103 - Mental Health for Weight Loss - My Brain Scan Review

I share a review of my brain scan at Amen Clinics, and why it felt like the right choice for me. The findings have helped me build a lifestyle that balances weight loss with everything that’s important to me, and although that will look different for everyone, we hope this inspires you to find what helps you show up with energy and love for what you’re doing. 

5 min

A few months ago, I mentioned on the podcast that I was going to undergo a brain scan to figure out my mental health. We’ve been receiving lots of questions about the results and findings from that scan and there were a few delays involved, so we’re finally getting around to talking about it this week. 

After a long history of mental health issues and going through phases of feeling like I had a handle on it while also intermittently feeling panicky and frantic, I was introduced to Amen Clinics. I decided a brain scan was exactly what I needed to learn more about what’s actually happening and how to optimize my brain health and weight loss, and we’re here to share all the details of how it went.

Join us this week as I share a review of my brain scan at Amen Clinics, and why it felt like the right choice for me. The findings have helped me build a lifestyle that balances weight loss with everything that’s important to me, and although that will look different for everyone, we hope this inspires you to find what helps you show up with energy and love for what you’re doing. 

Check out Vibe Club, a weight loss coaching group with the purpose of supporting women that want to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why I decided to get a brain scan. 
  • The difference between having a brain scan and seeing a psychiatrist. 
  • How the brain scan works and the questions they asked to assess my brain health. 
  • The results and findings of my brain scan. 
  • What they were able to diagnose me with. 
  • The dietary recommendations I was given for brain optimization. 

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Full Episode Transcript:

On this episode of the podcast, I share my results and findings from my brain scan at the Amen Clinics. The details I share in this episode do not constitute medical advice, and I am not a medical professional. I just wanted to share my personal experience. For any medical needs you have, please consult with your medical professional.

Hi, I’m Maggie. I’ve lost a combined 90 pounds after having my two kids and struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. I teach you how to lose weight a different way—how to fix the thoughts in your head holding you back from finally taking weight loss off your to-do list.

Losing weight doesn’t need to be a struggle, and it’s my mission to help you lose the process all the way down the scale. If you’re ready to lose weight a different way, then let’s get it.

Maggie Sterling: Welcome to the podcast.

Ryan: How’s it going?

Maggie: So good. I’m excited to do this podcast, and I’ll tell you why. Because my dumb ass, I don’t know, two months ago, was like, “Oh, I’m getting a brain scan. I’ll tell you guys all about it.” And I got it. I got the brain scan on September 10, but then I had to wait a really long time to meet with the psychiatrist to go over the results.

So, people keep asking me about it, and I’m like, “Oh, I’ll record a podcast. I’ll record a podcast.” So, we’re finally doing that. Which is good, because then I’ll just have a place to send people when they have questions about how it went.

Ryan: Before we dive in, why don’t you tell people why you got a brain scan?

Maggie: This is why we’re doing this together—because Ryan will be able to keep everything on track. So, why did I get a brain scan?

First of all, it’s always been really fascinating to me ever since I heard about it. But I’ve had a long, long, long history with mental health issues my whole life, and a lot of the time it was just kind of guessing at what would work and hopping on an antidepressant. At one point, I was on an antidepressant, anti-anxiety, something for insomnia, something for ADD… I was just on a shit-ton of things.

I’m not on anything anymore, but over the last—probably starting in June—there were some mental health things that kind of started coming up. And I was getting a little bit frantic because I didn’t really know where it was coming from. And that was what led me to reaching out and seeing if I could get…

Ryan: And you thought you had figured it out.

Maggie: I still can’t exactly pinpoint what happened because I obviously… Today, I feel so, so, so good. And so, I don’t really know what happened. But I kind of started looking for like, “Okay, we need to…” This hasn’t really been an issue. I wouldn’t have classified myself as being depressed, even for five years, probably, since I had found keto.

So, I was panicking a little bit because I’m like, “Whoa this is a problem.” And due to my experience—which I think we talked about in episode three, about my postpartum and getting on an antipsychotic and all that kind of stuff—I do not have a good association with pills, medication…

And then episode 55, we talked about my abuse of Adderall, an abusive stimulant… So, I’m not big on taking pills, taking medications. But with the space that I was at, I was like, “I’m not unwilling to take medications if that’s the right route, but I will not be guessing and shooting in the dark and just meeting with a regular doctor.”

Ryan: And that’s the purpose of doing a brain scan, right?

Maggie: Yeah. So, I was turned on… I heard about a brain scan from a couple different people on Instagram who had gotten it done. And primarily the work of the Amen Clinics is around ADHD and this specific type of scan.

And so, I started reading some of his books. And a lot of what I was reading made a lot of sense, but then the only way you can really know for sure is to get a brain scan.

So, the thing that was most appealing to me about the brain scan was, in the book I read, he said that psychiatrists are people that deal with issues with the brain. They’re the only type of doctor that doesn’t look at the organ that they treat.

And to me, that blew my brain apart, because I’m like, “It’s true.” Any other doctor you go to, they’re going to examine your arm or they’re going to X-ray your whatever. So, basically, this type of scan is a way to look at the brain. And what it measures is activity, blood flow to different parts of the brain, and then overactivity and underactivity.

So, basically, when it comes down to treatment and diagnoses, it’s coming from a very well educated place because they’re actually looking at what’s happening. And looking at what’s happening—for me, the scan that I did was in a concentrated state, so they kind of ramped my brain up after focusing on something, and then did the brain scan to show my brain in a concentrated state.

Ryan: So, they actually look at your brain as opposed to… What happens when you go to a psychiatrist, and you tell them you’re depressed?

Maggie: It’s just kind of like, they’ll have you do a survey. That makes it sound very whatever, but that is almost how the diagnosing is done. And what it said in the book was they just look for symptom clusters.

So, they’re going to look for how the stuff is manifesting and based on everything that you tell them. So, what was really appealing to me was a direct… If I have to take meds, that’s fine. If I have to do something, that’s fine. But I want to know that I’m doing it because we know that there’s a really good reason to take this route. So, I was kind of open to that.

Ryan: Got it.

Maggie: So, I’m not going to take you guys through the whole process. It’s very extensive. I got my final report, and it was literally 18 pages long.

Ryan: And for anybody… This is not a practical, covered-by-insurance type thing.

Maggie: No. This was all out of pocket.

Ryan: Very expensive.

Maggie: Yeah. And I’ve had people ask. It’s been $3,500 to $4,500. And then it includes a big preassessment, the testing itself, the follow-ups with the psychiatrist, the follow-ups with your aftercare specialist. It’s the whole package. Everything for the process is included. So, where should we start?

Ryan: What did it say?

Maggie: So, you want to get right to the results rather than what I did. Do you guys care? You guys probably don’t even care.

Ryan: What do you mean what you did?

Maggie: Like, how it worked.

Ryan: Oh, yeah.

Maggie: It’s pretty easy to explain. Pretty quick. So, there was a really big assessment that I did beforehand. Like, literally, every time I opened this assessment, I would close it, which was probably…

Ryan: I had to do it too.

Maggie: Yeah. Which was probably a good identification. Like, if you guys don’t know this about me, when I was in fourth grade, I guessed on all of my SATs. And then the entire fifth grade, at every parent-teacher conference, they had to tell my mom that I was at risk of retention. I was at risk of repeating the grade because I had guessed on my SATs.

Ryan: The bubble sheets?

Maggie: Yes.

Ryan: The Scantrons.

Maggie: The Scantrons. We were just discussing the word “Scantron” the other day. That was kind of my whole school experience. The rest of my family—my siblings—are all ADHD. But they all are hyperactive, which, I don’t really have that aspect.

Ryan: You were adopted. You don’t have the same genes as they do.

Maggie: I don’t have the same genes as them, but I did have the same diagnosis, but it was just missed somehow. Yeah, I’m adopted. I don’t know if I ever told you guys that. Listen, guys. I’ve lived a life. Okay?

Ryan: You were adopted when you were two.

Maggie: I was adopted when I was two.

Ryan: Crazy.

Maggie: And that’s the interesting stuff is they took all of that information in. It wasn't just how my symptoms were manifesting. It was like, “What’s your history? What traumas did you experience? What, you know, big life events?”

All of that makes up your brain health. All of it affects it. “Do you have any actual physical brain trauma?” And that was picked up on my brain scan, too, that there is indication that there was actual trauma to my head—you know, to my brain.

Ryan: What do you think that was?

Maggie: I have my guesses, ’kay, boo? We’re not going to discuss it on this podcast.

So, there was a huge intake thing that took me forever to complete, because it was like, “How often does this happen? Blah, blah, blah.” But then I also wanted Ryan to do it.

It’s basically so someone close to you can also say what they pick up from living with you and interacting with you. I thought that was interesting. So, they just take in so much information. So many questions they ask.

Ryan: They ask the same question in different ways too. It's so annoying.

Maggie: Yeah, it's really, really thorough. And then you kind of go over all of that with the intake person. And they kind of prep the report before the scan based on like, “This is kind of what her life has been like… This is what her symptoms have been like… This is how she's feeling right now... This is why she's here…. This is what she hopes to get out of this…” And then they do the brain scan.

So, we flew down to California to go to some Dodger games and stuff. And I went to their Costa Mesa location. And when I got there… Let's see, when I got there, they made me do this test, and it was torturous, you guys.

There was a bunch of letters that flashed on the screen. And you were supposed to press the spacebar for every letter but the “X.” So, it would be like “G,” “H,” “I,” “X”—but you don't want to press it on that. Dude, I pressed it on every “X.”

So, if the goal of that thing was to stress my freaking brain out, mission accomplished. I would just be doing it… I’d be like, “Damn it.” Like, the lady who's the technician must have been like, “What is wrong with this girl?” I'm like, “Dude, that was so stressful.”

So basically, they get your brain in this concentrated state. I'm in this dark room looking at the screen, making my brain focus. Oh, and they put an IV into your arm, like a little IV of this solution that, once it's in your bloodstream, it must light your brain up or something. It apparently goes to your brain for this test.

And then for the test, I had to lay on this board thing—lay on this table. And they literally strapped my head down because you have to stay completely statue-still. And they put this little thing around my head to keep my head exactly where it was. And then for 20 minutes, it just slowly would just shift around my head, and it went all the way around my head. And yeah, it took about 20 minutes.

And then they were like, “Bye.” And that was it, you guys. They didn't tell me anything. Just sent me on my way. My follow-up was September 29. And that was when I got to follow up with the doctor.

So, let's get to the juicy part. Basically, what they told me… They noticed—I'm not going to get into the brain stuff because it's not going to make sense to anyone unless you've read these books about the basal ganglia and the temporal lobes and the prefrontal cortex and all of that…

Ryan: We're going to be the TLDR.

Maggie: One hundred percent. So, what they were able to diagnose—surprise, surprise—was major depressive disorder, which is just depressive, but it's categorized as recurrent. As in, I've experienced it multiple times in my life. It kind of comes and goes, mostly gone.

Anxiety, which, does that surprise anybody?

And ADHD. Like, I don't even know if that's a diagnosis. I believe all of it. Like, the diagnosis code is ADHD regardless, but I don't believe that I have that hyperactivity aspect of ADHD.

So, those were the three official diagnoses that I got. She went over, you know, there was lack of blood flow to my left temporal lobe, and then that represents mood management—my ability to navigate my mood.

And then also, there was a place in my brain that was super overactive, and that indicated the anxiety. And then, there was another place that indicated ADHD.

Ryan: Were you surprised by any of these?

Maggie: No, those are the diagnoses that I have. But just based on my history, and based on when I got diagnosed with ADHD—which was when I was 18—and then the subsequent issues that I had with the ADHD med, I just didn't really believe it was true. I just kind of believed everybody has ADHD tendencies. And I probably was a fake diagnosis.

Until we shared about that on the podcast. And something about that cleared the slate for me. And all of a sudden, I was like, “Damn, I think I have ADD.” All of a sudden, it became real, because I had so much shame around my ADD because of the meds.

Ryan: Yeah.

Maggie: So, it was never a thing I took seriously because I was so ashamed of that whole blanket experience. It was never something that I looked to improve or look into or embrace at all because I was so ashamed.

So, once we recorded that podcast, all of a sudden, I was like, “Dude, I think I have a really hard time focusing. I think I'm really distractible. I think I lose stuff all the time. I think, you know, whatever.” So then, that was in February, I think, we recorded that podcast. And then, ever since then, I've been more open to it.

But the depression, anxiety—that didn't surprise me. What was she surprised about? A lot of my intake questions kind of pointed at OCD-type stuff. And she was like, “I was very surprised to see that that did not show up on the scan.”

They can pull up, you know, bipolar disorder, OCD, just by certain patterns of all these people they've diagnosed in the past and what their similarities were in regards to their brain scan.

So, those were three things that came up. What was funny is once I get on the phone with my psychiatrist… I basically told them that my diet has been holding up the table of my mental health and my life being juicy. If there was a way that maybe my diet didn't need to do so much, that would be cool too. Like, maybe there's another way to support myself.

And it was so funny to me because, of course, they're aware of my history. But she had to have said “keto” at least four or five times within the first 10 minutes, basically acknowledging, “When we're dealing with naturally managing this, you are doing most of the things I would tell you to do.” Which, honestly, felt good to know that, had I seen her in 2016, the story would have been different.

Ryan: Yeah.

Maggie: I think the brain scan would have been different. I think the results would have been different. I'm choosing to believe—and I have no evidence of this—that a brain scan in 2016 versus a brain scan in 2021 would have shown massive, massive healing. I just refuse to believe anything else. There's just no way that's not possible.

Even including stuff where, based on the things I've been through in my life, even that trauma… Like, PTSD… None of that was showing up. And so, I know the work that I've done over the last four or five—it's almost five years—has most likely really changed my brain for the better.

So, when it came to diet… I'm just going to tell you guys what she recommended. Then, that's kind of it.

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And then I'll kind of tell you where I'm at right now. So, here's what she recommended for brain optimization. Eating a diet that's high in healthy fats and antioxidants, such as salmon, avocado, blueberries, garlic, and low in sugar/carbohydrates, which, that’s hilarious, right, you guys? That’s so funny.

I recommend that you take a good multivitamin, Omega-3, and vitamin D₃. Abstain from any alcohol, nicotine, or anything else. A minimum of 30 minutes cardiovascular activity daily—super bummed to hear that. Starting right- and left-brain activity, such as ping pong.

Ryan: Ping pong.

Maggie: I haven't done much on that. She recommended a supplement that I'll get into in a second. She recommended a couple other supplements. One of them is for focus and energy and one of them was going to be to help with the mood regulation.

And then recommended I do EMDR, which is a form of therapy, and seeing a naturopath to deal with what could potentially be some hormonal stuff going on right now.

I mean, this report—it's 18 pages. It's super long. But it was an amazing experience. I loved it. I did everything they told me to do. Again, I haven't done Sudoku or ping pong yet, but I have been doing the other stuff.

I started taking off with this mood—it's natural, but it still works on the same receptors of serotonin, dopamine, all that kind of stuff that an SSRI antidepressant-type thing would do, but it's natural—and it didn't go well. It didn’t go well at all.

Ryan: Oh, yeah?

Maggie: It turned me... I started sweating… Like an hour after I took it, like, sweating and was irritable. I was launching off the handles at my kids. I was like, “This shit is not right.” And it was four days in a row. And I reached out to them. I'm like, “I don't think I can do this. There's a problem.”

And then they had me do it for two more days. And then I was like, “Yeah, I'm not taking this anymore.” And she recommended that I stop taking it. But that was what I was going to do.

So, besides that, taking the multivitamin, taking vitamin D—a high dose of vitamin D, the Omega-3s, which I've never taken, and apparently, they're very, very well studied. You started on those as well.

Ryan: Yeah.

Maggie: The big oil pills, right?

Ryan: Yeah.

Maggie: The DHA whatever. Taking those—vitamin D, the focus and energy supplement, and a probiotic, and I'm feeling amazing. Like, so good.

I was a little concerned after I started with that first supplement in addition to all of them, because I started them all at one time. And I was like, “Oh no. Something is going wrong here.”

One other thing I want to say: when it comes to an antidepressant or some kind of mood stabilizer, the ones that they recommended… She had three that she said, “If you decided you wanted to go the route of medication, these are the three.”

I have never been put on one of those before. I don't know what kind of different family it's from. But the three that she had said, “We could start you on one of these,” I've been put on five other ones but never one of these three.

Ryan: Do you remember what they're called?

Maggie: Well, I do. So, in the past, I had tried Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, ones like that. The ones that they had recommended would be Wellbutrin, Effexor, and Lexapro. I've never taken any of those. And I think that's interesting. That was my reason for going to them.

Ryan: Yeah.

Maggie: Like, should I need an antidepressant in the future, the ones that I was being put on are not recommended per my brain. But you wouldn't know that kind of stuff. There's so much trial and error that has to get done. To me, that's really valuable information to have should I need to go that route at some point.

But my decision will always be primarily taking care of my health and my brain and my diagnoses that are 100% true and 100% exist and legit and real, in the most natural way possible. How do I enhance what I already have? How do I do that in a natural way?

And for me, I would much rather focus on my diet than take a pill that I don't even know if is warranted, even at this point, that does something to kind of numb my brain out. You know what I mean? That’s just kind of what it does. It kind of slows my brain down to deal with the depression and anxiety.

But then my brain doesn't work as fast as I like it to. And that's kind of one of the benefits I see from ADD, you know? My brain works quickly.

Ryan: Yeah, the fascinating thing to me is how the second something gets a little wiggly in your life as far as how you feel emotionally and physically, you're like, “Nah, fuck this. I'm going to figure this out.”

Maggie: Yeah.

Ryan: You didn't used to be like that. You have this standard now…

Maggie: Yeah.

Ryan: …That’s like, “I have to be feeling this good. Otherwise, I'm miserable.”

Maggie: Well, otherwise, I've overcommitted to life. You know what I mean? It would be one thing if I wasn't doing very much, but I'm doing way too much to not feel good. Because otherwise, I'm just torturing myself.

And a lot of the last six months has felt torturous because I was not doing well. I want to solve the problem because I do have a baseline standard of how I need to feel to do all the things that I want to do, that I'm choosing to do, that I love to do. All of those things are harder when my mental health isn't in the right place. I mean, it was hard to do anything.

Ryan: Does that translate to following your plan and losing weight too?

Maggie: Yeah, I think it absolutely does.

Ryan: Did you have trouble following your plan more often?

Maggie: Yeah, I would say it was pretty wonky there. I had some periods over the last four to six months that were like, “Whoa, what is happening?” And they never went too long. And I think that's cool.

Ryan: Yeah.

Maggie: Because it just shows that there was really progress made—legitimate progress made—in the fact that, mentally, it was messy in there. And yet, I wasn't just like, “Well then, screw everything forever.” I still always knew that I needed to take care of myself if I wanted to make the best out of the current situation that I was in.

Ryan: Yeah, I noticed those types of patterns. It's not nearly as extreme because I don't deal with much mental health stuff. But even on days when I get not enough sleep…

Maggie: That's huge for me.

Ryan: …I want to eat everything.

Maggie: I've created a sleepy protocol at this point. And it includes a bowl of oatmeal, because a bowl of oatmeal is a much better decision for me than just all the kids’ snacks.

Ryan: Yeah.

Maggie: Sleep is… And that comes down also to taking care of your brain. Your brain doesn't function without sleep or without water. Your brain is directing... I mean, that's what most of this podcast is about. Your brain is directing what you do—your thinking, your focus, your clarity.

It's so important and you notice that your habits and doing what you need to do wanes when you're not taking care of your brain, when you're not taking care of doing those things that make it run optimally.

So, that's tip-, tip-, tip-top priority for me. And it makes my life better. My life is exponentially better. And I'm grateful for experiences like this because it makes me search for answers.

I think I've always had a little bit of that in me, but especially since finding keto and really overhauling my life, I'm just like, “No. We're not going to settle for less than this because we already did that for so many years. We're going to find solutions. I don't care what kind of doctor, what kind of therapy…”

And maybe a brain scan isn't right for everyone who's listening here. But there are so many different ways to take care of your mental health to support your life. Whether it's therapy, whether it's EMDR, whether it's a lifestyle change… There are so many different things that you can do to take care of your mental health.

If you need that kind of support, pick something. Try it. See if it works. My life experience is built up of all different types of experiences and modalities and support. And that's why I have such a clean mental space today, even when my depression flares up, even when I'm having anxiety.

Because I have so many freaking tools. I have so many things to choose from when it comes down to, “Okay, what do we want to implement here for this?”

Ryan: That's crazy.

I'm trying to think if there's anything else. No, I'm feeling amazing. Keto is still a huge focus for me. So is a weekly date night. I just feel like my goal—and I hope your guys' goal too—is just to find a way that you build a lifestyle that balances out what's important to you.

And although that's going to look different for everybody, you get to balance out, “What's my main focus here? What's going to get me what I want?”

And for me, it's like, I have to be able to show up with energy every day as a mom and a wife and a business owner. I have to. I have to love what I'm doing. I can't be stressed out all the time about what I'm doing. I can't be unfocused. I have to do stuff.

And so, to me, I don't have a sad—I was just coaching someone on this extensively in Vibe Club—I don't have a sad story about keto. I don't have a story about how it's holding me back. I had a bad story about carbs. We've already fixed that. I don't have a bad story about keto.

I have a juicy, juicy story about the gift and what it gives to me because of my mental health. And so, I'm always going to be looking to up-level that. It was just funny to hear her just be like, “Well, you're kind of doing what we would tell you to do diet-wise,” because I have never been confused about what this way of eating has offered me.

Someone could be like, “Ugh, keto’s a fad diet. Nobody needs to do keto.” And I would just let… Like, that's fine. Do you. Do whatever you want, but you can't take away my experience. You can't take away what I have experienced.

So, it doesn't matter what thoughts people have about keto. That could never shake my feeling about what lowering processed food, lowering sugar, moving to a low-carb keto diet has done for me. So, I'm just like, “That's fine. Do you. Eat your food. Whatever.” But your story about what you're doing matters a lot too.

Ryan: Cool.

Maggie: All right. We'll see you guys next week.

Ryan: See ya.

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