My friend Jen makes me laugh so much! She’s one of those super-cool relatable moms with a great sense of humor who you just love talking to–you feel more normal and peaceful about life just being in her presence. She claims not to have anything together, but really I think she has it all together. I have never given much consideration to the food/behavior connection, but as you will read in her post, she has really struggled with this with her son. She figured out how to make a lot of positive changes, and she did it all on her own! This makes her a complete rockstar in my book. I learned so much by reading her post, and I so admire her dedication in seeking the best for her kids. Anyway, read on my friends for a Friday treat from a fellow Mom of the Year…
Let me tell you a little about my son, AJ. AJ was never a good sleeper. He was awesome at lots of things, but if he had one fault it was definitely that he was terrible at sleeping. He hated napping and had such difficulty sleeping at night. This continued on for years. By the time he was 3, I was extremely tired, to say the least. There were only a handful of times that he slept through the night. He had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. I was never one to do well on little sleep before having kids, so this was really challenging. I gave myself a little pep talk every day and chugged my morning cup o’joe in hopes that it would help me survive the day. Not only were his sleeping habits horrible, but he was starting to have behavior issues now too!
I made appointments with my pediatrician to discuss the sleeping situation. They listened but didn’t offer much help. I wasn’t satisfied because I was beyond tired and we really needed help! I took AJ to a sleep clinic at the local children’s hospital. He even had an overnight sleep study done, which showed “behaviorial” to be the cause of his sleep difficulties. In other words, as parents, we were doing something wrong, yet they told us we were doing everything right and to just “keep at it”.
I kept praying for a solution to this sleep problem because now we were also dealing with his difficult behavior more and more frequently. Some days were great and others, well, others were nightmares. Then one day I found myself at a playgroup where another mom was talking about a diet her son was on… Listening to her, my mind started racing. Maybe something like this could help AJ. Maybe this is the answer to my prayers. I went home and did some research. This “diet”, the Feingold diet, eliminated food dyes, preservatives like TBHQ, BHA and BHT, as well as some fruits that are naturally high in a chemical called salicylates. I always considered myself one to watch his food intake, and I did a lot of reading, so I was aware that food dyes and even TBHQ were bad for us, but reading about this diet helped me realize I needed to really take a good hard look at the food we were eating. I started with a pantry purge. Looking through some of our staples, I quickly learned that what we were eating really could be the cause of our issues. We ate a lot of fruits and veggies and I did my best to give him a balanced diet. I always read labels before, but even though the pudding had food dye in it, I still bought it because I used it for dessert recipes and there were no alternatives at the store, or I would buy the American cheese with Yellow #5 in it because American cheese should be yellow, no? I also realized that around 2.5, 3 years is when his behavior issues started. He hit his terrible twos a little late, but they hit us hard. Ironically, that’s when we switched toothpastes to that cool blue colored kind. That monster that took over my sweet little boy’s body? I call that monster petroleum based food dye- Red 40, Yellow 5 and Blue 1.
Once we figured out this diet, it was like Christmas in July. At age 3.5, AJ FINALLY started sleeping at night. I couldn’t believe it! All of these years of sleepless nights were all connected to what he was eating and the environment around him. And when his behavior turned violent once he started school? It wasn’t because my husband was home less, or pre-school was stressful, or because his new sister just joined the family. It was because he was having snacks at school that were full of TBHQ (think Cheeze It’s, Oreos and Teddy Grahams), high fructose corn syrup (Ritz crackers and Chex Mix), or artificial coloring and flavorings ( too many snacks to name!). With us stopping the consumption of all things artificial, especially the food dyes, the behavior issues stopped. No more tantrums, no more emotional outbursts, and no more animosity to everyone around him. My sweet little boy was back!!!
The more I read about the things the diet excluded, the more I decided that this was going to be our way of life from now on. Food dye comes from petroleum. Petroleum. Really?! Really. As Americans, we consume it constantly because it’s in so many foods we find in our grocery stores. What else? It’s a known carcinogen and the cause of many issues, including and not limited to learning disabilities, bed wetting, ADHD/ADD, eczema, sleep issues (including nightmares) etc etc etc. What about TBHQ that is found in many snacks aimed at kids and in just about every fast food joint? That’s a form of petroleum too, and guess what? Ingesting a gram of it can lead to nausea, vomiting and collapse. Just eating some fast food here and there won’t necessarily kill you, but is it really something you want in your body, not to mention your child’s growing body?
I have three children now, and people often ask me if all of the kids “follow this diet”. I believe that when you know better, you do better. Yes, we all follow the diet because no, I don’t want my kids ingesting “food” that comes from petroleum and are known to cause so many issues! Even if it doesn’t affect their sleep or behavior the way it affects AJ, it may be affecting them in other ways that I don’t realize yet because they are so young. And like I said before, no one should eat this carcinogenic stuff. In fact, England has food dyes banned to where if they are in the food, the companies are forced to put on the label a warning about the issues it can cause! So yes, they do sell Skittles, M&Ms and Nutrigrain bars in England, but they are naturally colored, as opposed to the ones sold in the US full of artificial ingredients, even though they are made by the same company. This truly makes me mad and I can only hope that one day the FDA will make some changes for the better.
I hope that writing this helps at least one other family truly stop and think about what they are eating and realize how it could be affecting themselves and their children. The next time your child throws a random tantrum or turns into a little monster, take a step back and think about what he or she ate. Were they just at a party and had some delicious food dye? It probably isn’t the sugar causing the current problem!!! I often feel that if it were not for the mom at the playgroup sharing her story (and thus saving my life- thank you, thank you, thank you AK), my son would be headed down the ADHD labeled path when in fact, all he needed was a diet change. I’m actually thankful that my son’s body is smart enough to recognize all things artificial and reject them. My family is living a much healthier lifestyle because of it. I embrace his sensitivities and I’m thankful for everyday his body isn’t really taken over by those monsters!!! Our days are back to being peaceful, fun and enjoyable, the way life should be when you are a kid!!!