Lately I’ve been fielding a number of questions from mothers who wonder if their child’s unpleasant or unacceptable behavior could stem from something they are eating. My answer is always a resounding YES!
Yes, food sensitivities can cause behavior changes including tantrums, aggression, irritability, mood swings, excitability, inability to concentrate, inconsolable crying, fatigue, lethargy, inability to stop moving and settle down, etc., etc., etc.
I first saw the connection between what a child eats and their behavior when we discovered my son’s food sensitivities at age 6. Within eight weeks of removing the offending foods not only did we see physical effects like he grew 2 inches and gained 15 lbs., but he went from a dark, moody kid prone to irritability and tantrums to a happy child who wanted to give and get more hugs. His sleep improved and he stopped wetting the bed. I knew we had really turned a corner when I heard him singing to himself in the bathtub – something that had never happened before!
Really, it makes sense: food sensitivities trigger inflammation all over the body, including in the brain. When your brain is inflamed, it’s impossible to think clearly and rationally and emotions are close to the surface. When the inflammation is removed, often a different person will emerge.
Here is another case study in how food sensitivities cause behavior changes:
Five months ago, in early September of 2012, we conducted an MRT food sensitivities test on a 5 year old girl, “Kristy”. Her mother came to me because Kristy was having constant constipation and bad belly aches almost daily. She describes her efforts to help her daughter:
“We tried to eliminate different things like milk and gluten, but it was just a big guessing game and it was hard to tell if anything was working. And it was a lot to put a 5-year old through, trying all these random diets without seeing any great results. Then I took her to the pediatrician to get her blood tested because she had such low energy levels and stamina and I was worried that something might be really wrong with her. All the blood work turned up fine. When I mentioned her lack of energy to the pediatrician, he just said that some kids are more tired than others and recommended iron supplements, but that made the constipation even worse. The pediatrician did not address food sensitivities at all, nor would he have had the tools to test for it.”
The MRT came back showing that Kristy had multiple food sensitivities, including some of her favorite foods like strawberries, tomatoes, and oats. Kristy’s mom and I reviewed the results together and designed a customized anti-inflammatory diet for Kristy. We determined safe foods to offer her for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and discussed recipes and cooking ideas to help replace the unsafe foods she had been accustomed to eating. Our goal was to make the food transition as smooth and easy as possible for Kristy and for her mom, who works and didn’t have much time to do extra cooking.
“When we started the program, Kristy’s belly aches stopped almost right away. The constipation took longer… maybe at least six weeks of sticking to the program before it really eased up to where we could call her regular, but from the beginning it was nothing like it had been before we started. Before, we were giving her prunes, prune juice, children’s laxatives… but nothing was working and she would go 5-6 days between bowel movements. When she is regular, she’s like a new person. When she’s stopped up for six days, her personality changes. She’s whiney, tired, inconsolable. The personality difference is so significant that it’s hard to describe.”
Now, almost five months after starting on LEAP, Kristy has adjusted to living on the foods that are safe for her and has reached a “safe” place in that her body is no longer constantly being triggered into inflammation. Kristy is fully aware of the foods that cause her distress and is happy to stay on board the program. (Of course, she still begs for candy like most kids!) Now, her mom can clearly see the effects on Kristy’s behavior when she eats a sensitivity-triggering food. Additionally, some of those original trigger foods have been successfully re-introduced without triggering symptoms.
“Her most difficult sensitivities for us to manage are to sugar, chocolate, and milk,” Kristy’s mom describes. “Within twenty minutes of eating something with sugar, she gets very aggressive and can’t help herself from lashing out at others. Within two hours she’ll have a full meltdown about something silly and dissolve into a mess of tears for an hour or more. This just happened the other day when a friend gave her a lollypop. What a nightmare that was!
“When she’s on the LEAP program, she’s not constipated, but when she strays, she’ll be constipated for up to a week. After Kristy eats something she’s sensitive to, her energy level decreases for the next several days and she just wants to lay on the couch and watch tv. As soon as we’re able to get her back on track, which can take a week or two of sticking closely to LEAP, her energy levels rise tremendously and she wants to do 100 laps around the house! She’s really a different person now.”