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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We humans feel safest when we know where the edges are. Without boundaries it can feel like walking along the edge of a mountain without guard rails.

Boundaries must come with two things - love and leadership. They shouldn’t feel hollow, and they don’t need to feel like brick walls. They can be held firmly and lovingly.

Boundaries without the ‘loving’ will feel shaming, lonely, harsh. Understandably children will want to shield from this. This ‘shielding’ looks like keeping their messes from us. We drive them into the secretive and the forbidden because we squander precious opportunities to guide them.

Harsh consequences don’t teach them to avoid bad decisions. They teach them to avoid us.

They need both: boundaries, held lovingly.

First, decide on the boundary. Boundaries aren’t about what we want them to do. We can’t control that. Boundaries are about what we’ll do when the rules are broken.

If the rule is, ‘Be respectful’ - they’re in charge of what they do, you’re in charge of the boundary.

Attend to boundaries AND relationship. ‘It’s okay to be angry at me. (Rel’ship) No, I won’t let you speak to me like that. (Boundary). I want to hear what you have to say. (R). I won’t listen while you’re speaking like that. (B). I’m  going to wait until you can speak in a way I can hear. I’m right here. (R).

If the ‘leadership’ part is hard, think about what boundaries meant for you when you were young. If they felt cruel or shaming, it’s understandable that that’s how boundaries feel for you now. You don’t have to do boundaries the way your parents did. Don’t get rid of the boundary. Add in a loving way to hold them.

If the ‘loving’ part is hard, and if their behaviour enrages you, what was it like for you when you had big feelings as a child? If nobody supported you through feelings or behaviour, it’s understandable that their big feelings and behaviour will drive anger in you.

Anger exists as a shield for other more vulnerable feelings. What might your anger be shielding - loneliness? Anxiety? Feeling unseen? See through the behaviour to the need or feeling behind it: This is a great kid who is struggling right now. Reject the behaviour, support the child.♥️
Can’t wait to see you Brisbane! Saturday 20 May had bounded up to us with its arms open - and we’re so ready.

If you don’t have a ticket and would give your very last lamington for one, don’t worry - tickets are still available from ‘Resilient Kids Conference’ (on google). Here are the details:
 
Date and Time: Sat 20th May

Time: 9.30am – 3:00pm (Doors open at 9.00am for a 9.30am start)

Location: Main Auditorium, iSee Church, 8 Ellen Street, Carina Qld 4152

Parking: Free parking onsite

Cost: $85.00 AUD 

We’d love you to join us.♥️
Our nervous systems are designed to receive their distress. Fight or flight in them raises fight or flight in us - to get our bodies ready to fight for them or flee with them.

When they’re in actual danger, it’s a brilliant response, but ‘danger’ is about what the brain perceives. 

Big feelings and behaviour are a sign of a brain that has registered ‘threat’. A felt sense of relational threat and emotional threat all count as ‘threat’.

This can happen any time there is any chance at all of humiliation, judgement, missing out on something important, felt disconnection, not feeling seen, heard, validated, not having the resources for the immediate demands (stress).

Think of this in terms of interruption, transition times, sibling arguments, coming home after a big day at school.

When the threat isn’t a true physical danger, there is nothing to fight with or flee from (except maybe siblings and instructions).

This is when the fight or flight that’s been raised in us can move us to fight with them (we might get irritated, frustrated, angry, annoyed, raise our voices) or flee from them.

These are really valid feelings and signs of things working as they should, but it’s what we do in response that matters.

Think of it this way. Brains don’t care for the difference between actual danger and things that are safe, but annoying or upsetting. They all count as ‘danger’. 

Pause for a moment, and see that this is a young person with a brain that doesn’t feel ‘safe’ right now. Whether it’s emotionally safe, relationally safe, physically safe - they all matter.

First, they need to be brought back to safety. We’ll do this most powerfully through relationship - co-regulation, validation, touch. 

In practice this looks like breathe (to calm your nervous system so you can recalibrate theirs), be with (validate with or without words - let them feel you believing them and not needing anything from them in that moment), and wait.

If you need to hold a boundary, add that in (‘I won’t let you …’) but don’t take relationship away.

Then, when they are calm, have the chat - ‘What happened?’ ‘What can we do to put things right?’ ‘What might next time look like?’♥️
Brisbane - not long to go! We’d love you to join us at The Resilient Kids Conference. The feedback from Launceston has been incredible, and we can’t wait to do it again with you Brisbane.

All the details...
Date: Sat 20th May,
Time: 9.30am – 3:30pm 
Doors open at 8.30am for a 9.30am start
Location: Main Auditorium, iSee Church, 8 Ellen Street, Carina Qld 4152
Parking: Free parking onsite
Cost: $85.00 AUD

👍 What to Bring: Print your e-ticket or show your ticket on your phone at the main entrance for easy scanning and entry.

👍 Resources:  A big aim of RKC is to resource communities. For that reason, we offer a range of stalls filled with helpful resources, and of course the speakers books. Eftpos will be available on the day for all purchases.

👍 Food on the day:  We strive to keep our ticket prices low, to make it possible for anyone to experience RKC. To help, the ticket price does not include food or drinks. While a cafe and other food options nearby will be available at each event, we hope this low-price gesture enables you to be with us!

Grab some friends and let's make this a day to remember. It won't be complete without you....🧡
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