ADHD and Diet – Part II
by Glenn Hefley
After reading Part I you might be thinking “who would have thought, the four food groups are a good idea, thanks a lot.” In fact, they are. Go figure. However, where most people can get away with a glancing notion that something meaty and leafy needs to be on the table once in a while, parents with ADHD children really have to pay a bit more attention to what is going on with foods and some additives
First though, let’s talk about meal times themselves. ADHD children are notorious for not eating regularly. If left to his own devices, my son would not eat until he was absolutely famished and then would gorge on whatever was the fastest to fix with the highest taste ratio, which means chips and salsa with ramen and a few frozen bagel dogs if they were in the house. Or he might go for the frozen pizza.
If there is a large amount of snack foods like chips and dips in the house, like after New Years Eve or 4th of July gatherings, left to his own devices my son will graze all day long on these things. Afterwards the following days are very difficult for him, and us.
The idea that one should eat normal portions at regular times and not wait until pain from hunger drives you to the kitchen is completely foreign to most ADHD children. “Time for lunch” you say, “But I’m not hungry. Why should I eat when I’m not hungry” he says, and many parents think to themselves ‘that this is a pretty good piece of logic’.
Far from a good piece of logic, however, is eating once or twice day huge amounts of anything convenient at the moment. Many nutritionists tell us we should eat small meals six times a day for a healthy body. I often wonder if nutritionists have children when they say things like that. That is beside the point however.
My son starts getting distracted from lack of fuel and begins to become more emotional about 3 hours after his last meal. The longer he goes from that point, the worse it gets, and nothing is going to help him when he’s at that state. There are a number of arguments about whether medication is the way to go with ADHD children. I leave that between you and your doctor. What I will say is if his meals are not regular and balanced, and if they are absent of foods that are nutritious but more difficult to prepare, medications are not going to matter.
Physically, the ADHD child needs a regular intake of good food, but also he also needs this mentally. Meal times are periods he can refocus on what he wants to do, rather than getting sucked into what he is doing at the time. Mentally, meal times are a necessary break and a scheduled rhythm to the day, without which ADHD children start to float around.
As soon as my son is home from school we have a snack time. My son sits down at the table, eats a small snack, and tells me about his day so far. He then has his study period for one hour, and then he’s on his own until dinner. After dinner we go over his homework, if he had any, and then the evening is his until his late-night snack. He goes to bed soon after that.
On weekends, meal times are more important as they serve as structure to the day: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and snack. No, I don’t do six meals a day; I’m not going to lie to you there. My mental health is important as well, not to mention my work. I leave on the table bananas and dried papaya. Usually my son eats these snacks while passing in and out of the house.
Honestly I can’t tell you that the lunches I make for him are really eaten by him at school. He’s a good trader, and enjoys trading. He trades toys and cards, and I’m sure food is in there as well. I do send him with food, however, and make sure at the very least a bowl of cereal is eaten in the morning. I know breakfast is essential, not because the nutritionists tell me so, but because his teachers tell me so. They know if he has had breakfast or not within an hour of his arrival. You may not be blessed with as vocal of teachers as I have been lucky enough to have, but believe me, they know something was missed in the morning whether they tell you about it or not.
Breakfast is also that break in the morning rush to get to school when he sits in a chair and looks at his “letter box” for his cue to remember to grab his homework.
Meals are scheduled times of day our children can refocus and balance their bodies chemistry. If you want to help your child sleep better, and socially interact with the world around him better, then these are essential periods of the day for them and you.