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A Marathon Experience--part I

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 2:37 PM

As much as I love the study of nutrition and sharing my passion for and knowledge of it, I am just as enamored with physical fitness. I have been a competitive athlete since the age of 10 first as a swimmer and then picking up running in my mid teens. I competed in age group (swimming), then high school and eventually NCAA swimming and cross country. I received a minor in exercise physiology. After college, I continued competing in marathons, triathlons and now rough water swimming. I have many unforgettable memories of my workouts and competitions not to mention the many wonderful people that I met along the way.

When counseling people, I always include questions and recommendations about exercise, but over the years, I have come to realize that the best way to encourage people to be active is to be the best role model that I can be and to lift people up with encouragement and support. With all of that said, in this post, I share one of my most memorable competitive experiences. It still overwhelms me some 20 years later. It is my hope that it inspires and teaches as it's a story about hard work, never giving up and never letting the world, society or people put a label on you. Don't let others dictate who or what you should be. Don't be afraid to follow your dreams whatever they may be and to be all of who you are at all times. You are unique with unique gifts to be nurtured and shared with the world.

The year was 1992. I was 32 years old. I had been running marathons for 10 years once narrowly missing the respectable “sub 3 hour marathon” by 1/100 of a second. Over the years, I suffered numbing sciatic pain, trained through a Jersey winter during my internship and endured the chaffing winds of Santa Ana. I logged many 3 plus hour treks and capped off 8 hour work days with lung busting interval workouts. I never gave much thought as to why. I just did. Then, one day, I read a story about an eagle. It gave focus to the aimless wanderings of my mind and meaning to the miles.

This was to be my seventh marathon. The race was to take place in Sacramento, California. When we arrived, we were greeted by cool temperatures and clear skies. We headed to the designated carbohydrate loading depot for a hardy dinner then to the local mall to take our minds off the task ahead. As I headed to my hotel room, my nerves could no longer suppress the blaring messages coming from brain. My body was under siege; my stomach tightening. This had to be the one. I had trained so hard and come so close in races past.

As I looked out from my hotel room, I saw clouds in the distance, too far away, I surmised, to be of any concern. Nonetheless, I was awakened at 1 a.m. It was raining good and steady. Unable to go back to sleep, I lay awake for the next 3 hours. At 4:00 a.m., with the adrenalin flowing at near toxic levels, I got out of bed. I set the earpieces in place and pressed the play button. My body responded to the familiar beat like a race horse to the feel of the switch. I was ready, ready as I’d ever be. I was confident, confident that, barring any major catastrophes, this race would be a good one.

Dave, Charlie, Phil, and I arrived at the Hilton to find hordes of runners huddled in the lobby trying to escape what had become near hurricane conditions. It was here that we waited for the 40 minute bus ride to the start of The California International Marathon. Once on board, a fellow rider asked each of us what kind of time we were shooting for. When he came to me, I confidently said, “2:55 – 2:57.” In my head, I knew I could do it, but despite my confidence, reality had set in. It’s a 26.2 mile race, a good plus or minus 3 hour feat of endurance. A lot can happen in 26.2 miles especially in such inclement conditions.

By the time me and my compadres had reached our destination, the rain had let up some, but it was still cold, dark, and windy. Charlie was optimistic, Dave was going to take whatever he could get, Phil was despondent and I was just enjoying the moment.

I jogged to the start line. I hugged Dave and Phil good luck. Seconds later, the gun went off. My first mile flew by at six twenty something. I quickly settled into a comfortable 6:36 mile pace. At approximately mile 4, we turned a corner and headed into a fierce headwind. Instinctually, I bore down. The force of the wind tore at my body. I hit the next mile marker at a 6:37 pace. How could I be maintaining this pace in this headwind?

To be continued

Stress and Disease

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Saturday, March 31, 2012 8:27 PM

Overexposure to stress hormones accounts for 75 – 90% of all primary care visits. Stress is linked to heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis and suicide to name a few. Signs of acute and chronic stress are:

•stomach cramps

•diarrhea and nausea

•shortness of breath or feeling suffocated

•increased heart rate


•body aches

•unstable moods

•inappropriate laugh

•inability to communicate


•difficulty thinking, focusing, remembering, hearing, speaking, formulating opinions

Humans are stress hardy. We respond to stress by adapting. When we feel we are being threatened, we deal with it by doing something that will allow us to avoid or lessen the threat and maintain some normalcy and functionality. Many people avoid or lessen the threat by self-medicating. They tend to drink coffee in the morning and alcohol in the evening. They seek out comfort foods, watch too much TV, overwork and engage in risk-taking behavior.

How stress occurs is determined by how we or more specifically, our hypothalamus which is found in the brain, perceives stress. Therefore, if one can change their perception of a situation, i.e. the diamond bracelet that I lost must not have been mine to own. Someone must have needed it more than me; the effects of stress will be minimized.

There are several physiological changes that occur when we are under stress. The first step in the stress response is an adrenalin release. It’s adrenalin that causes butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, dizziness and a heart racing. These effects are often short lived and serve to alert us and get our attention.

Adrenalin eventually makes it way to the hypothalamus triggering numerous chemical reactions one of which is the release of cortisol. Cortisol makes us more alert and allows us to think clearly. It calms us down. Cortisol also increases blood sugar, increases appetite, converts fat to energy, suppresses the reproduction system and stimulates the immune system. Initially, it also decreases the body’s inflammatory response.

The stress response is a survival mechanism built into our DNA. It is necessary and life-saving unless the perceived stress or threat is chronic. The more we perceive that we are being threatened, the more the body has to adapt and find ways to cope with the stress and the more cortisol gets released. When cortisol levels are chronically elevated, disease occurs.

The long term effects of cortisol and another group of hormones released under stress called catecholamines are damaging. The following is a list of the long term effects of cortisol and catecholamines:

  • fat deposition in the organs and muscles

  • hippocampal atrophy resulting in memory impairment

  • insulin resistance

  • atherosclerosis

  • hypertension

  • osteoporosis

  • sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass)

  • mood and sleep changes

  • peptic ulcers

  • hyper excitation

  • neuromuscular complaints

  • immune impairments

  • increased infections

  • autoimmune disease

  • fatigue

  • adrenal exhaustion

Additionally, cortisol levels decrease at night to allow us to rest. As cortisol levels decrease, melatonin (the sleep hormone) increases. When the stress response is overactive, cortisol levels remain high in the night and interferes with melatonin and sleep. All of these changes are the price we pay for living outside of our comfort zone.

Being able to problem solve or have closure turns off the stress response. If there is no resolution, a state of chronic threat results. Prolonged stress causes an overactive hypothalamus. The individual lives in survival mode 24/7, over-reacting to every little thing. Such an individual will exhibit any of the following:

  • irritability

  • inability to deal with trivial things

  • difficulty relaxing

  • nervous energy

  • overly reactive

  • impatience

  • intolerance

  • anxiety

  • prone to panic attacks

  • depression

  • dementia

  • suppression of thyroid function

  • insomnia

Fortunately, there are many very effective ways to reduce stress.

As mentioned above, try changing the perception or reframing the situation.

  • Keep an open mind, ask questions, being curious and inquisitive leads to problem solving.

  • If a person is causing stress, try wondering what it is that person needs. Try a little compassion, “I’m sorry that you’re having such a bad day.”

  • Never take anything personally. When someone is expressing themselves in a harsh or critical way, it’s seldom about the receiver.

  • Try imaging the person or situation as a small animal that you can coax and tame.

  • The following are some books to consider: “The End of Stress as We Know It,” by Bruce McEwen, “The Stress & Relaxation Workbook,” by Davis, Eshelman & McKay and “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook,” by Bourne

  • Deep breathing is the most effective and easy way to instantly reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. There are many books and tapes to walk you through the technique

  • Yoga is well-known for its blood pressure and anxiety reducing, calming and disease preventative effects.

  • Teas can be very soothing. Try the Yogi brand of teas specifically the “calming” or “stress relief” tea

  • Lastly, there is a product called “Nursera” put out by Metagenics. It contains casein tryptic hydrolysate which is found in mother’s milk. It has a calming effect. It helps take the edge off. It is non habit forming and can be taken when needed.

Stress can kill. If nothing else, it can greatly diminish the quality of life. The good news is that it can be managed. Take responsibility for your health and well-being. Acknowledge the stress in your life and take the steps necessary to minimize or eliminate it.

Tips for the "Non-Compliant" Weight Loss Patient

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Monday, March 26, 2012 2:54 PM

Achieving an optimum weight and maintaining it is hard. One need only look around to know that losing weight and keeping it off is difficult especially in our very obese-friendly environment. The challenges are everywhere. According to highlights from a symposium, “Your Brain Can Help You Eat Better,”

The more we think about food, the more we want it

Some people have less dopamine receptors in their brain requiring more food to give them pleasure

For some people, they choose foods with known higher calories levels because they think it will taste better

The more food decisions a person has to make per day, the less self-regulation they have.

  • According to the article, “Time to Abandon the Notion of Personal Choice in Dietary Counseling of Obesity,” JADA, Aug 2011

  • Access to highly palatable foods makes one extremely vulnerable to overeating

  • Life stress and other factors can easily disrupt inhibitory control

  • For many, instant gratification has far greater influence than a future goal of weight loss

These are just some of the physiological and psychological barriers people encounter when trying to lose weight. There are many more. The process is multifaceted and if done right, will require tremendous know-how and patience from the practitioner.

One of the many issues that will most likely need to be addressed is conflict resolution. Patients tend to under perform because there is a conflict between their desires and their value system, i.e. I want to lose weight, but my family comes first leaving no time for me or I want to lose weight, but I need to work 10 hours/day in order to maintain my lifestyle.

Although tempting and a seemingly quick fix, it should not be the goal of the counselor to change the client’s values or impose their own on them whether explicitly or implied, i.e. I like eating healthy, why don’t you? Instead, the goal of the counselor is to close the gap between thinking about doing and actually doing. To do this, barriers needs to identified and removed.

It is critical to, throughout the process, be reminded that it is the patient’s journey and that the counselor is only a guide pointing out and exploring events or issues of significance. Therefore, identifying barriers is most effective when the patient finds them. The counselor simply asks the questions and points out discrepancies. 

The biggest obstruction is a patient’s belief system. Here are some common ones:

No clear vision or mission. These people need help in determining exactly what they want to achieve in the session.

Outcomes obscured. These people need help determining who the goal belongs to. This is done by helping them identify what they want and how they will personally gain once their outcomes are achieved, i.e. “How will your life be different once you achieve your goal?”

Self last. These people are martyrs. They put themselves last. Help them identify how their family, friends or community will benefit when they are healthy, wealthy, happy, etc., i.e. “Can you think of any way that your family/friends/community will benefit from you achieving your goal?”

Family commitments. Patients will use this to opt out of their dreams. Show them how by achieving their own dreams, their families will also benefit, i.e., “Can you think of any way that your family will benefit by you achieve your goal?”

Hero syndrome. These people take on too much work. People do this because they can’t say no. Have them explore ways to develop assertiveness like books, assertiveness classes.

Time priorities. “I don’t have time.” This is usually not a genuine time issue but a commitment obstructer. You must confront the patient with their behavior and remind them of the commitment they have made to themselves and to you. Remind them of the benefits that they said they would enjoy when they achieved their goal. Challenge them on why they consistently fail to deliver, i.e. “Your comments make me wonder if you’re reneging on your commitment to lose weight, be healthier, etc.” “There appears to be a trend here since you mentioned you’ve tried to lose weight several times in the past and have not been able to follow through on your plan.” “How do you explain that?” “Do you remember the benefits you listed you would gain if you achieved your goal?” “What are some words you can think of that will describe how it feels to succeed?”

Trapped by trappings. These patients want to lead simpler lives but feel unable to live without the material things that their current lifestyle provides. Ask them to write down all the reasons why they want a simpler life and all the reasons for remaining in the current lifestyle (see chart). Help the patient achieve balance. For these patients, their fixation on materialism is tipping the balance.

Sapped by suckers. These patients keep company with people that create obstacles or excuses to prevent change. Ask the patient to consider the possibility that their associates may feel threatened by the planned changes and may need to be reassured, by the patient, that change will be good for all parties, i.e. “I need to make these changes so that I will feel better about myself and therefore be able to contribute more to our relationship.” If this reassurance does not work, they may need to make some serious decisions about the value of these friendships. Support and encourage your client to find new friendships in the areas of their goals. A way to accomplish this transition is to have the patient agree constantly to tasks that encourage forming new friendships that leave little time for activities with the old, nonsupportive people.

Rebel rebels. Rebels have loads of things they want to do but, as soon as they commit to you, they rebel by not achieving. Have these patients commit to only one or 2 tasks, but they could do more if they wanted. In addition, they could choose to do nothing. List all the possible tasks with the complete understanding that they might not do any of them. This creates the freedom to achieve without the feeling of being forced to do things.

In our very appearance-oriented and weight obsessed culture no one wants to be overweight. In fact, when surveyed, many people who are overweight or obese say that they would rather have cancer than be overweight. As mentioned above, losing weight is a very convoluted and multifaceted process. Add to that the huge stigma associated with being overweight or obese, and you can begin to appreciate that the label “non-compliant” is inaccurate.

When faced with a patient who has tried and failed multiple times or a patient who is “non-compliant” or a patient that simply appears stuck, try exploring the patients values. Once the values are identified, take a walk with the patient through their previous attempts and their current life. As you do, keep your eyes and ears open for what they did right, where they met with success and how their current lifestyle choices do not jive with their desire to lose weight. Like a good friend looking through the album of this person’s life, tell them what you see and then let them draw their own conclusions.

Are We Putting Too Much Emphasis on Weight?

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:46 PM

I've been working on several projects lately one of which is a presentation that I made to my peers on a topic that is very controversial. The issue is weight and whether or not it is a reliable indicator of health and/or positive behavior change. It has been my feeling for quite some time that it is not and that is why I came up with my own protocol for helping people achieve better health and well-being (see the "for professionals" tab).

My feelings were recently fortified after attending a presentation called, "The War on Obesity, a Battle Worth Fighting?" The two presenters were on opposite sides of a weight debate. One presenter was an obesity researcher, John Foreyt, Ph.D and the other was Linda Bacon, Ph.D founder of an organization called "Health at Every Size" or HAES.

HAES' mission is to take the focus off of weight and place it on health. Dr. Bacon's reasoning is that the weight of Americans continue to increase despite decades of advice to reduce calories and exercise more. Dr. Bacon believes the failure to lose weight is largely due to the emphasis being placed on The Weight and not the behaviors that lead to weight loss or gain. She also claims that weight has become so overemphasized and wrongly associated with laziness, lack of will and other various undesirable traits that a person's weight can take a huge toll on a person's self-esteem and motivation. This can lead to feelings of shame, guilt and self-loathing rendering the individual unable to address this very complex problem.

HAES.ppt (PPT — 286 KB)

Below is a youtube video of a woman who is a follower of the HAES movement. In the video, she speaks of her alternative to dieting. I have also attached my powerpoint presentation that provides information on why weight is not a reliable indicator of health and how focusing on it can be harmful. If you would like more information about HAES and weight acceptance, you can go to

Health at Every Size

Health at Every Size, NAAFA's suggested health philosophy. A brief discussion of HAES proponents and Fat Acceptance.Songs from Meghan Tonjes:

A Good Read for Emotional Eaters

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Saturday, March 10, 2012 9:53 PM

Stress, the blues, fears, and guilt are a normal part of life. Chances are, we can't fully rid ourselves of these unpleasant feelings, but we can learn to deal with them more effectively. Our better judgment can tell us that eating unhealthy foods isn't solving our stress or emotional problems. But, that line of thinking doesn't come in very handy when our brain is screaming, "Eat, eat, I want to be calm."

However, just as you trained your brain that eating certain foods can lead to greater feelings of calm and relaxation (albeit temporarily), you can instead train it to seek other sources of pleasure that also increase these mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.

Some people can simply recognize the problem and decide not to eat, that is, to "ride out the urge." But, for many, that is only a temporary and usually, not an effective long-term solution. Your brain will continually prompt you to find something to give it balance and pleasure when facing stressful and emotional situations.

What you can do is replace one pleasure (eating) with another pleasure to effectively satisfy your urges. It can take some time, but eventually, you might begin to crave that long run to increase your endorphins instead of a piece of chocolate cake. It's all a matter of retraining your brain. Consider the following things that may be helpful to you when your brain seeks pleasure and stress relief:

  • Exercise - yet another reason to do it. It increases endorphin levels and relieves stress. You'll feel inspired and good about yourself, and you'll naturally decrease your food cravings.

  • Get a massage - it may help relieve anxiety, depression and sleep problems.

  • Read biographies of people who inspire you - learn from their positive influence and behavior.

  • Meditate - Repeat a positive word, phrase or prayer. It minimizes distracting, negative thoughts and relieves stress.

  • Use guided imagery - Go to your favorite place for 10-15 minutes with your eyes closed. It might be the mountains or the beach. Imagine everything you're seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling.

  • Listen to relaxing music - studies have shown this can decrease the production of a substance called cortisol. Cortisol can lead to carbohydrate cravings. Music can also increase relaxation, relieve stress, and provide more clarity and vigor.

  • Take a bath with aromatherapy. Oils of citronella, eucalyptus, sage, lavender, and chamomile added to a bath can relax you.

  • Laugh - see a comedy show, or engage in activities that bring humor to your life. Seek ways to have more positive emotions in your life. Finding the positive always overrides the negative.

  • Get a pet and love it- studies show that pets add a sense of unconditional love to our lives and can reduce blood pressure and stress.

  • Find a passion - maybe it's photography, art, ceramics, or football. Find something that inspires you and commit to get out there and do it.

  • Buy flowers, plant flowers, or nurture a garden.

  • Journal your feelings or talk to someone you can trust.

  • Get in touch with an old friend you enjoy.

  • Re-acquaint yourself with your spouse or children. Plan a fun group activity together and do it.

  • Sign up for a class you've always wanted to take.

  • Go through old photo albums and scrapbooks - recall happy times and make plans for new ventures.

  • Treat yourself to a gift, e.g., a book, a magazine, clothing, a manicure.

  • Take 10 minutes and visualize the way you will look, the way you'll feel, the way you'll act, the way your clothes will fit, and the way people will react to you after you achieve your healthy weight.

  • Help others - sometimes there's no better way to feel better about you than to help others in need. Get involved in your community or a local organization that serves a purpose that's important to you.

  • If nothing else can get rid of a craving for you, try reading these words again and again: "Food has never solved my problems in the past, and it won't solve them now. Food won't give me better coping skills or add harmony to my life. I have all the power I need to make healthy changes in my life. I have the power to find good solutions to the problems and stressors I face. I won't ever give that power to food."

The techniques above are not intended to address serious emotional issues that require professional help and counseling. In addition, if you feel that you have a problem with binge eating disorder, anorexia or bulimia, seek help from your physician, psychologist or mental health counselor.

Adding vs.Taking Out and Where are we Now?

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Saturday, March 03, 2012 8:27 PM

Before I launch into my post, I want to share with you my newest cookbook recipe, Soft Chicken Tacos with Shredded Cabbage. As a gift for visiting my blog, please do print it and try it today. Be sure to check the chicken frequently as it will cook very quickly (about 5 minutes). I'd love to know what you think.

Soft Chicken Tacos with Shredded Cabbage III.doc (DOC — 30 KB)

Adding vs. Taking Out

Almost invariably, when looking for nutrition information, we look for what to add to our diets to improve our health. Seldom do we or our health practitioners think to look for what to take out. There are many substances that we take in from our food that lead to dis-ease. Sometimes, the symptoms are mild, but persistent pain or discomfort and sometimes the substances can lead to life-threatening illnesses.

A recent article entitled, "The Gluten Connection, The Relationship between Celiac Disease and Type ! Diabetes Mellitus," by Sheila Dean, DSc, RD, LD, CCN, CDE, states that Celiac Disease (CD) which typically results in breakdown of the small intestine, may not always present as such. The article goes on to states that some people with CD may have the "silent" or atypical form where the condition affects organs such as the thyroid, the skin, bones and the brain resulting in depression ,mood changes, migraines and inability to focus. Only a minority of people with CD display the classic symptoms involving the small intestine while the majority of people with CD have the silent form. It's thought that 1 in 133 people have CD with many displaying symptoms of the silent form.

Health practitioners are seldom aware of the diverse ways in which CD can present leading to misdiagnoses and the continued consumption of offending foods. For every symptomatic patient with CD, there are eight patients with CD who do not experience gastrointestinal symptoms. Some researchers believe that undiagnosed CD has lead to a four-fold increased risk of death. They also state that undiagnosed CD has increased dramatically in the US in the last 50 years.

Unfortunately, it is not always as easy as simply removing gluten. For some people who also have an undiagnosed sensitivity to other carbohydrate-rich foods such as rice, buckwheat, corn, millet, they may experience a sustained inflammatory response from these other foods. This results in the persistence of symptoms despite removing gluten.

Celiac Disease is known to be an autoimmune condition. Seventy-two million people in the US have an autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, it's not looked for during routine exams or even hospitalizations. Our system waits until symptoms are severe before it is identified.

Autoimmune disorders can be organ specific such as in Type I diabetes or Hashimoto's thyroiditis or systemic such as in CD or lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. For people with CD, having other autoimmune disorders is common for them and their close relatives and the risk of developing other autoimmune disease is related to the duration of exposure to gluten.

The most frequently reported CD-associated conditions are type I diabetes and autoimmune thyroiditis. The prevalence of CD in people with type I diabetes is an astounding 10 - 30 times. Furthermore, the prevalence of type I diabetes is related to the duration of exposure to gluten.

Testing for CD is not always reliable. Also, blood analysis will not detect the less severe form of the disease referred to as gluten intolerance unless there is extensive damage to the small intestine. Fortunately, salivary assays have been developed to test for antibodies, specifically anti-gliadin IgA (AGA) and anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTG-Abs). People who have AGA in their saliva are considered to be gluten intolerant. A positive test for both AGA and tTG-Abs confirms CD. A positive test for only tTG-Abs which is present in type I diabetes demonstrates an autoimmune disease.

In today's clip, you will hear from my son whom I have diagnosed as gluten intolerant. He reports experiencing some of the milder symptoms associated with gluten intolerance, but before we removed (and now limit) the gluten, his symptoms were more severe yet the atypical type. Unfortunately, because gluten intolerance remains under the radar in our health care system and was almost unknown when my son was severe, we struggled for many years with unbearable problems. Please click on the following link to view the clip:

Adding to our list of foods to take out, consider this: An 87 year-old woman presented with a history of gastric distress, She'd been experiencing chronic diarrhea for the past 30 years with bouts increasing from a few times per month to several times per week. She tested negative for CD and a trial gluten-free diet had no effect. She tested positive for lactose intolerance and avoided lactose, but the symptoms persisted. Her doctor sent her to a dietitian who put her on a low-fructose diet. Her symptoms improved almost immediately with complete resolution in a few months.

Lastly, a while back, I was presenting to a group of mom's on the effect of food on various systems in the body, specifically the gastrointestinal, the immune and central nervous system. A mother of a young child raised her hand. She shared that she could tell which color food dye her son had been exposed to that day based on the severity of his tantrums.

What's Wrong with our Food Supply?

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Monday, February 27, 2012 3:54 PM

TEDxNextGenerationAsheville - Birke Baehr - "What's Wrong With Our Food System"

Birke Baehr -"what's Wrong With Our Food System? And How Can We Make A Difference?" by: Twin Path

Our Diet Challenge--the Final Day

Posted on Thursday, February 23, 2012 1:36 PM

We were all glad that our experiment was ending. My son, though, chose to continue with it for a while longer as he benefited most from it and did not much mind the changes.

Foods are like drugs causing biochemical changes that effect the body and mind. Just like pharmaceuticals drugs, there are foods that promote health and there are foods that can destroy health. We know there are certain foods that most people should avoid. Then there are foods that are fine for some people to eat, but are harmful for others. That is where the science of food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances come into play. Everybody reacts differently to different foods.

Reactions to foods are seldom considered by health practitioners. When patients complain of symptoms that cannot be otherwise explained by mainstream medicine or when a diagnosis is made and treatment is provided, but symptoms persist, it could be a reaction to a food or a chemical in the food. This is especially true in the case of children with symptoms that do not resolve despite treatment and especially in the case of behavioral issues that are not explained by family dysfunction or a known mental illness.

If a child has chronic stomach cramping, bloating, constipation, etc due to a food, they are uncomfortable. There may not be in pain, but experience constant discomfort. Anyone who experiences constant discomfort will have difficulty maintaining a positive mood. Children also lack knowledge of what is normal. Their discomfort oftentimes is normal and therefore, they will not say anything, but the discomfort causes them to be cranky and irritable.

Food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies can also irritate the central nervous system resulting in agitation and/or anxiety. People of all ages experiencing this will also display poor and oftentimes erratic behavior. Foods can also cause a narcotic effect making it difficult for the people especially children to pay attention because their brains are in sleep mode.

An article in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Dec 2011 entitled "Adverse Food Reactions--An Emerging Issue for Adults," states: "... food allergic adolescents and adults experience more pain, poorer overall health, more limitations in social activity, and less vitality. This may explain why adolescents and young adults with food allergy appear to indulge in risk-taking behavior."

In his book, The Ultra Mind Solution, Dr. Mark Hyman states that, "food allergies create a metabolic disorder that can lead to a whole host of mental symptoms, including fatigue, brain fog, slowed thought processes, irritability, agitation, aggressive behavior, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, hyperactivity, autism, learning disabilities and even dementia." He goes on to state, "studies have linked eating gluten to everything from depression to anxiety from schizophrenia to autism and dementia," and that "30 percent of those of European descent carry the gene for celiac disease which increases susceptibility to health problems from eating gluten." A recent article on gluten in the magazine Energy Times quotes William Davis, MD a preventative cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly. He says that wheat produced here in the US has been genetically modified to create sturdier stalks with greater yields. This genetic modification has resulted in changes in wheat's protein structure that can wreak havoc on our immune system.

Gluten is just one example of substances both natural and unnatural that we ingest that can cause a wide variety of physical and mental symptoms. There are food allergy tests that can be performed, but as I mentioned in my first post on this topic of elimination diets, they can be inaccurate. Also, food allergy testing cannot test for food sensitivities or intolerances. The most effective way to identify food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances is to do an elimination diet for at least 2, but preferably 4 - 6 weeks and then gradually add foods back adding a new food every 4 days to see how the body or mind reacts. For more information on how to do an elimination diet, again, I suggest you go to the website: The website also has a book that you can buy that walks you through the process.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with a testimony from Dr. Hyman's book. A mother writes in about her daughter who witnessed her father collapse and die at the age of 3. Even after seeing a counselor to help deal with the father's death, she acted in ways that weren't normal. She became extremely physical and full of rage. She would dig her nails into the mother and hit and kick her sister constantly daily without remorse. She had difficulty socializing at school. Dr Hyman thought the stress of watching her father die had thrown her immune system out of balance. Dr. Hyman found an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast in her gut and an intolerance to gluten. She was given antibiotics for the overgrowth and put on a gluten-free, dairy-free diet for 2 weeks. The transformation was remarkable. She was normal again. She wasn't hitting or raging on her sister and she no longer had to see a therapist.

Be sure to tune in to my next post. I will bring you up to date as to where we are now 2 1/2 years post elimination diet. Stay tuned!

To view today's clip, Please copy and paste the following link into your browser :

Our Diet Challenge--Our Son

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Monday, February 20, 2012 9:48 AM

In today's clip, we share our observations of how the diet has effected our son. For many years, we have struggled with him being easily distracted and impulsive making staying on task a challenge. He does not have ADD, but has features of it. He also is unofficially gluten intolerant. What I mean by "unofficially" is that he has not officially been given the diagnosis. I diagnosed him after years of unsuccessful interventions by a wide variety of practitioners and eventually, connecting the dots with careful observation. One week after eliminating gluten from his diet at the tender young age of 9, he volunteered that the diet was helping. 

 To view today's clip, please copy and past the following link into your browser:

For anyone wanting more information on elimination diets, I suggest you go to: 

Our Diet Challenge Week 3

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Friday, February 17, 2012 2:44 PM

We are into week 3 of our experiment. Notice the difference in my daughter’s mood. She is more relaxed. Is it the diet or a matter of “if you can’t beat them, join them?” I don’t know, but as parents, it’s our job to set the rules and it’s the kid’s job to break them. My daughter’s initial reaction to the changes was not out of the norm even though she knew this was just experiment and that it was going to end in a matter of weeks.

For parents wanting to make dietary changes to help manage any physical or behavioral issues, expect push back from the kids, but stay the course at the house. If they want to stray outside of the house, let them choose to do that. By maintaining the experiment at home, you are giving them the opportunity to experience something different and to draw their own conclusions.

For the adults in the clip, it’s getting harder to get in enough calories and cravings are still an issue. For anyone who counsels people on weight loss, apply what you hear to your clients. Maintaining strict control is very difficult for anyone. Most important is not to deprive. Strict control and deprivation can be very stressful and the stress itself can be enough to make someone want to eat. They will eventually lose all control and eat excessively oftentimes until they decide to go on another diet. This is also what can contribute to gaining back more weight than they lost. It is counterproductive. ‘

Lastly, one can’t help but notice the difference in effect between the males and females. For the females it’s all about sweets and mood. For the males, it’s all about energy and calories. Is this somewhat universal? What do you think?

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