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71 Food and my Body-Mind with Ethan Nagy – non-speaking Autistic Advocate

This is the 71st Episode of Functional Nutrition and Learning for Kids and the very first episode where I interview someone who is Autistic. I wish today that today’s guest Ethan Nagy was my very first guest not just because of the gems of insight he gifts to us in this podcast but because his perspective is unique and mindset shifting.

If you are a parent, or a Medical Practitioner, or anyone that works with kids, you should hear this podcast for Ethan’s wisdom.

I am Vaish, Chemist turned Functional Nutrition Consultant and Science Educator. 

As mom to a mind-bending poet with Down syndrome and Autism, who happens to be non-speaking, it wasn’t too far back in time that I felt helpless at what I saw to be Sid’s dis regulation, severe gut issues,  apparent lack of communication, extremely low energy and disinterest in anything I offered. 

Fast forward through thousands of lessons learned about the gut, the brain and much more important the extreme importance of Assuming Intelligence and Presuming Competence, Sid lives a motivated ambitious life as poet extraordinaire, regulated, focused, individual and me as an OK mom who still gets in the way. 

I present this podcast: Functional Nutrition and Learning for Kids in order to bring to you the lessons that have changed my life from guests who are game-shifters!

Going forward, it is my mission to interview more and more Autistic people that are living what we are talking about. If you have a disability and would like to be interviewed on this podcast, please reach out to vaish@functionalnutritionforkids.com

Back to ETHAN!! “Ethan Nagy is a non speaking autistic who uses a letter-board to communicate. He learned to spell using a method called S2C (please see I-ASC.org for more info). Ethan is a disabilities advocate and author who contributed an essay to the book “Underestimated: An Autism Miracle.” He is completing his high school diploma and plans to attend college. Ethan is currently writing a book. He resides in Oregon with his family. “

In today’s podcast, Ethan used a letter board to spell out his answers, which were read out for the listener with Ethan’s permission by Dana, Ethan’s mom.

Here are the questions read by me, followed by Ethan’s answers read out by Dana.

Q.  Welcome to Functional Nutrition and Learning for Kids, Ethan. I am so honored to have you here. Can you tell the listeners about yourself?

Ethan: Hello! My name is Ethan Nagy. I am a non-speaking Autistic. My home is in Oregon, so my amiable friend Vaish asked me to be in her lovely, fine, podcast. 

Q. Tell us about how you communicate and how this has made a difference in your life.

Ethan: I am using a letter-board to communicate with you. I point to the letters on this board. Hard to do given my motor planning and ocular issues. My mom is an S2C practitioner, so she gives me coaching. My feelings about gaining communication are hard to summarize. Imagine no light and then getting a window opened. My feelings are myriad. 

Q. Do you have a message for therapists and healthcare providers that work with Autistic Kids and Adults?

Ethan: Live a moment in my sensory experience not in my outside appearance. Sometimes giving faith in my intelligence is all I need to become calm. 

Q. Please share your favorite food experience. What do you absolutely love?

Ethan: My favorite food experience is ingesting lovely hot chips at a Mexican restaurant for the first time. So crunchy and hot with hot salsa! It really made my mouth so happy!

Q. What is your WORST food experience. What do you absolutely hate?

Ethan: My worst experience is eating mushy consistency food. It makes me gag and spit out my food. Given my issues, making me eat mushy food is a lesson in futility. I hate oatmeal!

Vaish: You know, it is really helpful to know that about Oatmeal. I didn’t know you had such strong feelings. And it is helpful to listeners and therapists to know that certain foods are just not going to work, at least initially, or at least until you change your mind.

Q. I am curious, what is YOUR experience with food?

Ethan: I love food. It is my joy. I love ingesting foods I enjoy. I tend to overindulge. I need to stop obsessing over ice cream. It is annoying to me and my family.  

Q. What feelings do foods you dislike bring out in you?

Ethan: They make me angry in a primal way. I am not in charge of my sensory experience in those moments. 

Q. If there was a food that you hated, but I wanted you to try it to increase your nutrient diversity and hence, your microbiome diversity, here are the approaches that I could try. Could you share how you feel about each of them?

  1. Going Cold Turkey and removing unfavorable foods and only having good foods available.

Ethan: You did this to me already, Vaish, with sugar! I wasn’t feeling love towards you in the moment, but it really did make a huge difference in the end.

2. Ok, what about this and I am a bit nervous to ask, but it is pretty popular these days, and I am ashamed to say I have tried it too – Sneaking in the food, say sweet potato puree in pasta sauces, etc.

Ethan: I know when someone is sneaking it in my meals, so don’t bother. I am part of the process to change my diet, so let’s make it happen together. I feel cold turkey is best for me. 

Q. Lastly, any thoughts you’d like to share about your relationship to food

Ethan: My relationship is complicated. I was traumatized in school over the way I eat, my happiness in food mixed with shame. Getting therapy was the best thing I ever did. My relationship to food is back to a mostly healthy baseline. Given what I went through, I must tell others that withholding food or using it as a reward is not the answer. It makes most Autistics feel like caged animals. Meeting the goal of healthy food habits is a partnership of equals. 

Vaish: A partnership of equals, it should be! I am beyond grateful to Ethan for agreeing to be on this podcast and sharing with us information from his unique perspective -that should be common sense, that we should have asked kids earlier, but most of us haven’t.

I am also grateful to Ethan for sharing his ideas with his characteristic non-judgmental grace.

Singing off, this is Vaish and I will see you next week again! If you loved this podcast, the place to have a discussion or ask questions respectfully is facebook.com/functionalnutritionforkids


70 The Hyperactivity Diet

Nutritional Strategies that support Hyperactivity and Disregulation

The diet to support hyperactivity or dys-regulation can (and does) include many things. BUT The number 1 thing to do if your child is hyperactive is Balance Blood Sugar. Did you know that the symptoms of hyperactivity are close to identical to symptoms of high and low blood sugar in many kids?

Balancing blood sugar should be the key of any nutritional or even medical intervention.

Trouble losing weight? Balance Blood Sugar? Having trouble with Focus? Balance Blood Sugar. 

Issues with periods? Balance Blood Sugar. Diabetes or Insulin Resistance, of course balance blood sugar. 

In fact, you may want to take a detour into the world of Hyperactivity, Diet, Picky Eating, Focus and Sugar.

I had a client, let’s call him Adam, who was one of the most hyperactive children I have ever worked with. Bouncing off the walls seemed like a phrase that was coined for him. I remember meeting with Adam and his parents and meeting was an overstatement, because none of us could get in a word with Adam jumping at everything around us. 

If you have a hyperactive child, you may know the feeling. This is significantly compounded in Autistic children with Hyperactivity, perhaps because of overlapping gut issues, or difficulty with communication, or a mind-body gap, it is hard to say.

Adam was autistic AND hyperactive, and his parents were exhausted. Of course Adam was exhausted as well, he just couldn’t communicate it. 

As I observed more kids like Adam, I noticed that exhaustion in children, fatigue in children often counterintuitively exhibited as more hyperactivity.

So the deduction that hyperactivity is excess energy is often not true. In fact a significant number of these kids might even have mitochondrial dysfunction, in other words, energy production issues. 

Then it makes sense, that there is that much less energy available for active learning, Sitting still, for example, requires a lot of energy in the form of sensory integration. Sitting still, paying attention, and learning are not low energy activities, though they may seem so.

Anyone who has sat in a classroom for an hour can attest to this.

As I mentioned blood sugar to Adam’s completely fatigued mother, she told me that Adam did not eat that much sugar to begin with. Now, I have a secret for you:

Everyone thinks this about their child, unless their child is a super-picky eater and it is obvious that they only eat sugar, but even sometimes in these situations, there seems to be a huge mom misconception going around (and I do heartily include myself here) that our kids eat way less sugar than they actually eat. 

Because we want our kids to eat less sugar. 

Often a 5 day food journal can reveal trends that are not obvious otherwise. Balancing blood sugar is an easy process but like all easy processes, it is easier said than done.

The 3 step technique to balancing blood sugar is:

  1. Remove refined carbs and added sugar.

Note that I said remove not avoid. Both cold turkey and gradual crowding out work, though it diepends on your child which method is more successful.

2. Include fat, fiber and protein with your meal. Every meal, even a snack. Especially breakfast. Some people get protein in, but not a lot of people get fiber and fat in. 

And I always want to remind moms and dads that fat means good fat, and good fat comes from nuts, seeds, avocados etc, but also from butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil and other non-vegetable cold-pressed oils. Also, lard is fine if you do that. 

Nuts and seeds contain fiber too, as do whole fruits and veggies. 

3. Add some blood sugar balancing supplements like chromium, ALA, berberine if needed and tolerated. 

Like I said, it is easy to understand, but takes frameworks, diligence, recipes and effort to implement. It is certainly not impossible.

I have done it for Sid when he was 5, and did it change his life? It absolutely did. Most of my clients have done it too.

In the case of Adam, his diet for hyperactivity and disregulation included many arms: but we first balanced blood sugar and then we had to really fine tune his night snack to help sleep and morning moods, and he was a different child. He would sit at tables for 15 minutes for lessons, he could pay attention and he could finally give his energy to learning.

So should you be worrying about blood sugar? Is this an issue? My answer is likely. We live in a society with high amounts of processed foods – i.e., foods low in nutrition and pre-digested so they convert into sugar very easily and cause quick spikes in blood sugar which often become quick lows right after.

If you have a child that is miserable before meals or after meals, or both, track the timing and the type of the meal. Go back and use the 3 step strategy mentioned above and see what happens.

Let us review some signs of low and high blood sugar:


-increased urination

-increased thirst

-craving for sweets

-getting hangry

-mood worsens 1-2 hours after a meal. 


-Craves caffeine (if in habit)

-Low focus

-Jittery, hyperactive, 

Can you see how many of these symptoms are quite indistinguishable from disregulation, hyperactivity, ADHD symptoms, focus issues, learning disabilities and so on…

Balancing blood sugar is a low-hanging fruit which must be tried first. In fact, in my upcoming course on increasing regulation through nutritional strategies (this course will be released in October),  I will have an entire module with hand-held guidance on how to balance blood sugar. 

In the meantime, I am currently accepting new clients and you can reach me HERE.

Or if you simply want to get started, grab a free guide at www.funcitonalnutritionforkids.com/autismsupports


69 Getting by is not enough with Octavia Walker – for your inner “supermom”

Octavia Walker leads us through the murky world of self- and society- imposed expectations on moms of children with disabilities.

Expect to hear terms like self-care smashed to smithereens (I hope you are as tired of being asked to self-care as I am)…

Expect to be held accountable and have hard insights ….

Happy listening!


68 5 Steps (and tips) to Organize and Conquer Picky Eating Disorder in Kids without overhauling their diet

This short podcast is for parents who want actionable strategies to conquer picky eating disorder.

Picky eating or self-restricted eating can be a vicious cycle of nutrient deficiency, inflammation, gut issues and more restricted eating.

Follow this 5 step technique to break this cycle and shift from inflammation to diversity.

You can find more actionable strategies in my free ebook that you can download at:



67 Mental Health and Resilience in Kids – with Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Are you interested in a Resilience Mindset for your child?

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge takes us through the many misunderstandings behind mental health in kids.

4:00 The Journey to get your kids’ help is unnecessarily complex.
6:15 Resilience in Kids.
8:20 Resiliency Mindset.
9:35 There is no magic pill, medication included. How to do the work.
10:00 Why is there a lack of resiliency: is it overparenting?
11:15 Grading is not an indicator of success.
15:00 Even “Functional” Kids can have a lot of turmoil.
19:00 Different parenting for different kids
20:40 Where do parents start?

If you want to start to un-muddy the waters a little bit in the complex world that your child inhabits, check out my free ebook Autism Supports that Actually Work. Click HERE, to explore these 6 strategies that do really work, and aren’t talked about that much.


65 How to approach Occupational Therapy – with Tamar Nevo

Tamar is one of the most experienced and respected OTs I know and one of the few people I know that truly thinks outside the box.

In this episode Tamar talks about the value of

-looking at motor first

-what parents of young children should keep in mind

-the value of curiosity and wonder as opposed to a “fix-it” mindset, and

-what a new OT can keep in mind.

You will find this podcast to be invaluable in choosing an OT to work with your child.


64 Essential Oils to support Anxiety and Stress with Jodi Cohen

In this episode Vaish and Jodi Cohen talk about how essential oils can be that “bypass” or “magic bullet” that can stimulate the vagus nerve, calm fight-or-flight, and bring children (and adults) into a parasympathetic state.

Essential Oils can work when more traditional foods and supplements don’t, because they can diffuse through the skin, and reach the brain quicker through the olfactory system.

If you have a child that is a resistant eater, or with significant GI inflammation, this podcast may be of use to you.


63 Simplicity in the world of “Picky Eating” with Jess Sherman

Nutritionist Jess Sherman brings back simplicity to the sometimes very complicated world of dietary interventions for “picky” eaters.

She asks us as parents to:

Get Curious and Ask What is going on in the body with her 3-pillar framework:

1 Address Nutrient Deficiencies

2 Resolve Stress / Digestion

3 Deep dive into Digestive imbalance and dysbiosis.


62. 6 pillars to a gut-healing “Autism diet”

If you are looking to address:


-behavioral dys-regulation

-focus and/or


there are a few fundamental principles that can help you design a diet (often mislabeled as an Autism Diet) that helps your child through the symptoms that they struggle with.

This is more accurately a food-based approach for symptoms that often co-exist with Autism, but are truly more common these days for everyone.