Indeed, Food Affects Behavior – Our Family’s Story

food behaviorI’m not going to lie, sometimes I dream about life before we switched to a real food diet.  It was so simple and easy.  We would just buy pre-packaged foods and eat them.  The dishes were less, the time spent in the kitchen was less, and we were blissfully unaware of the ingredients we were putting in our mouth.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your real food journey, sometimes you question if it’s worth it.

You look around and you see other people eating the Standard American Diet and they seem fine.  You remember that you grew up eating the Standard American Diet and you seem fine (except for your unexplainable fatigue, constipation, insomnia, frequent sickness, infertility….).

Don’t get me wrong.  There are so many advantages to eating a real food diet that we will never go back to those blissfully unaware days, but I still think about it sometimes.  On those days I remember what we just went through, and it encourages me that we are on the right path.

Our Story – Food Affects Behavior

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A couple months ago we had an experience with our youngest child which cemented in our minds the importance of feeding our little guys real and whole food ingredients and the undeniable link that food affects behavior.

You see, occasionally we go through periods of time where we buy compromise foods.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  Our family goal is to eat well most of the time and to not sweat it when we are at a party or enjoying fellowship at the local burger joint with the youth group.  

But this particular time we bought some processed organic cheese crackers from Trader Joes.  I used them to help motivate my little guy to go potty and it worked brilliantly.  I wasn’t wild about the ingredients, but it was such a small part of his diet that I let it go. He would get one cheese cracker every time he used the potty.  So he was getting a cracker at pretty consistent intervals through the day.

That same month that we began potty training, we also started noticing some behavioral issues in him.  He became  easily upsettable and would cry at the smallest thing which was unusual for him. He also developed a defiant streak (more than his regular strong-willed personality) and just generally seemed miserable.  He slept less, ate less, and became slightly constipated. As the weeks went on my husband and I became more worried about him.  Was he in pain but couldn’t tell us?  Why was he so unhappy?  We missed the giggly, silly little boy that he was.

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We prayed to God asking for wisdom.  Please, Lord, give us our happy child back.

Finally, one day as I was reaching for the crackers it dawned on me.  The crackers started about the same time the behaviors started.  I threw the box in the trash can on a whim and decided that we were done with “potty treats”.

I kid you not, within 24 hours the smiles returned.  Then the next day the giggles returned.  And he was back – our sweet, spunky little two-year-old.

I knew that food affected behavior, but I had no idea that one little treat like that could so dramatically affect behavior.  My husband was similarly amazed. I think it was hard for us to make the connection to the crackers in the beginning because he was getting them at a consistent interval – fueling the unrest in his system, so that he never really got a break from it and we never saw a break from the behaviors.

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After scanning the ingredients, I am fairly positive he was reacting to the sunflower/safflower oil.  It’s not the dairy or gluten as is usually the case with food and behavior. I know this because we have done elimination diets with him in the past and he now gets dairy and limited gluten without reaction.  It was something else.  I think it was the oils.  I’m not going to test this theory because I really don’t want to put him through that, but we will be avoiding those oils from now on, even when we are at fellowship gatherings and get-togethers.

We’re Not Alone

I’m thankful that we were able to figure this out.  But it also makes me wonder how many families out there are struggling with their children’s behavior, but have written it off as “the terrible twos” or “just their personality”, when it could very well be a sensitivity to some ingredient.

I encourage you to not settle.  If your child generally seems unhappy, first pray for wisdom.  James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”  This has proven true in our lives so many times.  Second, take a look in your pantry – the answer may be in there!

Ingredients that have been linked to behavior problems in kids include:

But don’t just take my word for it, here are some other accounts:

Think Food Doesn’t Affect Behavior? You’ve Got To Read This. – Whole New Mom

How I Cured My Moods Swings Naturally – AlexisMathews.com

How My Family Has Dealt With Food Coloring – Accidentally Green

Better Food, Better Mood – It Takes Time

How Diet Can Affect Mood and Behavior – NY Times

The Gluten Made Her Do It: How Going Gluten Free Saved My Daughter’s Mental Health – Anchorage Press News

Instant Behavioral Change in Son After Going Gluten Free – Celiac.com

Parents Comments About Their Children’s Sensitivity to Food Dyes – Cspinet.org

I want nothing more than for us all to have happy, healthy children, but I know it’s not always that easy.  Maybe sharing our experience will help someone else!

Have you found that certain foods affect your (or your children’s) behavior?  Please share!

Leave a Reply

  1. I’ve been reading through a book called Why Can’t My Child Behave…it references the Feingold diet. We eliminated artificial food coloring when our son was around 2 years old, but still felt like we were missing something. After reading parts of this book, I eliminated BHT, vanillin or artificial flavors, and limit processed foods all around. Huge difference!! It IS difficult to not have the connvenience factor many days (no more quick lunches from a drive through), but I wouldn’t go back….I need to be more diligent about the same restrictions for our other kids now!

    Thanks for your post…it’s encouraging to know there are others who experience the same food related behaviors!

  2. I’m happy to read this post, and setting the others you listed to read as well! Gives me even more of a reason to do the changes for my kids. I wonder what changes I will see in my son (11) that has severe adhd and other behavioral issues!

    • Good luck to you Sarah! It’s not an easy journey to figure out what foods our kids react to, but it is well worth our efforts. Praying for you as you start your journey!

  3. I know food is effecting my kids.. We stay away from the obvious ones like colorings, excess sugar, and wheat for one of us (we all need to but it’s so hard to do with 3 under 5 years:-(..). I know my daughter needs something else and my son for sure too. But how do you know what? And how do you keep grandparents from bringing candy everytime they come..

  4. We are currently dealing with this. We are seeing major behavioral changes in him in the last two months – my instinct has been telling me it’s partly due to diet (he is sentive to dairy already) but my husband hasn’t quite gotten around that idea. I’m going to have him read this and hope we can get on board with becoming strict on his diet again.

  5. What you also should consider, if it affects their behavior what is it doing with their health! So much junk in our food today!😢

  6. Years ago I taught parenting in public school for our preschool children parents dealing with behaviors or ADHD. The doctors and I suggested changing diets as the first modification. When going to the supermarket only shop the perimeters….fresh fruit, fresh veggies, fresh meats and dairy. Don’t even go into the aisles! Don’t make a big deal about it, just start the family eating healthy unprocessed , sugarless as possible, scheduled meals. Snacks when needed should also be in those categories. Granted easier said then done but once implemented it can be life changing. The parents who did it were the testimony of how food affects the behavior of children.
    Also overall can be less expensive because we spend much more on the aisle foods then we realize.
    And If it’s not in the house you won’t eat it or serve it.