Brain Science, guys.
Hey Guys! This month I’m we’ll be diving into brain science. Specifically, we’ll be learning about neurotransmitters and how they affect our moods and behavior. I had the whole month planned out but I gotta say, I got in a little over my head. This stuff is complex. But I am obsessed with brain hacking and I am so excited to have a better understanding of how this all works so I can share it with you!
I've been reading a lot about what happens in the brain when we use cannabis, but research is limited and there is so much conflicting information out there that I’m having a hard time nailing down exactly what is going on. I've got an idea of how cannabinoids affect neurotransmitters, but I need more information. So, I did what I do, and I got some books.
Im telling y'all this because I like to publish every Monday, but I'm not satisfied with my understanding so far, so I'm postponing till next week.
I’ll be reading up all week, so if you’ve got questions, ask away!
And if you know about cannabis and neurotransmitters, or can recommend a book on the subject, I’d love to pick your brain!
Let’s talk about the importance of letting go in the process of habit-building. Releasing habits that don’t serve you is just as important as starting healthy ones. Without this step your habits will be in conflict, and we want habit changes to be easy to sustain.
Let’s use weight loss as an example. You can add healthy foods to your diet and start exercising, but if you don't examine why you overeat in the first place, you will be in conflict. You’ve got to let go of some things; not just behaviors but beliefs as well.
Let’s consider some examples:
I let go of drinking alcohol in the evening.
I let go of feeling responsible for others feelings.
I let go of wasting my time in avoidance.
Can you feel how freeing that is? It’s not forcing, it's a release. And releasing that which isn't serving you frees up so much energy for the things that do.
When you are ready to let go, fist consider how this habit has served you. Express gratitude to yourself. Perhaps you have felt that everyone’s happiness was yours to provide; your sense of self-worth is linked to being of service. You have worked hard to keep everyone happy, even at the expense of your own health. See the goodness in that. You are a good person. You want to help others. It’s a beautiful thing! But helping others in this way isn't serving you. And loving yourself means creating boundaries. Others’ happiness isn't your responsibility. It’s time to let it go.
Can you feel the difference between letting go and adding habits?
You’ve probably got some goals kicking around from the new year. Consider what you can let go of to help you move those goals forward. Maybe it’s negative self-talk. Maybe it’s spending time with someone who enables you to stay the same.
Think it over, then take action! Commit!
I’d love to hear in the comments, what are you letting go of?
Book Review: Bright Line Eating by Susan Peirce Thompson, PhD
I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with food. I’ve changed my whole life with cannabis, reconnected with my sense of self-worth, and am committed to my health and wellbeing, but I still often feel like I’m not in control with food. I read Intuitive Eating earlier this year, and was so sure it would be the answer for me. It helped me notice and reject diet culture, and see the importance os body awareness and rebuilding trust with your body. Its an amazing plan, but as I began the process of making peace with food and eating what I was really craving, I found it too hard to stop. I gained back every pound I’d lost. I just need that structure. I finally stepped on a scale for the first time in nearly a year, and I’m back at my heaviest. It’s maddening.
When I started studying to be a cannabis coach, I learned a lot about the brain. The way we are and the things we do are caused by events happening in the brain, and we can change them.
I’ve learned about neurotransmitters and the types of behaviors they cause. If you haven’t, listen to The Life Coach School podcast episode #239 Neurotransmitters. Brooke Castillo explains neurotransmitters in a really simple, digestible way. She mentions specifically how sugar and flour affect dopamine levels.
Then I came across the book, Bright Line Eating. It’s like the missing piece I needed to find to help me understand my own issues with food. It’s an eating plan for those of us who are really susceptible to food addiction. This plan is very scientific and makes a lot of sense to me. To understand how it works, we need to understand what’s happening in the brain.
The premise is this: our brains have not evolved to handle the modern diet. Specifically the super proceed foods, flour and sugar.
These foods wreak havoc in two, super-destructive ways.
The author likens the process of resisting this response to the following:
Imagine you run up 10 flights of stairs. You may decide to breathe slowly the whole time, and you will succeed at first. But after a while your body will take over and you’ll breathe the way your body needs you to. This is the same as resisting your body’s hunger. And all this is caused by too much insulin which blocks the hormone Leptin.
So, you have too much hunger.
You also have overpowering cravings. This has to do with a different part of the brain, the nucleus accumbens. This is the seat of pleasure, reward, and motivation. Food and sex release dopamine, which activate this part of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that encourages us to seek rewards. It encouraged early humans to hunt for food for survival. When an early human found a concentrated or calorie-dense food source (like berries), their brains would take notice and remember to seek it out again. But those concentrated foods have become more concentrated, widely available (heck, hard to avoid, really), and addictive in modern times. The constant stimulation caused by these concentrated foods causes the brain to downregulate and remove dopamine receptors. It means you don't feel the reward anymore, so you need to add more and more stimulation. It looks a lot like drug addiction. Addicts don't use to feel great, they use to feel normal. The reward becomes not feeling bad. The in-between is craving. Sound familiar?
The flour and sugar we eat so much of today is refined and concentrated. The author likens it to other concentrated white powders: cocaine and heroin. Coca leaves give you a lift, but they aren't addictive. But when you refine the plant down into a powder you end up with cocaine, which is addictive.
So these super-concentrated foods are flooding our brains with dopamine, encouraging us to seek food all the time. This causes our brain to down-regulate the dopamine receptors, which creates a cycle of always wanting food and never being satisfied. In the book she describes a pattern noticed by doctors who treat eating disorders. Their overweight patients report feeling hungry when they sit down to eat, feeling slightly less hungry half way through, but then they get hungrier as they continue to eat and are as hungry as they were when they sat down at the end of the meal.
The answer? Completely cut out those concentrated, calorie-dense foods and your brain will heal. You won't be subjected to irresistible cravings, you will lose weight, many people feel their moods stabilize. As a person who has struggled with binge eating since the mid 2000’s and depression all my life, this is a big deal.
Some interesting facts:
Of the obese who try to lose weight, 99% fail. Most who succeed in losing weight will end up gaining it back. The average dieter makes 4 or 5 new attempts each year. It could not be more clear that dieting doesn’t work. We can't just will ourselves thin. Why?
The same part of the brain that controls willpower also governs our ability to focus, make choices, and regulate our emotions, and these resources are finite. When you’re tired, and you’ve made 10,000 decisions, and you’re trying not to lose your shit on your kids, you are using this part of the brain. It's called the anterior cingulate cortex, the seat of rational decision making. This area of the brain is also particularly affected by changes in blood sugar. It doesn’t work well without enough glucose. So when the day draws to an end and we’re tired and have low blood sugar, we won't make good decisions. It’s not willpower, its your brain.
The plan is more specific than just cutting out flour and sugar. It’s a totally regulated plan that you do not break from. That’s why its called bright lines. The bright lines are boundaries. It’s a commitment. But, if you could be free from food addiction forever, wouldn’t you do almost anything? I would.
I don't follow the plan to the letter, at least not yet. I simply cut out sweeteners of all kinds, most flour, and use a calorie-counting app to stay accountable.So far I’m two weeks in and I feel fantastic! I have tons of energy and almost no cravings at all. I feel in control for the first time in a long time. If at some point this isn't easy to maintain I might commit to the Bright Lines eating plan as written. The science seems really solid.
Have you read or followed Bright Line Eating? Let us know what you thought in the comments!
Building Awareness of Self-Talk
Let’s talk about the way we talk to ourselves.
Let’s face it, it's not good. We flood our minds with thoughts; about our bodies, parenting skills, worth, finances, etc. All the time. Here’s the thing. The brain strengthens in the areas that you use it. Have you heard the phrase, ”What you resist, persists?” Active resistance is actually concentrating your attention on the very things you don't want. You are telling your brain that this thing you don’t want is very important and to look for more of it.
Let’s look at how that relates to self-talk.
When you are constantly telling yourself you are terrible, you are telling your brain you are terrible. It gets easier and easier to think it, because you are strengthening those neural pathways. It gets HARDER to disagree with those thoughts, because they become so automatic, we may not even realize we are having them. This is a great reason to hire a coach. We are trained to identify this type of thinking and help you see it and stop it. Your brain is trainable, and you can fix it. All you need is a plan, and practice.
Shauna Shapiro, PhD, Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology at Santa Clara University has some interesting videos about the effects of meditation on the brain. She says you can actually raise your happiness baseline by mediating daily on positive, loving things. And it’s because you rewire the brain to think those things more.
I think a meditation practice is super valuable, particularly meditating on self-acceptance and love. But changing your self-talk is an all-the-time thing. You’ve got to build an awareness about the kind of things you are saying to yourself. Pay attention. Many of us, especially women, habitually shut down and avoid negative feelings. We stay super busy, we eat, we drink, we medicate. Anything to avoid them. Notice when you are in avoidance, and tune in to your thoughts. Managing your thoughts will literally allow you to feel however you want.
Okay, so you noticed you’ve been scrolling on your phone for half and hour because you’re avoiding something. You focus on your thoughts. You realize you’re worried about something you said earlier and you’re telling yourself everyone hates you and you're fat. Don't judge yourself for thinking it. Celebrate the awareness and the opportunity to change!
Acknowledge your thoughts. Then let them go; gently, lovingly. Say instead, I no longer believe I’m a horrible, fat monster. This acknowledgment piece is important. You're not shutting down the old thought and avoiding it or judging it. You are saying I no longer believe this___.
Next, create new thoughts. And I’m not saying affirmations are the answer here. Your new thoughts need to be believable to you. So a new thought may be just a bit kinder than the old one. I now believe I’m an ok, overweight human. Say it to yourself whenever you notice that thought:
I no longer believe I am a horrible fat monster
I now believe I am an okay, overweight human.
Do it and over and over. As you notice yourself getting more positive, amp it up.
Say I am a badass woman in a normal body. With amazing hair. Love on yourself!
Another tool for checking negative thoughts is body awareness. Take a breath and notice icky feelings in the body. A tension in the chest, or butterflies in the stomach. When I feel those things I pay attention to my thoughts. Then I usually realize Im hating on myself.
Your brain is an incredible thing, my friends. Taking responsibility for it and mindfully working to create more positive thoughts creates epic change in your life.
Does any of this resonate with you?
Let me know in the comments!
The Path to Wellness
Today I want to talk to you about what wellness looks like. What do you think about when I say wellness? I think about thin, radiant yogis. About eating plates of veggies and being thrilled about it. Headstands are in there too, for some reason.
We compare ourselves to others and try to make wellness a destination.
But it isn't. It’s a practice.
It’s something that needs to be tended. It’s the most important relationship you have. The one you have with yourself. There are ups and downs in every relationship. That’s life. The key to wellness is the commitment you have to your relationship. Are you willing to work at it even when its hard? When your own mind is screaming that you are a worthless piece of shit and you just want to sink down into a hole and hide?
I bring this up because Winter Break (I feel like the experience of the past two weeks deserves capitalization) was unexpectedly devastating to my wellness. I’ve come so far in the last year, but all it took was two weeks at home with my kids to really knock me down. I was surprised by how quickly I settled back into bad habits. Which led immediately to cycling negative self-talk and self-destructive behavior (which for me is binge-eating). I was exhausted and miserable in like, three days. And I blamed the situation I was in. I took no responsibility for my thoughts or reactions. I did not tend to my relationship. I sat in my muck. Once I became aware of this, I immediately took responsibility for how I was feeling, and made the choice to change.
This is what wellness is. It’s a daily practice. You need to make that choice over and over and over. The choice to feel better. To do the things you need to do to feel good. Loving yourself enough to believe you deserve to feel fucking amazing, as often as you can.
How do you get unstuck?
Let me know in the comments!
Its Okay to Feel Good.
You don’t have to feel guilty about feeling good.
Moms have a hard time doing “selfish” things, “indulging” themselves. The to-do list is never completed, and we can’t let go of the things left undone. We can’t calm our minds. We don’t even know where to start.
I talk to moms everyday that struggle with feeling good. They immediately feel guilty. They think they should be doing all the things, and they don't have the energy for all that, so they distract themselves by scrolling on their phones. We end up wasting so. much. time. This mindset isn’t sustainable, and we end up in avoidance when we should just take a break and do something that feels good and gives us energy.
This guilt about feeling good gets heavy when we talk about Cannabis. We are so entrenched in the war on drugs mindset, that users feel they need to justify their use by stressing that its “medicinal”. Many women don’t admit to using for relaxation and enjoyment. Why? I think it’s because part of us believe it’s wrong, and we fear judgment.
I read something this morning about the need to preserve and pay homage to the old cannabis culture. The people who have pushed for years to bring cannabis to the mainstream are the very misfits and stoners that the industry tries to distance itself from. The industry is getting super clean and palatable to the masses, (no longer using the words “marijuana” or “pot”, trying to distance itself from the stoner stereotype.) This is partly great, and partly sad, because it plays into that fear a bit. It makes it sound like being a stoner is bad, that using purely for recreation is bad.
There is a ton of misuse with cannabis, as there is with alcohol, Rx drugs, food, and pretty much anything else that feels good. Does that mean we should be ashamed? I don't think so. No one uses alcohol “medicinally”. We don't feel like we need to justify our alcohol use. Why should we with cannabis? I think thats where we need to normalize. We don't have to present it like we’re only using it to replace our SSRIs (which I do and I’m seriously fucking proud of). We can use it to relax and have fun with our children. We’re mothers, for fucks sake. We are tired, stressed, often isolated, anxious, depressed, physically unwell because we give all of our time and energy to our families. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of a safe, natural way to feel better? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a better parent when I feel good, and cannabis helps.
How many of us are prescribed antidepressants? I’m going to guess its MOST of us.
There is a darkness that is present in American motherhood that we aren't talking about enough.
If everyone needs an antidepressant, than we need to address something much bigger than postpartum depression. I believe our model of motherhood is broken, and that we all need to know our worth, stop trying to meet an impossible ideal, take care of ourselves, and get honest about our experiences.
And while I respect every woman’s decision to medicate as she sees fit, I find it concerning that it’s so on trend for moms to drink. Like, heavily.
I feel like I can speak to this because I was a mother who medicated with alcohol. I know where it comes from and I know how it feels. It feels like finally letting go of that endless list of tasks. You feel like you can finally settle down. But it becomes a cycle; you get drunk, feel shitty in the morning, have a shitty day, and then need a drink because you had such a shit day. It was terrible for me and my family. I was physically and mentally sick from it. And alcohol exacerbates depression. My doctor told me that some people with depression notice that even a single drink negatively affects their mood. Now that I rarely drink I absolutely know this to be true. I was taking two prescriptions to combat my depression and washing them down with 3+ drinks per day. It was totally stupid. So as a cannabis user looking back, my perspective is colored. But seriously, if drinking is ok, cannabis is WAY ok. I mean, really.
So, be proud of your use. Be brave! Get a T-shirt, or a button for your bag. Join other moms who use cannabis and share your story with the local paper, or host an event in your neighborhood. The more we can share the truth of cannabis use, the faster we can all get past this lousy prohibition and get on with our lives.
The Price of Motherhood
I've got lots of feels this morning. After the 2016 election, I don't trust my worldview anymore. I can trust that our elected officials will reflect the Americans who voted them into office, and that there are more of those people. So, I guess what I’m saying is Election Day is my personal barometer for HOW THINGS ARE. And, I’m pretty anxious.
I’m reading The Price of Motherhood, by Ann Crittenden. It’s about how motherhood is considered the most important job by pretty much everyone in the world, but it's unpaid and unvalued. What is valued is a mothers sacrifice, her devotion to her family, and support of her husband’s needs as the breadwinner. And this hasn’t changed all that much in the last hundred years or so. In fact, mothers spend more time raising children now (the book was published in 2001) than they did in the 1920’s, when they were too busy washing clothes by hand and whatever. Even though more women are college-educated and may enter the workplace, many eventually leave or cut back their hours to have children. The motherhood aspect is the thing that mucks up equality in the workplace. When children are involved, we seem to slip right back into traditional gender roles, with the women caring for the children, whether they work or not. Whether they earn more than 50% of the income or not. In homes where housework was shared before having kids, 75% of it slips back into mom’s responsibility after children are born.
I get this. I've lived this.
I was raised by a single working mom in the 1980’s. She taught me to be independent, and to work hard. Her career was everything to her, and it had to be. She had a child to raise.
I have considered myself to be a feminist always. I was punky and androgynus in high school, refusing to conform to antiquated and demeaning ideologies of femininity. But what I didn’t forgo was the idea that I what made me a better person was my willingness to sacrifice myself for others. I married a man and had a baby. I wasn’t earning enough to pay for childcare, so I stayed home. That had not been my plan, and I found it really hard, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I accepted that my value as a person lied in my service to my family. And now I can see how horribly damaging that belief is. The last 5 years have been the hardest of my life. By FAR. I wish I could go back and do better. For my kids and myself. Now my kids are 3 and 5, and I’m starting to process my rage. They both started school this year, and I can breathe for the first time in years. I have felt so resentful and trapped, and monstrous for feeling so. I mean, how can I wish to be free from my family? My kids are so fucking beautiful, I would do anything to raise them to be happy, healthy people. Why is this so hard for me? I’ve felt SO MUCH GUILT.
And here’s where it gets really sticky. If I am raising two people while bitterly resentful of my position as their sole caregiver, what are they learning? Is my daughter learning that she will eventually do the same for her family? Is my son learning that his family won't be his concern, his career will be? Are they feeling like they aren’t important enough to me?
We simply must ask for help. My husband is a grad student and was the only source of income for our family until my children started school. I felt that I couldn’t ask for his help, becasue his plate was too full, and he was supporting us. I have always struggled with the fact that I didn’t earn an income. I felt I owed him, so I felt trapped.
I see now that this entire situation was my choice; my unhappiness and rage was caused by my own belief that I wasn’t worth more. I bought into the idea that we shouldnt want, because motherhood is some elevated moral position and my worth was in service to my family. It makes me so angry that I believed that for so long. Its an ongoing process to untangle behaviors from the beliefs that motivate them, but it’s so necessary to let go of that shit.
Ann Crittenden found that as mothers become more educated, they put more importance on raising a family, And that working mothers don't put in less time with their families to accommodate their careers, they put less time into themselves. They sleep less, exercise less, and have less free time. Working mothers put in more hours than any other workers, anywhere.
The importance of raising a family isn’t going anywhere, it's just getting harder for the moms. We spend way more time with our children now than previous generations did. Some of us also want to have a career, or some life outside the home. And as pressure builds to keep our families healthy and safe in a scary world, we alone are expected to step up, and step up, and step up. Of course we will, we are mothers. But at what cost?
We all confess that we haven't showered in days, have been wearing the same leggings for a week, that we survive on coffee and wine. We are being prescribed piles of antidepressants like its normal and fine to need them. And most of us have no fucking clue why we’re falling apart. Its fucking lame. It makes me furious. We need to be real about what we want our lives to look like. Not carry our crosses bravely, with a messy bun and a glass of Pinot. Because until motherhood is a healthy endeavor for everyone involved, we’re doing it wrong.
Taking the Time to Heal
So many feels today.
I’ve been having these really rough periods before my period for the past few months where I’m just so emotional I feel unhinged. This month has been particularly difficult. I’m reminded this blog post by Lady Nowe about the dark night of the soul. I’ve been feeling so much rage this month. The stuff I focus on for work; helping mothers reclaim their lives and identities outside of motherhood, learning to love themselves first; are swirling together with the Kavanaugh thing and my thoughts on feminism and sexual assault and I’ve been in a really dark place for a few weeks.
I want to promote modeling strong women now for our families. I want to change American womanhood now, so our sons and daughters don't have to navigate this world, where women are expected to be primary caregivers no matter what. Where we have to fear walking alone at night. Where we have to publicly detail our pain and shame in our fight for justice and be blamed for the situations that have hurt us.
My own family life has been rocky as well, as I’m putting my all into my business, my kids are learning to navigate school, and my husband toils away on his PhD. It’s been challenging around casa DaCosta. It’s all a fiery, nebulous mess in my hormone-addled mind, ladies. And I’m struggling.
My biggest takeaway is learning to stop. I am a very high-energy, do-ALL-the-things lady. And my pattern is to go on and on until I’m utterly drained.
But luckily, I have cannabis to help. Cannabis shows you to yourself in such a graceful way. Its honest with you, but in a kind and gentle way. There is no denying the femininity of cannabis. `
I’m building an awareness of when I am feeling drained, who or what is making me feel that way, and what I need to do to hold on to my energy. It’s a really deeply ingrained pattern for me to give and give. In my family you show your love by sacrificing yourself. It’s probably a Jesus thing, my people are Catholic.
So I’ve been digging deep into WHY I feel this way. What part of me wants to do this and why. That part of me was way down there. It’s been a long couple of weeks of really challenging, dark, WORK. But we have to examine and resolve the shit that leads us to behave in a way that doesn't serve us, so we can break the patterns.
And during these dark times, the dark night of the soul, its MOST important to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a pass. Take a nap.
Self-care is more than retaining your energy, it's also giving yourself the time and space to heal. And more here about cannabis; I have spent my entire life clutching my feelings close, not really being open or vulnerable with anyone. When uncomfortable feelings come up for me I coped by drinking and stuffing those feelings down. Since I began mindfully using cannabis I have opened up and healed in so many ways. I mean, I have felt my heart healing. I have connected with my grief.
Today is my mothers birthday. She would be 72. I miss her so much. Her death was the catalyst for huge change in my life. She is the reason I studied cannabis coaching. This morning I spoke to her, and told her today I’m breaking a pattern that she and I both know well. Today I no longer try to support people who do not want to support themselves.
It feels huge. I think it’s a good birthday present.
I love you guys, and wish you all well.
Cannabis for Moms? Emphatically yes!
Cannabis naturally makes you a little nicer. It softens the edges of your feelings, and gives more space to feel them. This is why it’s such a great tool for transformation. Last week I wrote about why cannabis pairs so well with meditation. It makes it easier to settle your mind, and it helps you feel more self-love and compassion.
Cannabis began to heal my heart and body without me even trying. But once I started going through my coaching program at the Functional Cannabis Coaching Institute, the level of transformation in my own life was staggering. I entered the program with a wish to help other depressed moms with cannabis. And that wish has strengthened into a life-altering purpose. Cannabis is medicine, and the help it can offer moms is just tremendous. Here’s why:
I’d love to talk more about this with you! My one-hour breakthrough calls are free and fun. We’ll talk about what’s going on for you, and what you’d like your life to look like. I’ll answer your questions, and we can feel each other out and see if we’re a good fit.
There is nothing to lose, lady.
It’s my life’s work to support YOU on your journey back to wellness.
I’ve been studying this awesome free MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course, and what I’m learning is blowing my mind. Particularly about how neuroscientists have been able to prove and measure the benefits that a mediation practice can have on the brain.
According to Shauna Shapiro PhD, we all have a happiness set point. This means that we all stay pretty much at our personal baseline level of happiness no matter what happens. Her example was, whether you become a paraplegic or win the lottery, after about a year your level of happiness returns back to your baseline. There is scientific evidence that you won’t be happier even if you have all the money you want. Let that sink in.
Another study measured the activities in the prefrontal cortex that are associated with happiness. A group of participants who had no meditation experience were measured before and after 3 months of daily practice, and their brains were showing more of those positive brain activities. The take away here is that meditation can literally make you happier, and that’s fucking awesome.
But it’s hard, right? You sit down and your monkey brain is hopping all over the place and you start feeling like a total failure and you give up. This is why cannabis and meditation are a match made in heaven. Cannabis helps you to relax and focus. It makes it easier to think positively and be kind and compassionate with yourself. It just puts you in such a good place to meditate. Not every single time, but generally. So give it a try, friends! I especially like this app. Do the Learn to Meditate in 7 Days class. Commit to 10 minutes a day. Let me know what you think!
Do you have experience with medicated meditation? Let me know in the comments!
I am Jessica DaCosta, I'm a proud cannabis enthusiast, advocate, and mom of two.