by Zemas Madhouse Foods
Apr 2013


November 2004. My oldest son, Max, who was 10 years old and in 4th grade was showing signs of struggling in grade school. Lack of focus, lack of interest and low self-esteem in the classroom were rearing their ugly heads. Being that Max was the first of my five kids, being that my husband’s ADHD was still undiagnosed in his mid-thirties and being that Max was a boy, hockey goalie and all around athletic kid, how would we have ever known he had ADHD?  He was our guinea pig, the one whe’d make the most mistakes with, our first-born. It was during his fall conference that year that his teacher at the time suggested that we have Max tested for ADHD. She kept us calm, focused and talked us out of blaming ourselves for the rest of our lives. At the end of our conference, knowing how talented and committed Max was at playing high level hockey at such a young age, she left us with these words of wisdom that I still think about daily with my other kids. She told us to never take him out of a hockey rink. I didn’t get it back then, I was far too young of a mother. But, those words have helped me raise my kids to have self-worth, independence, routine and discipline. Character traits they would have never gotten from school.

And so, our journey along the ADHD rollercoaster had begun. After having my son being tested by a third party, confirming that he does have ADHD, my husband started thinking about his own struggles. Then he went to get tested. Two for two. Did I mention my husband was also a hockey goalie? Four more kids waiting in the wings. We decided to try a low dose of Concerta, which Max stayed on for the next four years. That love-hate relationship had begun. Max would hold his focus in school much longer, however, his desire to eat and drink would diminish, thus affecting his mood throughout the day. For those of you who have gone down this path with a child, you know the scene. By three in the afternoon, there was a crash, emotionally and physically. Our nutritional saving grace – fruit smoothies with protein powder. Cold, liquid and quick. By the time hockey practice rolled around after dinner, an energy charge, followed by a late night eating frenzy as soon as the meds wore off. Another energy surge capped the night with little sleep. Homework? Not a chance. His brain was fried long ago from holding it together from 8-3. Mornings were no party. Get the meds in atleast half an hour before school, get the food in before the meds took effect.  It was a game against the clock, everyday.

During the next four years I perfected my ADHD sense. ADHD has a wide spectrum and not all kids or adults are alike, so what one child’s symptons are may very well be non-existent with another child. What was working for Max would not work for Asher, or Simon. Our third child, Zev, was born Apraxic, which is like dyslexia of speech, so he stuttered a little and had a hard time retrieving information from his brain. What they all have in common is that their brains are wired to not function so easily. Information is not passed smoothly, often getting stuck or taken down the wrong path. What else they have in common is their athletic ability and a mom committed to fueling their brain.  This combination would be their ticket to re-building themselves in and out of the classroom.  Although I tried my best to feed them whole, organic foods during their early kid years, it was not so easy. I quickly learned that just because something was labeled as organic didn’t mean it was healthy. I tried to keep them on as anti-inflammatory based foods as possible, but way back when, healthy gluten free options were rare.

At fourteen, Max was scouted by East Coast prep schools during a Boston hockey tournament. With high school just around the corner, and no 504 Plan in place(that’s another blogpost!), prep school seemed like an option we couldn’t refuse. Small classrooms, low teacher-student ratio, scheduled study time, access to teachers all day and night and a hockey rink fifty feet away from your dorm was just too perfect to pass up. The biggest negative for me?  The food he’d be eating.

Max took himself off his meds that year. He wanted himself back and I couldn’t blame him. While the other kids still had me to fuel them with clean food free of additives, preservatives, gmo’s and keeping on a gluten free based diet, prep school cafeteria food in the mountains of Maine would not be so. Max has been around healthy and organic eating his whole life. He knew the terms, he knew how to read a label and new what questions to ask. But, he was still fourteen and leaving home with a lot of other things clogging his mind. Even though I sent many gluten free care packages, he did not keep up as he should on his clean eating. Being on the road for hockey, team pizza parties and unlabeled sauces, dressings and deli meats left Max in the dark about his meals. I have raised my kids to eat a certain way, not for food allergies, but for focus, for endurance, for better sleeping patterns, for overall health and wellness. Their first words as a baby may have been “mommy” and “daddy”, but “organic” was soon after!

The gastro problems started soon for him. Daily pain enough to keep him from playing hockey at his peak, keep him up at night and take his focus away from his studies. It confirmed his gluten intolerance to us both. We went through the cafeteria meals and talked about what was safe and not safe for him. Food was his fuel. It was then that he made the 100% gluten free, healthy eating commitment for himself.  He became a role model for his younger siblings. They all started to believe in this “hoax” of food as fuel that I have been creating in our home for the past decade and a half.

Max graduates this year from prep school, just committed to a Division III hockey program in New Hampshire and will be representing Team USA in the Israeli Olympics this summer. Not bad for a kid who felt like a failure his entire three years spent in junior high. Not bad for a kid who struggled between the worlds of ADHD on and off meds. Not bad for a kid who is now a leader on his hockey team, a role model for working hard at his sport and for trying his best at school.  His siblings have followed in his footsteps: Zev is successfully earning A/B grades in his final year of junior high, managing his weight gain for football by cooking his own grass-fed beef burgers, cooking organic eggs and drinking his green smoothies full of kale, spinach, almond milk and berries. Asher, who has ADHD, doesn’t take meds and is also a hockey goalie, just brought home the State win and the Central States win this season and is in 6th grade. Simon, who just turned 10 and is in 4th grade, also a hockey player, has ADHD, no meds and just brought home a 2nd place State win. As hard as school may be for them, it’s important they find success in other areas of life. They view their daily diet as being instrumental in their success.

I get asked by people all the time how do I control what my kids eat OUTSIDE of our home. I don’t. They don’t have food allergies. I want to teach them to pay attention to how they feel after they eat certain foods.  All I can do is be their guide on the journey to overall health and wellness.