Many years ago I used to coach a Jr. select volleyball team. I remember one girl being a very talented player, when she wanted to be. She would show up to practice some days with her “game face” on and yet other days it would be all I could do simply to get her to pay attention long enough for me to explain the next drill. One day while sitting and eating between games during an all day tournament her mother mentioned to me that this little girl couldn’t tolerate red food dye. Having suffered from food allergies myself I assumed she meant she had a physical reaction to an allergen. No. To quote her mother “Kristen goes all ADD on me if she even has the tiniest bit of red food dye.” I’m quite certain my confusion was plastered on my face.
At this point in my young life (I was in my early twenties) I had not heard anything about food dyes effecting behavior. I was still a firm believer in the Standard American Diet and was fad dieting with the best of ‘em. I took this mother’s word for it and began to watch Kristen a little more closely. Having been diagnosed with ADD in college and gone on Ritalin (and subsequently asked, frequently, “are you medicated today?”), I was careful not to point out to Kristen when she was not her usual focused self, but I did take note.
I haven’t thought about Kristen in a long time. In my nutrition research lately, I’ve stumbled upon several articles detailing the belief that food additives, preservatives and the lack of omega 3 fats can significantly alter the behavior of our children. I found it interesting but still, never gave it much thought.
Fast forward to this weekend. My littlest guy took a tumble Saturday afternoon & ended up breaking his arm. He’s fine, but it was quite a stressful weekend for Mommy. Even as it was happening, I recognized my regression immediately. I reached for the junk food. I knew what was happening and I was still powerless over my old habits. On the way home from the ER we stopped at a major box store so my little guy could pick out a few new videos. Pulling into our driveway, we had not only new videos but a box of ice cream treats and a bag of Doritoes as well. We’d called to order pizza on the way home and the kids and I basically buried ourselves in the S.A.D for the weekend. I kept up with my smoothies, but it didn’t really help my tummy (or my cloudy brain) feel any better. I kept telling myself I was too stressed out to cook. The kitchen was a mess and I didn’t want to take any snuggle time away from the boys in order to tidy it up enough to fix a proper meal. I had all kinds of excuses, but the truth was I didn’t really need them. I didn’t even believe them. I knew what was happening. While the habits are still strong, I can happily report that they aren’t nearly as strong as they once were. I may have bought all of that junk food, but we didn’t even put a dent in most of it, at least not to the extent that we would have last year at this time. It’s the little successes that add up, ya know?
By Sunday afternoon I began to notice that my oldest son was extra fidgety, his focus was off and he was an emotional wreck. Some of this can be attributed to his sensitive nature and he was truly, from the bottom of his heart, worried about his little brother. But I know. I know it’s the S.A.D diet he ate this weekend (S.A.D is such an appropriate acronym, isn’t it?). I could see it in his eyes. I saw the look of frustration when I had to correct his behavior for the umpteenth time. I could feel the desperation in his heart when he was trying, oh so very hard, to control his emotions when he didn’t get to play the Wii game of his choice. I could see the hurt on his face when I lost my patience with him (also attributed to the SAD diet).
I remembered Kristen and how she struggled some days and how everything seemed to flow so effortlessly on others. It made me wonder, with the state of school lunches these days, how many children are walking around with inaccurate labels, misdiagnosis, & needless medications? If we offered our children whole foods instead of the processed edible (?) “food like” substances we’re trying to pass off as food, would a lot of these behavioral problems disappear?
How many children out there came out of the womb, were placed on (processed) formula, graduated to (processed) jarred baby food and then eagerly started on (processed) canned veggies & boxed pasta meals? These kids don't stand a chance. We're setting them up for failure even before they take their first bite. I'm raising one. This diet describes my oldest son. Up until several months ago he ate nearly all processed foods. I can see the difference in him. I'll fight my battles. I'll fix my child. I never want to see that look again. That look that says "I know I'm being bad Mommy, but I don't know why and I can't stop."