Eating Your Way to Peak Performance
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Dr. Charles Gerson never really intended to find a way to cure cancer. When he opened his Sanitarium in pre-war Germany his intention was to find a cure for tuberculosis. Dr. Gerson's theory was that bringing a person to peak health through a regime of super-healthy diet, exercise and environment will enable the body to harness its own resources to fight and overcome degenerative diseases such as the dreaded T.B. Beyond his expectation, he found that people attending his sanitarium became cured of many other conditions apart from the T.B. they came for - and one of those illnesses was cancer. When Dr. Gerson fled Nazi Germany and arrived in the USA, he focussed his research more directly on curing cancer and developed the now-classic Gerson Diet.
Healthy diet and exercise have always been regarded as key issues in maintaining good health and improving resistance to sickness. And people have noted that with the good health comes a feeling of well-being and alertness. The effect of environment has received less attention, but there is now a growing trend to look more closely on factors such as coloring and harmony.
Many people "go on a diet" to lose weight, but nowadays, regimes of diet and exercise have become the focus for dealing with many of the ills which beset our society, from ADD to Chronic Fatigue.
For many people, "eating healthily" means using whole-wheat bread, brown sugar, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, avoiding food additives, drinking filtered water and natural fruit-juices and taking regular exercise. These steps alone can produce significant improvements in general family health and also help children's performance in their learning.
Some diets resemble "weight-loss" diets, but other are based on various concepts of healthy eating. Often, someone who adopts such a diet finds that he loses excess weight - but that is not the main purpose of the diet.
There are two distinct concepts of vegetarian diets. One concept is that a diet of fruit and vegetables is healthier than diets which include meat, fish and other animal products. Another concept is that people should only eat fruit and vegetables because it is wrong to kill animals and eat them - a concept which is contrary to the Torah. It is a mitzvah to eat meat on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim and for Seudos shel Mitzvah - but some people do not like meat or feel that they are healthier if they never eat meat. Such people should ask personal shaylos from a competent Rov.
Pritikin, Macrobiotics, "Fit-for-Life" and many other dietary systems all aim to balance and regulate food intake to enable the body to digest food efficiently and utilize it in the best possible way.
Intensive research has revealed that the feeling of well-being and alertness which comes with a good diet is not simply a "good mood" but the result of the stimulation of the production of various complex hormones and other chemicals by the brain which result in a whole range of beneficial effects to organs throughout the body.
As a direct result of this research, many dietary additives are available which aim to supplement the deprived nutrition offered by much of the foods available nowadays. Some additives come as tablets and capsules containing vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Their purpose is to supplement the regular diet and help maintain a healthy body. Other additives are sophisticated, complex hormone-like compounds designed to boost the brain and nervous system. Many of them claim amazingly beneficial effects, but most are new on the market and their long-term effects have not yet been thoroughly researched.
Similar to these products are concoctions of various herbs which aim to offset the bad side-effects of unhealthy eating. These straddle the border between dietry additives and "natural medicine". Many of those herbs have been used for hundreds of years, but just because a medication comes naturally does not mean that it can be used recklessly or for long periods.
Some people prefer to try and get their balanced diet directly from the food by growing food under the natural conditions of yesteryear. These are the "organic" fruit and vegetables which are grown without pesticides and on naturally-rich soil and also include free-range eggs and chickens, goats' milk and cheese, natural yoghurt and other "old-fashioned" foods.
Another source of "powerful" food is produced by sprouting seed and beans. When seeds and beans begin to germinate, they produce high concentrations of extremely healthy vitamins, amino acids and other protiens. Sprouts are becoming increasingly available commercially, but it is easy to "sprout" at home.
Another source of super-healthy nutrition is from naturally-occurring algae, such as blue-green algae and spirogira. They are almost 100% high-power nutrition, though some types of blue-green algae have been suspected of containing low concentrations of unhealthy substances.
A growing practice is the use of special "juicers" to extract the cell-contents of green-leaf vegetation and vegetables. These juicers are especially designed to avoid the high temperatures of regular juicers which can damage delicate compounds inside the plant cells during extraction. The green chlorophyll of leaves and sprouts is very similar to blood haemoglobin, and drinking a small glass of juiced leaves infuses the body with an extremely potent and fast-acting dietary additive.
Of course, a healthy diet is only one aspect of a healthy life-style. But when the Gemora (Shabbos 140b) suggests that it is a waste of money to use good-quality, expensive flour and drink when a person can manage on low-quality, cheap flour and drink, the Gemora responds that waste of one's body is a greater wastage.
Getting a Handle on Learning Disabilities
The group meets regularly, "somewhere in Israel". In an isolated cave, by flickering candlelight, they come to learn about the Parshat Hashevu'a from a well-versed Sefardi Rav. The shiur starts at about 9.30 p.m. and often lasts for about five hours. People sit on tiny, low chairs or lounge on cushions scattered on the floor. At the end of one shiur, the Rav commented, "You probably wonder why I choose to give the shiur in this little cave. Well, if you think about it, you will notice that during the entire period of the shiur, your mind did not wander from focussing onto the shiur. There is a special ability of a cave to shelter out all extraneous thoughts. Also, the arched shape of the roof is conducive to deep thought. And, of course, learning at night is the time for deep thoughts."
The comment shocked several of the participants. Looking back, they realised that not only had they indeed been listening intently to the shiur but also they had not been squirming in their uncomfortable chairs, as they usually do after even a short time of listening to a regular shiur.
During the next shiur, two of the participants deliberately tried to get their minds to wander off and think about other things. Both people are usually unable to maintain concentration on a shiur for very long. After the shiur, both commented that they had not been able to get their minds to wander. As one of them pointed out, "Usually, when I "dream off" and then "come back", it takes me a while 'till I can tune back into the shiur. During this shiur, I tried to think about other things, but I just could not, and afterwards I was able to immediately get straight back into the topic."
This experience suggests that the epidemic of "learning disabilities" might indeed be a product of our modern environment. The following anecdotes, all heard first-hand from the people involved, also suggest that many "learning disabilities" need not necessarily be regarded as "neurological dysfunctions" which can only be treated through medication and/or extensive and expensive therapy.
Rabbi Reuven, menahel of a prominent Cheder, commented that his son used to take Ritalin for his ADHD but now he does exercises before school and no lneeds the medication.
Shimon's mother asked histeacher how her son was performing in class. Shimon's reading had previously been very poor and he was now near to completing a course of remediation using the powerful FRAMEWORK system. The teacher commented that Shimon was now doing very well. Shimon's mother then disclosed that since starting the reading remediation, Shimon had not been taking his Ritalin.
Levi complained of being unable to study under the flourescent lighting of the bais hamedrash. I referred him to a neurologist, expecting him to prescribe Ritalin. Actually, the neurologist felt that Levi was suffering from a deficiency of the mylin sheath of the nervous system which causes him to be "nervous" under the stimulation of the lighting. The neurologist prescribed tablets of Vitamin B Complex.
Two weeks later, Levi told me that after taking the vitamins regularly, he was now able to sit in the bais hamedrash and concentrate on his learning.
I recently mentioned this story during a workshop. A Special Ed. teacher who worked in the prestigious Ramaz School in New York told the group that she had recently converted the fluorescents in her classroom to "full-spectrum" lighting. The result had been dramatic. Both behavior and performance had improved significantly.
This result tallies with the previous story because the mylin sheath of the nervous system is not completed until a child reaches about seven years of age. Probably, some children take longer. This means that many young children are in the same state as was Levi and are being over-stimulated by regular fluorescent lighting.
Many parents relate how "super-nutritious" foods such as sprouts, algae and "juice" have helped their children's performance in class and enabled them to "come off" medication such as Ritalin.
Other parents report similar results when they wean their children off sugar, foods coloring and other additives. Indeed, the Feingold Diet, which cut out all artificial foods additives as well as fruits containing salicylates, enjoyed a big following among parents of ADD children. Then came the backlash which "proved" that since the diet did not help "all" children, it was not THE answer.
Teachers were pressuring Chavy's parents to take her to a psychologist because of Chavy's inability to concentrate and her bad behavior in class. Instead, her parents took her to be screened by the FRAMEWORK schedule. The screening showed that she was suffering from serious convergence deficiency. Chavy was referred to a local behavioral optometrist. After several weeks of vision therapy, Chavy is now a changed girl. She can concentrate on her work, behaves well in class and her self-confidence has improved.
Yehuda was a happy, good-hearted boy who would do anyone a favor. At night, he stayed up very late and was always up for duvening in the morning. But in class, he had a head made of pure wood! He just could not understand even simple parts of the Gemora. One day, I asked him how much Coke he drinks every day. He replied that he only drinks six or seven cans a day!. I replied that either he stops drinking so much or he has to leave my shiur.
Yehuda managed to go "cold turkey" and stopped drinking coke completely. After a few days, he started to feel tired at night and had to go to bed earlier than was usual. But in shiur, the change was dramatic. At last, he was able to follow the shiur and understand the Gemora.
Yissachor was a real "live-wire". He could hardly sit still, talked like a racing-car and wrote like a high-speed, drunken spider. After my experience with Yehuda, I asked Yissachor what his drinking-habits were. Yissachor told me that he drank four or five cups of coffee per day, each with two tea-spoonfuls of coffee and three table-spoonfuls of sugar. When he changed to drinking water, he calmed down and his parents commented that for the first time they were able to understand him easily when he phoned home.
Zevulon, an eight-year-old New Yorker, had been having learning problems for a few years. Remediation was not being effective. Zevulon was chosen as a trial candidate for the FRAMEWORK Screening. The last question of the screening is, "How many hours sleep do you get each night?" Zevulon replied that his mother takes him to bed at 10.00 pm, but he does not go to sleep then. He waits until his mother goes to bed at 10.30. Then he goes downstairs and secretly watches television with his father until his father goes to bed at 1.30 after the late-night sports game. Then he goes to sleep until 5.00 when the sunlight coming into his bedroom and wakes him up. Zevulon's teacher, who was listening, was aghast. She asked Zevulon why he does not close the shutters so that the light does not wake him up. Zevulon replied that the shutters were broken so he could not close them.
Developmental programs such as Brain Gym, One-Brain Kinesiology and the venerable Delcatto program all enjoy considerable records of success in helping children improve their ability to learn. Mrs. Sossana Levine's Developmental Learning Readiness Program was introduced experimentally into three Torah Umesorah schools in New York and Monsey last year. The program was so successful that it is now being introduced into Lakewood.
No one system guarantees success for all children. Each has their antagonists who quote cases when that system did not help. No one factor can be cited as being "the cause" for learning deficiencies in children. Everyone knows someone who "had that factor" but "had no problems". But that is the challenge of Chinuch.
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