Several times last week I felt the undeniable urge to bang my head against the wall in frustration. Each time it had to do with the simple idea that food impacts health and wellness. Yes, food. Such common knowledge, one might think. Don't we all know that sugar makes our kids hyper, caffeine can give us the jitters, and junk food can result in a stomach ache? Didn't the film Super Size Me (and many others) teach us that what we eat will directly impact our health? Then why are we not getting it? Are lifestyle changes really too hard to tackle?
My first head-banging came when a fellow mom lamented her kids' ADHD. We were casually chatting on the phone about an upcoming school event and she had called because of my children's food allergies. "Oh, I tried to go gluten free for like a week" she told me. "And it didn't do a thing." In her next breath, she screamed off in the background to her kids "I didn't say you could have another Oreo. Put that back!" Bang, bang goes the head. Since the 1960s, the Dr. Feingold of the Feingold Association has been providing research and dietary advice showing how the consumption of food additives and artificial ingredients have been affecting learning and behavior. Just last week a new article in Time Magazine linked ADHD with the consumption of pesticides, further clarifying the link between diet and behavior.
The following day, a dad was talking to me about his son's asthma and the need for ongoing steroids to help his breathing. We chatted about triggers while his son guzzled a chocolate milk and picked on cheese cubes. Had he tried going dairy free? "No, that would be way too difficult!" Another bang. At what point has swallowing, injecting, or inhaling laboratory-concocted pharmaceuticals become decidedly "easier" and more acceptable than feeding our children differently and healthfully? Yes, there is controversy over whether or not diet can help all kids with asthma or ADHD, for that matter, but what about giving it a try? (Note: There is also research indicting that raw, unpasturized dairy actually reduces the likelihood of asthma, but that's for another discussion.)
The final draw came in a brief conversation with another parent who was exhausted by her child's hyperactivity. His medication did not kick in until after breakfast and that time frame was the most challenging. We talked about a variety of parenting tools. She and her husband chose a reward system. The reward? Candy. Bang.
As humans we are creatures of habit. We like our routines and we love our food. But diet should be a first and basic lifestyle change for anyone looking to improve wellness. Whether you are dealing with ADHD or asthma, eczema or autism, learning disabilities or cancer, diet is a fundamental place to start. I personally was raised in a traditional Italian-American family with a grandmother who cooked everything from scratch but as I grew up, convenience foods became all the rage and things like Hamburger Helper™ and Twinkies™ found their way into my diet. I have been a health food nut and a vegetarian, have gone both gluten-free and grain-free, and have eaten a traditional, paleolithic diet as well as having dabbled in juicing and raw foods. Each change brought with it some challenges and new tastes and also produced dramatic results for me and my family with regard to health and behavior. Like many forms of true healing, you cannot change for a day or even a week. Nutritional change is slow and modification takes time. No one is perfect but changing how you eat - how we all eat - is nothing short of revolutionary when it comes to wellness. How we have strayed so far from the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates', famous mantra "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food" boggles the mind. Health begins with what we put in our bodies and food is the obvious first place to start.