The human brain is terrific at adapting to different conditions and at adjusting our personal chemistry based on the state of our bodies. This process is called neuroadaptation and it is what we are experiencing in our system both when medications are no longer as effective as they once were and when our tolerance for things like alcohol increases. Our brain makes adjustments based on the chemical balance we experience resulting from whatever we are taking into our bodies in the form of food, alcohol, drugs, or medications.
Our brain will adjust its own production of feel-good hormones and the number of available receptor sites for those hormones to allow for the rush of chemicals coming from what we are taking into our bodies. This happens because that rush is much more than our system can naturally produce on its own and so the system recognizes that as an imbalance. As a result, things that we used to enjoy or amounts that used to make us feel good no longer have that effect on our system. And it creates a cycle of needing more, and more, and more to feel the same way.
Because of neuroadaptation, our chemistry can make changing our habits more difficult as our system has adjusted to functioning its best with the addition of whatever it is that we have been taking in. When we try to change that habit, it can be very difficult as we may experience cravings, withdrawal symptoms, mood instability, and lack of energy.
We like to think that we are in charge of what we do and the choices that we make every day, but when our biochemistry has adjusted in this way, we may be at the mercy of the pattern we have created. Let me also clarify that food is a major player in our biochemical balance and that we can experience great difficulty in reducing or eliminating foods from our diet that contain high amounts of things like caffeine, sugar, salt, and fat.
Processed and fast foods are made to be addicting to your system so that you will crave them and continue to eat them. In fact, processed foods often have excess amounts of sugar, salt, and fat that create an addictive response in the brain. What started off as an intention to find something quick to eat in a chronically busy schedule can turn into an addictive pattern resulting in other issues in the mind-body system like excess weight, inflammation, cloudy thinking, and even lower levels of energy. In the ancient science of Ayurveda, these symptoms would point to a high level of toxins being stored in the body. The imbalance detected by the brain is prompting the body to store what it can’t process.
Agency is the power a person has to make their own choices; to choose to think and act in ways that express their individual power and direct the trajectory of their life. When we buy into ideas that are advertised by companies who are benefitting (and often profitting) from our following along with the pitch, we may inadvertently create patterns of neuroadaptation that lead to our finding ourselves without agency and without any ideas on how to regain agency.
As with any change, the first step in regaining agency is to recognize what we are doing without thinking about it; where in our lives are we functioning on autopilot. We must begin to observe and to question our own motives. We must really dig in to how what we are doing on a regular basis is making us feel. What worked for us at one time may no longer be what we need or what we want. We have to take back our own power to choose what is best for us so that we can think and feel optimally.
As for overcoming neuroadaptation, we can begin with babysteps. When we pay attention to what is happening in our digestion, we can learn a lot about what needs to shift in our body. A great place to begin by adding in what we want more of like fruits, vegetables, and water. As we add in what we do want, it leaves less room for what we don’t want. Next steps would include lifestyle changes to optimize our digestion and to balance our neurochemistry.
Also, remember that this is a process, there is no perfect, and to be kind to yourself.
As always, I would love to help if I can. Please reach out with questions.
I will be practicing right along with you.
Chat again soon,