Using Nutrition to Manage ADHD

My child was diagnosed with ADHD and I was told he needs to start conventional medication. I have seen a lot of information about alternative therapies, including different diets, but are they safe? Do they work? How do I know which one(s) to try?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, manifests as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity, or some combination of these. While the exact cause of ADHD remains unknown, we do know several factors can lead to its development. As a result, treatment is highly individualized and often involves a combination of several approaches designed to alleviate associated symptoms. Treatment approaches include medication, behavioral counseling, education and training.

In addition to these treatment options, many recommendations have emerged as an alternative or supplemental therapy to help manage symptoms of ADHD. These dietary modifications can be confusing to both the caretaker and the individual. They are often complicated and difficult to apply. In an effort to clear up some of the confusion, here is a brief overview on some of the most popular recommendations and what research has to say about them.

*Before reading, please note that this information is not intended to replace medical recommendations and its application should be considered under the guidance of a registered dietitian.

  • Sugar-restricted Diet: The theory behind this diet is that eating excessive amounts of refined sugar worsens symptoms of ADHD. Many individuals and caretakers report this to be true for themselves and/or their children. Surprisingly, some studies do not show a connection between excess sugar consumption and ADHD symptoms. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that leads people to still give it a try! Take Home Message: This diet is safe to try with your child, but do not expect drastic changes in behavior simply from removing added sugars. Regardless of whether sugar does or does not affect ADHD symptoms significantly, it is beneficial to limit the amount of added sugars in our diets for general wellness.
  • Additive/Preservative-free (The Feingold Diet): This modification requires avoiding certain foods thought to cause adverse reactions in children with ADHD. The foods in question are those containing dyes and preservatives, particularly red, orange, and yellow synthetic dyes. For example, you can recognize dyes such as red #40 or yellow #5 from food labels on the ingredients lists. You might also look to avoid preservatives, such as BHA, BHT and TBHQ. These types of additives are often found in processed foods and are listed on the nutrition facts label. Research provides inconsistent evidence about the effectiveness of this diet; however, some children do benefit from the elimination of these items. Take Home Message: Remember, making these adjustments may or may not alleviate your child’s ADHD symptoms. However, this diet is safe to try, and by eliminating or limiting the amount of packaged and processed foods in the home, you are making positive, healthy changes for your entire family.
  • Oligoantigenic (Elimination Diet): This diet eliminates well known food antigens, which cause an immune response in the body, and allergens, which cause an allergic reaction, in hopes of identifying foods that might trigger ADHD symptoms. Symptoms are alleviated when the “problem-foods” (the antigens or allergens) are removed from the diet. Several foods are eliminated all at once in hopes that the symptoms subside. Then, foods are reintroduced one at a time to determine which one(s) are the culprit for influencing symptoms and therefore should be permanently eliminated. As with the previous two diets, research is mixed about the effectiveness of this approach in treating individuals with ADHD. Take Home Message: Eliminating certain foods from the diet may improve some symptoms associated with ADHD. However, if you are going to attempt this type of diet, it is imperative you work with healthcare professionals, including a dietitian, to ensure your child continues to meet their nutritional needs. If you have an interest in this, please ask our registered dietitians about the Lymphocytic Response Assay Testing (LRA) and read more about it here.
  • Ketogenic Diet: This is a diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrate and is sometimes used for the treatment of epilepsy. Not much is known about how the diet works, but it can have an anti-epileptic effect. What does this have to do with ADHD? Children with epilepsy often have ADHD symptoms and children with ADHD sometimes have epileptiform discharges in an electroencephalography (EEG). Please note, this is very rare and would be best diagnosed by a medical doctor. It is thought that if a child with ADHD experiences these epileptiform discharges, the ketogenic diet may be beneficial. There are few, if any, scientific studies testing this diet and its effects on a child with ADHD. Take Home Message: It is NOT recommended to use the ketogenic diet to alleviate symptoms associated with ADHD alone, but may be an effective approach if ADHD exists with epileptiform discharges in an EEG.
  • Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acid Supplementation: It is thought that children with ADHD may have lower levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) compared to children without ADHD. As a result, several studies have looked at whether supplementing these fatty acids in children with ADHD would alleviate symptoms associated with the disorder. Surprise, surprise: results of the studies are inconclusive! Fatty acid supplementation is beneficial for some kids and was shown to be ineffective in others. This treatment approach is not always effective, but in most cases is not harmful to try and can have other health benefits for a child. Take Home Message: Essential fatty acids alone are not an effective tool for ADHD management. However, it might be beneficial to ensure adequate intake of these nutrients in children who are deficient. Consider talking with a registered dietitian about the amount and type of supplementation your child might need. You might consider adding foods that are high in these nutrients, including ground flax seed (make sure you store in a freezer or refrigerator!), walnuts, and high fat cold water fish (e.g., salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, chunk light tuna canned in water).
  • Megavitamin Supplementation: This type of supplementation might refer to taking mega-doses of multivitamins, individual vitamins, and/or minerals to create an “optimal molecular environment” for the functioning of the mind. Research shows this type of therapy is not effective for management of ADHD and related symptoms. As a matter of fact, excessive intake of some vitamins can be toxic to our bodies and cause adverse reactions. Take Home Message: DO NOT use megavitamin supplementation as a means to manage ADHD. It is only recommended to consume vitamins and minerals in levels that exceed the RDA (recommended daily allowance) under the specific recommendations of a health care professional due to their potential toxicity.

You might be thinking, “Wow. This is a lot of information and I still feel confused. So, should I change my child’s diet to manage their ADHD or not?” Well, research shows that diet alone may not be an effective management tool for children with ADHD. Since the cause of the disorder is multifactorial, medical experts recommend using a combination of medication, supplementation, and/or behavioral therapies to treat the disorder. Since diet is a modifiable aspect that might affect the disorder, it could be worth adding it to that list to try as a supplemental therapy.

Initially, focus on regular meal times (i.e., encouraging your child to eat every 3-4 hours) to promote stable blood sugar levels. Aim for a well-rounded healthy diet since it is beneficial for any developing child. This would include focusing on lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. In doing so, less emphasis is placed on added sugars and processed foods, thereby eliminating some of the potentially problematic foods. You never know: making these changes might lead to less reliance on conventional medications.

If you are serious about trying one of the aforementioned diets to manage ADHD symptoms, it is important to recognize that these types of diets can be complex, time-consuming, and disruptive to the rest of the family. They require a lot of patience and perseverance. It is vitally important to work with a registered dietitian who can help you with meal planning, stocking your pantry with safe items, and recommend supplements as needed. Find a team of healthcare professionals who support your decision and are able to provide their expertise along the way.

If you are interested in learning more about how ADHD might be related to diet or to schedule a nutrition consultation with a dietitian, please contact us at 713-365-9015 or email heritage@heritagebehavioral.com.

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Special thanks to Ms. Mara Mcguin for her assistance in creating the above article. Mara was a previous dietetic intern at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants and is now a newly credentialed Registered Dietitian in the Colorado area.

References:

–  Center for Science in the Public Interest. Diet, ADHD & Behavior: A Quarter-Century Review (2009 Update).

–  Millichap JG, Yee MM. The Diet Factor in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Pediatrics. 2012;129:330-337.

–  Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Natural Medicines in the Clinical Management of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Document accessed 1/7/2013.

–  Stevens LJ, Kuczek T, Burgess JR, Hurt E, Arnold LE. Dietary Sensitivities and ADHD Symptoms: Thirty-five Years of Research. Clinical Pediatrics. 2011;50(4):279-293.

–  USDHHS, NIH, Nat’l Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) website. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at a Glance. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/adhd/ataglance; Updated 6/19/2013. Accessed 7/10/2013.

Fall Into Flavor NOT Fads

Butternut Squash Soup

Pictured above: a Thanksgiving meal including the (top right) Roasted Butternut Squash soup and (top middle) Wild Rice and Chestnut stuffing. See recipes below. 

I’m a sucker for the fall season. All it takes is one unusual Houston cold-front in early October and I’m smitten. I pull out my boots from the back of the closet, start making hot-teas throughout the day, open all the windows in our house and at the office, and then start scouring my cookbooks for recipes that offer a soup or squash in their content! My next endeavor this fall is to use this website http://www.pickyourown.org/TXhouston.htm to find some local farms within a day-trip driving distance to go and pick my own produce which may just inspire some new recipes. Beyond new recipes, cool weather, and looking forward to some time reading a good book… something else happens about this time of year…

Just this week, I had a conversation with a colleague regarding fall weather and how it seems to elicit thoughts, memories, and cravings for delicious holiday foods and treats. When I hear people talk about this, it seems like there’s a sense of dread. Almost a statement of, “Here it comes: the ruin of any goals I had for healthy eating because _______ just tastes so good!” This makes me wonder how we have come so far in thinking that fall, winter, and holiday eating MUST be unhealthy to be enjoyable. Folks think that you have to stick to some fad diet for the entire holiday season to prevent weight gain. Wrong! The key is to focus on maintaining flavor in your food while eliminating the traditionally processed ingredients commonly found in our favorite recipes for stuffings, appetizers, desserts, soups, and stews this time of year. Don’t believe me? Try a few of the following recipes and see if their flavors are as enticing as some of those fad-diets can be.

SMOKY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

My brother-in-law made this for our Thanksgiving meal appetizer last year and it is now a family favorite. We also made this for a cooking demonstration at Heritage last holiday season and the class participants were surprised at the complex flavors of the simple ingredients.

Ingredients for 4 large (1 cup) or 8 small (1/2 cup) servings:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

One 3-pound butternut squash, peeled and diced (8 cups)

1 small canned chipotle in adobo, chopped

7 cups chicken or turkey stock or low-sodium broth

2 tablespoons honey

Salt

1 cup crème fraîche (or 0% plain/unflavored Greek yogurt for a lower fat version)

1/4 cup finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish

Directions:

In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened. Stir in the squash and chipotle and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock and honey and bring to a boil. Simmer until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree the soup until smooth; season with salt.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir the crème fraîche or Greek yogurt with the 1/4 cup of chives. Microwave until just melted, 30 seconds. Serve the soup with a swirl of chive cream/yogurt and a sprinkling of chives.

SEASONED KALE CHIPS

I’m shocked at how much it costs to purchase pre-packaged kale chips at the store when they are SO easy and inexpensive to make yourself. We usually make a batch of these before dinner parties for people to snack on while the main course is being prepared. Men and women alike say they are shocked at how kale can taste so good. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch organic kale, any variety
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Yield 8 cups

Directions:

Remove the center ribs and stems from 1 bunch kale.  Tear the leaves into 3-to-4-inch pieces. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread on 2 baking sheets coated with olive or canola oil cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F until browned around the edges and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes.

WILD RICE AND CHESTNUT STUFFING

Here is a beautiful holiday stove-top stuffing dotted with ruby-red cranberries (or cherries, depending on your preference). Good-quality wild rice triples in volume as it absorbs a rich wild mushroom broth, offering an elegant contrast to the puffy nuggets of chestnut.

To reduce prep time, you can use bottled or vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts, but truth be told, they don’t taste as good as freshly roasted.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

1 ounce (about 1 cup loosely packed) dried porcini or other dried mushrooms

1 cup wild rice, rinsed

30 fresh chestnuts

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 ½ cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts)

1 cup finely diced celery

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish (or use ½ to ¾ teaspoon dried rubbed sage)

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

¼ cup unsweetened dried cranberries or unsweetened dried cherries

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms in 3 ½ cups of hot water until they are soft, 15 minutes or longer. Strain and reserve the mushroom liquid. Coarsely chop any large pieces of mushrooms. Set aside.

In a heavy 2-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, bring the mushroom liquid and wild rice to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook at a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until some of the grains have “butterflied” open and curled up, and the rice tastes tender, 45 to 65 minutes (depending upon storage conditions and age).

If you’re not using canned or bottled roasted chestnuts, while the rice is cooking, roast the chestnuts: Set a rack in the center and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

With the tip of a paring knife, cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Set, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the chestnuts until the X puffs open, 20 to 25 minutes. Wrap the chestnuts in a kitchen towel for a few minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the shells and use the towel to rub off the thin brown skins. Discard any chestnuts that are moldy.

Heat the oil and butter in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Add the leeks, celery, and dried sage (if using) and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the sherry, balsamic vinegar, and cranberries, and cook uncovered for a few minutes. Stir in the chestnuts and soak mushrooms. Cover and set aside until the rice is done.

Stir the rice (including any unabsorbed cooking liquid) and fresh sage (if using) to taste into the leek mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the celery and leeks are tender and the flavors have mingled, about 5 minutes. Add a little water during this time if the mixture becomes dry. Garnish with additional sage, if using fresh. 

Beyond the Usual Brown Bag Lunch

It seems like every time the TV transitions to a commercial, we are stuck watching the latest ad for where to find the best back to school deals on school supplies, trendy clothes, or sports physicals.  If we manage to escape the ads about these deals, there is no doubt we will be bombarded with the newest kid-friendly snack boasting its “kid-tasted, mother approved” status or newly added flavors.  So, as we prepare to head back to school in just a few short weeks… or maybe days for some of you… how do we prioritize and navigate this complicated question: What should I feed my children for lunch this year?

For some kids, a lunch provided by the school is not an option or is not acceptable.  So, many parents and caregivers worry about what to make or pack children for lunch. To prevent last minute panic or a return to the “same old thing,” I recommend having a repertoire of eight to ten lunches that work for your child. This can prevent boredom, promote variety, make shopping easier, and reduce the stress sometimes associated with packing a healthful lunch.

These tips can help make filling your child’s lunch box less stressful:

  • On a Saturday or Sunday when you have some minutes to spare, make several containers or baggies of items to include in your child’s lunches for the week (for example: baby cut carrots, grapes, dry cereal, dried fruit).
  • Organize your storage container drawer and have a staging area set up with everything you need in one place, including: at least two lunch boxes or brown bags per child, plastic baggies, storage containers in all sizes, spoons and forks, napkins, straws, thermos or water bottle, and a marker.
  • Buy 8-fl-oz bottles of water or fill several water bottles, and keep the refrigerator stocked for the week. In the summer months, you may choose to freeze these so the ice is melted into cold water by lunchtime.
  • Know what to pack
    • It’s OK if your child likes to have a conventional lunch that includes a sandwich, fruit, vegetables, snack item, and a drink.
    • If your kid prefers to “pick” and does better with yogurt or cheese, for example, make sure you balance the meal so that it contains protein, fruit and/or vegetables, some carbohydrate, and fat.
  • Involve your child in packing the lunch, as much as possible. Older children can often prepare and pack their own lunch with adult supervision.
  • If you are planning to pack dinner leftovers for lunch, pack the storage container as you are cleaning up for dinner. This saves time!

Here are a few fun menu ideas:

  • Unconventional sandwiches: hummus and whole-wheat pita bread; falafel; low fat cheese wedges and whole grain crackers; sunflower butter or almond butter on gluten-free toast; whole grain wrap filled with vegetables and cheese or nitrate-free deli meats.
  • Conventional alternatives to sandwiches: dinner leftovers (meat/chicken/fish/pork with sweet potatoes or a healthy side such as quinoa or tabouleh, vegetables); leftover pizza on whole grain crust with spinach and other bite-size veggies; soup or stew.
  • Unconventional alternatives to sandwiches: whole grain and low sugar cereal from home in storage container (just add milk); scrambled eggs or hardboiled eggs; Greek yogurt with low-sugar granola; homemade quiche; bean based chili with chicken; ¼ to ½ cup of nuts (if allowed at your child’s school); homemade protein smoothies (frozen the night before to defrost by lunch time); bean salad.
  • Fruits: apple, pear, banana, grapes, berries, oranges, grapefruit sections, cherries, pineapple chunks, melon, pomegranate, guava, papaya, tangerines, clementine, fruit salad.
  • Vegetables to eat raw, steamed, or with dip such as hummus or guacamole: cucumber slices, celery, carrots, green beans, snow peas, blanched broccoli, asparagus or cauliflower, grape tomatoes, beets, corn, salad.
  • Snacks: 100% all fruit leather, ¼ cup sunflower seeds, baked sweet potato chips, multigrain crackers, homemade granola bar, whole grain graham crackers, unsweetened applesauce, multigrain chips or tortilla, unsweetened dried fruit, nuts (if allowed at your child’s school), plain Greek yogurt with 1 tsp local honey, banana chips, dried peas.

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for the upcoming days of your students’ eating needs. If you would like more individual coaching on this topic or your child has specific needs such as food allergies or food sensitivities, please call us at 713-365-9015 to set up an individual nutrition consultation with Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Professional Counselor, Danielle Mitchell.

*Some ideas from this article are adapted from material included at http://www.nutrition411.com. For other helpful nutrition resources, visit the Toddler and Kid Center tab on their website.

Freedom from Food Fights

It is mid-summer and maybe you are thinking that any nutrition goals you had for yourself or your kids will “just have to wait” until all of the vacations, summer grill-outs, and sleep-overs for the kids are behind you.  Let’s face it: most families admit that summer is a difficult time to change kids’ eating routines and food choices.  In fact, it is very likely that the last time you tried to suggest something green or unpackaged for a snack or meal, your kids threw a fit or rolled their eyes.  So, to avoid the energy drain and drama, you gave in to your kids’ pleas for “another snack”, “more dessert”, or their favorite fast-food drive thru pick-up.

Is there a way of out the family food fights without waiting for the school year to begin?  I believe so.  But don’t take it from me…  Here are a few of the tips that have worked best for the parents of my elementary and teenage clients who PREVIOUSLY claimed they had a picky eater at their table:

  •  There are no “good” or “bad” foods.  Experience tells us that as soon as we hear that a food is “bad for us” we want it and if it’s “good for us” we think it’s tasteless or boring.  Plus, many kids begin to associate their value as being “good” or “bad” with how mom or dad says they’re eating.  Instead, it is more helpful to refer to foods as “smart, in between, or empty” when it comes to nutritional value.
  • Nobody has to eat anything they don’t want.  I know, I know: this sounds crazy and does NOT jive with the “clean your plate” mentality that many of us had growing up.  However, research has shown that it takes  kids up to 10 exposures to a food (i.e., seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, spitting out, etc.) before they’ll eat and swallow the food comfortably.  So, the mere presence of that food on a kids’ plate counts as an exposure. They don’t necessarily need to eat it or try it before getting up from the table.  It may sound crazy, but it works!
  • Role model loving healthy food.  If you want your kids to eat broccoli, eat broccoli… without trying to convince them of how good it tastes or manipulate them into eating it, too.  Your kids are watching you and, eventually, will want to try the foods you are eating to feel grown up.  If you don’t believe me, you should ask the mom who was frustrated that her kids were only eating pop-tarts for breakfast.  They saw her eating a healthier version of eggs benedict with asparagus every morning and BEGGED her for some of their own.

These are just a few of many tips I teach for changing the food environment NOT just modifying the foods we eat.  Until we alter the language and “rules” we use in relation to food, we keep ourselves stuck in the food battles at the dinner table and feel trapped in the fights about food types.  If you are interested in more material like this, join us for our next Feeding the Kids Workshop: Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants. Click here for more details and to register.  There really is freedom  from this age-old battle with food for you and your children!

Do I have Food Sensitivities?

You are feeling sick…again!  It is the second time this week that you’ve developed a migraine and you can’t get rid of that intestinal discomfort. Maybe you haven’t been able to fight off that runny nose or cough for the last month.  Perhaps you’ve battled the aches and pains of arthritis for years now or you can’t seem to determine why your 8-year-old has another patch of psoriasis on his skin.  You’re exhausted and tired of going to doctor after doctor to discover why all of this is happening.  You’ve done skin prick allergy testing, tried medications, used all of the new lotions, and eliminated gluten or dairy to see if it would fix it…but nothing is helping!

Does this feel familiar?  If this is similar to your story, perhaps there is more to it than food allergies or medications.  Why is it that the routine allergy tests did not provide any positive allergy results, yet you notice that you or your child are still “reacting” to certain foods such as wheat or dairy?

There is a difference between food allergies and food sensitivities. Food allergies show an IgE reaction which cause acute (usually severe, short-term) reactions that typically result in swelling, choking, or other terrifying symptoms. Food allergies do not always show the source of the problem. The most common food allergies include tree-nuts, eggs, soy, dairy, and wheat. However, traditional food allergy tests do NOT identify what we call delayed or hidden (Type II, III, or IV) hypersensitivities.  This means that someone can test negative to many foods as allergies. However, he/she might have a food or chemical sensitivity: the body’s immune system has an inappropriate response that might cause a delayed reaction.

In the case of a sensitivity, the body recognizes the food or chemical substance as a foreign intruder and will attempt to fight it off. This fight can damage white blood cells which then produce potentially damaging and reactive materials in the bloodstream. If enough of this damage occurs over time, the body’s weaker organs or systems produce symptoms that are rooted in these delayed hypersensitivities.   The following are some examples of potential delayed hypersensitivities:  migraines, multiple sclerosis, ringing in the ears or earaches due to autoimmune meniere’s syndrome, rhinitis, recurrent cold and flu symptoms, asthma due to hypersensitivity (not primary diagnosis), irritable or inflammatory bowel symptoms, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc.

There are many approaches to discovering hypersensitivities. As the Registered Dietitian at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants, I utilize the LRA (Lymphocyte Response Assay) by ELISA/ACT®. The LRA is a procedure that identifies signs of immunologic overload and delayed reactions.  The LRA is a simple blood draw (provided off-site) and the procedure is relatively simple.  It entails a 12-hour fast followed by a one ounce blood draw.  Depending on which panel is chosen, the laboratory measures reactions to as many as 400 items from the following: foods, additives/preservatives, environment chemicals, toxic minerals, molds, danders, hairs, and feathers, medications, therapeutic herbs, and food colorings.

After an initial consultation with a dietitian and a subsequent off-site blood draw, the client meets with the dietitian again to plan how to accurately avoid the substances using an elimination and rotation diet. The strong reactions are avoided for 6 months while the moderate reactions are avoided for 3 months.  After 6 months, a monitored reintroduction of the previously reactive foods can be planned. This type of nutrition planning can be complex and limit social interactions, so it’s not for everyone. However, it is a great tool for people who are weary of looking for an answer to their health conditions  and are ready to make some more complex changes.

For more information on how to pursue LRA testing or to schedule an initial nutrition consultation with a dietitian, please contact us at 713-365-9015 or email heritage@heritagebehavioral.com.

Freedom & Food

As summer sets in, most of us are facing the struggle to avoid tempting foods such as ice cream, good ol’ BBQ, chips with salsa, and a large handful of salted nuts. Somewhere between making a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and starting to plan your menu for the summer BBQ with the neighbors, perhaps you have lost that motivation to prepare fresh foods. Instead, you might be feeling guilty that you ate another cookie, went back for seconds when you weren’t even hungry, or ate a large serving of the ice cream because “it was a really stressful day at the office or with the kids.” is there any freedom from the cycle of good vs. bad eating?

Absolutely. I call it mindful eating, but the concept is also well-known as intuitive eating. Most of us know what is “healthy” to eat; however, mindful eating allows us to freely consume foods that are typically less helpful for our bodies in smaller quantities and enjoy them. Mindful eating means pausing to consider the type of hunger you might be experiencing when you grab that extra snack or reach for a sugary beverage. There are many types of hunger that I challenge my clients to take notice of when they are completing their food records for their nutrition consultations. I typically encourage someone to use the following types when recording what triggered their snacking or eating a meal:

  • Emotion – boredom, stress, sadness, happiness, frustration, tiredness, etc.
  • Availability – the food was easy to grab
  • Hunger – it was about 3 or 4 hours since the last time you ate something
  • Craving – you really wanted the taste of the snack
  • Activity – you were doing something, such as watching TV, that makes
    you want to snack

Then, we review this record and “unmask” what’s really causing those “cravings”. Finally, we determine which practical ideas would work to address that particular type of hunger instead of eating more food. For example, someone who routinely snacks because they are an “emotional eater” might set a goal to mindfully enjoy snacks seated at the table, instead of standing in the kitchen, and perhaps even honor themselves enough to eat the snack off of a beautiful china plate rather than out of the package.
This is just one exercise in mindful eating that clients (young and old, male and female) seem to benefit from. Most importantly, it unveils that hidden temptation about foods and provides us with the freedom to mindfully choose the best approach to honor our hunger! For more information on mindful eating or to schedule an individual consultation, please contact Danielle McGee RD, LD at 713-365-9015.

Food Freedom

“Is this food good or bad?” As a dietitian, I regularly hear this question! I face the challenge of how to teach an alternative way of thinking about nutrition. Recently, I tried to explain a new concept to one of my youngest clients (a nine year old female). I asked her, “What if there were no good and bad foods. What if, instead, foods were least helpful, helpful, and most helpful?” She then rephrased what I was trying to say: “Like when my mom fills the car up at the gas station?” Initially confused, I realized she saw food as fuel and was picturing the different octane levels on the pump (such as 87, 89 & 92). I applauded her creativity!

A “fuel for the body” concept groups foods into 1) maintenance 2) enhanced, or 3) improved performance. Perhaps we don’t need rules to never eat “bad” foods and can assess how they contribute to our overall goals for life performance. Do you desire to lose weight? Are you fatigued? Are certain foods coping mechanisms? If so, maybe those chips and cookies are foods that maintain weight, energy or emotions. What if you felt freedom to eat foods that enhance energy, emotions, or weight goals? For example, a small granola bar, ½ cup of 100% all natural fruit juice, or baked pita chips with hummus substitute for your afternoon or nighttime snack. Then, consider options that might improve performance towards a healthy body weight, improved energy, and mindful eating: a handful of unsalted nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc), a cup of Greek yogurt with 1 Tbsp of honey, or a green smoothie may improve your long-term nutrition goals.

A healthy mindset about our eating habits promotes food freedom! Meal planning and dining do not have to be burdensome. If this brings you some relief, look forward to more tips on mindful eating soon.