My Rainbow Connection – My Own Reactions To Food Coloring

All kinds of unnatural stuff goin’ on inside this box.

Some of my best memories include candy or treats – I remember “producing” my own musical in the kindergarten playground, and then rewarding myself at pick-up time with some Pop-Rocks in the rumble seat of our Pontiac station wagon (if you’re younger than twenty, that last sentence may not make much sense).  My formative years were filled with covert trips to the Majik Market candy aisle during sleepovers, “Jolt” soda vending machines inside my high school cafeteria, and that awesome “taste the rainbow!” Skittles ad campaign.

“It always goes wrong at the dessert.” – Willy Wonka

I was a dyed-in-the-wool Willy Wonka fan (Mr. Gene Wilder’s depiction, thank you very much).  A little girl named Violet turning blue after downing that 3-course-meal gum is a scary but admittedly awesome visual indictment of our unnaturally colorful and overabundant diet, and its resulting problems for children.   The fact that many kids transform into little Veruca Salts instead of the more obvious giant blueberry when “under the influence”, makes it that much harder to diagnose and treat.

I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t connect the dots until I was well into adulthood.  I started seeing scientific studies, and scary handwriting sample comparisons, from children before and after consuming food coloring.  It wasn’t lost on me that childhood and adult diabetes, cancers, obesity, and ADD/ADHD rates have gone UP in the past few decades, since food additives have been in use.

A friend of mine mentioned that she read about a man whose whole day was ruined when he ate pickles on sandwiches and burgers, due to the yellow dye.  I started to think that maybe adults could be affected by food dyes too. Could there be such a thing as Red Rage? As I listen to the Presidential candidates firing shots at each other such as “petulant kid”, I wonder – how did kids earn this exclusive badge, “petulant?”  The US has the highest rate of child abuse in the Western World, according to MSNBC.  Has adult and child food dye consumption, which grew five fold since the 1950s, had an effect on our relationships?

I wanna say yes.

For example, a couple of things opened my eyes while I was away on a company trip.  A little kid in the airport terminal abruptly started screaming, kicking, hitting, and struggling with his dad.  His yelling was guttural and repetitive, almost rhythmic.  As I mentioned in Why I’m Over This Rainbow, my child used to growl while “under the influence” of food coloring.  It was truly disturbing to hear and watch.  I recognized this familiar sight, and I wanted to run up to his dad and help in some way, ask what he ate in the past couple of days (obviously if he was traveling to this major theme park destination, then I need not ask).  But of course I could relate to that awful sinking feeling when all seemingly judging eyes are on you like, “Can’t you just shut him up?!”  No, I can’t.  And we don’t have Suggestion Boxes taped to our backs either, darn.

The other, and more shocking thing that happened on my trip, was a revelation about my own food dye sensitivity.  I already knew for years that I was really allergic to MSG, and could easily replace the Greek seasoning and pasta sauces that contained “natural flavor” (nickname for MSG).  But it honestly never once occurred to me that I may have as bad a reaction to food coloring as my daughter.  I was indulging in a wine and food festival one day, and had consumed some neon-bright red and orange slushy cocktails.  The result was that I was not coping with stuff that would normally roll right off my back.

For instance, I had promised my child that I would call to check in that night.  But after I was accidentally separated from my group in a large theme park at night, and all mobile phone batteries simultaneously died, I charged my phone and tried to call home.  My child was already asleep when I called, and I was heartbroken.  This had happened before and it was no biggie.  This time, however, it felt like the end of the world.  To make matters worse, I couldn’t even keep it together at the hot tub (I know, boo-hoo, poor me) around friends and coworkers, and had to get back to the hotel room fast.  I was in tears.  I had a long “discussion” with my partner from the elevator to the hotel room, part of which was accidentally witnessed by friends…good times.  I felt like running away.

And there is a fantastic ending to this trip, oh yes.  I’d like to preface this with the fact that I have flown a dozen times, but I sought ‘fear of flying’ therapy shortly after 9/11.  I got over it, and have flown several times since.  I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to our destination, and that awesome flight attendant dude who gave all of us extra gin bottles.  However, the ride back home felt like something out of a Jack-tries-to-get-back-to-the-island episode of “Lost”, at least in my dyed mind.  We were going through very cloudy, rainy weather and our trip was “bumpy.”  I nearly had a panic attack, and was digging a large flesh wound into my partner’s leg with my fingers.  I simply could not deal.

I had been eating clean before the trip, cooking meals at home, choosing my foods wisely, and logging every morsel.  But over the course of a few days of traveling indulgence, everything looked and felt different.  I’m thinking that clean eating while traveling should extend to clean drinking, too.  Those damn drinks, they’re such pretty, pretty poison.  Is it so hard to believe that the dyes in cocktails affect our judgment as much as the alcohol content?  How many of you have come back from vacation with a bun in the oven, hmmmm?  I joke that my daughter’s middle name should be “Cuervo 1800”, but perhaps it should be “Green 3.”  This is one case where I’m very thankful for my overindulgence that one time, seven years ago.

My trip got me thinking about those preparations we ladies make prior to trips and special occasions.  We color our hair and get spray tans.  Guess what?  I found out after the trip that my spray tan contained FD&C dyes!  Awesome.  I now had petroleum dyes soaked down into my skin, everywhere.  No wonder I felt like crap.  I am still waiting to hear back from the Aveda salon about where my red-violet hair color came from.  I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I start to feel off, out of shape, and my skin breaks out.  I always thought it was the weird tasting hotel water but truthfully, I was indulging in unhealthy foods and excusing myself for bad eating while away from home.

I am that person who hasn’t mastered the whole iTune library thingy, who causes computers to crash just by looking at them, and who is relegated to just listening to the same eight albums over and over until someone takes pity on me, or throws my Black Keys out the car window.  As you can see, I have now grown to embrace technology (some of it).  Now, hallelujah, there is an app to help you understand exactly what is in your food.  CSPI (Center For Science In The Public Interest) can make your travel choices easier.

Nowadays we can also search ingredients for tens of thousands of beauty and health products at cosmetics database sites.  I have sensitive skin, so at home I use olive oil and castor oil to clean my skin, or Juice brand organic cleansers.  I can’t even use the supposedly “gentle” cleansers like Cetaphil because of all the fragrances and chemicals.   How many of you like to change your hair color or lippy shade when the weather turns cooler?  Me too.  I just chucked all my D&C-dyed cosmetics and started using some great dye-free lip color from Bare Minerals – they’re called Buxom, Pretty Amazing, and Bare Minerals lipstick.  My two year case of chapped lips is slowly getting better.

I realized that as a parent, it’s hard to avoid the food dye trap.  Moms eat their kids’ leftovers, we get the weepies for no reason (feeling blue), and snap at our kids over small stuff (seeing red).  What if the dyes are messing with our hormones and chemical balances?  What if there is a correlation between consumption of food dyes and the increased need for anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs in our country over the past several decades?

I can tell you that I feel so much better when I’m off of food dyes.  I lost weight faster, coped with stress a little better, felt more motivated, had more patience, and noticed that hormonal changes didn’t rule my life anymore.  Other moms have told me they feel better when dye-free too.  Give it a try for just two weeks.  You may be pleasantly surprised at how much better you feel, and how much more enjoyable your kids become through your new dye-free food goggles.  Mixed metaphors…don’t say you weren’t warned.

4 Responses to “My Rainbow Connection – My Own Reactions To Food Coloring”
  1. Leah says:

    Thank you for writing this! I have not felt like myself for a few years… Some days I’m in what I call my “Toad Mode” where I’m just so tired and mean to everyone! It’s terrible but I just cannot help it. I’m wondering if it’s the food dye.

    Most interesting – I’ve noticed that my handwriting is inconsistent – there are days where I might as well be scribbling on paper – no matter how hard I try to be neat. It is absolutely bizarre! So thank you for posting that link to the handwriting comparison – I will forever be grateful to you if ditching the annatto gets rid of “The Toad”.

    • Indie Mama says:

      Leah, I understand completely! It’s an awful feeling. You’re aware of how you seem but you cannot do anything to control it, until the reaction wears off or you take dye-free Benadryl or something! Soaking in a hot bath with a cup of Epsom salts dissolved in it helps too. Adults can safely take a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into something sweet, which can help alleviate symptoms associated with inflammation from a reaction. Read labels and avoid annatto, Red 40, Red 3, yellow 5, yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, and Green 3. How are you feeling lately?

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