Day 1. Q’s Colorful Story

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 (

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:






Check-in tomorrow for a check-list of common behaviors of dye sensitive children



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  1. Did you ever consider the fact that the improved behavior was an effect caused by feeding them a better overall diet? You stated their usual breakfast is strawberry yogurt and Cheerios. That breakfast would contain a ton of sugar. When you gave them fresh fruit and eggs you noticed a difference. Also you mentioned switching from Mac and cheese to peanut butter honey sandwiches. Is there anyone out there that truly believes Mac and cheese is healthy? Perhaps the behavior difference had more to do with the amount of sugar consumed than the fact you removed artificial colors? I find it amazing that that simple observation has been completely overlooked.

  2. Hello, I’m curious how is “artificial dyes” plant bass dyes if they are artificial? Artificial would be a fake or not living but plans would be a natural base source ? I understand the material flavored being from a plant but artificial??? I’m not sure.

    • Sorry doing this on a phone is harder than I thought :)
      *plany based
      * natural

    • Kelly, I’m not totally sure I understand your question, but I’ll give it a shot.
      Plant based dyes are not artificial color or artificial dyes. You may see beet juice or paprika used as a natural food coloring in foods.

      If a food contains petrol based food dyes they must be labeled as with the color and # (Red 40, Yellow 5). There are “artificial colors” that are not plant based, but are not petrol dyes either.

      does that make sense? it’s tricky.

    • It IS confusing. The difference is knowing whether the dye is “synthetic” or “artificial.” Synthetic refers to those made from petroleum. You’ll see those listed as FD&C 40, FD&C yellow 5, or Yellow #6, –listed by their numbers and are “supposed” to be on the label. Artificial dyes are those such as annato (a bean), red made from the beetle, etc. i.e. from a natural source and you’ll see them on the label as “artificial,” “color added.”

      Make sense?

      • Markey, thanks for explaining that so well! I am going to share that over on Bye Bye Food Dye. It’s a tricky question and you hit the nail on the head.

  3. Great post! I stumbled onto your blog from instagram. I have 6 kids, from 2 to 12. We went dye-free over 5 years ago when my second son was almost 3 and quite a handful, to put it mildly. Like you, I suspected ADD and knew I needed to do something. We cut out all food dye and the results were unbelievable. We have since removed all artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners (a huge impact from those,) MSG, and high fructose corn syrup. Thankfully things have gotten much easier in terms of available products over the last 5 years! People always make comments about how it must be so difficult and / or expensive to feed 6 kids this way, but in our experience its been SO worth it.

  4. I totally cried as I read this post. I get it. I understand. Not because my child has had these issues but because I know many who do. I’ve witnessed this first hand. My child has other issues which are serious and we control with diet. I know what you have to go through reading labels and making sure nobody gives your child something they shouldn’t have. Thank you for your willingness to share your struggles and successes with all of us. I have no doubt that you will help many Mama’s and children.

  5. That is truly amazing…and inspirational and thank you for sharing all of these details.Parenting is a struggle and any time we can share our experiences and help one another, well all the better!

  6. Pauline Foster says:

    My now 8 year old daughter has been off of sugar for almost 4 years. Yes, there are days, like her own birthday, where she was allowed a cupcake right before dinner so the effects would wreak havoc while she was sleeping.

    I’ve been told numerous times how cruel I’ve been because she can’t enjoy sweets like the other kids. The children’s director at my old church gave her a pink frosted cupcake one day because she thought I was being cruel. I video taped my daughter’s behavior for her and told her NEVER give my child sugar. She can disagree with me about my choice to remove sugar from her diet, but she was MY child.

    After reading your story, I realize I now have to do further research on the foods I’m currently feeding her. There are days she displays the out of control behavior and I have to think “What did I feed her??” Thank you – now I’ll have to read labels better before I hand her a cracker or put a bit of jam on her toast.

  7. Loved reading this because this summer I was in crisis mode. We have four kids but it was mainly one of them that was about to send me over the edge. And that child started school this year. I did everything I could to help him (I teach there too) but we were drowning. And then a friend casually mentioned that dyes seemed to affect her kids when they were younger. It had never occurred to me. Never. Yet I was the one who avoided ever giving this child medicine because it made him crazy unless the doctor said it was necessary. So I found Feingold and started it. I was even skeptical when I started it. But we saw a change the first week. And I also realized the vitamin C tablets I was pumping into that child to help him had yellow food dye in them. Hmmmm… I can’t say our child completely turned around. But life is much different (two months into it) now. I sometimes forget what it was truly like…for a minute. (I doubt I can ever forget all of it :)

  8. I applaud you for looking at your Q’s diet for the cause. The cure is always in the cause.

    We’ve been dye-free {and gluten-free as well} for 3 years. I

    I wish food-dyes would be banned in this country, if only, to help the children these foods are marketed to. By shopping Trader Joe’s and Whole Paycheck, I avoid them regardless, but when I see those mamas at Target too, I want to pull them aside and whisper, it’s the dyes and crap processed food… :)

    Sharing your story at Pinterest…

  9. Following you

  10. You are doing the best thing possible for your child! Red 40 and the other 6 dyes allowed in foods are all made from petroleum — not something that belongs in a child’s body (or us adults either). Also made from crude oil, are the preservatives BHA, BHT, TBHQ so you also don’t want them in your body – nor artificial flavorings and artificial sweeteners. Back in the 70′s, Dr. Ben F. Feingold wrote the best seller Why Your Child is Hyperactive. Soon support groups, formed by parents after seeing the improvement in their children, were popping up all over the country. They, then, merged to become the Feingold Association of the United States Some of those parents are still volunteering because what the organization does is still so important. That best seller was updated. The name of the book is Why Can’t My Child Behave? You can read part 1 here:

  11. Jenni Shaver says:

    I was so excited to read about this. I have been paying attention to how much dye my kids have, but have not made the move to go dye-free. Looking forward to the next few day’s posts.

  12. Feingoldmom says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! We had a similar experience with our 3 year old son a few years ago. He had NEVER gone to bed easily, had zero impulse control, had monster tantrums and would generally just turn from sweet loving boy to hell spawn in minutes. He was about to be kicked out of preschool (after multiple parent/teacher conferences) when one of the teachers mentioned that he might be allergic to preservatives because he was not like that ALL of the time. So we went on the Feingold Diet thinking, “Well, worst case scenario if this doesn’t work is that we are eating less processed food.”

    Within 3 Days my kid who took HOURS to go to sleep each night closed his eyes as his head hit the pillow. I was floored. Within a week, I had a totally different child on my hands. One that wanted to snuggle, kiss and play quietly with others. It was as if someone flipped the “normal” switch on my kid. And made him sweeter and better behaved than any other kid we know.

    We have now been stict feingolders for 2+ years and it is the BEST thing that we have ever done. Artificial Dye, artificial flavoring and preservatives made from petroleum should not be part of anyone’s daily life.

    I would recommend this approach to anyone. I can promise you that if we had not done Feingold, my child was on the path to serious ADHD medication and an alternative school education. Now he is one of the teacher’s favorites because he is so sweet and well behaved.

    • I have never heard of the Feingold Diet so I just googled it. I am so mad that my son has been dealing with ADHD for 5 years and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of this! However, I am grateful that you mentioned it. I am going to do a bunch of reading about it and try it out. Maybe our sweet boy can eventually go med-free. We would all love that.

      • oh man…the Fiengold diet is amazing! We haven’t crossed that bridge, but I’m sure that we will one day soon! I have a friend who is starting it this week. I’m looking forward to hearing more from her.

        Thank you so much for your passion about this subject. I am kinda shocked at how many people have told me that they have never even considered food-dyes effects…it’s such a big part of my life now that I can’t imagine not knowing. make sense?

        Let me know what you find out about Feingold!

        lots of love,

  13. My son is ADHD so we’ve been through this for years with him. Two years ago a kind teacher suggested we try removing Red 40 from his diet. It was the best thing we ever did for him. Ever. I have never heard about removing all dyes and artificial sweeteners, but now that you’ve mentioned it we are definitely going to try this. He is still off the wall half the days, so maybe its because he is eating the other dyes.
    We know he can’t have red 40 ever. As you mentioned, if he even has one bite of a twizzler, it’s game over. He will literally be running in circles and acting like he is crawling out of his own skin. Now that he’s 10 he can articulate how he feels, and if he eats red dye he will start crying and scratching his skin and hitting his head and will say over and over, “I hate this! I hate the way I feel. I never want to eat red dye again!”

    Another thing that we’ve done that works well for him, that you might want to consider is removing all wheat and flour. Anything made from wheat or flour including wheat gluten. This is a very drastic measure and is hard to live gluten-free, especially for a kid surrounded by sugar cookies and cupcakes at every birthday party, but we read the book Wheat Belly about how the new modified wheat grown in America is so horrible for you. In his book he mentions that ADHD kids see drastic improvement when they remove wheat from their diet.

    Our son is now totally wheat and gluten free and it really helps so much. He is calmer and has more impulse control. Over the summer he was totally ADHD med free. We started him back on his meds when school started because he was having a hard time focusing.

    Between the removal of the red dye and all gluten he is doing so much better. I will never willingly allow him to ever go back on those foods ever again. It has made such a difference.

    • Allison, Thanks for sharing your story! I have seen the Wheat Belly book at my chiropractor’s office, I might have to borrow it. I have heard that removing gluten can make a world of difference!

      Regarding the removal of ALL dyes, the newest studies show that Yellow 5 can have similar effects of Red 40. I don’t see the behavior change with blue and green as much as I do with red and yellow. Caramel color makes her really hyper too. Most kids are okay with caramel color though….

      I really appreciate hearing from another dye-free mom. I often feel like the crazy/paranoid mom. :)

      Feel free to share this series with your readers, I am always so encouraged when other kids are helped because of Q’s story!

      • We are very strict with our son about the dye. He also hates feeling that way, so he now reads labels on everything. I am disgusted that our food in America is so crappy. Why do we need all these dyes? Why does Europe get good natural foods from the same companies? It is just wrong. And don’t get me started about wheat and all GMO products! Our country grows/uses more GMO products than any other country. Again, Europe uses hardly any, if at all. It is so hard to find good natural food here in the states. It’s like we are all a bunch of lab rats on these gross food dyes and GMO foods. The more I learn the more weird I get about food – especially seeing its affects first hand with my son. Don’t read too much or before you know it you will be one of those “weird” all natural organic foodie people. I’m turing into one of those weird people, and I love it! And this coming from someone who use to eat pizza and a dr pepper for lunch every day. haha

        Anyway, sorry about the GMO rant. It’s just the more I read and try to help my son get better, the more disgusted I become with the way food is handled here. I keep telling Ben we need to pack up and move to Europe so that we can get good clean healthy food. I don’t want my family being a lab rat for this gross crap!

      • All the synthetic dyes are derivitives of petroleum. If you look at the amount of them used each year, red 3 and 40 are the leaders, Yellow 5 & 6 combined equal the amount of the reds and the other dyes are less. So you can see why red and yellow gets the press.

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