All Natural And All Happy – Guest Post By Jen Breitfeller
I’m excited to feature DFD’s very first guest post – written by a mom with whom I’ve really clicked on so many food coloring experiences. She brings up such familiar feelings of bewilderment, desperation, failure, and triumph. If you’re up with a sleepless child right now, please do yourself and your child a favor and read this! It’s VERY timely too, what with all those holiday visions of sugar-plums dancing in our kids’ heads (and lets be honest, ours too!).
Jen currently lives outside Philadelphia with her high school sweetheart. She is a stay at home mother to their three kids, ages 4, 2 and 4 months. She enjoys cooking and baking and rarely makes the same recipe twice!
My number one advice to new moms: Follow your gut. That motherly intuition we have is there for a reason. Sometimes it is easier to follow than others. I had this intuition when it came to my son’s sleeping and behavior issues. I KNEW there was something behind it all, but what??? It took me a couple of years, lots of tears, and many sleepless nights to get to the bottom of it all. We went through some tough battles, but in the end, that journey we have been on has been life changing and life saving.
My son Alex had never, ever been a good sleeper. People say that babies sleep all day. WHAT? Not my son!! What was I doing wrong??? I read so many books trying to find answers to help my baby sleep, but nothing seemed to help.
When my son was just over two and a half, he was still having sleeping issues and it was growing to be more of a concern. He had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. He was overtired. I was overtired. And now his middle-of-the-night wakings were waking up my infant daughter (who, by the way, was one of those babies that actually SLEPT!).
I called the pediatrician a few times in the previous months seeking help. They listened to what we were doing and confirmed that we were doing everything right and just to “keep at it”… Time had passed and nothing had improved. I was determined for answers. I was desperate for sleep. The pediatrician finally admitted she couldn’t really help us. I knew there had to be a reason for his sleep issues, but I wasn’t sure what. She suggested calling the sleep clinic at a local children’s hospital.
We were able to get a consult for Alex’s sleeping situation. They did a full body check up and didn’t note anything physically wrong with him. We told them what we do at night and how we handled his waking. We never let him sleep in our bed, we didn’t go comfort him when he woke (as hard as it was each and every night), and we were consistent in our methods…but nothing helped. The psychologist at the sleep clinic confirmed that we were doing everything right and didn’t have much advice for us other than to offer better rewards, which didn’t seem to help. Months had passed and now I was expecting our third child. I couldn’t fathom being awoken by my four-year-old any longer. We were all tired, and I was at the end of my rope.
His behavior, meantime, had grown atrocious. I needed to know if there were any other options for me. I was desperate and willing to try anything. I had done my own research trying to figure it all out and I hadn’t gotten very far. I called the sleep clinic again and the psychologist reluctantly said that we could try doing an overnight sleep study. As much as that did not sound like fun for my little boy, I felt like it needed to be done. I needed answers. Was there something physically wrong with him, preventing him from sleeping at night? Or was it truly our fault and something we were doing that was causing his issues???
After the sleep study, all they had to share with us was that he was a restless sleeper and his sleep issues were all behavioral. I wasn’t buying it. My motherly intuition was telling me that was not the real cause, especially since they had no idea how to make it better for us. Their only solution left: medication. That was a road we were not going to take, even if I was so desperate for sleep.
I had mentioned that his behavior had gotten worse. By worse, I mean that some days were completely unbearable and I would often call my husband at work, crying. What had happened to my sweet little boy? It wasn’t every day. Some days we had awesome days and some days we spent the day doing time outs. I knew, with my gut feeling, that since it wasn’t consistent, something must be causing it. But what? I felt like his behavior was beyond the “norm” for little boys. I thought about his diet but truthfully, we generally ate healthy. He was plentiful with his fruits and veggies and I bought “healthy” snacks.
His teachers at school swore he was amazing and so well behaved. I believed them, but why, when he got home from school, was he hyper and at times, violent? I am a certified teacher and used to teach fourth and fifth graders. I felt like my strongest suit in the classroom was that I had extreme patience and my discipline method of positive reinforcement was successful. How could I have had patience for a class of 25 fourth graders, SIX of them diagnosed with ADHD, yet I had no patience for my four-year-old? I actually looked into ADHD, but knew he didn’t quite fit the bill. His hyperactivity, restlessness and impulsiveness were inconsistent. At times it was almost as if he was bipolar.
At a play date, I overheard a fellow mom discussing how her son was on a special diet, the Feingold Diet, and it has helped with his behavior. WHAT? This immediately caught my attention. After talking to her, I went home and did some research on what this Feingold Diet was about. First thing I looked for was what symptoms it helped. A few things jumped out at me, most importantly “Resistance to going to bed, Difficulty falling asleep, Restless / erratic sleep”. I remember the feeling that came over me when I read that. That was my son. This was our major problem. I had researched “diet and sleep” and never found this before. How could that be??? Irritability, mood swings, frequent crying, aggression, unpredictable behavior, unresponsive to discipline, abusive behavior, destructive behavior, inability to sit still, constant motion…WOW. All of these things I have been seeing more and more frequently in my son. I was willing to do anything if this diet would help my son!
After doing the elimination diet suggested by Dr. Feingold, which eliminated petroleum-based food dyes, preservatives (mostly TBHQ, BHT and BHA) and salicylates (naturally occurring in so many fruits and vegetables) we saw success. It was a process, and one that lasted months. It was so hard at first because every which way we turned there were parties, well-meaning adults and hidden dangers I never knew were in even our own kitchen staples! My surprising finds? Food dye was a major source of our problems and seemed to be in EVERYTHING.
Yes, I always avoided those sugary cereals and brightly colored foods and candies for my kids because I knew they were “bad”. However, I had no idea I would find food dye in our American cheese, marshmallows, chicken bouillon cubes, my son’s toothpaste, medicine, instant pudding and those yummy refrigerated crescent rolls and biscuits. I thought I always checked labels? I guess I assumed these things wouldn’t have food dye in them. As I purged our pantry and medicine cabinets, we slowly saw a change for the better in our son.
Looking back, I realized that his behavior issues really started when he was just over two, which is when I became more lenient about what he ate. That was also when he switched toothpastes to that “cool” blue stuff. He was having blue food dye every single day and I never stopped to think about how that could be affecting him…Around two was also when he had his first lollipop and it literally sent him bouncing off the walls. I guess watching him change into a different little boy wasn’t enough to make me stop and think about what was really causing the behavior. No, it wasn’t the sugar. It was the food dye. And so came our major lifestyle change…
We got rid of his blue toothpaste and did a big pantry purge. We said goodbye to everything with food dye and even those Goldfish snacks that have one of our enemies in them, annatto. Annatto is a “natural” food dye, yet we learned that my son reacts to it, almost as badly as to Red 40 and Yellow 5. His reaction to Blue dye isn’t as drastic as the others, but we still avoid it. I have noted a behavior change when he had certain candy before, but never stopped to think that his reaction to the candy was his body’s way of saying “These chemicals are like poison to me!” I feel like so many parents are like me, where we would notice the change but never take that extra step preventing them from having these foods. Once they were all removed from his diet I realized how big of an impact they were actually having on my son.
Now, with my little elimination diet experiment, Alex started sleeping better. He went from having major issues falling asleep and 5-6 wake ups every night to one, if any, and he started falling asleep quickly and quietly. What a change! It took a few days to “detox” as I call it, but his behavior had improved drastically! Whenever he now has something that he shouldn’t, we usually see an instant change in him and he turns into “the other Alex”. That is usually when I want to run and hide until my sweet loving Alex returns, which can take a very long two to three days.
Unfortunately I learned that if I wanted this diet to be effective we needed to go full force. At first I would let things slide. “Yes, Alex, you can have that cupcake” or “Okay, you can have the same snack as everyone else at school.” The nightly wake ups came back and his acting out, defiant behavior would return and last for days. It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t fair to Alex. Now when people say “Well, a little won’t hurt him,” my answer is “Yes, actually, a little will, and the effects could last days.”
I feel like his little four-year-old body is smarter than most. His body rejects those petroleum-based dyes and those carcinogenic preservatives because it must know how bad they are for him (and everyone else)! It isn’t right for us to let him eat these things and hurt his body like that. It wasn’t right for him to spend his days doing things that were out of character for him and that were hurtful to others. I feel like we lost so much time dealing with time outs when we could have been building with blocks, doing puzzles or racing monster trucks. I refused to allow these chemicals to continue to rob Alex of his childhood, and that is exactly what they were doing.
I now read every label of every item before it comes into my shopping cart or into his mouth. I now make all of our meals homemade and as all natural or as all organic I can. It just takes a little extra planning and preparing, but having a happy little boy is worth it all. I used to be a serious couponer and now, while it is still possible to use coupons, I skip over a lot of them because most of those products are filled with nasty preservatives or petroleum food dyes. Yes, they are cheaper, but they are full of chemicals. We feel that feeding our children food that is GOOD for them is worth the investment since we are literally investing in their short term and long term health. We don’t live a luxurious lifestyle and never really have. I am okay with that continuing if it means that my family is eating healthier, and in turn, is happier.
I want my son to look back at his childhood and remember the good times, not the times he spent in time outs because he was making bad choices that could have actually been avoided. I am thankful our prayers have been answered and we finally found out what was causing his sleep and behavior issues. Now that I know the cause, it is my job as his mother to make sure I keep only putting good things into his body. Goodbye carcinogenic chemicals; Hello happy, sweet, loving Alex. I would make that trade any day.
WAYS WE AVOID THE DYES AND PRESERVATIVES THAT HAUNT US
- Be Pro-Active: If we are going somewhere where there will be treats, we are sure to either offer to bring dessert or we bring our own treats for our son so he can still enjoy something special, yet dye-free.
- Freeze It: I spent one afternoon baking muffins and put them in the freezer. If there is ever a birthday party or special event, I just take out a muffin as needed. The same can be done with cupcakes. I keep homemade frosting in the fridge and Trader Joe’s has an all natural frosting mix that we have on hand for any emergencies.
- Be Prepared: I invested in a bunch of organic lollipops and organic gummy bears (found on Amazon.com) and keep them with me for those unexpected times when other kids have candy or people offer candy to my kids.
- Teach them: My son now will check with me before eating foods at parties because he knows how those “bad” foods can make him feel. He knows he can graciously say “No thank you” to treats that are offered to him because he knows I will always have a safe alternative for him, one that won’t cost us days of behavior and sleep problems!
Thanks again to Jen for sharing this eye-opening story. Please leave Jen your questions in a comment below! For more information about the Feingold Diet, check out their comprehensive web site at www.feingold.org – They offer support, resources, and links to scientific studies.