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Home > 12 Steps to a healthier child... and parent!

12 Steps to a healthier child... and parent!

Feeding the BRAIN- Our Story

Written by, Heidi Clopton, Pediatric Occupational Therapist at Center of Development & Jason Clopton, Developmental Optometrist at Center of Vision

Please consult with a biomedical doctor or clinical nutritionist to guide your treatments.

A good friend sent me a quote from Dr. Oz the other day and said it reminded her of me "When I look at a grocery store, I'm looking at a pharmacy," said Dr. Oz.

She knows, along with all my therapists, clients, friends and family how passionate I am about the foods we eat in our family.  We see food as fuel for our brains and bodies.  Food can either help us or hurt us.  I want the foods that my family eats to help them!  But, I see far too many families and children who eat fast food, processed foods and packaged foods for at least 1 meal every single day. 

Obviously in the last century something has changed... "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"  said Hippocrates many, many years ago.  Where did we forget that food feeds our brains and bodies, and it can either help or harm us?  Are we that busy as a society that we can't even eat right anymore?

"The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease." ~Thomas Edison

How many pediatricians are telling their patients to eat fresh veggies, fruits and healthy proteins, or are they asking about how much dairy a child drinks a day?  Which one is more important?  The answer may surprise you.

My passion for the connection between food & brain began when I was pregnant with my first child, Ella Grace. Somehow, eating what I thought was a healthy diet, I had Gestational Diabetes. I ate the typical American Diet (fast food at least 4 times a week, bread, cheese, yogurt, pasta, starches more than protein, carbs more than protein, cereals, frozen dairy yogurt and sometimes fresh fruit and veggies), I thought I was healthy because I didn't eat fried foods or ice cream everyday.  I was not healthy.

I started fervently reading books and articles on nutrition and healthy pregnancies. I learned a lot about how America is being fooled into thinking we are eating healthy, when in comparison to the rest of the world, we are one of the sickest countries. I started following the Honest Food Guide, and stopped counting fast food as a real food. I learned to look at food as nutrition for my brain & body.

Everything I put in my mouth, and most importantly into the mouths of my children is doing something...and it should be beneficial and not harmful.

This passion became an obsession when I had my second daughter, Leah Faith. At age 2 she was scared of crowds, made little eye contact, had severe sensory defensiveness to touch and movement, severe constipation, eczema, sinus issues, multiple allergies, had severe sleep issues (never slept more than 3 hours at a time), and threw tantrums often.

The breaking point was at her 2nd b-day party when she cried & had to be held constantly. When everyone sang happy birthday she was covering her ears and crying.

I thought "my child has Autism or severe Sensory Processing Disorder, I need to treat this now!". I started looking at the clients in our therapy practice that were overcoming their sensory issues, autistic behaviors, ADHD, and other health issues and they all had a few treatment strategies in common that started with special diets and supplements to heal the gut. I started reading every book I could find on how the foods we eat can cause, prevent, and treat disease. I have not stopped reading yet!

From that point on, I have looked at every child, every patient, and every person I encountered and their health, behavioral, and emotional issues with a new set of lenses. I had gotten a prescription for lenses that taught me to look at how everyone was feeding their brain or starving it by the foods they ate.  I now understood how the gut was the "little brain" and how everything starts in the gut! 

For all those busy families out there, I am happy to share my version of "cliff notes" on what I have read, learned, and the common denominators from all the experts on nutritional health, neurology, gut health, developmental and emotional disorders:

 12 steps to Feeding the Brain - as always please consult your doctor or nutritionist about the following.  Above all, educate yourself!  Education is Empowerment!

1. Feed little tummies a diet rich in purified DHA from fish, pure water, fresh fruits and veggies, and lean protein foods. Decrease eating carbs and increase healthy proteins, veggies and fruits instead.  

Become an expert at making a healthy smoothie everyday and you can hide all kinds of greens and fruits in a great tasting smoothie!

No artificial colors, preservatives, flavor enhancers, nitrates, etc.should be in your diet.  This includes artificial sugars, dyes/colors, high fructose corn syrup (high in mercury- a neuro-toxin), MSG, BHT, or anything that is not God made.

Nothing artificial or words you do not understand should be in your foods.

Limit highly processed foods and fast foods, artificial sugars or dyes.

For our family also limiting casein (dairy) and gluten (wheat) products in our diet has made a dramatic difference.  If you or your child have allergies, ear infections (these are not "normal"), gut issues, eczema, sleep issues and/or behavioral issues then a special diet can help.  See the shopping guide for more info!  Google Julie Matthews at and sign up for her newsletter.  There is a lot of research behind dairy free and gluten free diets and why they help so many. 

For a great fridge reminder on how the healthiest countries eat, print out the colorful food pyramid from or follow on facebook for great kid friendly healthy foods.

2. Limit TV, screen time, and video games to 30 minutes at a time, double movement to near focus on electronics.  If a child wants to watch TV for 30 minutes, then they need to play outdoors or move indoors in play for 1 hour.   Near focus time should be saved for educational needs on computer and at school, not for FUN. Video games should be movement based and NEVER violent. Limit to 30 minutes as a privilege that is earned not given freely.  We have a "to do list" that includes reading, exercise, playing and taking care of pets, cleaning room and bathroom, taking vitamins and doing daily chores BEFORE any electronic time is allowed.  Exercise and movement are essential for a healthy brain and body.  Exercise releases neurotransmitters that help us stay calm, learn, attend, focus and sleep well.  Learn more at

3. Low stress environment is vital to a child's emotional, physical, and mental health and their IQ!  Research shows that high stress homes can cause a lower IQ in a child, cause emotional damage and physical stress. Find ways to decrease stress levels, see a sensory based OT for help on self regulation and self calming techniques. 

4. Create a love for learning environment where a child can learn, explore, have questions, and even make mistakes, but learn from their mistakes and have a love of learning. Let them learn it is okay to take intellectual risks & and learn from it. Children need to feel like they are succeeding and NOT failing all the time. For every negative word or action, use 10 positive ones.  Learn your child's love language by taking the quiz on  Play family games and board games often, dance together, and have family no electronic day at least 1 day a week, this is a great Sunday time!  Go on hikes, to the park and explore together.

5. Be aware of how the brain works.  In order to recall new learning and have a good speed of processing you have to have thick myelin over neural connections.  The brain myelin must be healthy and thicker for faster connections, more focus, and recall of new learning.  This only happens when there is plenty of  DHA, lots of purified water in the body, enough daily movement releasing Brain Derived Nerve Growth Factor and repetition of new tasks in a low stress learning environment. There cannot be fast food and electronic viewing all day and good brain connections, the brain is starved and cannot function like it should. 

Research also shows that children who are raised in a loving environment full of loving touch (hugs, being held while reading a book, etc) have a higher IQ. Memory is enhanced by deep pressure touch (massage, hugs, brushing protocol taught in OT sessions).

6. Sensory diet rich in movement, sports, and hands on play experiences.  Research shows that sports,dance and music all help our children have better brains and bodies.  It doesn't stop when we are adults.  These are still vital to healthy aging.

7. No lights or TV in the bedroom when sleeping- any light source at night, especially a TV or IPAD like device  decrease Melatonin production in the brain, you need this neurotransmitter to have good sleep cycles!  Turn off all electronics at least 2 hours before bed time.

8. Ask your physician about supplementing diets with DHA, milk-free probiotics, all natural food based multivitamin, fruit and veggie supplements (gummies are well accepted by kiddos) and have vitamin, mineral, heavy metal, iron & iodine levels checked.  Have a vitamin analysis of levels, especially D and essential fatty acids.  Many children diagnosed with ADHD are deficient in magnesium and essential fatty acids.  Many children with Autism are deficient in B vitamins, magnesium, EFA's, probiotics and suffer from gut absorption issues.  You simply cannot ignore a child's internal gut health when there are learning and behavioral issues. 

 9.  Goat milk is the closest animal milk to human breast milk without the high risk of food sensitivities/intolerance that comes with cow's milk,yogurts, cheeses, etc.  Cow's have 4 stomachs, cow's milk was intended for baby calves, not a 1 stomach human.  Look at the healthiest people in the world, none of them drink cow's milk or consume dairy and wheat like American's do.  They eat local veggies and fruits, rice, fish, nuts and consume goat milk when they are younger.

10. Watch intake of sugars, especially high fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose or any -ose sugar. These contain excitotoxins that cross the blood brain barrier disrupting production of important neurotransmitters and promote free radical damage to brain cells.

11. EXERCISE daily with 70% max heart rate aerobic exercise at least 30-60 minutes a day!  This is the best natural way to increase Brain Derived Nerve Growth Factor...the weed and feed for the brain!  It is also the best treatment for ADHD, anxiety, stress, depression and more.  Google the book "Spark" and learn more!

12. Learn what your child's love language is and learn to speak it every day: Time, Touch, Words of Encouragement, Acts of Service, or Giving. Dr. Chapman's books are wonderful such as the 5 Love Langauges for Children!

 I am happy to tell you that after following this 12 step program of Feeding the Brain that Ella does not have diabetes, Leah Faith does not have Autism, and Jase is a happy healthy child. Following these recommendations, I have also cured myself of many issues that I had struggled with for years such as OCD, anxiety, bowel issues, and many other health issues.

To become an informed parent please read books by the following medical doctors who are the experts: Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD (read her book about GAPS and you will be greatly informed); Dr. Perlmutter, Neurologist, Dr. Bock, Dr. Kartzinel, J. Ratey, MD, Dr. Sears, Trudy Scott and Julie Matthews!

Related Topics:

Allergies and Cow's Milk

Ear Infections

Mouth Stuffing

Oral Helpers

When to Use Oral Sensory Calming Vibration

Food Aversions and the Gut/Brain Connection

Ways to Help with Scooping

Sensory Calming and Sensory Mealtime Strategies

Feeding the Brain: Heidi's presentation cliff notes

Nutrition, Supplements, and Biomedical Therapies

Summary of Biomedical Recommendations for ADHD, ASD, Learning Disorders, Asthma, Allergies, etc.

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