Food-Gut-Brain-Emotions-Behavior = Balance

About twelve years ago I began a personal health journey that has opened my eyes to the realities of our biology, our food sources, food quality, the politics of agri-business, body types, diet types, generational changes to food sources and consumption, our immune systems, and a whole host of related topics and issues. In the process, I experienced first hand the effects a “clean” diet had on how I functioned.  This included how I felt emotionally and physically, the clarity and focus of my thoughts, and how I related to myself, others, and to events.  In short, I learned how what I chose to eat helped to create or detract from feeling balanced in my body and more or less serene in my whole being.

Naturally, I soon began seeing every child in my care through the added lens of nutrition and came to witness and more fully understand the consequences of diet on behavior. As I researched more on the food-behavior connection, I learned that it is really a food-gut (digestive system) -brain-emotions-behavior connection.

Over the years I’ve been making more and more recommendations for parents to get nutritional consults for their children. I share the information I have learned about how sugar (including simple carbohydrates which break down in the body as sugar) affect blood sugar and mood, about how healthy fats and greens help create nervous system balance promoting calm and focus, and I share my observations on how high daily intake of processed food products relate to impulsivity and irritability, ergo, lack of emotional balance and poor self-regulation abilities.

One story I like to share is of a three-year-old boy whose mom, after our initial consult, began giving her toddler son “green smoothies” for breakfast each day instead of pancakes, bread, crackers, waffles, cereal, donuts, fast food, and other processed foods.  The child loved these smoothies, by the way, (recipe to follow) and asked for them every day. She began doing this without pointing out this change – or the reason for it -to his teacher.

When I came in to observe the child in his classroom nearly two weeks later, his teacher reported a distinct decrease in his impulsivity, specifically, his increased ability to stop and think before acting out. She noticed the changes happening soon after the child began bringing in his “smoothie” and fruit for breakfast.  When behavioral consultants look at behavioral changes we often measure baselines and outcomes in terms of F,I,D: Frequency, Intensity, and Duration of behaviors. In this case, this boy’s challenging behaviors began decreasing in frequency and in intensity (duration was not applicable) after less than two weeks of changing what he consumed for breakfast, and, he  was observed to think about what his body was doing impulsively. This was great news and certainly looked promising for what else we hoped to observe in the coming weeks with continued nutritional changes, along with other changes .

If you were to do an online or bookstore search, you’d find many great resources that cite the latest scientific research which support recommendations that some of us are aware of, but many of us are not, related to the food-gut-brain-emotions-behavior connections. For instance, in “The NDD Book: How Nutrition Deficit Disorder Affects Your Child’s Learning, Behavior, and Health, and What You Can Do About  It – Without Drugs”, author William Sears, MD explains topics such as which healthy fats keep your child’s body and brain in biochemical balance; which fats keep the immune system strong; sugar’s effects on the brain; how food additives affect a child’s learning; food sensitivities; mood and behavior, and more. In addition, Dr. Sears’ book lays out preventative measures for preventing NDD, and includes meal plans, recipes, and “scripts” to use with your children for explaining the food-gut-brain-emotions-behavior connection to them in language they can understand.

In our scenario, my client’s nutritional change was easy for his mom to make: In a blender she combined water, a banana, and other fruits of her son’s choice, some golden flax meal (containing healthy fats our brains need), and some romaine, spinach or other mild green. She started with larger amounts of fruits and smaller amounts of the flax meal and greens until he got acclimated to the taste, then slowly added more flax and greens. (Note: Always check with your child’s pediatrician before making any changes).

If you have the interest and time to read a fascinating, albeit different take on a related topic, check out  where you’ll find information on a fairly new approach to treating Autism Spectrum disorders with a diet overhaul.  Yes, we’re talking about reversing Autism spectrum symptoms with food. Donna Gates is a nutritional consultant with years of experience learning and teaching about the health of the immune system and its relationship to many illnesses. This course of study reportedly ultimately lead to her new understanding of how generationally-weakened immune systems (often leading to and/or otherwise related to a condition called “leaky gut”) respond to our current standard American diet, creating illnesses, and – affecting our newborns’ immune systems, their resulting health, and behavior. Hint: gluten-free and casein-free are just the tip of the iceburg. You can also check out these videos she is in with neurologist and nutritionist, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride,which provide fascinating insight into the causes of autism as they see it, and the protocols they use to help these children recover. In fact, Dr. Campbell-McBride has her own diet protocol which she reportedly used to reverse her own son’s autism symptoms. Her protocol for healing is the GAPS Diet and GAPS stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome. This is her website. (Please note that I am in no way associated with any of these practitioners nor am I offering medical advice. I am providing information solely for the purpose of interest and discussion and the reader is responsible for further inquiry and all decisions made as a result of reading this post.)

Nutrition is one of the most important domains of well-being and good mental health. For anyone, including children who count so much on us for support, the balance resulting in eating well fosters so many other aspects of well-being. It’s worth our time and effort to research ways we can help our children feel balanced and safe in this way.

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    1. Thank you so much for this well written post! I work with children and see what miraculous changes take place when parents move away from all the processed foods. It is so unfair to the children to be feeding them “junk foods” that affect both their physical and mental health so negatively. I hope you reach many parents and change their attitudes towards the health of their children!

      • Hi Mary,
        I so appreciate your views. It feels good to connect with others who share this knowledge who have witnessed how even small changes in diet effect a child’s well being and behavior.
        Thanks for writing,

    2. I have re-posted your article on my website (with a link to your blog) because it needs to be spread. As a parent, former teacher, former Health Coordinator, former social services director, your article strikes a strong chord with me about how we can raise healthier, happier children. Thank you for writing this.

      • Hi Autumn,
        Thank you for re-posting this article! Great site, btw., and so many like us are needed to share this kind of information. Thanks for all you do.

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