January 24, 2012

What’s Eating Your Child?

According to an October 2010 study*,  the top sources for calories for 2-18 year-olds in the US were grain desserts (cookies, cakes, granola bars), pizza, and soda, with nearly 40% of the consumed calories coming from empty-calorie foods.  The fact that no one was surprised by these results is testament to our apathy and/or our own nutritional deprivation.  Also unfortunately not shocking in the general public is that  we are seeing illnesses escalating in this pediatric population that were formerly reserved for the middle & late age range, like type II diabetes.  Just look around and you’ll see evidence of our society’s declining health. And the main source of our woes is not bad genes (though, rest assured it is a nature and nurture situation), but our environment, and more specifically, our nutritional environment, our mealiue, as it were. 


Here is an incomplete list of the problems that can be directly impacted by nutrition:

autism, aggression, allergies, anxiety, halitosis (bad breath), behavioral issues (like oppositional defiant disorder), chewing on clothing or other objects, clumsiness, colic, constipation, depression, developmental delays, diarrhea, ear infections, eating disorders, eczema, failure to thrive, frequent illness, gassiness and bloating, genital itching, hives, hoarse voice, joint pain, learning disabilities, moodiness, overtiredness, pica (eating non-food items), picky eating, poor wound healing, rashes, reflux, seizures, sensory processing deficits, sinus infections, sleep problems, small stature, speech delays, temper tantrums, stomach aches, and vomiting.

On this list is almost every overt reason why parents might seek out assistance from a psychiatrist or therapist…..or a nutrition detective like Kelly Dorfman.

It is for these reasons that I think What’s Eating Your Child? by Kelly Dorfman is an essential read for any child and adolescent psychiatrist, pediatrician, and parent.   She is a self-proclaimed  nutrition detective and in this book lays down the basic principles of becoming a primary  investigator.   The main point of the book, as iterated in her introductory chapter- and which needs re-emphasizing, is that nutrition is important.  Nutritional problems essentially follow a binary law: either something is bothering the body or something is missing.   Through case examples, she helps the reader/parent/clinician develop a core of knowledge and a clinical acumen to discern if nutrition is a factor either irritating the situation or missing altogether.    She offers great advice on tackling picky-eaters, constipation, stomach pains, reflux, dairy and gluten sensitivities, rashes/eczema/chicken skin, insomnia, ADHD, sensory integration, mood and anxiety disorders, and learning disabilities.

The body is an amazing biochemical machine that has the ability to heal itself if given the right ingredients (i.e. nutrients).  We tend to dramatically overcomplicate (presenting) situations and ascribe all sorts of complex theories of behavior to problems that might in fact be as simple as going dairy-free.  These interventions won’t take the place of a good-enough mother, but might just help to quell the irritable patient.

For more information about Kelly and her work, I highly recommend a visit to her blog and website for developmental resources:




* Reedy and Krebs-Smith, “Dietary Sources of Energy, Solid Fats and Added Sugars Among Children and Adolescents in the United States,” Journal of the American Dietetic Assoc, 110, no. 10 (2010), 1477-1484.