People ask me all the time how our dye free journey began. Let’s just say it was the day things fell apart.
And before I tell you our story and in an effort to always be honest and transparent, you should probably know that we live a mostly dye free existence. Mostly? Yes. The fact of the matter is, sometimes dyes and colors are unavoidable. Sometimes kids go to parties. Sometimes kids go to friends houses. Sometimes it just happens. And as my kids get older, I find it happens a lot more than did when they were younger. I can’t be with my kids 24/7. And in recent days, I’ve realized I don’t want to raise kids who go nuts and eat everything in sight when they are without me. I don’t want to raise kids with food issues. So, here’s our story and I tell it in the hopes that it helps someone else.
About 5 years ago, things were great. We had 4 healthy pain in the ass kids. I’m serious. I love my kids beyond measure, but I told you I was always going to be honest. Around that time Paige, my youngest turned 2 and that’s when things changed. The tantrums began. *Insert scary horror movie music here* NO. SERIOUSLY. I have witnesses to prove it. These tantrums were, as my teen used to say, “EPIC”.
Yes, she was 2 and I knew quite well what the “terrible twos” were. This was different. We had seen tantrums before, it’s kind of hard to avoid with 4 kids. But these. Wow. These tantrums were scary. They were exhausting for both of us, mentally and physically. Landon, (who was 3 at the time) had had his fair share of tantrums. We were always able to squash his within a few minutes, mostly with distraction. Not this kid. Paige seemed to be a different beast all together, literally and figuratively.
The tantrums became so frequent, that at their worst, she was having several a day. It was off the charts stressful. Most days left me in a heap, crying. We walked on eggshells, for fear of upsetting her and suffer the wrath of one of her tantrums. When she was in the midst of one, she would actually claw at the walls, pull the hair out of her head and let out a scream that could curdle milk. Writing this now, I honestly cannot believe I didn’t lose my mind. It was a daily occurrence that not many people knew about and we selectively chose our activities based on how she would react. Much like a child with autism, I had to “front load” her every minute of every day. I had to tell her in advance of what we were about to do. The pediatrician was so convinced she had Asperger’s that we went on a 6 month waiting list to be tested. We initially pulled her off the wait and then thankfully they called and told us we didn’t have anything to lose but everything to gain if we tested her. So we did. She didn’t have Asperger’s, but the doctor did say, “She’s just a very unusual child.” You don’t say? lol
We became a family that revolved around one child. My other kids would go out of their way to not “make Paige mad”. It wasn’t pretty, in fact it was downright ugly most of the time. The strange irony of all of this was her nickname. It’s “Sunshine”. She was the sweetest baby, always smiling.
We lived cautiously for a while and about that time, I started reading articles that talked about the connection between a child’s behavior and what they ate. I already knew about The Feingold Diet (A doctor by the name of Feingold discovered in the 70s that there was a mind body connection in kids with ADD and ADHD. He created an entire program to help parents of these children with amazing results, just ask any Feingolder). When my 14 yr old was about 5, we knew she had ADHD and one of my friends told me they helped manage their child’s ADHD symptoms by strictly following Feingold’s Diet. We ordered their materials and I had every intention of following it, but life got in the way and I had 3 babies in as many years. I was busy as you can imagine and in my defense, 8 years ago food and food awareness was soooo much different. Organic, GMOs and Gluten were virtually unheard of terms in most circles.
Based on Feingold’s research and knowing what foods to avoid, I always thought of that every time Paige had one of her fits. Something just kept telling me that maybe there was a connection. We were desperate, so I finally decided we had to try it. I figured getting rid of food dyes was an easy, cheap fix. If it didn’t work, at least we were no longer ingesting poision. (Yes, artificial food colorings are technically poison. Most are made from petroleum and are known to cause cancer.)
Now, before you judge me saying I’m some hippy flake, understand that most educated people will tell you that you are indeed “What you Eat”. I believe this applies even more so in small children.
The day it all fell apart was what we refer to as “The infamous Target trip”. My friend, Donyale (who I had only know for about a year at that time), and I had taken all 4 kids to a pizza place and while we served up the food, I let my oldest help the younger ones get their drinks. We all enjoyed the pizza, but 30 minutes into the meal, things started to fall apart. Fast. I just thought they were tired of sitting and ready to go.
We left and went to Target, where things really started to go south. We had barely been there 30 minutes, my cart was full and I was only half done. Something set Paige off and that was all she wrote. I took her out of the cart to try and distract her, but nothing worked. She literally became that kid that lays on the floor in the store and flails. You’ve seen that meme where the kid’s a jerk and throws a fit on the floor? Yeah, that was my kid that day. I was mortified. My sweet, sweet friend Donyale, who I think had only known us for about a year at that time, told me to take Paige to the car and she would stay with the rest of the kids and pay for my things. Wow. Had it not been for her, I honestly don’t know what I would have done.
I took Paige out the car, which was no easy task. She was always a bigger baby than my others, so carrying (dragging) her to the car that day took superhuman strength. She kicked and screamed the entire way. I’m pretty sure people thought I was kidnapping my own child.
The saddest part of the entire story was how people stared at her, like she was some kind of brat and I was a horrible mother. To this day it breaks my heart to think what they saw when they looked at her. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve been that judgemental parent, but not anymore. I am the first to ask that poor momma if she needs help. I know how much it sucks to be in her shoes.
What they (and I) didn’t know was that she was reacting to food coloring. From what, you ask? Remember I said my oldest helped them get drinks? Those drinks were pink lemonade, chock full of Red #40, the worst food dye offender there is.
As I sat in that car that day watching my child flail and kick in her carseat, I knew something had to change. That was the day we stopped food dyes all together. Now, I’m not going to tell you we have been 100% for the past 4 years, we have fallen off the wagon many, many times for different reasons, but we have always paid for it.
What we didn’t know was how much it would affect the other kids. The change in my kids was undeniable. My oldest stopped having such dramatic mood swings and was able to fall asleep easier, my 4 yr old stopped wetting the bed and having nightmares, my then 3 yr old stopped having nightmares and tantrums. What about Paige? The amount of tantrums cut down drastically. They were like new children. Anytime we slipped up, we suffered the repercussions for about a week. These days when we slip up, it only takes about 3 days to get over it. I am hoping that one day they will outgrow their reactions like my 14 yr old has, but that they will always know that food dyes are not good or necessary.
Today, Paige has her good days and her bad days, just like the rest of us. She’s a thriving 1st grader. Going to school was something we NEVER thought we would ever see.
Well, there you have it. The turning point that started us on this journey. I know our story is unique to us, but my hope is that it might help other mothers see the connection the next time their child goes off the rails. Was it something they ate?