Kelly Douglas describes how her son Evan would throw frequent tantrums, “slither on the floor” and look for something new to eat every five minutes. It was as if there was a hunger switch inside of him that was broken and constantly turned to 'on,' she says.
But since starting the Opitmal Weight for Life (OWL) Program at Boston Children's Hospital, Evan, a 10-year old boy with autistic tendencies, has shown improvements in his behaviors around food that his parents couldn’t have imagined. “The whole hunger horror has stopped,” she says. “I’m blown away by how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.”
It’s not just Evan’s behavior that has improved. In just two months, Evan has dropped more than 8 pounds. Kelly, too, has lost 6.5 pounds!
Like many patients who come to the OWL program, Evan is following a low-glycemic diet. This dietary approach is based on whole, natural foods that help stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels and thereby control appetite.
Kelly has seen firsthand the benefits of this plan on Evan’s appetite and, consequently, his general mood and behavior. She says the key has been the addition of protein to every meal. Unlike refined carbohydrates like white bread, sugary cereals and candy that are metabolized quickly, protein provides long-lasting satiety–that feeling of fullness after a meal. Adding protein to every meal helps Evan keep hunger at bay for for several hours.
“We tried eliminating red dye, went gluten-free and got rid of artificial ingredients when we learned that Evan was on the (autism) spectrum,” Kelly says. “But the protein has made such a big difference. If we don’t have protein at every meal, I start to see that old behavior come back.”
As part of the OWL program, Kelly has made other changes that have helped fuel Evan’s success. She makes sure he is physically active for at least one hour every day, even if it’s through play such as bike-riding and running around in the yard. She also allows Evan to eat unlimited amounts of fruits and vegetables to satisfy his tendency to use food as a coping tool.
Kelly also sets aside a few hours every week to cook in bulk so that she can have healthy meals on hand on nights when the family’s schedule is too hectic to prepare a healthy meal from scratch. Oftentimes, she will grill a dozen chicken breasts to use in lunches and dinners throughout the week!
Finally, she allows Evan to eat a treat such as a homemade brownie or a small bowl of ice cream once a week so that he doesn’t feel deprived. “I thought this would be so hard but it’s really not,” Kelly says. “And Evan still gets to be a kid.”