In November 2004 I noticed my oldest son Max (I have five kids) was struggling in grade school but excelling in sports. After his various bouts of low self-esteem and a general lack of interest and focus in academics, I wondered how I would have ever known my son had ADHD. He was athletic and confident in the hockey rink, but frustrated in the classroom. At the urging of Max’s supportive teacher, I had professionals test Max for ADHD and also heeded his teacher’s advice to keep him playing hockey – a sport that brought him confidence and acceptance.
However, my family’s ADHD journey was just beginning. After trying various medications for years, Max would hold his focus in school, but the medicine diminished his appetite. In the meantime my husband was diagnosed with ADHD. With four more kids in the wings, I was overwhelmed with the emotional stressors and physical crash of medication and improper diet had on my son.
Once Max’s medication wore off, and hockey practice was over, Max’s brain was fried. I said, “it was a game against the clock, every single day.” But I found solace in food that saved me – and our family – a fruit smoothie with protein powder that was cold, liquid and quick and easy to digest.
During the next four years, as my three other sons were diagnosed, I found that it was not a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with ADHD. What I did find, though, was that my children’s brains were wired in a way that they didn’t function quite so easily. Information they processed would get stuck or go down the wrong path. While their athletic ability would give them strength, they also needed the fuel to help energize their bodies and brains. The smoothies alone weren’t enough.
In doing my research, I found that anti-inflammatory, gluten free and whole food options were the best route to combat some of the behavioral issues my kids were dealing with. But those kinds of foods were hard to come by. When it came time to send my eldest to high school, I worried about what his diet would contain at a Prep School far away on the East Coast. So I set out on making my own line of food that would be easy to make and contain just what kind of fuel my kids’ bodies need – ancient grains, chia seeds, unrefined palm sugar and no fillers. Zemas Madhouse Foods baking mixes would contain only protein-dense nutrients that would be easy to bake at home and eat on the go.
After the ADHD diagnosis and a resulting detection of gluten intolerance, Max has since gone on to play Division III hockey, represented Team USA in the Israeli Olympics, and is successful at school. A role model to his brothers who also suffer from ADHD, Max and my philosophy as “food as fuel” really have impacted our way of life.
I know I can’t control every meal my kids eat and every move they make, but I do know that I’ve instilled in my kids the ability to pay attention to body cues, to know how they feel and act after they eat a certain way and how my baking mixes have guided my family on this journey. Whole food and clean eating in just one box.