I have been hesitant to write this for quite some time. Writing and sharing my thoughts online isn’t new to me. I have been posting my opinions and personal experiences on my website since 2013. But I have learned something in the last three years.
The moment a person makes a decision to share their opinion online, they must also be prepared for those who will undoubtedly disagree.
So before I continue, I must preface what I’m about to say with these quick facts (still understanding that there will be those who do not agree with what I write).
First, I’m not a doctor or nurse nor do I have any medical background by which I can offer any professional advice. I am, however, a mom and an author with the opportunity to share with anyone interested in reading the events that have taken place in our family over the last few years.
That’s my goal. I want to share our personal experiences with the hope that perhaps someone else will realize they aren’t alone in their experiences as well.
As always, if you have any health or behavioral questions regarding your child or a child in your care, you should always consult with a medical professional.
Now, since we have that out of the way… Here is our story.
About two years ago, we began to notice some behavioral issues with our then three-year-old daughter. I have always described her as my strong-willed child, but in addition to her normal desire to self-govern her own life, there seemed to be moments when she had trouble listening or obeying more than others. She was moody, irritable, and angry at times.
I was pregnant with our third baby, and I equated her mood swings to normal anxiety any young child might display when they experience big changes in their home. Also, let’s be honest. She was three. They don’t call three-year-olds threenagers for no reason. They’re moody little things as they learn their boundaries, figure out the world around them and understand the emotions within them.
But my daughter wasn’t your normal strong-willed three-year-old. She had moments when she just couldn’t settle down. She yelled or threw fits that didn’t make any sense, crying uncontrollably or becoming very angry about very simple situations. She also had a hard time focusing. There were moments when she was so hyper we couldn’t calm her down no matter what we tried (and I mean more than the average three-year-old).
I’m a praying momma, and so I would pray. I would pray while she was throwing a fit, and I would pray for her after she had calmed down. Because when the tantrum was over, she would crawl into my lap and tell me how sad she felt. Once, she even told me, “Momma, I tried to stop feeling angry. I just couldn’t.” I would also pray that God would show me what to do. Thankfully, He did.
It was about that time that my mom started asking if we had noticed a trend in my daughter’s behavior. Because while my little girl had moments where she was overly emotional, or had trouble focusing, or couldn’t calm down, she also had just as many moments where she sat and colored and played and interacted very politely and well-man
nered. She had moments where she could take instructions and obey them easily. She had moments where she could be silly without being out of control.
Truthfully, I couldn’t put my finger on what was triggering the difference in her behavior. I wondered if it was too much screen time or not enough one on one time with me. I had a lot of mom-guilt in that season. I felt like I wasn’t helping my daughter in the way that she needed to be helped. I just couldn’t figure out what she needed so I could help her.
About a month before my third baby was born, my mom mentioned that she had read an article about some children having adverse reactions to food-dye. I remember thinking that I had read something about that too. Something about other countries banning (or wanting to ban) certain dyes from their food products… but I hadn’t read why. I hadn’t done any research of my own.
I was curious. I hopped online and began to comb the internet for anything I could find about children having adverse reactions to certain food-dyes. I didn’t have to look very far. The information was overwhelming, and what I found astonished me.
In 2007, a UK study reported children behaved impulsively and lost concentration after consuming a drink containing certain food coloring additives. Children acted aggressively or displayed symptoms of ADHD. You can read more about that here.
The results of that study and others like it were compelling enough for the Food Standards Agency in the UK to push for a voluntary removal of dyes from all products. In 2010, they required a warning label be placed on color containing products because of the confirmed reaction in children.
A current article published on the FSA’s website states, “A European Union-wide mandatory warning must be put on any food and drink (except drinks with more than 1.2% alcohol) that contains any of the six colours. The label must carry the warning ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’.”
I came across article after article with case studies and testimonies of how dyes have adversely effected children and families across the world. The statistics concerning the amount of dye the average American child consumes were overwhelming.
I thought about the fruit drinks and the fruit snacks and the breakfast cereal and all of the other foods that my daughter consumed regularly. How could it be that simple? How could the answer to all of her behavioral issues come down to simply removing the artificial color from her diet?
It was worth trying. And I will admit, food dye was in more items than I realized. Being an allergy momma, I was used to checking labels. But there were dyes in products I never would have expected: crackers, pickles, yogurt… The list went on.
While it wasn’t easy, it was worth it. As we began to remove the dye from her diet, my daughter changed before our eyes. She became mild-tempered. She didn’t become angry like she had before. She could take direction and focus and obey without resisting. She was happier. We were all happier.
It was as if our entire home breathed a collective sigh of relief. We didn’t have to brace ourselves for any major meltdowns. I didn’t have to strategically plan how I would tell my daughter, “No.” I still had a strong-willed little girl… don’t get me wrong. But she was able to take direction and process moments of discipline, learning from them and moving on.
Today, at five-years-old, my daughter is our living proof that food dyes effect behavior. It’s not always easy telling her that she cannot have certain foods, but there are entire companies (both local and online) that we can partner with to expand her naturally colored food choices. Aldi and Natural Candy Store are two that we personally love. (And no. They aren’t paying me to say this.)
So what am I hoping to gain from writing this? Why did I want to share our story? Well, many of you know me. Over the last few years, I’d like to think that you have learned that you can trust me. And often, we trust the experiences of those we know more than we trust the experiences of a stranger.
I wrote this (unusually long post) for the same reason that I write everything.
I believe that somewhere there is a momma or daddy or teacher or caregiver who needs some help. I believe that there is someone who feels hopeless. I believe that there is someone who feels just like I did and wonders what they can do.
And maybe my story will be the starting point for healing to begin in someone else’s home. Maybe our family can set another family on a journey toward hope.
Is this the answer for everyone? Probably not. I never said that it was. But this is worth considering. It is worth researching. It’s at least worth wondering.
And if one family realizes they’re not alone and sets out to find answers… then it was definitely worth every word.
What about you? Do you have any experience with food dye behaviors?