Adolescent Development: Why What They Eat is so Important.

AAdolescent Development: Why What They Eat is so Important.

Thriving during the teenage years depends on so many things and a growing body of research is demonstrating the critical role of diet in adolescent development. 

A number of studies have now found a definite link between diet and mental and emotional well-being. If an adolescent in your life needs another very convincing reason to eat healthy, regular meals – here are two of them…

Diet and Cognitive Function

An Australian study, published in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychology, has found an association between dietary patterns at 14 years of age and cognitive function (memory, learning) three years later at age 17. 

The Study. What They Did.

602 participants, all 14 years old, had their dietary patterns identified as either being ‘healthy’ (high fruit and vegetables) or ‘Western’ (high intakes of take-away food, red and processed meat, soft drink, fried and refined food).

What They Found.

When tested on various cognitive tasks three years later, adolescents who followed a more Western diet were found to have diminished cognitive performance. Specifically, they showed longer reaction times and higher errors in a delayed recall task.

High intake of crisps, red meat and fried potato also had a negative impact on cognitive function.

In contrast, a higher intake of fruit and leafy green vegetables was found to be positively associated with improved cognitive performance.

Diet, Depression and Anxiety

Separate research out of Emory University has found that a high fructose diet can also compromise adolescent development by:

  • increasing symptoms of anxiety;
  • increasing symptoms of depression;
  • changing the way the brain responds to stress; and
  • causing long-term changes in metabolism and behaviour.

Fructose is a sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables but it’s also added to many processed foods and drinks. 

Adolescence is a critical time for brain development so an adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable.

At this stage research has only been conducted in rats, chosen because they have a similar genetic and biological makeup to humans. Results are often replicated in human trials.

 The Study. What They Did.

As part of the research conducted at  Emory University, adolescent and adult rats were given either a standard or a high fructose diet.

What They Found.

After 10 weeks the adolescent rats had a different stress hormone response to a stressful situation. The adult rats who were given the high fructose diet did not show this effect.

In the adolescent rats, a genetic pathway in the brain that helps regulate the brain’s response to stress was also changed.

 

And finally …

Further research is humans is necessary, but there is a strong sign that a high fructose diet throughout adolescence worsens the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and changes the way the body and the brain respond to stress.

The importance of a healthy diet to physical well-being has long been established but we are learning more and more about it affects mental health. Eating well during adolescence can be the edge they need to thrive. 

 

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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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Because sales are the best, and Christmas is the best, and helping kiddos find their brave is the very best of all! So, to celebrate the end of the year (because truly, it's been a year hasn't it), and to help you settle brave hearts for next year, or night times, or separations, or, you know, all the things, we're taking 25% off books and plushies in the Hey Sigmund shop.

There's no need to enter a code. The books and bundles are already marked with their special sale prices. You'll find them all there - plushies, books, bundles - doing shopping cartwheels, beside themselves excited about helping your young ones feel bigger than anxiety, and shimmy on to brave. 
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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