I’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
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.
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.
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:
- Artificial Food Dyes (Check out my book Can I Get A Pickle Without Yellow 5, Please? for much more on this topic)
- Preservatives in food (think sorbates, benzoates, sulphites, nitrates, nitrites, and flavor enhancers) (source)
- MSG (source)
- Too much sugar/starch (source)
- Artificial sweeteners-check your kids’ multivitamins! (source)
- Gluten (source)
But don’t just take my word for it, here are some other accounts:
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!