead and hacking your environment for success. While we may not have learned how to manage money in high school, hopefully you now know how to manage the money of your brain – which again, is being managed by an old man and a teenager. Come to think of it, this may have been a terrible analogy….

Hmm, we are kinda knee-deep in the sh*t now, so f*ck it, we are going to roll with it. 

In part 8, we are discussing how to increase the number of actual coins the old man and teenager have to spend, either responsibly or irresponsibly, on cocaine, blackjack or Chippendales/strippers depending on your cup of tea. 

See? Shiny object and run-on sentences! 

Ok, back on track! So increasing the number of coins you have definitely does not involve cocaine, blackjack or Chippendales. It is the really boring stuff that no one really wants to do but knows they should do, for health or whatever. And there is also a whole piece around ‘self-care,’ and developing self-awareness that is out of the scope of this series, but I can assure I will address it in the near future.I will also tell you why I despise the term ‘self-care’!

 

What do you mean by the boring stuff? 

Maybe boring isn’t the right word, but it is the stuff we tend to sacrifice or avoid for Chippendales and other fun things. Case in point for myself would be sleep! I did all the other things like getting plenty of activity, improving my nutrition, managing my stress, talking to a therapist, working on fulfillment and purpose in my life, ensuring an optimal bowel routine etc., but not sleeping. Sleep was the sacrificial lamb that I offered to the gods as I felt it provided me more time to get more done and do more of the other crap that is also beneficial. For years, and I mean years, as it was most of my university career, I would sleep on average 4 to 6 hours a night. 

Many nights before exams, I would pull near all-nighters. The terrifying part? I was able to function. I mean, I made it through pharmacy school, worked a ridiculous number of hours, and here and there attempted to date and spend time with friends. Albeit when I look back on it, my B average in pharmacy school could have been better, the dating I was doing, well, they are all exes now, although this might have been more of an “it takes two to tango” situation. With the friends, I am still pretty good friends with most of those people, so maybe the alcohol helped me be a better person in those interactions? 

It wasn’t until recently that I started to get ~7 hours of sleep as a minimum, and even now, as I speak, I am aiming for more like 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, every once in a while, I get less than 7 hours of sleep and even some nights ~5 hours, usually due to my own procrastination and falling into my old habits. Boy, do I hate life the next day. As I recently mentioned in one of my Instagram stories, I feel like a bag of smashed a*sholes when I do not sleep enough. I am not even sure what that analogy actually means, but it seems fitting for the way I felt and many people resonated with it. So a bag of smashed a*sholes it is! Anyways, I have no idea how I used to function on less than 7 hours of sleep. I would argue I was not at my optimal, and as a result, I was reducing the number of coins I had available to me in a day.

When I sleep I actually wake up excited about life. About the possibilities and the things that can be accomplished; my capacity for work, activity, and healthier choices increases ten-fold. Basically, what a good night’s sleep allows for me is to increase my resilience. Or my ability to get knocked down or deal with stress more effectively and keep moving forward. That is what these boring things allow us to do. 

 

So… how do I get more coins? 

Sleep, working out, managing stress, and spending time with loved ones are all things that help develop resilience. They help you when you are in a tough situation, like forgetting your lunch at home or getting hangry because you don’t have a snack available. Suddenly you have a harder choice to make. You have to apply self-regulation and choose Subway over Pizza Hut. When sh*t is hitting the fan, choosing Subway takes more coins to make it happen, but if we have taken care of ourselves, we can more easily make the choice we want to make and maybe even enjoy the said choice. Is it going to work every time? Hell no. Even typing right now, I got 7 hours of sleep last night, and I definitely want to get a cookie on my way to work because cookies are f*cking delicious, and my brain is a pleasure fiend. But it can certainly increase your odds. 

So to give you a list of great things you can do: 

  • Sleep – figure out how much you need and start working on getting it. Have insomnia? Chat with your doctor, psychologist etc. and see what might be going on. Pro-tip: for many people, they stay up late on the weekends and cause social jet lag for the week. 
  • Therapy – if you don’t already, start going to a therapist or psychologist. Even if you think you are perfect and god’s gift to the world! Having a therapist can benefit everyone! 
  • Stress management – how do you deal with your stress? What are your outlets?
  • Workout – get some activity every day. It doesn’t have to be formal like the gym but just get moving. 
  • Optimize your nutrition – I know this is something we are working on with understanding the brain and the number of coins you have but eating more whole foods, veggies, etc., are going to do nothing but amazing things for you. 
  • Spend time with loved ones – I hope this one is pretty self-explanatory. If not, go and hug someone you like being around right now and tell me if it feels good. Probably a good idea to also approach from the front as some people get skittish about sudden touchy-feely behaviour. 
  • Stop numbing – reduce your consumption of drugs, alcohol, TV, social media etc. These are all distractions we use to avoid the feelings and shit in our lives. While small doses are OK, you need to limit your use of them. 

 

Are these the only ways to increase my cognitive capacity?

Obviously, there is more. The list could go on forever, but these are some of the amazing things that you can start engaging in to help increase your cognitive coins/capacity starting today! Now, these aren’t things you do once and bam, you have extra coins forever. Like everything else I talk about, it requires continued practice and effort. But the above are supported by science and can be a game-changer for everyone. These are the things you don’t even realize are beneficial because they are working in the background, and filling up the modern brain to give it the right stuff to help you choose the apple over the apple pie and, of course, keeping the old cranky primal brain at bay!

So what are you going to do today to start increasing your cognitive capacity? Let me know in the comments!

That is it, you beautiful people. Part 8 and the final part of this series is complete. I have about a bazillion more topics and ideas that have come out of this little series, and I can’t wait to share them with you at some point! So stay tuned. I hope you enjoyed this series. As always, if you have questions or comments, please feel free to let me know. Or if you absolutely hated everything I have gone over the last 3 months, well, that is OK too! 

 

Until next time. Always remember, small tweaks lead to massive peaks. 

– Dr.Dan

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