I had a great live chat on Instagram this week with Dr Tabbi from instagram.com@tabbieats on how to support ADHD kids with their diet to help with focus and emotional regulation. As you know, My Other Life launched just a week after our now nine-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD, and it's why we donate 10% from every sale to the ADHD Foundation (for more about our charity partner, read here).
I've added the IGTV video about ADHD & Nutrition below (scroll to the bottom), but I also wanted to give more of an explanation to ADHD as I understand it from my research as an ADHD parent, as it is widely misunderstood.
WHAT IS ADHD?
Well firstly, brain imaging and clinical research has shown us what it is NOT, and that is:
a behaviour disorder
a mental illness
a specific learning disability
As Dr Ned Hallowell accurately described it, ADHD is a 'race car engine brain with bicycle brakes. In essence, it's where the brain moves fast and needs help to slow down and stay regulated.
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and it is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, affecting roughly one in 20 children in the UK, as well as many adults, who often remain undiagnosed. It's commonly known as 'naughty boy syndrome', and people often visualise the hyper little boy jumping off chairs and running around the classroom. But it affects a lot of girls too, who often get missed as they're good at masking, or covering up their symptoms.
ADHD brains develop and function differently - the condition impacts the parts of the brain that help us to pay attention, sit still, and also to plan, prioritise, organise and carry out tasks. ADHD children also often have a deficit of key chemicals that help support brain function - norepinephrine and dopamine.
Self-regulation can be difficult - and not just being able to regulate attention to stay on task, but regulate emotions, too. So think lots of meltdowns, drama, overreacting and sensitivity.
'Think lots of meltdowns, drama, overreacting and sensitivity'
There are three main ADHD types — inattentive, hyperactive, or combined — but not everyone presents as obviously hyperactive from the outside (though their brain might have a zillion tabs open on the inside - and now you understand the thought process behind my Overthinking in Progress slogan!). Often girls’ ADHD will present as distractedness or forgetfulness.
A SUPERPOWER AND A SUPER PAIN IN THE ARSE
Aside from the obvious challenges, a lot of ADHD people can be very creative and imaginative, with their outside-the-box non-typical way of thinking being an asset when it comes to idea generation. ADHD people are three times more likely to become entrepreneurs - famous ADHDers include Richard Branson and Will I Am - and are often found in the arts (musician Justin Timberlake and actress Emma Watson).
Their fast-acting brains can give them a sharp sense of humour (hello Lee Mack and Rory Bremner), and can often make them fantastic in a crisis - adrenaline is often just what they need to motivate them into action. And the idea of an attention deficit actually is not strictly accurate, as it's the ability to regulate attention and stay on task that's the challenge. Find something an ADHDer is interested in and they have the ability to hyper-focus on it for hours. It's that dedication to a passion that created Olympian ADHDers such as swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Simone Biles.
'ADHD people are three times more likely to become entrepreneurs'
That being said, it can still be a very impairing and exhausting condition. Difficulties with executive functioning can make carrying out even basic day to day tasks unbelievably frustrating. Being forgetful, easily distracted and having a bad sense of time can cause problems in the workplace and in relationships, and can have a hugely detrimental impact on your self-esteem. ADHD children are often labelled as stupid, lazy or naughty, and they hear far more negative comments from teachers, peers, family members and people in authority than neurotypical people do.
'ADHD children are often labelled as stupid, lazy or naughty, and they hear far more negative comments'
It is a hugely misunderstood condition that needs more awareness, understanding and empathy if it is to be managed effectively to channel all the positives and support the challenges that neurodiverse brains can present.
OUR HOLISTIC APPROACH AS A FAMILY
Managing the challenges of ADHD is something our family is learning day by day, and we've discovered it can't just be helped with the popping of a pill. While medication can help many - and this is a step we've decided to take with our son, after a lot of research beforehand - it is often not enough to rely on medication alone. And that's even if you find one that suits your child, as every individual is different.
'The ADHD rollercoaster is real, and dealing with it can be hard for all family members'
The best way to approach ADHD is holistically - looking at it as a whole, with various interconnected parts. For us, this means using medication, yes, but also adapting lifestyle, diet, routine, sleep, exercise, language, tone of voice. All of these things can make a difference, so we are trying to support our son in as many ways as possible, rather than just relying on his meds. And - full disclosure - we get it wrong All. The. Time. The ADHD rollercoaster is real, and dealing with it can be hard for all family members. We beat ourselves up about handling it badly all the time. But then we dust ourselves off, pick ourselves up and try to do better next time.
This is why I wanted to talk with Tabbi - or, to give her full title, Dr Mahtab Chenevix-Trench - whose PHD in developmental genetics and nutritional training means she was well placed for a chat about how choosing the right foods can help support the ADHD brain and help with concentration levels, emotional regulation and healthier sleep patterns.
I spoke with Dr Mahtab Chenevix-Trench from Tabbi Eats
Just introducing a few nutritionally-beneficial food items - and trying to avoid or reduce those that not only provide no benefits but can actually make symptoms worse - can help make the day go by a little smoother. And that's something every ADHD parent would sell their subscription to Netflix for!
I hope you enjoy the video.