Sugar! (and other foods)

| May 23, 2012

Sugary Foods A very controversial food. We serve food at all of our workshops including a full sit-down lunch with dinner style food during each four-hour workshop. We serve food for several reasons. Since many of our students are still teenagers, they need to eat well and often. We also use the sit-down meals as a socializing and social skills opportunity.

In our home life Janet and I are on a strict gluten-free, casein-free (effectively dairy-free), corn free diet which we undertook on behalf of our son. Ian benefitted greatly from this diet and it allowed him to transition to being medication-free and improved his performance in school. For ourselves, we have found this to be a very healthy diet and plan on continuing. I say this mainly to indicate that Janet and I were predisposed to look hard at foods we serve and observant of their effect on the students.


Food seeking behaviors (and misbehaviors!)

Lunch Many of our students, perhaps 25%, need some small amount of food nearly hourly. At the studio this will be in the form of potato chips and fruit snacks. When they have this food handy they are better able to attend to their work and their behaviors are calmer. That said, about 10% of our students will noticeably over-eat if the food is not limited. Not surprisingly, these same students are overweight.

Sugar seeking overlaps general food seeking habits in our students in a complex way. We long ago banned sugar and sugar free soda but make unsweetened fruit juices and seltzer water freely available. However, one day a parent brought a cold case of Coke-a-cola to the studio for a pot-luck later in the week. Probably 75% of our students (including ALL of the overweight overeaters discussed above) displayed a complete lack of control about grabbing for the cokes and also drank several each. This frenzied behavior reinforced our commitment to keeping these drinks out of the studio.

The “fruit” juices have some perils too. Bought before we looked at it carefully, a lemonade we buy at Costco turns out to be sweetened with cane sugar and causes the same grabby/frenzy behavior we don’t like about sodas. It is otherwise not too bad so we experimented and have found that diluting it about 25% with water vastly reduces the grabby behavior so we surreptitiously dilute all the bottles before they get to the lunch table. Grape juice has the same problem and we dilute it as well, and again this reduces the “pull” almost all of the students are helpless to.


Effects of Food and Sugar

Once they eat the food – does it help or hinder? Most students benefit from having healthy-ish food handy. By “healthy-ish” I’m including snacks like potato chips. For our chronic over-eaters (again about 10% of our students) they eat to diminishing returns: they eventually eat until they suffer some sort of food crash so the overeating affects their productivity and they show reduced energy but their mood appears well regulated (no outburst). Once we have determined that someone is an overeater we gently regulate the amount of food they eat so that the overeaters end up with portions similar to the other students.

For most of the students, sugar affects them pretty much the same as other snacks, which is to say that mainly it has a positive/neutral impact on their mood and functionality. This is somewhat in contrast to a lot of information out there regarding sugar but this is our experience.

However, for about 10% we see a “sugar crash” almost immediately, practically before they finish the sugar loaded food. Their crash consists of low energy, reduced ability to attend, reduced ability to avoid OCD behaviors, and foul mood. This group clearly should never eat sugared food and yet they constantly seek such foods. An example is a student who would drench their meat dish (usually chicken) with a BBQ sauce that was heavily sugared. By the end of the meal this individual would be in a sugar crash and would be grumpy and unproductive for the rest of their studio time that day.

Overall: going low or no sugar is certainly a safe choice. Fruit is great but even junk food such as chips seems to be at worst neutral – as long as they are not overeaten.

Individuals who are sugar sensitive clearly must avoid sugar to remain effective and productive. For those individuals we will be working closely with them and their families to come up with strategies to avoid those foods that do not work for them.

As I said above, this is our experience observing the students we work with. Your mileage may vary.

Spring Spinathon in the ARK

| March 29, 2012

We had a wonderful spring Spinathon on Sunday, March 25th. The skies threatened rain so we held the classes indoors. I am always amazed at how spacious the small Body Image Fitness Center is. We had lots of people, lots of projects and overflowing food tables and there was still room to mingle and chat. We’ll post photos soon.

Michael and Christine Lopez were gracious and generous hosts and have invited us back for a fall Spinathon in October – so keep those pedals turning!

The Tiburon ARK did a great article on the event which you can find here: Spring 2012 Spin ‘n Sizzle

It’s Time for the Spin ‘n Sizzle!

| February 23, 2012

This is a great event – great exercise, great food, great people and all for a great cause!

Autistry Fundraiser – Spin ‘N Sizzle – Sunday Oct 16

| September 2, 2011

We’re doing it again! The 3rd annual Spin ‘N Sizzle happens on Sunday, October 16th from 10am to 3pm. Great exercise. Great food. Great people. Hosted by Michael and Christine Lopez of Body Image Personal Fitness Center.

Everyone has a blast at the Autistry Spinathon. Here is a link to some photos of last year’s fun! This year our goal is “A Butt on Every Bike!”

Hope to see you there!

To buy seats online go to our Pay for Spin and Sizzle Page

High-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

| March 26, 2010

We’ve been avoiding corn in our household since 2005 when our son started refusing corn foods and I found I had day-after migraine headaches whenever we had corn in our meals. Like we often do, we went EXTREME and also banned high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

There have been rumors and anecdotal evidence that HFCS was not good for you but many argue back that HFCS cannot be any worse than common sugar. However, a Princeton study released this week indicates that there is much to be concerned about HFCS in your diet: increased weight gain per calorie eaten, increased circulating triglyceride levels, etc.

At Autistry Studios meals we try to avoid serving HFCS soft drinks and we are increasingly pushing water and home-made sodas made with sparkling water + fruit juice.

Shameless self-promotion follows:

Want some great exercise? Join us at our spin-a-thon fundraiser on Sunday April 25.

Fundraiser: Spin for Autistry – April 25

| March 11, 2010

Autistry Studios First Annual Spin-A-Thon

Ian and Michael Lopez

Ian and Michael Lopez

Please join us at the first Autistry Studios fundraiser – a Spin-a-Thon graciously hosted by Michael Lopez at his Body Image Personal Fitness Center.

Info: (see flyer for more information)

The funds raised will be used in our Opportunity Fund which allows us to offer services on a sliding scale to lower income families.

Sunday April 25, 2010
Five one-hour spin sessions: 10am – 3pm
Spin for one hour — or five!

Donate while you sweat:
Five 1-hour Spin Sessions beginning at 10am (Treadmills and ellipticals are also available!)

Adults: $40/per hour
Kids (13 – 18): $20 per hour

Make payment to Autistry Studios, Inc.
A Federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

Space is limited – reservations are highly recommended!
To reserve your bike (or treadmill) call Janet: (415) 945-9788
Or email:

And – check out the short film about Autistry Studios by Bay School senior Chelsea Mattoon:

Let’s Spin!

Body Image Personal Fitness Center
23 Reed Blvd.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
View Larger Map

More information about benefits of going Gluten-free

| January 2, 2010

gluten freeWe have been Gluten-Free Casein-Free (GF-CF) around our house for over ten years. For us it was a no-brainer. After only a few days of trial a few benefits were immediately apparent:

  • improved energy which improved mood.
  • clearer sinuses, better sleep.
  • improved ability to withstand sensory input.

Over the next few months more benefits became apparent:

  • For our son, we found his ability to attend to his schoolwork improved such that he made new rapid and impressive progress on speech and reading.
  • Additionally, our son had needed medication for years to sleep through the night (Ambien and Valium) but we now found that he could go medication-free and we have been for all the years since.
  • For our son’s Aspie dad (that would be me): huge welcome weight loss. Sixty-five pounds shed seemingly effortlessly — and still gone a decade later.

Looking back over the years we can see other benefits:

  • Improved health. As a family we almost never get sick. Maybe one cold or flu a year.
  • Our son knows that right food makes him feel good, bad food makes him feel bad and he acts on this independently. This is an important truth that most adults do not understand.

On countless occasions parents ask us about “doing the diet” and relate that they were not able to do the diet themselves because “it was too hard.”

I’m going to say something really bluntly:

Having an ASD child is HARD.

Planning your diet so it does not have wheat guten or dairy protein is TRIVIAL by comparison.

I do not think the GF-CF diet works for everybody or is needed by everybody. However, if you or your child need a GF-CF diet the benefits are such that it is simply negligent to never even seriously try it just because it feels like too much effort.

Additionally there is a growing body of research showing the serious health problems you risk if you or your children need a gluten free diet but do not get one.

Dr. Mark Hyman MD writes regularly at the Huffington Post and today posted a very good article with several great data points about the dangers of gluten if someone’s body is sensitive to it.

Mark Hyman, Huffington Post “Gluten: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You”

Food allergies and weight gain

| November 3, 2009

We’re a gluten-free casein-free (dairy free) house and a couple years ago we added corn to the list of no-nos.

There is a very interesting article by Mark Hyman over on HuffPo about common food allergies like gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, yeast, and peanuts and sometimes soy and how there seems to be a relationship between weight gain (or difficulty losing weight) and eating foods you are somewhat allergic to.

Dans Wheat Free & Dairy Free Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Dan's Wheat Free & Dairy Free Pumpkin Pie Recipe

I know that I rapidly lost 65 pounds (a 25% weight reduction) when I went on a gluten-free dairy-free diet and I’ve only gained 10 pounds back in the last 12 years since.

Our son has been having serious acne lately and we’re going to experiment with eliminating peanuts for a couple weeks and see if that has any positive impact.

As the holidays are approaching I thought I’d share our favorite pie crust recipe. This is also available at my GFCF Pumpkin pie page.

Rice based piecrust

Makes two 10-inch pie shells

2/3 cup rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
3 tbsp potato starch
1 tsp xantham gum
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp Gluten-free baking powder
3 tbsp cold dairy-free margarine (omit and double the shortening below if you can’t find a suitable margarine)
3 tbsp cold vegetable shortening in small pieces
1 egg yolk
3 tsp cold water
1 tsp cider vinegar

Blend the dry ingredients.

Cut in margarine and shortening until mixture resembles a course meal. Add egg yolk, water, and vinegar.

Wrap dough in plastic and press into a ball. Chill for 1 hour.

Between two sheets of plastic wrap, roll dough out into a 12-inch circle (about 1/4-inch thick). Remove top sheet of plastic wrap and flip pastry onto a 10-inch pie plate. Keeping the plastic wrap over the top of the crust, pat it into the pan, piecing together any parts that separate when the crust lands in the pan. Remove the second sheet of plastic wrap. Crimp edges.


| October 18, 2009

pamelasbrowniesPeople are always asking about the brownies that we serve here at Autistry Studios. They couldn’t be any easier to make!

Here is my secret: I use Pamela’s Wheat Free, Gluten Free Chocolate Brownie Mix. There are several recipes on the package. I use the the Original Oil Recipe.

But, and here is the secret: I substitute 1/4 cup of applesauce for the 1/4 cup of water. Everything else I leave the same.

The other trick with these brownies is to not overcook them. In my small convection oven it takes 11 minutes to bake a 8″ square pan of brownies.

Betty Crocker Goes Gluten Free

| July 4, 2009

Our family has been on a Gluten Free / Dairy (casein) Free (GFCF) diet for over 10 years. In the beginning it was very difficult. There were few products available for home cooking and eating out was just not an option.

In the last few years this has changed dramatically. Pamela’s Products baking mixes have become staple at our house. One of the first places to offer GFCF items on their menu was Disneyland. For our family this truly became the Happiest Place on Earth.

BettyCThis morning I found an email in my Inbox from Amazon announcing that Betty Crocker has a new line of Gluten Free dessert mixes. I haven’t tried them yet but I will order them and report back.

A section of Betty Crocker’s site is now devoted to their Gluten Free products.