TO ASSIST BEHAVIORS ASSOCIATED W/ ADHD
Chantielle Harris, Nutritionist
ADHD or Attention Deficit- Hyperactivity Disorder has become quite common in most recent years. In 2011 64.5% of the children in New Jersey were reportedly diagnosed and medicated.Cdc.gov,2019
My oldest child is brilliant. He has been performing well in school and blowing test scores out of the box since he started school. I would receive phone calls or letters from school for two reasons; either he was excelling, or his behavior was horrible. He is not a hyperactive kid by nature. He likes to read, play video games, or do anything digital. Yet his behavior in school was unacceptable. He would fidget in his chair, move his classmates’ chairs, lose focus during lessons, basically he was moving to the beat of his own drum.
In elementary school, my son was able to succeed without effort. He could sleep the entire class and get an A on a test. That changed when he accepted admission to an advanced intermediate school; his inability to focus was finally affecting his grades. As a result, he did not feel as smart as he did in elementary school. He was discouraged and felt an inability to control his impulses. At that point, he begged to be removed from his new school. I reminded him of his past accomplishments and encouraged him to work harder. I removed video games and limited his screen time, but that was not enough. He continued to struggle in certain areas and began falling asleep in class. When the principal brought this to my attention, I was livid yet eager to find the root problem and a solution.
I took him to the doctor and expressed my concerns. The doctor gave me an observation packet to utilize at home, as well as one for his teachers. Once the doctor reviewed it, she stated that he was showing signs of mild Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. She said they could prescribe medication now, or wait until it progressed; however, she was candid in letting me know that if he began the medication, it would more than likely be long term. I asked her to let me think about it. The last thing I wanted was for my child to take medication for the rest of his life so I decided to research alternative medicine for ADHD. All things pointed to a healthy diet and organizing a daily schedule that stayed consistent. If I am being honest, our home life was not extremely organized due to my work schedule; nonetheless, I was determined to make the necessary changes to help my son.
I included him in the process. I said, “let’s try this diet for a few weeks, see if you notice any changes & if it helps, we can share it with others.” I decided to approach it in the manner of a research project with him and I as a team. Since he loves science, there was less pushback from him and more effort. I explained that he would need to know the food list and to make good choices at all times for this to work. He agreed and fully committed. For instance, when he was with his grandmother, he would decline the fast food stop, or the bag of Doritos because he was conducting research, not because his evil, snack hating mother had put him on a diet. If ever he was unsure, he would call or text me and ask if something was ok to eat.
When I do protocols at work for patients, we give them a time limit, so I decided to do the same with this diet for my son. We eliminated foods for about 60 days then I slowly let him add in a treat here and there. If you google “diets for ADHD” or “foods to avoid for ADHD,” you will find a lot of conflicting advice, so I am sharing what we tried specifically and what seemed to work. He is currently thriving in school, I haven’t had one bad report from any of his teachers, and I haven’t heard from the principal at all; Last year we were like BFF”s! He finished the final two semesters with only 1 C on his report card and has maintained straight A’s this year thus far.
“The food you eat can either be the safest & most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore
A lot of research studies conducted seem to agree that artificial sweeteners, certain dyes, chemicals, sodium benzoate, and simple sugars can trigger ADHD symptoms. Thus leading me to believe that our children’s current diet is the cause of this sudden high prevalence of the disorder. If that’s the case, it makes sense to remove these ingredients to evaluate if the symptoms and behavior associated with ADHD would subside
We removed the following foods altogether:
- Fruit Juices
- Fast Food
- Red meat
- Excess Processed meat
- Excess Sugar
I decided to remove dairy from his diet to eliminate irritable moods associated with lactose intolerance, as well as decrease the time he spent in the bathroom. Mini nutrition lesson: We have two brains, one in the head and one in the gut. I wanted to improve both and leave no room for errors or “what if’s” since he was my only test subject.
I understand as a nutritionist that the brain needs the following for optimal productivity; adequate amounts of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin C, Fiber, and the B Vitamins.
So we added the following foods to his diet:
- Whole grain
- Green Vegetables
I taught my son how to read the nutrition label, as well as how to spot sugar in “sugar-free” products. My son loves cheese and cereal, so we purchased almond or coconut milk and almond cheese. He opted to snack on more fruits and vegetables and packed his lunches for school. If we were out, he would ask for an egg and spinach whole grain burrito from Wawa (very specifically) instead of a burger.
Some articles stated that caffeine would trigger ADHD effects, however, there are a few studies which show that it helps by mimicking the same effects medication would, since it is a stimulant. We opted to try it, and He was allowed to have one small serving of hot cocoa in the mornings before school. (I am not sure if it helped, however, it did not hurt our results, and it was a treat he looked forward to daily.)
When you are looking for improved function from the body due to a change in nutrition, you have to understand that it will not work as fast as medication. Medication, in this case, will mask the symptoms for short periods. A diet protocol is working from the inside out. Give the protocol at least 30-60 days to show improved behavior. You’re looking to obtain long-term effects, and these do not happen quickly.
Organization at home
This part was pretty simple. Adding a dry erase board in our kitchen helped a lot. We agreed on a daily schedule for afterschool. I also keep a calendar with the monthly activities and events in the kitchen for him to see. When he gets home, he completes homework, changes his clothes, and completes any tasks written on the dry erase board. M-F there are little to no changes, Saturday and Sunday he can relax unless there is an event on the calendar. His younger brother is also accustomed to the schedule and is excelling in Kindergarten. It has been one full year today since we tried this little experiment. He is no longer on the diet; however, he still watches how much dairy and sweet treats he enjoys. He rarely eats red or processed foods because I do not cook them. He even stays away from soda and fruit juices, but he has the freedom to enjoy one with permission here and there. Unlike medication, his diet was temporary, and the symptoms were not masked, they disappeared.
After this experience, I reminded myself to check in with him more. I ask my children questions about school, friends, feelings, and general conversation. My child was under a lot of stress in the first year of the new school, and I realized that children experience high-stress levels, just like adults. Other factors to monitor are sleep, energy, mood, and physical activity. Lack of sleep can cause low energy and an aggravated mood. In contrast, the inability to calm the mind at night can interfere with sleep. Ensure that your child has some form of outlet for energy and set screen time limits. My son can earn 2 hours if his homework and chores are completed at a decent time during the week.
ADHD is a serious condition that plagues both adults and children. The symptoms vary for every individual, and the symptoms recognized in my son are just a few of the many. Paying attention to changes in your child’s behavior, moods, sleep patterns, etc., and addressing them accordingly is vital to their stability and your sanity. If you think your child is demonstrating symptoms of ADHD contact your physician to have a proper evaluation, and consider utilizing the diet and organizational tips shared in this article. Even if your child is not diagnosed with ADHD, implementing these tips into daily life will still be beneficial.
Here are a few great resources to help you better understand how food can affect behaviors and cognitive responses of ADHD:
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