The "Find Gold" Diet for Behavioral Improvement
When my son, Austin, turned five and still hadn't outgrown the "terrible two's," I knew I needed help. It had been easy enough to dismiss his behavior as being "spirited," but lately there was a bit of violence in his personality that I found disturbing. I did a simple Internet search using the phrase "child mental health." I found websites that list various mental disorders ranging in severity from ADHD to schizophrenia, and everything in between. I was surprised to realize that Austin's symptoms matched the list for ADHD. Could my bright, articulate kid have that? No way! I thought only other people's kids had that! After pausing a moment to wallow in self-pity, I set out to learn more and figure out how to make my son better.
I'm always interested in learning more about natural alternatives. I don't place all of my faith in doctors, and I really don't like prescription drugs unless they are absolutely necessary. So I was tickled to find loads of information about a natural diet that, for many people, can eliminate the symptoms of common mental disorders. It's called the Feingold Diet, and is named for the doctor that developed it. The Feingold Diet is an elimination diet, which means that we eliminate suspected foods from our diet, then add them back in, one at a time, to see which ones cause a problem. Elimination diets are commonly used to screen for food allergies, and we use a similar process when starting babies on solid food.
During my research, I learned that some people are sensitive to chemical food additives as well as naturally occurring chemicals called salicylates. Chemically sensitive people may show symptoms while still developing in utero, based on what the mother is eating. Learning that little fact was my big "ah-HA" moment. Little Austin was absolutely brutal in my belly! He would bounce up and down or punch me in the same place nonstop for an hour. At the time I assumed it was because he was a boy, but my second son was nice and calm. So much for that theory!
Chemically sensitive people will also have good days and bad days, based on what they've eaten. I really noticed this with Austin. Because I had no idea that certain foods were bothering him, his bad days were considered normal for him, and his good days were like a gift from heaven, much appreciated but not to be questioned.
I shared my Feingold Diet discovery with my husband, who was as enthusiastic about trying it on Austin as I was. We were worried that a five year old boy would have a hard time understanding what a change in diet really meant, but our worries were unfounded. One of the most exciting aspects of starting the diet was that Austin was totally on-board with us. We told him in simple terms that we had learned that some of the foods we had been enjoying contain artificial ingredients and that they were making him feel bad, and from now on we would only eat foods with natural ingredients. After a couple of false starts, reading the labels became routine. Austin would ask if we'd checked the label before he started eating anything, and we had lots of fun discussions about natural vs. artificial ingredients.
One critical point of sticking to the Feingold Diet is that artificial ingredients must be completely avoided. You can't just cut back on consumption, you have to completely eliminate them. That means not one bite, or you won't find success. Fortunately, natural and organic foods are back in vogue, hopefully to stay, which makes it easy to find safe alternatives to most of our favorite foods.
On the third day of the diet, we noticed that Austin seemed calmer, happier, and much sweeter than normal. It was a good day, followed by another, and another. At the end of a good week (a first for Austin), we were convinced that there was truth to what Dr. Feingold had discovered. We finally got to know our son's true personality. He was finally being kind to his siblings. He wasn't destroying the house on a daily basis. He wasn't terrified of his peers anymore. He was able to pitch a softball to himself and hit it, over and over again. He could sit still through dinner. He could sleep. He was finally happy inside of his body and mind. We had found the gold in our child.
It's been three and a half years since we started the diet. On a handful of occasions Austin has eaten artificial ingredients, and the old behaviors have made a frightening reappearance each time. Artificial colors and flavors seem to be the worst, but we steer clear of artificial sweeteners and preservatives as well. Salicylates don't seem to bother Austin, for which we're grateful. He's doing great in school and has lots of friends. Sticking to his diet while at school was much easier than we thought, and the whole family eats healthier now, plus we save money by avoiding fast food restaurants and mini-marts. My only regret is that I didn't look for this solution sooner.
Your child's doctor may or may not endorse Dr. Feingold's findings, but it's hard to argue with the fact that a lot more kids have been diagnosed with behavioral disorders in the last couple decades than ever before. Is it merely a coincidence that food manufacturers have been adding more chemicals to our food than ever before? I don't think so.
If your child is currently taking prescribed medication for a behavioral disorder, please don't make changes to his dosage without your doctor's permission. Changing to an all-natural diet is perfectly safe, though, and can be pursued without a doctor's permission. I encourage you to do more research, starting with the links below, to see if the Feingold Diet is right for your family. Best wishes to you in finding the gold in your child.
- The Feingold Diet Program Home Page
An in-depth description and support for the Feingold Diet.
- Salicylate Sensitivity - All about salicylates and salicylate sensitivity
All about Salicylate and Salicylate Sensitivity, plus a list of foods to avoid.
- Alternative Mental Health
A nonprofit organization that promotes alternative treatments for mental health problems.
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