I was asked to write a little article about my daughter, Lily’s reactions to food dyes and other chemicals in foods.
Lily was an awesome baby, she slept well and didn’t cry too much. She was always very alert and active, but never “difficult.” When she started eating real food, not baby food, but foods like us, we noticed a difference in her. She became irritable, threw huge fits, and would bang her head on the ground when she was frustrated. We always thought she was teething, or just not sleeping well. I remember being excited when her last tooth came in because her behavior would get better. It didn’t, it just continued to get worse.
Lily was always our super sweet kid who loved to cuddle and loved having her back scratched. This sweet kid could snap in a second. One second, she was hugging you, the next, she would be screaming at you and hitting you. When she was 4, after a year at the same school, the teacher had concerns about Lily. Lily behaved the same way at school. She was really sweet, but if another child made her mad, or if she didn’t get to sit by someone she wanted to, she screamed and cried. She didn’t just do this for a little while, she would not stop. We thought she was behaving like a normal 4 year old, but we decided to take her to a counselor to be sure. After 6 sessions, we were told she has bad anxiety and coping issues, but there was nothing else wrong.
We did everything we could to make Lily feel more comfortable and help her anxiety, but her anger issues just got worse. People always told us she would grow out of it. We hoped that was the case, but it wasn’t. Lily didn’t care who you were, if she was set off, she would yell at you if you made her mad. We always made excuses why our sweet, lovable child would behave so poorly. Lack of sleep, travel, and moving to a new home were always our excuses.
When Lily was 5, she got really bad. She would go on 3 hour long fits. She would go from happy to screaming, crying, hitting walls, slamming doors, and sometimes just scratching at the floors. She would not stop for hours. Picking out clothes each day was horrible. She went through 5 outfits a day because everything felt weird. She preferred to be naked, everything felt weird. She made us so miserable that I cried all the time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mom anymore. I didn’t understand how we could have such a “normal” older daughter, but Lily was “horrible.” How could our sweet, caring girl go from sweet and caring to a raging monster that was hard for even her mother to love? Luckily, we finally found the answer that doctors and a therapist could not tell us.
Before I go into this, let me tell you, Lily never had problems once she started kindergarten. Her teacher said she was attentive, a hard worker, and played well with everyone. Lily does not have ADHD. I even tried to get help from the school social worker, but she didn’t display any signs of focusing or social issues while in the classroom.
One day, my 3rd grader had a friend over. I remember saying to her friend’s mom, “It’s peaceful now because Lily isn’t here.” When her mom picked her up, Lily was home. Lily was screaming at us and making life miserable. The mom said to me, “You know, sometimes the chemicals in food can cause severe reactions in kids. Our daughter was ticking, and when we cut out dyes and preservatives, the ticking stopped. Check out the Feingold diet.” That’s all she said, and she left.
I immediately checked out the Feingold diet. This is meant for kids with ADHD and autism, but I found articles on how it also helps kids with anger and self control issues. I asked my husband if we should try it, and he thought it would be worth the try. I remember staying up reading everything I could about chemicals in food and items I could buy. My head was spinning. The next day, I cleared out all of our old food. Everything had dyes, artificial flavors, and preservatives. All of our “healthy” food was not as healthy as I thought. I was in shock. I spent 5 hours grocery shopping the next day and we immediately started eating all-natural and organic.
Within 48 hours, we had a new child. It was amazing. After a month, I remember saying, “This is the first time we’ve been happy in years.” I no longer cried and wished I wasn’t a mom. My horrible and angry child was now just my “normal” child. Of course she still has her moments, but they aren’t severe. Her 3 hour tantrums in her room are now 5-10 minutes. She no longer scratches at the floor or snaps at you for looking at her the wrong way. If she gets mad, she can control her anger.
It has been 1 year, 4 months, and 7 days since we started Lily’s diet. It’s no longer “Lily’s diet,” it is just the way we eat. We eat no food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives, or any form of corn syrups. We found out even corn syrups were harming Lily. They were the reason everything “felt weird.” People on the outside think my kids are deprived and I need to lighten up. What they don’t know is Lily doesn’t want to eat those foods anymore, she knows how bad she feels afterward. We still eat sugar, and we still have treats, we just changed our brands. Lily is now 7, and she knows if she eats anything with chemicals in it, she will feel bad for a few days. She likes feeling good, and she knows what sets her off, so she self regulates now.
I am often asked where I now shop for our food. My favorite stores are Costco, Meijer, Trader Joe’s, and Aldi. We still eat normal food, we just switched out the brands. Pillsbury puts dyes in their crescent rolls and cinnamon rolls (our old favorites). Jet Puffed marshmallows have dyes in them. Kraft macaroni and cheese has dyes in it (eat Annie’s). Crest toothpaste for kids has dyes and artificial flavors (we use Tom’s). Some packaged rices have dyes in them. Life cereal has dyes and preservatives. I could go on forever, check the labels on your food. You’ll be amazed.
For another mom’s story about food dyes, read this article. It’s exactly what we went through.