Eating Challenges, Behaviors, and Nutrition

“Let food be thy medicine.” -Hippocrates

If you are a parent whose child has eating challenges, chances are meal time is not fun. You may even be embarrassed by how picky of an eater your child is: perhaps all your child will eat is candy, fruit snacks, and cookies… but at least they are eating something right? If this resonates with you, you are not alone. Eating challenges can lead parents to feel stuck, or even ashamed. However, the old saying “we are what we eat,” is true. The food we eat affects our behavior and brain development. If your child is struggling with symptoms of anxiety, aggression, constipation, eczema, frequent illness, moodiness, sensory processing challenges – nutrition is playing a role. In order to support and free you from that stuck or shameful feeling, we want to arm you with the knowledge and resources to move forward with creating a healthier home for your family. 

I have done some pretty extensive research in the last few months and the piece that keeps sticking out is that foods may be the root cause of the challenges listed above. I never understood the link between how food was actually causing or contributing to anxiety, aggression, constipation, frequent illness, moodiness or sensory processing challenges. There is a growing body research that links the two.

I also know that children are two things: highly intuitive and highly sensitive. For example, a child may refuse milk because they are actually irritated by milk even if they have tested negative for an allergy. Turns out that most allergy testing for food isn’t very accurate in can lead us away from the truth. Most parents want their child to drink milk for the protein and calcium and, therefore, require children to drink it. This can lead to a slippery slope of letting the child know it is more important to listen to something outside of themselves rather than listen to their intuition. On the other hand, sometimes children will crave the food that is actually causing the problem. For example, I know that having a meal of pizza and brownies may make me feel bad, yet I have given in to this craving. The foods we crave are typically high in starch and sugar because it creates a rapid flood of dopamine, the feel-good chemical, to the brain which will sooth discomfort momentarily. As an adult I have more capacity to access the higher centers of my brain, like impulse control, and I know if I eat pizza and brownies I will feel terrible later. These centers of the brain are much less developed in children so they tend to focus on the ‘feel better now.’ One of the leading pediatric nutritionists, Kelly Dorfman, explains that all nutrition problems fall into one of two categories: either something is bothering the body or something is missing (Dorfman, 2013). Children who are picky eaters or have challenges around food are more often than not consuming something that is bothering them or missing something because they limit their foods so significantly.

  • The most common foods that can cause symptoms like anxiety, aggression, rash (irritated skin), moodiness, and difficulty with sleep are:
    • Gluten, dairy and sugar! These cause inflammation in the body and brain.
  • The most common foods that can cause symptoms like picky eating, common and/or frequent illness, sensory challenges, difficulty concentrating, and depression are:
    • Vitamins and minerals.
    • Big ones for children are: B1 (thiamine) B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (biotin and pantothenic), B6 (pyridoxine), folate B9, and B12. These vitamins convert food into fuel. Zinc which is critical for growth, taste and smell acuity, and immune function.
    • Healthy Fats. Omega-3 omega-6 and omega-9, and Vitamin E complex. These are essential for proper brain development, function and immune function.

By no means am I a doctor or pediatric nutritionist, but I am passionate about helping relieve challenging behaviors with children and families. Some of the resources I have found incredibly helpful in discovering more about how nutrition impacts behaviors and challenges around eating are listed below.

Books:

  • Cure Your Child with Food by: Kelly Dorfman
  • Healing Without Hurting by: Jennifer Giusra-Kozek
  • Gut and Psychology Syndrom by: Dr. Natasha Campbell
  • A Mind of Your Own by: Kelly Brogan (more adult specific)

Websites:

  • https://www.healingwithouthurting.com/brain-under-attack
  • https://robertlustig.com/sugar-science/
  • https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/childrens-health/gut-and-psychology-syndrome-gaps/
  • http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US8727083

If you are curious about how nutrition is affecting your child, feel free to contact us for a list of nutritionally savvy doctors/pediatricians, nutritionists, naturopaths, or integrative medicine physicians.

– Kelly Miller, LCSW, RPT/S, RYT+200

Resources:

Dorfman, K. (2013). Cure your child with food: the hidden connection between nutrition and childhood ailments. New York: Workman Publishing Company.

Brogan, K. (2016). A Mind of Your Own. Harpercollins Publishers.

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