Why can’t my child behave? Why can’t she cope? Why can’t he learn? An introduction to the link between our diet and our behaviours/Emotions
Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.

The title of this article is actually the title of a book written by Jane Hersey. Twenty years ago, she had a ‘problem kid’. A book written by Dr Benjamin Feingold changed the eating pattern of this problem kid completely and also changed his life.

Dr Feingold discovered that our behaviours and emotions are closely related to the food we eat. This not only affects children, but also adults’ performance in schools, at work places and homes. Grateful parents who have benefited from Feingold diet, formed a Feingold Society to provide solutions and assistance for parents with ‘problem kids’. The point that they strongly advocate is the elimination of artificial colours, preservatives, artificial flavours, aspirin, fruits and vegetables which are high in salicylates from our diet.

A pediatrician shared a real-life example in the foreword of Dr Feingold’s book. Twelve years ago, a mother brought an adorable girl with blonde hair and blue eyes to see him. The little girl behaved as if she had been possessed by some evil spirits. She screamed continuously and seemed very fearful. Her mother broke down and said her daughter would behave like that at any time and at any place. She was completely helpless. After examining the girl, the pediatrician suspected that her behaviour might be linked to her diet. He recommended that the mother and the girl sought advice from Feingold Society. 6 weeks later, the mother and girl came to see the pediatrician and kissed him to show their gratitude. The pediatrician was then fully convinced about the diet-behaviour connection. Within the next 10 or more years, he witnessed many examples of behaviour disorders being corrected by changing the eating patterns.  

Some examples of behaviour disorders that can be greatly improved by changing the eating patterns are:

  1. Impatient
  2. Low frustration tolerance
    Demands immediate attention
    Irritability
    Frequent crying
    Destructive behaviours: throws, breaks things

  3. Short attention span
  4. Distraction
    Failure to complete projects
    Inability to listen to whole story
    Inability to follow directions

  5. Poor sleeping habits
  6. Resistance to going to bed
    Difficulty falling asleep
    Restless / erratic sleep
    Frequent nightmares, bad dreams

  7. Marked hyperactivity
  8. Constant motion
    Running instead of walking
    Inability to sit still when having meals
    Inappropriate wiggling of legs/hands

  9. Impulsive and aggressive actions
  10. Playing pranks in school and at home
    Unresponsiveness to discipline
    Little or no recognition of danger to self
    Repeating actions impulsively
    Unkindness to pets
    Fighting with other children, abusive behaviour
    Poor self-control

  11. Compulsive actions
  12. Unpredictable behaviour
    Inappropriate noises
    Excessive talking
    Loud talking
    Interrupts often
    Biting nails and scratching skin
    Chewing on clothing and other objects
    Overreaction to touch, pain, sound, light

  13. Common problems
  14. Headache
    Stomachache
    Ear infection
    Bedwetting
    Daytime wetting
    Rashes

  15. Muscle nerves disorder
  16. Dyslexia / reading problems
    Speech difficulties / delays
    Difficulties with playground activities, sports
    Eye muscle disorder
    Tics (unusual or uncontrollable movements)
    Accident-prone
    Clumsiness
    Poor coordination of eyes and hands
    Difficulties drawing, writing

Dr Feingold proposed that although a person could be allergic to certain things, the things stated below are most closely related to learning disabilities and behaviour disorders:

Artificial colours (all artificial colours used in food)
Artificial flavours (including artificial vanilla essence)
BHA, BHT and TBHQ, these 3 types of preservatives
Aspirin and food containing salicylates

Food high in salicylates are: Almonds, coffee, green peppers, cucumbers, plums / dried plums, grapes / raisins, oranges, all berries, peaches, all tea, cherries, tangerines, tomatoes, nectarines and cloves.

Feingold diet comprises of a two-stage plan. During the first stage (about 2 to 3 weeks), avoid eating any of the food mentioned above. For children who are not on medication, their conditions will improve within a few days. As for those on medication, it will take more than a week. During the second stage, you can slowly reintroduce fruits and vegetables high in salicylates to the child’s diet. Observe how the child reacts to the new adjustment. If the problems resurface, it shows that you should avoid giving the child this type of food for the time being. Food is not the only factor that affects our behaviour, synthetic chemicals found in school and family environments will also affect sensitive children and adults negatively. Hence, it is better to wait till school holidays to repaint the school, change the carpet, use cleaning agents or use asphalt to mend the roof.

In 1993, some US scientists did a research on the connection between food and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). 78 children with ages ranging from 3 to 12 years old underwent strict dietary control programme for 3 to 4 weeks. Among them, 59 children’s behaviour had improved significantly, 17 children’s behaviour had improved and behaviour of 2 children had deteriorated. In America, the usage of artificial colours is very much higher than other countries, hence the number of hyperactive and ADD children is 10 times the number found in Britain and France. Japan does not have this problem, however for Asian countries in which eating patterns have been westernized, such problem is on the rise. 

‘Prevention is better than cure’, it is always better to take precautions. For more information, you may contact Feingold Society at:
Address: P.O. Box 6550, Alexandria, VA22306
Telephone (U.S.): 1-800-321-3287

If you would like to order the book ‘Why Can’t My Child Behave?’, please contact Pear Tree Press at: P.O. Box 30146 Alexandria, VA22310. Retail price of the book is US$22 (in US) and US$27 (inclusive of postage fee) for overseas purchase. 

Extracted from Lapis Lazuli Light Magazine 1997 Apr Issue

Translated by Lapis Lazuli Light Singapore