I know I don’t need to explain the value of proper nutrition, but I am going to explain a little about how nutrition affects me and possibly others with autism. First off, though it may not need to be said, it is important to note that what we eat affects all of us whether we have autism or not. Studies have shown that lack of proper nutrition can increase our irritability, decrease our sociability, and decrease our self-control. For someone with autism, these effects can be even more noticeable than in others.
I know that for me eating often, as well as what I eat and how much I eat, greatly affects my attitude and behavior. When I haven’t eaten for a while, I tend to become irritable and pessimistic. It is almost like a switch goes off in my head. When I am am satisfied and eating healthy foods, I tend to be pretty easygoing and can keep calm despite stressful situations. When I’m hungry, I tend to tell people exactly what I think they’ve done wrong. I can easily rant about the problems of the world and the hopelessness of our endeavors. I also can become depressed or emotionally unstable.
This is true for me now as much as it was when I was growing up. I remember kicking myself off my bed one day when I was a teenager because I was hungry and dinner was not yet ready. Although I could have gotten a snack to satisfy my hunger while I waited, I was not thinking clearly enough to do so. Now, I have much better awareness of my needs and behavior. Sometimes I don’t realize I am hungry, but I realize that I am getting cranky and so I eat something and this tends to relax me.
In the past few months, I have been taking a daily multivitamin to see if it helped improve my mood. I tend to be a very picky eater and I know that I don’t get all the nutrients I need from the food I eat; so I wanted to try this little experiment to see if it made a difference. Although I am not sure if this is the cause of my change in attitude, my mood has been improved in the last couple months.
In saying this, I am not stating that everyone needs to be on vitamins. However, because eating a diversity of food can be difficult for someone with autism, it may be something to try. Because textures can heavily draw us toward or away from certain foods, it is especially important that we are diligent in making sure we receive all the vitamins and minerals we need. Luckily, there are now multiple ways to take vitamins- in gummy form, drinks, or pills. The most important thing is not how you fulfill your nutritional needs, but that they are taken care of. Although I’m not an advocate of any one particular diet for everyone with autism, I do believe that our diet greatly affects us.
Another reason to watch what we eat is that people with autism are more likely to have some sort of gastrointestinal issue. This is probably why the gluten free diet is so well received by some people with autism. Gluten free diets can be easier to digest and people tend to be a little more health conscious when they are on gluten free diets. In my case, I don’t believe it’s necessary for me to be on a gluten free diet, but I do need to be extra cautious of acidic foods because of my stomach problems.
In essence, the most important thing is always to make sure that you are doing what is best for you. We each have different needs and problems and it’s important to make sure we take care of ourselves. Just keep in mind the importance of nutrition and its effect on behavior and mental functioning. As we strive to keep our bodies properly nourished, our attitudes and behavior will reflect the care we have taken.