Children’s Emotions Stabilized by Simple Dietary Changes

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist January 30, 2011

Happy scream

By Mary Lynch, Kindergarten Teacher

I am writing to share with you a few of the amazing changes we have seen in our family since we started changing our diets and learning the truth about what is and is not healthy.

We made little changes at first; adding coconut oil, fermented cod liver oil, and raw milk and butter to our diets.  Within a week and after many hours of research, we decided to eliminate refined sugar and processed foods and to reduce grain consumption as well.

We noticed immediate and dramatic changes in our daughters’ mood and behavior!

My eldest has always struggled with fear and anxiety issues.  For years we have worked with prayer and behavior modification and we have certainly seen improvement.  But one week into our diet changes we saw the largest jump in confidence that we have ever seen.  All of a sudden, she approaches challenges calmly and logically, rather than immediately shutting down or freaking out.  She has attempted — and enjoyed — activities she would not even consider in the past.  She is embracing life rather than hiding from it!

My youngest daughter is not afraid of anything.  We call her our “adventure girl.”  However, this passion for life sometimes leads to what I like to call an “excess of emotion.”  She’s nine years-old and was having all-out temper tantrums at least once a month.  Small discouragements became huge problems.  Her emotions were controlling her, rather than her controlling her emotions.  Sarah, as soon as we changed our diet she became a calm, content child.  She now takes disappointments in stride and can control her emotions, actions and words easily.  Yes, she cries sometimes.  But she no longer screams and throws things while she does it.  She even noticed right away, saying, “If I don’t want to be angry I can just take a deep breath!”  She even surprised herself!

It was my husband who noticed the change first.  He came home from work at 5:30, as usual, but was not met with the usual homecoming chaos.  He expected me to be stressed about preparing dinner, tidying the dining room and overseeing homework.  He expected the girls to be whining about homework and dinner and chores.  (I’m embarrassed to admit this was typical at our house.)  Instead, he found silence.  We were still getting things done — cooking and chores and homework — but instead of coming into an atmosphere of tension, he came home to a house filled with peace.

Thank you, Sarah, for your passion for healthful eating and for sharing what you have learned on your blog.  I just had to let you know how it has changed not just our diets, but our attitudes and relationships, too.

Mary Lynch is a Kindergarten teacher in Tampa, FL.    She has been following the principles of Traditional Cooking and Eating for only a couple of months and has already experienced life changing results in her home.    She is one of the few teachers I have met who knows how to throw a truly healthy party that is still fun and delicious for the children in her class.

Picture Credit

 

Comments (61)

  1. Hi, would like to know what is exactly paelo diet?? For breakfast I make my 2,7 yrs son new Zealand follow on goats milk with cooked millet , quinoa and buckwheat. The other version would be amaranth porridge and oats porridge with the same goats milk. I am bit confused and not sure if these are healthily… As u talking that grains are no good. Is amaranth oats , millet buckwheat and quinoa grains? What is grains ? Thank u very much for sepond. Btw article is awesome!

    Reply
  2. Eating a GAPS-like or paleo diet is healing me from a long-term chronic illness as well. It’s always lovely to find that people are finding out how to heal children before a life-time of toxicity catches up to them. Thanks for sharing the good news.

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  3. I’m new to this and was wondering if there is a link to an earlier post about the diet changes you did make (more info, details)?

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  4. Just started GAPS without intro and my son (21months) stopped throwing tantrums the first week and is back to having meltdowns. I don’t know if its the yogurt i introduced or die off. Even fat or fclo doesn’t make him happier! He was fine with the ghee the first week.

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  5. What a great post and discussion! It’s always so inspiring to hear about families with kids who have changed their diet! Especially in the face of a culture that constantly pushes sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and generally fake food at kids!

    Earlier this year, when we were planting our garden, we got a first-hand taste of what sugar can do to a kid. Our daughter (we have eaten a mostly traditional foods diet since she was born and now eat a paleo diet) was offered a red sucker at the garden store. Not wanting to be the parent who always says no to sweets–and thereby sets her up to sneak them as soon as she’s able–I relented and said she could have it. She did. And, within a few minutes she was whining, within fifteen minutes, she was in full meltdown mode. The meltdown lasted until she was asleep half an hour later, and not at her usual nap time. It was so remarkable that even now when we go to that store and she asks for one, I remind her how awful she felt after the first one, and she’ll ask me if we can get a special treat somewhere else–like home or whole foods instead. (For a treat out, she likes raw milk cheese at WF, with a kombucha–she calls it Bucha-Beer).
    Sarah\’s last post: Winter Backyard: Vegetable Encampment

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  6. Merina Amos via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    This was a great reminder. My daughter was having terrible tantrums lately, so we changed her diet today and she was a new child!

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  7. Julie Quan via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 9:37 am

    We are careful with all coconut products as we are sensitive to them. Not every food product is for everybody!

    Reply
  8. Julie Quan via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 9:37 am

    We are careful with all coconut products as we are sensitive to them. Not every food product is for everybody!

    Reply
  9. Julie Quan via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

    We have fed my son simple, basic foods from day 1 as we are older parents and had already discovered for ourselves that we needed to eat a healthy diet. We notice big changes when he eats snacks at church or at grandparents. Suddenly he is just not the same sweet child. He always has lots of energy and is an on the go little boy but after store bought factory food he is just wild. There is an edge to him. My husband and I realize that if we didn’t already eat healthfully for our sakes we would by now for his sake! He is young but learning to voluntarily say no as he realizes it is harder to behave and harder to sleep peacefully when he eats factory made foods or foods made with new fangled ingredients (ingredients invented in the last 100 years and made in factories).

    Reply
  10. Julie Quan via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

    We have fed my son simple, basic foods from day 1 as we are older parents and had already discovered for ourselves that we needed to eat a healthy diet. We notice big changes when he eats snacks at church or at grandparents. Suddenly he is just not the same sweet child. He always has lots of energy and is an on the go little boy but after store bought factory food he is just wild. There is an edge to him. My husband and I realize that if we didn’t already eat healthfully for our sakes we would by now for his sake! He is young but learning to voluntarily say no as he realizes it is harder to behave and harder to sleep peacefully when he eats factory made foods or foods made with new fangled ingredients (ingredients invented in the last 100 years and made in factories).

    Reply
  11. Megan Horan Oien via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 2:40 am

    Yay. Love this. We noticed huge changes after being on GAPS. We did the diet for 6 months and are slowly reintroducing grains. Thanks for the reminder. It’s so easy to slack during the holidays. But I always notice a difference right away when I let the crap foods slip back in.

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  12. Sheila Gauthier Webster via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 1:36 am

    I just LOVE this thread. Kudos to all you moms and dads who are ‘owning it’. Yay for us!

    Reply
  13. Erin Fleming Lembke via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 1:13 am

    @Dea – Same EXACT thing with my son’s chronically inflamed tonsils – scheduled for surgery – made dietary changes and in one month they were normal again!

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  14. Erin Fleming Lembke via Facebook December 4, 2011 at 1:13 am

    @Dea – Same EXACT thing with my son’s chronically inflamed tonsils – scheduled for surgery – made dietary changes and in one month they were normal again!

    Reply
  15. I am interested in making some changes to our diet, but don’t know how to do it. I know of a place where we can get coconut oil and we already use butter. How do you get grains and sugars out of your diet? What do you use instead? Thanks for your help!

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  16. It wasn’t necessarily behavior changes I noticed, my children’s physical health improved. My middle son Marcus was faced with having his tonsils and adnoids removed due to chronic sinus infections. Within a month his sinuses became clear. He’s been off antibiotics for 5 years now.

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  17. So true! I notice behavior changes due to diet changes in my own children and myself! I also noticed, after having 3 children that as soon as you allow processed toddler crap food (those puff treats) into their diet, they stop willingly eating their usual healthy fare and prefer processed carbs.

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  18. Donalie Sawtelle Graves via Facebook December 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    I would like to know what a days worth of menus would be like for your and your family. thanks

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  19. I did this with my teenager and saw a big difference. I used Amino acids and some other supps. She had been drinking too much HFCS and MSG at some functions and got heart palpitations also which scared her into listening to me until she saw a difference. I kinda used the Mood Cure book. and just cooked WAPF as usual.

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  20. Tina Loving via Facebook December 3, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    It doesn’t what I feed my kids; they are so energized after they eat. Maybe it’s because they’re boys…

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  21. Love this. We’ve noticed a change the opposite direction unfortunately with a little bit of holiday indulgence (still learning this traditional eating thing). I was a little taken back by it, but now I understand.

    Reply
  22. Pingback: Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out | Tenderherb's Blog

  23. Does anyone know if sprouting your wheat before it is ground makes it better for your gut? I have tried to go gluten caisen free for my sons behavior and it has been hard. I have read that wheat is hard to digest because of enzyme inhibitors but if you sprout your grains it kills the inhibitors. Also it seems many of you have been able to eat cheese and still seen if affect behavior. Does anyone have a problem with cheese or is it okay to eat?

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  24. What a timely post! I was just thinking today that my kids are always hungry and begs for crackers (saltines, graham) after school. Even after a PB sandwich (on home made bread with fresh ground flour) and an apple, they are still hungry! My one boy in particular loves the carbs.

    I need ideas on what to give him/them for healthy after school snacks that are not heavy on carbs and are filling. Help!

    Reply
      • Everyday?? Or should it still be treated as an occasional treat?

        I have some raw cream that has been sitting in my fridge for MONTHS (yikes!!!). I’m sure they’re sour by now! Can I still use those to make ice cream? Or should I throw them out?

        Thanks Sarah!

        Reply
        • I only have a couple of suggestions to add to Lauren’s (which are awesome). Pre-cook a batch of bacon and keep it in the fridge. You can reheat it in a frying pan in 2-3 minutes (2-3 slices is about all they should need as it’s very satiating). Also, a coconut milk smoothie is great! Half a can of coconut milk blended with half a banana (I freeze over-ripe bananas and just break off what I need when I need it) and either a tablespoon or two of frozen berries or a little cocoa powder and peanut butter. If it’s too thick, I thin it out with milk. Or my quickie pudding- beat coconut milk with cocoa powder and a little maple syrup until it’s about twice its original volume and stick it in the fridge. 1/2 a cup should have them settled for quite a while.

          Full fat cheese and not-full-of-junk jerky make a great snack too.

          The only problem with these is that they may not be hungry for dinner! (BTW, fermented veggies such as sauerkraut are ideal with the bacon)
          W\’s last post: Paleo Peppermint Patty Pudding

          Reply
    • ripe banana slices fried in coconut oil (yum!), cheese cubes (for a fancy treat try a cheese cube/rolled-up ham slice/pickle “snowman” stacked on a toothpick), my kid eats liverwurst off the spoon but I recognise that’s atypical, bacon-wrapped dates, walnut-stuffed figs, yogurt with cinnamon (I swirl it with warmed applesauce to avoid blue lips), scrambled or devilled eggs… any protein/fat combo that’s fast for you and tasty for them – mothering.com has a thread on “TF-stle toddler foods” that might give you some ideas.

      Reply
  25. Pingback: Healthy diet and kids « Green Basket

      • I would also highly recommend the “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” book GAPS for short. We started our whole family on this diet last March 1st. I have 3 children with Autism. We had tried other things with them and gotten some good results, but not like when we did this diet. The other treatments I had just done with the 3 of them, but this one we started the whole family. The difference was amazing. We all felt better. My oldest, 8 at the time, did not want to do this. She said it was not for her but for her brothers and sister. She did it anyway. :) About 2 weeks into the diet she looked at me, while we were shopping in Costco, and said “Mom, thanks for this diet. I feel so much better.” The moodiness was gone and she was a very happy sweet child.
        Over the last month or 2 I have been introducing Spelt products. I make my own bread and other baked goods. I have not seen any behavioural changes so we are going to keep it in the diet. VitaSpelt has many products that you might be interested in for starting to substitue out things your kids eat. I could never take anything away from them without having a replacement. We use raw honey as out sweetener, and as much other raw products as we can. They do get an occasional treat because I want us to continue this diet for life and I want them to know that there are times such as parties and weddings that it is ok to have a little. (stress the little).
        I am trying out a new sugar, Coconut Palm Sugar. If anyone has tried this or knows a bit more about it I would love some feedback. What I have found so far has been encourageing, but I am still cautious.

        Reply
  26. Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
    Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist January 31, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I know this is a terrible thing to think about, but you have to wonder how many of these kids doing violent things with guns and whatnot are eating msg/sugar/high grain carb diet that is greatly contributing to dark moods and extreme behavior. They sure aren’t eating raw butter, homemade soups and grassfed beef, that’s for sure!

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  27. Very wonderful story. When I got the junkfood out of my diet last year I noticed major mood changes and a lot of my depression went away.

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  28. Great story. We made these changes a few years ago and never looked back. The kids feel so much better, and so do we! Getting the grains and sugars out made a big difference, and the addition of good fats rounded it out. I really encourage any mom who is struggling with behavioral issues with kids to at least try some serious dietary changes. Often, it is a lot easier than they expect and the rewards are huge!
    Katie @ Wellness Mama\’s last post: Fast and Healthy Meal Plan

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  29. Here here! People comment everywhere we go, how well behaved my children are. Stores, resteraunts, church, DR offices…etc… When they ask what I do…I simply reply I get them good rest, eat healthy foods with whole ingredients and a little tough love. They are kids, they will choose from the choices we give them. My friend tells everyone she knows about the time we went to the grocery store together and my kids are asking if we can get baby spinach :) She had never seen or heard of a kid asking for baby spinach! You can do it, they will like it! 3 out 3 kids in my house eat spinach and like it.

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  30. what a great post!
    we did have a similar experience – even recently! I added lard to our diet (cook with it now) and i can definitely see that the kids (who can be very intense/loud/emotional) and I are a lot more peaceful and calm. I guess having animal fats is very imporant! Before that I only cooked with ghee and we ate butter, but I found that lard is actually cheaper and gives more nutrients for the mood :)
    Marina

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  31. I would love to be able to make this change. I just don’t know where to start. My 2 yr old will only eat cereal, pb & j sandwiches and chicken nuggets. He’ll eat fruits, but not veggies.

    Reply
    • Amanda, you CAN make changes while still feeding your child what he likes. Choose cereals that are all natural, make your own peanut butter or buy an all natural version, use a low salycylate jelly (like pear or cantaloupe) on natural bread or a gluten free version, and make your own chicken nuggets.

      Reply
      • All-natural cereal is still cereal, still too much grain, still extruded protein and won’t do much if anything to improve behavior or nutrition.

        I’d recommend looking up Paleo recipes for granola and cereal and see what you find. Still not perfect, any seed food will contain phytate–but better than an overdose of wheat.

        Reply
        • We were fortunate enough to still be breastfeeding when we cut out grains (we had already cut down sugar and were eating a traditional foods diet): my daughter had a backup food supply when she slowed down on her solid foods while she adjusted to not having homemade bread, crackers, soaked oatmeal and the like. She actually ate so little solid food when we stopped the cereals/grains I sometimes wondered if we’d done the right thing. But, she still grew and gained weight–looking very healthy. (And, my friend who also eliminated grain while her son was a toddler says he did the same thing.) Now she loves to snack on crispy nuts, vegetables (even radishes), avocado, and even beef jerky. Kids tastes adjust to what you give them.
          Sarah\’s last post: Winter Backyard: Vegetable Encampment

          Reply
    • Amanda, my heart goes out to you. My oldest son was the same way after I fed him the recommended foods by the pediatrician (rice cereal, pureed fruits, etc). He was picky for a couple years until I started noticing that his attitude was getting worse over time. I realized that I, as his mom, was probably letting this happen, and decided that it was going to change.
      The transition wasn’t easy at first. he refused to eat anything I have him (meats, veggies, etc) for several days, but then he started trying them. That was a couple years ago, and now there is not a vegetable he won’t eat. It is so hard, because we don’t want to see our kids go hungry, but just realize that in the long run, it will be so beneficial for him!
      Also, explain it to him while you are making the changes. I’ve noticed that kids actually have an interest in understanding why foods are good and bad once they start having it explained to them. Good luck!
      Katie @ Wellness Mama\’s last post: Fast and Healthy Meal Plan

      Reply
    • Amanda, as I have made many changes in our diet, my husband just LOVES his peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. I’m still uncomfortable with him having them every day, but I’ve done what I can to improve them – use local honey instead of jelly, homemade bread from sprouted wheat, Adams peanut butter. Have yet to make my own peanut butter, but that is coming! Also my husband and kids LOVED cereal, but actually are just as happy with the granola that I now make regularly – have to keep stocked up!

      Reply
  32. This article is so true. I notice it with my autistic 7 year old even more than with my neurotypical 3 year old. If they are having tantrums I will give them their cod liver oil and it calms them down quickly.

    Reply
  33. This article rings true to me.

    When I traveled through Thailand and Cambodia, I noticed the children behaved differently than American kids. They were alert, in good spirits and never did I see a tantrum. Unlike children here, they did not eat lots of grain and sugar. When I went to Malaysia, a country that has more money and has adopted many American eating habits, the children were just like American kids.
    MAS\’s last post: The Myth of Cardiovascular Training

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    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist January 31, 2011 at 8:56 am

      Excellent observations MAS, thanks for posting. Dr. Weston A. Price noticed the same thing in his travels around the globe and his observations of traditional cultures that had not yet been cursed by the “displacing foods of modern commerce” The children in these cultures, were happy, alert, with excellent concentration. No behavior problems existed.

      Reply
    • One of my favorite childrearing-related books is The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. She noted the same thing you and Dr. Price did–children in a traditional culture being calm and listening to the adults in their lives and just about never throwing a tantrum. She concluded it was the tribe’s childrearing techniques, and her book was the inspiration for Dr. Sears’s attachment parenting book series. (I know this because I found an early version of one of his books at my public library and he mentions her book in it.)

      Over the years there has been much contention about the validity of attachment parenting because, some parents say, it doesn’t work well for their kids–the kids still act nervous and insecure and don’t attach well emotionally.

      I think the childrearing techniques were only half the story. Yes, I think that tribe was raising their kids in a sensible way–babies are helpless and still developing and *shouldn’t* be left to their own devices in a crib. But I also think they must have still been eating their traditional diet, so they were able to benefit from proper brain development in their children as well. That’s the piece of the puzzle that’s missing in the attachment parenting movement in America, at least for most people practicing AP. It amazes me how many AP advocates are vegetarian or vegan. I’m sure they’re mystified that they still have to deal with attention and behavior issues–next to allergies, I see lots of articles and ads in Mothering magazine aimed at the parents-of-ADHD-kids set!

      Reply
      • Dana,

        I think you have something here! I run a large AP parents’ group, and I notice a difference between the vegan/vegetarian child behavior and parent-child relationships and the relationships of folks doing traditional or paleo diets. (Strangely, the AP community seems to be mostly divided on either the vegan/vegetaruab-or traditional/paleo community.) I’ve even had this conversation with some of the other parents in the group–though it’s not one I feel comfortable with bringing up with the group as a whole, or even on my blog.

        I think it’s a combination of things when a family eats high sugar, high-refined food, all vegan or vegetarian diet–including both the child’s brain and physical development and the psychological effects of being a parent who also isn’t meeting (or is that meating-haha) their own nutritional needs.

        Sarah
        Sarah\’s last post: Winter Backyard: Vegetable Encampment

        Reply
      • I completely agree! I practiced attachment parenting like crazy and my son didn’t want anything to do with it ~ even as an infant! He exhibited dairy allergies early on and we have now found he is allergic to corn, artificial colors/flavors, etc. He has SPD challenges as well….so I believe diet plays a HUGE role in how our children behave and respond to attachment parenting. You can’t “wear” a baby that hates to be touched or confined! ;)

        Reply
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  35. Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

    The key to stabilizing emotions and ease of controlling them is by stabilizing blood sugar. This can only be accomplished by limiting sugars and refined carbs an increasing wholesome fats in the diet. Unfortunately, our culture is still quite fat-phobic and therefore it is not surprising how many kids have real trouble with impulse control and emotion moderation.

    Reply

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