Welcome to Dye-Free Week at B In Real Life! I am so excited to share a bit of our journey as well as provide you with some helpful information about artificial colors and the effects they can have on children’s behavior. If you have any questions along the way, please feel free to e-mail me (email@example.com)
Today I am sharing Q’s story, so grab a cup of coffee and prepare yourself to hear a bit about the dark side of my bubbly, blonde-headed extrovert.
This time last year, I was in crisis mode. Parenting two, two-year-old girls was much more difficult that I had ever imagined. My days were filled with shouting, crying, and pity parties. Unfortunately it wasn’t the girls who were shouting, crying, and pity partying…it was me. I was just a few steps away from falling off the mommy cliff and landing myself in the loony bin. Seriously.
So I made an appointment with a therapist. I needed a professional to give me some ”tools” to help me deal with my mommy anger/frustration/sadness.
I sat down on her couch for our first session and spilled the angry beans.
I was tired of being a mom.
I was mad at Q.
I was mad that she was so dang “strong-willed”.
I was mad at myself for being so mad at my adorable, little Italian.
I felt guilty.
I felt sad.
I felt like I could crawl in bed and sleep for a week.
You totally know what I am talking about don’t you?
It’s okay mamma, you are not alone…even though on most days it may feel like you are…
After sharing all of that heaviness with Miss Therapist, she said “tell me more about Q’s behavior.”
I was a bit irked by the question. I wanted to talk about MY behavior, about MY problems, I wanted her to fix ME!
Reluctantly, I told her more about Q.
About getting kicked out of the YMCA because more than once she scratched a little girl made her bleed. About her uncontrollable tantrums. About how she couldn’t sit still for more than 15 seconds. About how her little sister was scared of her. About how she seemed to have zero impulse control. About how play dates were non-existent because I couldn’t trust her around other kids. About all of the biting and hitting and pinching and massive tantrums. And how consequences seemed to have little effect.
I told her that we had an appointment with our pediatrician and he referred us to a Child Behaviorist, but we couldn’t get in to see him for 6 months.
And then I cried… because I didn’t think I would make it six months.
And I cried some more because I knew Q didn’t want to do these things. I could see it in her eyes. That sweet, joyful personality was still there…but it was getting harder and harder to recognize.
My mommy gut was telling me that something deeper was going on. That these behaviors weren’t normal. But I was scared. I didn’t know what to do, and her adoption opens up so many questions that I can’t answer.
As I shared all of these things with Miss Therapist, she was giving me the affirming “I totally know how you feel/you are not crazy” nod…and that felt so good. She shared with me that three of her six kids had behavior problems as children. And then she said “it sounds to me like Q may have ADD.”
I felt a weight lift.
To hear someone affirm my struggle, it felt so good. But, at the same time it made me sad for Q. What in the world do you do for a two year old struggling with ADD like behavior? What were we suppose to do for the next 6 months as we waited for our appointment with the behaviorist?
Before I could ask Miss Therapist those questions, she handed me a magazine called ADDitude and said “you need to look into natural treatments and at Q’s diet. Specifically, look into food dyes and preservatives.”
Before you read any further you need to know that at this point I was about as crunchy as a bowl of ice cream. The closest I came to eating organic was passively rinsing my apple off before eating it. So, if you are rolling your eyes right now, you can know that I would have been doing the same.
After the girls were in bed that night I read an article in the magazine about artificial colors and their effects on children’s behavior. Later that night, I got an email from a friend who knew what we were going through and she shared about her experience of removing synthetic dyes from her child’s diet. And the very next day Jer and I ran into our friends, who happen to both be doctors, and after sharing our struggles they suggested that we look into the effects of artificial dyes and preservatives.
I had never considered the effects food coloring had on my children and in less than 24 hours four different people recommended that we remove artificial colors from Q’s diet. It was a clear sign that I needed to really consider this possibility.
The very next morning we went dye free.
Her usual breakfast of strawberry yogurt (red 40) and generic Cheerios (Yellow 5) was replaced with eggs and fruit. Instead of mac and cheese (yellow 5) we had peanut butter and honey sandwiches for lunch.
And I promise you…
I noticed a difference the first day.
Mostly, she wasn’t as hyper and she was more affectionate.
Jer came home for a dye-free dinner and was a bit shocked at Q’s calm demeanor. Neither of us wanted to get too excited though, it had be a fluke right?
After 72(ish) hours of being dye-free I knew that we were on to something. I will never forget the moment when I realized that we had our sweet Q back…
We were at church (my husband is a pastor) and Jeremy offered to take Q with him to their daily prayer meeting. I thought he was a little nuts to take her, but it’s a short meeting and I had things I needed to get done for my upcoming Sunday School class so I didn’t refuse his offer.
When I met him and Q in the hallway, he had big tears in his eyes. When I asked what was wrong he smiled and said “she did so good! she stood there and held my hand the whole time! She’s going to be okay!”
I felt that weight lift even more. I felt like I could breathe and relax for the first time in a long time.
I could tell many more stories like that one. Like when Q’s Sunday School teacher asked if she was on medication because her behavior was so different. Or when when Nana called me and said “I’m a believer! Q just sat in my lap and we read a whole book!” Or when I would sit a rock her for an hour because it felt so good to cuddle with my daughter who until we shut down the dyes, had shown little affection.
While it was apparent to everyone around her that something had changed, many of them would look at us like we were nuts when we would tell them about our dye-free experience.
But I didn’t care, because we knew…and so would they if they would have seen how frantic and CRAZY she acted after just two bites of a pink frosted sugar cookie (red 40 and yellow 5) that was accidentally given to her by a college student from church. Or how she was literally running into walls after she ate a Twizzler. Or how she bit CeCe and acted like a crazy person after having a few sips of my Diet Coke (caramel coloring and artificial sweetener.)
If you are reading this and thinking, are you seriously telling me that something as harmless as a drop of food coloring could cause such harm? Let me assure you, I am DEAD SERIOUS. And if it didn’t mean 24 hours of torture for not only Q, but for the whole family, I would give the child a hand full of Fruit Loops and video her behavior for all the world to see.
As of today, we have been dye-free for 15 months. Yes, it can be inconvenient at times, but not as inconvenient as getting kicked out of the YMCA, or having to apologize to your friend because your daughter bit her son, or laying in bed weighed down with guilt because you are don’t want to face another day with your crazy toddler.
I would rather read a million food labels and be on the receiving end of a zillion “that’s the crazy mom” looks than see Q struggle because of some stinkin’ sugar cookie or petroleum colored cereal.
Did I mention that synthetic food dyes are derived from petroleum? It’s true. It’s gross. And our FDA says it’s okay.
While I know that this isn’t the magic formula that will solve every child’s behavior issues, I have heard from many readers who have now taken their children off artificial colors and have seen remarkable improvement in their child’s behavior.
Whenever someone asks me if I think they should try to remove dyes, I always say “Unless the FDA suddenly finds nutritional value in petroleum (yes, food dyes are made from petroleum. gag!), it can’t hurt your child if you remove dyes from their diet.”
And then I tell them that 6 months later the Pediatric Behaviorist totally confirmed our experience and said:
“If doctors are not directing parents of children with ADHD like behavior to remove food dyes, then they are not up to date on the latest scientific studies. There is no question in my mind that food dyes negatively effect children’s behavior.”
If you would like more information about synthetic food dyes and their affect on children’s behavior you can check out the Bye Bye Food Dye series here. I also host the weekly series Dye-Free Friday on my blog, so make sure you check that out every Friday for more success stories and dye related information.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check-in tomorrow for a check-list of common behaviors of dye sensitive children