When life hands you lemons, the most popular response is to make lemonade. This month, my glass runneth over. So do my refrigerator, kitchen counter, and oven. I have made the proverbial lemonade, along with sweet tea with lemon, unsweetened tea with lemon, lemon icebox pie, lemon bars, lemon-pepper chicken, and lemon curd.
As it turns out, all these lemon concoctions aren’t bad. Limit the sugar and the fat and the lemon part is good for you, especially your brain. The scent of lemons has anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties, and lemons are one of Dr. Daniel Amen’s 50 Best Brain Healthy Foods.
A child and adult psychiatrist, Dr. Amen is probably best known for his best-selling books, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Body.” He is also known for his PBS programs and world-renowned clinics. To be honest, I had never heard of Dr. Amen until my child’s doctor recommended his website and books, particularly “Healing ADD,” as resources to help learn how to treat and overcome the challenges of Attention Deficient Disorder.
It was a blessing and a curse to learn that Keely has ADD. The diagnosis gave us a name and a cause for some of the behaviors we have been dealing with for some time, but knowing the statistics behind the condition was frightening. So the Lord handed the McFarland clan some lemons, and in the process we have been making some fine lemonade!
In researching Dr. Amen’s publications and online resources, I came across one of his most recent works, “The Amen Solution: The Brain Healthy Way To Lose Weight and Keep It Off.” By the time Keely’s team of doctors and counselors decided to try to treat her ADD without medication, I was educated, prepared and on board. Diet, exercise and environmental changes at home and at school would be our first course of action. Her pediatrician concurred.
It was a decision that helped save a child and in the process changed a family.
Dr. Amen has been treating children and adults with ADHD and ADD for years, including members of his own family. As a physician, he believes that food is a drug as well as nourishment for the body, and part of the treatment of his patients includes eliminating the bad foods that adversely affect our brains and introducing good foods that optimize our brain’s performance. After years of treating patients and conducting research, it became clear that such methods worked. It also became clear that while his patients were gaining the focus and concentration they needed to function well in everyday life, they were also shrinking and their overall health improved.
Having read both “Healing ADD” and “The Amen Solution,” I was ready to change the way the McFarlands approached their food. Keely has ADD, I am fat, and my slim Old Man has a family history of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Over the years, I have cut down on salt and animal fat. We eat lots of vegetables and few processed foods. We grow much of what we eat, but let’s face it, when that first batch of okra comes in, it is rolled in processed cornmeal and deep-fried in oil. It is served with cornbread dripping in butter and a big oleglass of sweet tea.
Yes, we walk. We work in the yard and the garden, but frankly, a typical person can’t exercise enough to undo the damage that type of eating does to one’s body, not to mention one’s brain. I am proof of that. Even before we learned of Keely’s condition, I was ready for a change. I wanted to lose weight without strange diets. I wanted to feel good and be more active. I wanted to have energy and focus. I wanted to polish my Lester and not be hampered by an ever-expanding gut.
The Amen Solution is really just a text about healthy eating, but for some reason focusing on the brain made sense to me, for where the brain goes the body will follow. Think about it. It is our brain that let’s us know when we are hungry, and if we will listen to it, it is our brain that will let us know when we are full. It is our brain that watches a television commercial and then decides a raid on the refrigerator is in order. Satisfy the brain and you will satisfy the body.
In Keely’s case, her young brain lacks the bits and pieces that produce the ability to focus. Give her more than one task and her eyes glaze over. In extreme cases, medication is needed. But what does this medication do? It changes the chemical composition of the brain. In mild cases, what can food do? Change the chemical composition of the brain.
Can these principles be applied to old fat pilots who want to feel like spring chicks? Yes, they can. The lemon of learning that Keely will have to live with ADD has been whipped up into a lovely low-fat lemon tart. The Old Man and I have taken the fruits and vegetables that we harvest and have prepared them in such a manner that both of us feel years younger and are full of energy.
Dr. Amen divides his ADD patients by type. Keely is type 2. He also divides his weight loss patients into brain types. I am an impulsive overeater. He recommends lean protein three times a day, especially at breakfast for Keely who will need to arrive at school ready to concentrate and be attentive. I want concentration and attentiveness, too. He also recommends supplements including Vitamin D and Omega-3 fish oil. So does my doctor. (Did you know that 60% of the solid weight of the brain is fat?)
Before we started these changes, we already ate a lot of chicken and turkey. We ate a lot of vegetables, which make up most of Dr. Amen’s brain healthy list. We ate a lot of beans. We ate a lot of fruits but mostly served in pies and other goodies. What I have changed the most is my method of cooking. I retired the fry pot. At first, the family was mutinous, but now I make their favorites in such a way that the oil isn’t missed. I steam, broil, grill, roast, and marinate. I use my own fresh herbs and garlic. Olive oil and canola oil are used sparingly.
Our fruits from Henry’s orchard are fresh, dried, or frozen singularly on cookie sheets to be used in dishes without added sugar or eaten when a late night snack attack occurs. Since learning to eat well, those attacks are few and far between. The other big change in our home is the use of grains. Whole is all I let through the door. My highly refined flour is out. It did little to nourish our bodies and drugged our brains. Now I use whole-wheat flour and in limited quantities. Whole-wheat blueberry muffins made with honey are a treat. I have practiced and I think I have whole-wheat biscuits down pat. They are a Sunday morning specialty.
I love this change. Food has more taste and texture, which not only satisfies my tummy with more fiber, it satisfies my brain with more flavor.
I have replaced the Old Man’s morning pork sampler with homemade turkey sausage made with my own sage and red pepper. Turkey burgers on whole-wheat buns now are the star of burger night and are always served with a side of veggies. Vegetables steal the show three meals a day, including breakfast in omelets, frittatas and quiches. Dairy is low fat. Desserts are made with more of the good stuff and less of the stuff that dulls my thinking and saps my energy.
Keely is a kid and, let’s face it, the Old Man is a big kid, too. They love their sweets, and while simple carbs cloud the brain, I try to make them with some nutritional value. I have a great chocolate chip cookie recipe that uses whole wheat and dark chocolate. While still made with sugar, I have been removing a portion gradually with each batch and will soon replace it altogether with a small amount of honey.
Exercise, the other element in Keely’s treatment, is non negotiable. For Keely, it’s 30 minutes a day everyday. I told her doctor that she was a different person when we traveled. Our vacations are always active ones involving hiking, swimming, walking, doing. Exercise stimulates the brain. It makes one happy. Before school started back, we took her hiking to various local trails. Often she would start with a teenager’s pout, but the walk always ended with her chatting happily and glowing.
Moving, doing, working. It can be shooting a few hoops after school, walking the dog or mowing the lawn with a push mower. It can be washing your airplane. The brain responds to physical activity.
IT IS WORKING! My shorts, which were tight at the beginning of summer, are now loose. No calories counted. My mind is clear and sharp and I have energy. But the best part is that I don’t miss the old way of eating. I don’t have cravings. I don’t want to put that bad stuff back in my body. The weight I am losing is gradual, but I believe it will be permanent.
The Old Man has much more energy and can’t tackle any more projects because there is not enough time in a day. He calls himself the dynamo. Keely is smiling more and has started school with new optimism. We’re calm, focused and happy. I can handle the ADD issues with understanding and the teenage issues with composure.
By the way, we haven’t given up on eating out either. I still like to get out of the kitchen once in a while. We just order smart. I like a nice grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato and hold the mayo with unsweetened green tea on the side or a nice glass of water with lemon (there’s those lemons again!). Sodas are out. My brain is 80% water and she gets thirsty. Grilled or broiled fish or salads (just watch the toppings) are great for dinner with a side of veggies without added butter. But to be honest, the best place to look for your supper is the local farmer’s market. That’s a no-brainer.
Pilot health is a major issue, yet no major publications focus on helping pilots with personal preventative maintenance. My fellow aviators, if you suspect that you could use more focus, perhaps a little more alertness, if you need more energy for those long cross countries or need to lighten the weight and balance, I urge you to eat for your brain. Exercise for your brain.
When you host that next pancake breakfast, try yummy whole-wheat blueberry pancakes and homemade turkey sausage. They taste great, and eating them will make a difference! Just ask your brain.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. Deb can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.