This is my motto. This is the fundamental vision of my clinical practice.
As my practice grows in size and scope, experience clarifies my belief that a fundamental intervention strategy for emotional and behavioral problems must include the Body Triad: Diet, Sleep, and Exercise.
I have preached about proper sleep for years. It is so fundamental to cognitive and emotional functioning that I often refuse to engage in psychotherapy with someone who is not sleeping properly. It is about as useful as doing therapy with an inebriated person. Just as a drunk brain cannot process, nor can a sleep-deprived brain.
For years, I was somewhat skeptical about the impact of a poor diet on a person’s emotions and cognitive abilities. Sure, I always knew that a healthy diet would help my heart, give my muscles what they need to perform, and improve my complexion. But I wasn’t so sure about claims that childhood behavior disorders could be magically cured by dietary means.
I was wrong. Personal and professional experience, combined with a stream of quality, published studies, has convinced me that a poor diet can profoundly impact a child’s emotional and behavioral regulation. It only follows that adults’ functioning can be similarly affected—positively or negatively. Personally, I have learned that food dyes—which are in a majority of the food supply—can make my children…well, nuts. One of my girls absolutely goes bonkers when she consumes certain dyes; she begins to exhibit most of the symptoms of of the mythical disorder, ADHD. I can only imagine how many children with that label actually suffer from food dye sensitivities and other dietary sensitivities.
A recent study published in Lancet goes a long way to show how powerfully diet affects children. One of the key notions of the study is that what might be perfectly healthy for one child might be toxic for another child. Food allergies and sensitivities can wreak havoc while flying under the radar for years. There is no doubt now that each child has a unique diet profile; just like some cars require higher octane fuel, some children require a diet with or without certain foods. It is worth investigating.
The third rail of the Body Triad is exercise. Some excellent studies has shown beyond a doubt that the very best treatment for depression—even moderate to severe depression—is regular exercise. We’re not talking about extreme exercise; you don’t have to run a marathon to feed your brain what it needs. 30 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise 4-5 times per week is good enough for most people.
Imagine what our culture would be like if it were properly fed, rested, and exercised. Imagine what families would be like. Imagine what YOU would be like if you were feeding your brain the diet, sleep, and exercise that it needs for optimal functioning.