I decided to stick with the theme of nutrition a little bit longer.  There is a book I came across about a year ago and found very fascinating:

What’s Eating My Child?  Kelly Dorfman, 2011.

Though the book and also my review of it is really geared towards children, I have talked with some of the adults I work with about it too.  Some of the nutritional deficiencies or food sensitivities Ms. Dorfman refers to may affect adults just as much as they affect children.  The following review of the book was published in a school newsletter earlier this year:

Have you ever wondered whether there are other ways that you could help your child tackling anxiety, picky eating, or chronic ear infections?  Maybe your child was diagnosed with ADHD, or constipation, or has skin problems.  What can you as a parent do beyond what your pediatrician has prescribed?  Kelly Dorfman is a certified nutritionist who takes a close look at how nutrition can affect our children’s wellbeing.

Dorfman points out that there are two general ways in which diet can affect a child and cause uncomfortable symptoms.  Either a food is bothering your child in form of an allergy or a food-intolerance.  This would be an irritant.  Or, Dorfman says, something is missing.  This could be a vitamin, mineral, or essential fatty acids deficiency that can lead to bothersome symptoms.

It is tempting to think of the book as a reference book and look up the chapter of let’s say ear infections and read her recommendations.  However, Dorfman recommends that you read the book from front to back first to get an overall understanding and view of how Dorfman thinks and works.  I followed her advice and found it highly informative.  I also appreciated that she was open to the fact that people really resist change as much as they want it.  Let’s say you have a picky eater, then she acknowledges that it can be really difficult to implement the changes needed in order to change your child’s eating habits.

There are some of the pieces of information that I picked up that were new to me. For example, Dorfman mentions research has shown that people who ate a fast food diet high in trans fats had higher incidents of Alzheimer’s disease in old age than those with a diet consisting of more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer saturated and trans fats.

She also introduced the concept of bio-individuality, which she defines as each individual child’s biological make-up that can differ significantly from that of another child.  Some children might just need more of a certain kind of nutrient for example.  On the other hand a child might be particularly sensitive to a kind of food.  For example she mentions a boy who cannot tolerate sugar even though he loves it very much. However, he gets charged up when eating sugar and his behavior becomes unmanageable.  We all know that sugar is something we should have less of, but some of us (this includes adults) might have a harder time with it than others.  This could mean that each of your children might have a very different issue around food.

She points out how one child she worked with could not tolerate non-organic strawberries.  Strawberries tend to really soak up the pesticides that are sprayed on them and this particular child reacted very strongly to that in form of hives and skin rashes.  Organically grown strawberries were tolerable to him. Obviously not all children have that strong of a reaction.

On the other hand she also points out that certain food sensitivities run in families.  So if a parent has trouble digesting lactose lets say, then it is often found that a child struggles with the same issue.  Often the discovery works the other way around as she makes suggestions for the child, a parent discovers that he or she also has a similar intolerance or deficiency.

Dorfman’s book brings up another point that I found interesting, since my work as a psychotherapist deals with emotional and behavior problems.  Dorfman connects the origins of significant number of emotional and behavior problems to dietary issues.  She cites some case examples around anxiety or bi-polar illness with impressive results.  Again some of these are triggered by foods that are an irritant and others are related to a deficiency.

Now you might be asking whether all of this information is anecdotal.  Indeed can her statements be substantiated by research?  Here the book strikes a balance.  I found that Dorfman clearly has done her homework and cites as much research as she can find on all of the topics she discusses.  For example she mentions research that has shown the effects of omega-3 oils on bi-polar illness that have been impressive.  On the other hand she also says that she is basing some of her decisions on clinical experience that she has gathered in over … years of practicing as a nutritionist.  She clearly is respected by a number of well-known physicians in Washington DC.  I am not a physician, but as a mental health practitioner I noticed that she has worked with Stanley Greenspan who is a known and respected name in the world of developmental disorders.

In fact another strength of this book is that Dorfman provides a lot of background information for each condition she discusses.  The book has little side boxes that explain what medical tests and treatments are generally recommended when a doctor is faced with a certain set of symptoms.  She also coaches parents on how to take on a detective role when trying to help their child and not necessarily take no for an answer.  As a parent I find that an empowering message.  After all we are the best advocates for our children.