Book review: What’s eating your child?

Posted on June 25, 2012 
Filed Under Anita, Book Review, The Star

By Anita Matthews

Published in Parenthots, The Star on June 25, 2012 as Behaviour problems that start with the diet

By Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND
Publisher: Workman Publishing

The adage “you are what you eat” is true and the more I thumbed through Kelly Dorfman’s book What’s Eating Your Child?, the more I agreed with it.

Dorfman is a nutritionist who has turned her career into a vocation as she guides picky eaters into proper diets, better behaviour and improved lifestyles. But take note that not all the stories that Dorfman tells have a fairytale ending.

What we, and our children, eat does have an impact on how we behave. Most of us are familiar with children who suffer from lactose intolerance or are allergic to nuts; but to realise that the common flour, rice or meats too impact behaviour is alarming. The sad news is the finding from the American Medical Association – chronic health conditions, obesity, asthma, behaviour and learning problems among children increased 14% between 1994 and 2006.

It is no secret that some form of flavouring, colouring or chemicals enters the food chain before it arrives at the dinner table. While it is widely perceived that the level of such inorganic content is minimal, its consumption over a period of time does affect the body. Regularly consuming snacks and fizzy drinks among toddlers are instances that have found links with obesity.

The situation is compounded as parents not only need to deal with obese children but also behavioural issues caused by artificial sweeteners, dairy and gluten content in food. Substitutes like soy milk do not provide the answers, either.

Monitoring meals

Where do parents begin? Dorfman starts with toddlers as she shares how parents at their wits’ end only seek out nutritionists after exhausting all other medical options in managing their troublesome tots. Like a detective, she traces a child’s journey with meals and subsequent behaviour following the meal. In fact, she encourages parents to do some sleuthing to find out if their child’s problem is due to his diet.

Not all cases are clear-cut with instances where gluten or dairy intolerance is a cause of poor and lethargic behaviour among children. In some instances, it was a missing mineral from their diet, such as zinc or magnesium or fish oil. Some cases did take her a while to get to the root cause as she painstakingly pored through a child’s daily diet and routine.

In monitoring meals, Dorfman encourages parents to look at the source of the food – fresh, frozen, canned, TV dinners and more – as the content makes all the difference. For example, fresh food that is not 100% organic is not necessarily nutritious yet frozen peas are a great source of folate. She also suggests that parents pay close attention to how their children behave. According to Dorfman, children behave badly when they feel insecure and unhappy.

To back her argument, Dorfman lists a series of encounters she had with children and their eating habits. The first story was about a picky four-year-old named Tom. Although Tom and his twin sister ate the same food, Tom had crazy mood swings, difficulty sleeping and fell ill frequently. Dorfman’s investigation found that Tom was not allergic to milk but that his body could not digest casein, a protein contained in milk. This caused his airways to be stuffed, impairing his sense of smell and taste.

A week after removing dairy products from Tom’s diet and substituting them with calcium and multivitamin tablets, his diet improved to include meats and vegetables. Tom’s cranky behaviour ended as well, much to his mother’s delight.

In each chapter, Dorfman recounts her experience treating children with behavioural and dietary issues. The experiences have similarities yet are unique as there are no two children with the exact same issue. One of the stories was about a 14-year-old girl named Shane who constantly had tummy aches. In most cases, this could be due to lactose intolerance but in Shane’s case, it was severe gluten intolerance.

It would be easy to fix the diet of a four-year-old but a 14-year-old? Dorfman walked Shane’s mother and sister (both also were found to be gluten intolerant) as they progressively changed their diets to gluten-free products. Shane’s discipline benefited her and she thrived. Sadly, her mother and sister preferred to live with the pain than adopt the new diet.

In each story, Dorfman also shares tips on how parents can implement a simple programme to recalibrate the child’s diet for them to thrive. The process is simple but implementation takes time, effort and discipline. At the same time, she also advocates the consumption of zinc, magnesium, quality vitamins and probiotics to supplement the diet. This is because some of these nutrients and minerals are not found in all foodstuff.

The next time your child throws a tantrum, peek at the plate. The reason could be starring right out at you.


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