Illustration by Tim Williams

Not all doctors go along with Dorfman’s advice, however. Last fall she was treating a child with reflux and behavioral problems. At her suggestion, the child was taken off dairy products for several months. The girl’s symptoms improved significantly. Then the child’s doctor told the parents to reintroduce dairy.

“The girl was fine for eight days, then her stomach started hurting and her behavior became monstrous,” Dorfman says. “Fortunately the parents recognized the problem before more damage was done.”

Dorfman’s own eating habits are stellar. She consumes a “green drink” (leafy greens, carrots, blueberries, grapes and a splash of juice) daily, and primarily eats organic fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry and meats (though not dairy products, which are problematic for her). “I don’t drink coffee or alcohol,” she says. But because of a penchant for cookies and chocolate, she does consume sugar occasionally despite that early vow to ban it from her diet.

Dorfman finds her “most gratifying cases are the kids who have really bad behavior problems, anger management problems and mood stability issues.

“When you can change that with nutrition,” she says, “it changes their lives and the lives of everyone around them for the better. Most of the kids notice the changes themselves.”

But it takes persistence. “You have to look at nutrition as a long-term strategy,” Dorfman says. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

From the Files of Kelly Dorfman

(Dorfman notes that not all cases are solved this easily.)

Mystery 1
An 11-year-old girl suffers constant anxiety that’s interfering with her life.
Dorfman’s solution: Since her diet is already healthy and balanced, the girl is put on daily supplements of omega-3 fatty acids, which can alleviate depression and improve brain function.
Outcome: The girl’s ability to handle stress improves dramatically. “She’s never going to be Gandhi,” Dorfman says, “but now her worries and angst are in the realm of normal.”

Mystery 2
A 9-year-old boy is a compulsive overeater and significantly overweight.
Dorfman’s solution: Eliminate gluten. “A gluten sensitivity can give people a gnawing feeling in their stomachs that they confuse with appetite,” she says.
Outcome: The boy starts eating appropriate amounts. “He maintained his weight as he grew, so he thinned out,” Dorfman says.

Mystery 3
A 36-year-old lawyer suffers from chronic joint pain and stomach pain. He has seen a rheumatologist, a gastrointestinal specialist and an internist, none of whom find a cause.
Dorfman’s solution: Follow a gluten-free diet. “These are clear symptoms of gluten sensitivity,” she says.   
Outcome: After two weeks, his stomach pain disappears. His joint pain only occurs occasionally after exercising, which is normal.

Stacey Colino frequently writes about health for national publications.