I want you to raise confident, strong, healthy, resilient kids.... regardless of diagnosis.
I know that's what you want too. That's why you're here. But things can unravel fast when your child starts to struggle or you get a diagnosis. Where do you start? What do you read? What do you do?
This post offers you The Big Picture.
It offers you the Framework I created after working with family after family in your exact situation. It's outlines for you what to explore if you are trying to use a drug-free approach to improve your child's health, behavior, mood, development, anxiety, learning or focus.
(If you want personalized support on this you can find it here).
Why Nutrition Matters
It's quite simple, really. The body is designed to function well as long as it gets the right fuel and isn't overly stressed.
Symptoms are a signal that some functions are not running smoothly. So either there is lack of nourishment or too much stress (probably a combination of the two).
When we nourish deeply and remove hidden stress, functions can return. It's a process I call Raising Resilience.
(related post: What's Raising Resilience All About?)
Nutrients have a profound influence on your child's resilience... aka their ability to respond to stress. They affect how they feel in their bodies, how their brain functions, their energy, their anxiety, their ability to learn and cope with expectation.
Getting them the right nutrients can actually influence how your kids express who they are in the world. It amazes me every time I think about it.
I have seen shy kids turn into social butterflies.
I have seen obsessive kids stop worrying.
I have seen anxious kids say 'yes' to new opportunities.
I have seen angry kids become loving kids.
Yea, I get it, it takes a leap of faith on your end. Sometimes you gotta see it to believe it. But I'll do my best to explain why this happens.
Back To The Framework
A framework is like a container. It's a way to organize information so you can stay sytematic. Parents who don't have a container end up gathering information and getting overwhelmed quickly without being able to translate that information into actions to help their kids feel better.
I don't want that for you. So I offer you The Pillars Of Resilient Health™. It's the framework I created after helping family after family integrate a nutrition strategy into their treatment plans to help their kids. It's what I want you to focus on if you want to use a drug-free approach to help your child feel and function better, regardless of their diagnosis.
Here it is....
Pillar 1. Nourish.
Nutrients build the structure of our bodies and drive its function. Remember... symptoms indicate a break down in function. So that means there are insufficient nutrients somewhere. We need to play detective and figure out what's missing.
I always start with nourishment when it comes to kids. If we were talking about adults I might not start here. But we're not. We're talking about kids and we have to make sure, above all else, that they are getting nutrients in while also developing a positive relationship with food and with you, in the process. (I feel really strongly about this!)
There are 8 categories of nutrients your child needs every single day (fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, bacteria). When we can't get those needs met through food alone we can use supplements to help.
(Related posts: Do Kids Need Nutritional Supplements?)
Got a picky eater? I get it. I wrote this for you.
Pillar 2. Reduce Stress & Irritation (aka reduce inflammation).
Stress of any kind - whether the source is outisde the body like a family conflict or an exam, or the source is inside the body like a parasite or infection - will cause inflammation. It's just your body's natural response to stress.
I think of stress and irritation like water filling a glass (the glass is the body, the water is stress - just to be clear). We have a remarkable ability to keep our glasses from overflowing; to tolerate things that do not contribute to our health – things like toxic chemicals, stress, smoke, additives, metals, sugar. But we can only manage so much (and we can manage even less if we're undernourished because the glass is actually made of nutrients. So yea, it's a vicious cycle that needs breaking and explains why symptoms in kids can get worse and worse as they get older if we don't nip this in the bud).
When we get close to the top of our threshold we start to feel symptoms. Maybe headaches, or fatigue, or constipation, or moodiness set in. Maybe it shows up in our nails or skin or sleep.
When we overflow we get the diagnosis. Maybe it’s Allergy, Autism, ADHD, ODD, DMDD, OCD, Psoriasis or Asthma. The symptoms that used to come and go, just don’t away at this point and your child meets a certain diagnostic criteria.
Diagnoses still don't tell us what's filling the glass. They just tell us there's excessive inflammation that isn't being held in check.
Another way to think about it is... diagnoses indicate that stress has outweighed the body's ability to handle it. What we do in this pillar is empty your child's glass.
Here are a few ways to start…
- Reduce exposure to chemicals by switching up your cleaning products, your personal care products, reading food ingredients
- Help them get more sleep and practice good sleep hygiene (I consider sleep nourishment, and lack of sleep irritation. So this overlaps with the first pillar)
- Focus on eating foods that are as free as possible of additives, fillers, colors, added sugar (I get it, your child is picky, only eats 4 foods and those foods are white... got it. Do you know why they are picky? You might want to read this)
- Consider some testing to see what might be causing internal, hidden stress (parasite, infection, food, metals, mould etc)
A factor that's part of Stress & Irritation but is so important that it needs separate mention is Blood Sugar Stability. We can call this Pillar 2 (a).
Have you ever felt hanger before? You know, it's 2pm and you realize all you've had to eat is a cup of coffee and a bagel and you're starting to get jittery, tired, depressed, crave sugar and snap at your kids?
That's your nervous system reacting to a dip in blood sugar (probably). That's hanger. You not only feel terrible, but you're putting your body under a great deal of stress.
Here are some signs that your child might be struggling with blood sugar swings:
- they're a terrible sleeper (can't settle, wake during the night);
- they have erratic hunger patterns (are often hungry all the time or not hungry at all);
- they often get tired and want to lie down after eating;
- they have weight instability (can't gain or lose);
- they are often very grumpy in the afternoon;
- they struggle to focus and think clearly;
- they feel irritated and combative, especially around food.
We all know sugar is bad for us, and cutting it back is your first step to better blood sugar control. But also remember, sugar is addictive, so if you're struggling to cut it back it's probably not your fault!.
There's a secret flipside to the blood sugar issue I want to let you in on. Nutrients like magnesium, chromium and fibre are involved in sugar metabolism. So again, this is why we start with nourishment; when we improve nourishment we also often reduce blood sugar stress!
(Related Post: Top Tips To Cut Sugar Cravings)
Pillar 3. Support Digestion.
If you haven’t heard about the profound influence your digestive system has on your entire body, I expect you are new to my world… so, welcome!! (I talk about gut, poop and all things digestion a lot)
Your digestive system is an interface between the outside world and the inside environment of your body. It houses most of your immune system. It contains more neurones than the spinal cord and is in constant conversation with your brain.
The microbes in your gut educate your immune cells, contribute to the digestion and absorption of your food, help you detoxify, help regulate your appetite, create a physical barrier against pathogens, create vitamins, hormones and neurotransmitters.
On and on it goes…. good digestion is key to good health.
Tip… if there is no conversation in your health care team about what’s going on in your child's gut, I suggest you add someone to your team who will have this discussion with you.
Here are a few ways to start nourishing the digestive system…
- Include fermented foods in your diet. It's not as hard as it might seem!
- Work towards including more fibre in the diet
- Make sure your child drinks more water
- Get enough plant chemicals in (phytonutrients) here's more about why.
- Consider some stool testing to see how they're digesting food, if there is excessive inflammation in the gut, or if pathogens or infections are causing extra stress on your child's already stressed-out body
Related Handout: How To Get Your Kids To Eat Fermented Foods
That’s it. Exploring these three things (plus a sub-thing) will improve your child's health and function.
The first thing I do with every family I work with in our Resilience Roadmap program is help them chooses which one to focus on first based on what's going on. But we explore them all as a foundation for a drug free approach to helping kids feel better.
This framework is what keeps us organized and strategic. It helps parents understand why they're doing what they're doing and makes sure they're not missing anything.
It also might help you understand why you maybe didn't see the results you hoped for when you tried the few things you tried - maybe you missed a pillar or two?
If you're new to this it might seem like a lot, but once you start working the system this framework is what will keep you out of overwhelm and moving towards your goals.
If even reading through this gives you heart palpitations and you don't know what to do next, it's because you're in the weeds. The person you love most in the world is suffering and you want to solve this for them yesterday. I get it. I have kids too. But let me just say, there is massive value in inviting in an outside perspective - someone who can help you see the forest and the trees.