Subtracting Additives: Guest Post By Robin Jingjit
I’m an American teacher living in Thailand with my husband and two beautiful sons. We love traveling and biking, and I’m learning to love trying new recipes for healthy treats that make us forget all about the old foods we’ve left behind.
I’m writing from Bangkok, where I’ve been following Die, Food Dye for the last five months – ever since I woke up and stopped feeding my children artificial foods last spring. I wanted to share our story, in the hope that it will help others like us.
Like probably many other readers, I really believed I fed my children well. At age 2 and 3-1/2, my two boys have literally never had a fruit snack or a soda, nary a bite of boxed macaroni, or fast food. I didn’t introduce sweets until age 2, and kept “junk food” to a reasonable amount. If you would have asked me, I’d have admitted that they might not get quite enough vegetables and maybe a few too many crackers, but that I fed them very little junk food and taught them to make healthy choices. But I had no idea how much real junk they were consuming on a daily basis, through things like our (artificially flavored and colored, and preservative-laden) yogurt, cereal, milk, jam, crackers, bread…
My older son, Miles, has always been a handful. While I often saw his sweet, smart, wonderful side, I never felt like other people were able to see it. He was always going-going-going, always ricocheting off the walls and bouncing in people’s faces, and had awful impulse control. He was the type to knock down a stack of books off the table, just for fun. Our friends and family loved him, of course… in small doses.
But it wasn’t just the constant energy – you could never tell what might send him into a meltdown. He could be happy and sweet and wonderful, and suddenly dissolve into a puddle of wailing tears because someone opened a door that he wanted to open or sunlight would shine into his eyes, or any of a million other things. Because toddlers are known for being temperamental, and because he was our first child, though I knew that he was more of a handful than his little friends, I didn’t think I needed to “get to the bottom” of his behavior. We figured that he’d grow out of it, and in the meantime, we tried our best to discipline him consistently. Also, on what we thought was an unrelated note, Miles’ face would often swell – we had no idea what he was reacting to, but the doctor’s (colored, flavored) medicines were never much help…. the swelling always eventually went away on its own.
When my younger son, Lennon, was about 8 months old, he started having seizures when he cried intensely. After several months of doctor’s visits and late-night googling sessions, Lennon was given his diagnosis: Reflex Anoxic Syncope and Seizures. In a (layman’s) nutshell: When kids with RAS are startled, frustrated, hurt, or upset, their hearts’ stop, and they stop breathing. While they sometimes come around on their own, some go without oxygen long enough to trigger seizures. Thankfully, the seizures are the body’s failsafe method to restart the heart and breathing, and they do not cause damage. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure, and the seizures, though “harmless”, are painful and draining to the children, and terrifying for families.
I asked the doctor who diagnosed Lennon if there was anything I could do for him in terms of diet (I had read online that a high-salt diet sometimes helped prevent RAS attacks) but he laughed it off and said there was nothing I could do but wait for him to outgrow the condition, which most children do by age 6. From that point forward, Lennon’s seizures got more and more frequent. From every few months, to weekly, then daily, to the point of having multiple seizures each day. About 5 months ago they seemed to be happening non-stop. At his lowest point, my poor boy had 13 seizures in a single weekend – 6 on Saturday and 7 on Sunday. When you consider that, with naps, he was awake less than nine hours a day, it was a rare hour that a seizure didn’t strike.
I felt terrible that I couldn’t help him, and I could barely manage the stress. It didn’t matter how many times it happened- I felt like I was losing him every single time. Even when he was ok, I was constantly waiting for the next seizure to strike. The worst part was, unbearable as it was, the there was no escape. It was unrelenting… I felt like I couldn’t put up with the stress for another day.
So on that fateful 13-seizure-weekend, I decided that something had to give. Since I couldn’t prevent Lennon’s seizures, I figured that I was going to do something to help Miles manage his emotions and self-control. After reading about how food additives can sometimes cause outbursts like my son’s, I decided on the spot to eliminate additives (including color) from his diet and see if it helped. I remember thinking that it couldn’t hurt to at least try, since it was a healthier diet, anyway. Within a very few days, we could see major differences in Miles. He was calmer, happier, able to deal with changes in plans and disappointments without breaking down… People who knew him well could see a clear transformation.
About 2 weeks into our new diet, Lennon had a seizure and it dawned on me that it was the first one he had in over a week. I went back to count and was shocked to discover that Lennon hadn’t had a seizure in 11 days. He hadn’t gone that long without a seizure in months. I never even dared to hope that changing our diet could help prevent Lennon’s seizures -it honestly did not even occur to me that they could be caused by what he ate. I wish I could say that from that day he never had another seizure, but while the frequency of his seizures has drastically reduced since the 13-seizure-weekend, he still suffers from them now and then. And Miles still has meltdown moments sometimes, too. But the hardest days now (additive-free) are still much easier than an average day before. And I will never go back.
In the months leading up to the 13-seizure-weekend, I remember asking God why Lennon was suffering with those terrible seizures. Now, I am thankful for them. Without Lennon’s seizures, I never would have felt the pressure to “do something” about Miles, which started our whole family’s transformation to additive-free eating. Now, our whole family has the benefit of healthy, additive-free foods. And maybe another mother will find this page during her search to understand her child’s seizures, and it might help her family, too. That’s what I hope for.
I know that Die, Food Dye’s specific aim is speaking out against food dye, in particular. We haven’t challenged the additives we avoid to determine which color or additive causes which reaction, so I don’t know for sure which additives aggravate Lennon’s condition. We do know, by unlucky chance, that artificial color causes Miles’ facial swelling and teary outbursts. We haven’t determined what causes the intense crazy, bouncy energy, but we see it often the day after we take a risk and eat out.
Robin’s story reminds me that we can find a way to cope even in the toughest of times, if we don’t give up. Her story basically gave me chills. Please post any questions for Robin in a comment below. If you’d like to share your story, send an e-mail to admin[at]diefooddye[dot]com.