Let me share the story of my son, Jonathan.....
When Jonathan was a baby we thought he had the most severe case of colic ever. He never slept for longer than twenty minutes at a time, screamed constantly and writhed in pain for much of the time. We tried over the counter gas drops, prescription medicines, teething gels....nothing seemed to help him.
As a baby he was very physically active - was pulling up and standing in his crib by five months and walking by nine months, and once he took off there was no stopping him! He never spoke, though - not even "Mama" or "Dada".....his only means of communication seemed to be ear piercing shrieks. When Jonathan was 21 months old his baby brother was born and by this time Jonathan reminded us of the Tasmanian Devil - we never saw him walk anywhere - he had one speed: hyper warp speed. He would get around a room by running and jumping on couches, chairs even desks, and he would lash out at anyone for no apparent reason. He wouldn't sit still for a second, even for a hug - a movie or a story was out of the question. Even family refused to babysit him because he was so violent, and we were about at the end of our rope!
With a new baby in the house, and Jonathan still waking up every twenty or thirty minutes and insisting on sleeping in our bed, screaming when I got out to feed the baby, things seemed unbearable. My Mother flew over from England for a couple of weeks to help out after Chris's birth, and one night she observed Jonathan's "bedtime ritual", which consisted of me holding him down on the bed, kicking and screaming for two hours, until he fell into an exhausted sleep at 11pm. I came out of the bedroom in tears, wondering how I would cope after she left. My husband is a wonderful man and a great father but he was working nights at the time so wasn't there to help.
My mother asked if I had ever considered that Jonathan might be allergic to additives in foods, since she knew someone whose child had a similar problem, so we got on the internet and searched "diet,additives and hyperactivity". We discovered Dr Feingold's book "Why Can't My Child Behave",went out and bought it the next day, and started reading the Feingold website, a non profit organization made up of parents of children who are sensitive to and intolerant of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives in foods. We discovered that we were not alone, that hundreds of parents were agonizing along with us about their chidrens' behavior, and that they were changing and improving that behavior without medication, just by changing the diet!
I was still a little skeptical so we decided to try our own little experiment: for one week we would feed Jonathan plain grilled meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, and we would keep track of how he behaved. Within twenty four hours of eating this way my mother and I watched Jonathan walk slowly across the room - we thought it must be a coincidence and were scared to get our hopes up, but we had never, ever seen him WALK before! The second day we had to go shopping, usually a nightmare with Jonathan. He sat in the stroller for hours, not squirming, not complaining, not grabbing for things from shelves.
We never looked back! We joined the Feingold organization, who research food manufacturers for us and put out newsletters and an extensive food guide of brand names that we can buy that have been researched and are free of the additives that we avoid. The whole family eats the same food - very little prepackaged. We're not "health food nuts" - I shop at Super Walmart for my groceries - I just have to be a little more careful about the brands I buy. We don't avoid sugar and our four children have plenty of treats, cake, cookies, ice cream, even chips and certain brands of candy!
Within three months, by the time he turned two, Jonathan had an extensive vocabulary, and now at four he is the most well mannered, articulate, polite and loving little boy we know! He is learning to read at kindergarten, follows complex directions, focuses on whatever he is working on, takes long naps and sleeps at night.....friends who hear his story can't believe we're talking about "sweet quiet Jonathan". He likes nothing better than to sit and snuggle and read a book, and when we go to a movie he won't squirm unless it's to turn around and whisper "I love you" in our ears.
We have to be very careful now that Jonathan's in kindergarten, that he doesn't eat anything that's off-diet. I get a month's snack menu in advance, and send it back to the school with notes on whether he can eat the school's food on any particular day, or if I will send in a substitute from home. I try to keep a few chocolate cupcakes (his favorite) in the freezer so he can take one to birthday parties, since we usually don't know what ingredients are in the birthday cake. I keep his teacher supplied with frozen cupcakes and acceptable candy so she can give him a piece when the other kids in his class get a sucker.
Occasionally though there's a slip up and he eats something with artificial colors, or artificial vanilla instead of pure vanilla....and then watch out! As soon as twenty minutes after he's eaten, he'll start screaming, or crying uncontrollably, or hitting his brothers for no reason, and the reaction can last anywhere from one to three days. The last time that happened I asked him if he felt sick and he said "no I don't feel sick, I feel BAD!" Now if anyone offers him anything to eat or drink he'll ask if it has colors in it, because he doesn't like the way he feels when he eats off-diet.
I look around the playground and I wonder how many other children would be helped by simple diet changes - so many children are medicated when they could be helped by just taking out the artificial junk in their diets. Unfortunately, many parents have tried diet changes and given up because they didn't give it long enough to see results. If a piece of offending food causes a three day behavioral reaction, then a piece of candy or a glass of artificially colored punch just twice a week can cause a continuous state of hyperactivity, even if you eat right the rest of the week. As for me and my family, we're Feingolders for life - we've discovered the joy of food without petroleum based colors and we'll never go back to the old way of eating.