Tips for Eliminating Foods That May Worsen Behavioral Issues in Kids

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If you have a child that struggles with ADHD or other complex diagnoses – particularly if they experienced trauma at any point, it can feel very lonely. Not only is it isolating because people do not understand and lack compassion, but the medical profession sometimes seems to work at cross purposes. I sometimes wonder if medicine these days actually wants healed and whole patients . . . but that’s another story.

As a parent, I think you know in your gut what works and doesn’t work. Or, you may be partially {or completely} uncomfortable with the solutions being presented to you when they miss, or even ignore, who our children are as individuals. We are whole persons. Our wellness isn’t just a medical diagnosis.

While there may be a number of things that work for your family, there are a few things that helped my foster son – particularly with hyperactivity and anxiety. There was a drastic difference in his hyperactivity, acting out, and in his ability to self-regulate after we {he was an active partner in making these changes} made changes to his diet.

I wanted to share some of those things with you for today’s Wellness Wednesday post. This week I wanted to talk about dietary changes. Next week, I’ll cover some additional helps we put into place.

Here are my tips for eliminating foods that may worsen behavioral issues in kids.

This is hard, yo – particularly for foster parents out there who may have a child enter your home that has food insecurity issues or is accustomed to junk food {also very inexpensive and easy to get a hold of for families struggling with poverty}.

But, the differences between my foster son when we worked hard on our diet and when I was not disciplined, was tremendous. Notice that I said when I was not disciplined.

“Some of the studies are difficult or imperfect in that they don’t always tease out specific chemicals in isolation,” he says. “But there is this body of literature that does suggest that food colorings are not as benign as people have been led to believe.”

– Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York

Remove artificial colors completely. If you absolutely cannot fathom removing all artificial colors, I would definitely recommend eliminating red dye 40. I know what you’re thinking – it’s too time consuming. It is at first – especially if you work outside the home or are a single parent as I was. But once you’ve done your research on alternatives and spend time reading labels, you generally know what products to avoid and what products are dye free. Secondly, you will sometimes feel like a jerk parent when you have to continually say “no” to those junk food favorites.

But when you see the differences in your child, it is worth the work to find alternatives. If your child is old enough, talk to them about the changes and ask for their help in finding foods in the store that they would like, that are also dye free. My foster son became a mini expert in dye free foods. And while we had our moments when he wanted those regular Doritos, he did a good job because he was engaged in the decision making process, as often as our schedule allowed for it.

Find foods that you can be less restrictive with & give your child freedom to eat when he/she wants to. I know that might not sit right with a lot of parents. But I honestly believe it helps. And while my foster son also had food insecurity issues, I think there was something empowering for him – knowing that while there were some things he couldn’t eat, he wasn’t restricted in every little thing. He felt some sense of independence and control when the changes were very new for him.

I found foods that were protein rich, higher in fiber, or fruit – that were in his own “snack baskets” in the refrigerator or pantry. Generally speaking, I didn’t restrict the food in those baskets – including before dinner. Again, I know that may not work in your home. But if you have a child that is constantly burning energy due to hyperactivity {mine was}, and/or has food insecurity issues, is it really going to hurt? My kiddo’s appetite for dinner wasn’t dented from his healthy snacking after school. Like not even a little.


Slightly off topic – if you are a foster parent and your child has major food insecurity issues, consider choosing one type of food that you allow your child to keep bedside as comfort. We chose granola/fiber type bars {be aware of sugar content}. He had one snack before bed {usually string cheese while we read} and then a fiber bar was left on this bedside table.

Providing him a sense of control about what he could eat, made a huge difference once I removed certain things from this diet. His baskets had fruit {strawberries & blueberries were his favorite}, string cheese, Mini Babybel cheese {he really loved these!}, no-sugar apple sauce, no-dye crackers, etc. No dye fruit leathers, fruit snacks, etc., are much more common now.

Here are a few examples of kiddo-friendly “junk” food, which also helps with the transition:

You can even find dye free cake mixes, frostings, and sprinkles now. There are candy companies that exist specifically to eliminate chemical junk in candy. Watkins sells a line of food coloring made with vegetables and spices. The alternatives are out there!

Snacks in our refrigerator and pantry were in these baskets:

I heart them.

Finally, I also cut out as much sugar as I could. I didn’t worry too much about sugar from natural sources. Nor did I eliminate it totally. But I did my best to eliminate as much refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup as much as possible.

Cereal – I tried to stick to 7 grams of sugar {or less}. We would sometimes have pancakes and waffles, but used maple syrup – which has a lower glycemic index. My primary goal was for his breakfasts to be as high in protein as possible. I didn’t always win that battle. But, it was the goal.

As a single mom, I did aim for convenience in this area. We had breakfast bowls, breakfast sandwiches with eggs & cheese, high protein shakes, and protein bars. But being that he was always hungry – he usually ate at home and then took something in the car with him. His “car snack” was usually fruit, the shake, or a protein bar if he didn’t have those at breakfast.

Between making the dietary changes and giving my son back some of the control he’d lost in life and in the diet changes, it made for a more peaceful home. But more importantly, my foster son felt more in control of his emotions, actions, and choices.

Ultimately, it will take some experimenting to make it work best for you. But if you haven’t considered adjusting your child’s diet as you search for answers about what to do to help them – it’s worth a shot. Not only is it worth an attempt if you’re at your wit’s end, but ultimately, no one is more focused on your child’s wellness as you are. Your doctor isn’t likely to make suggestions about changing your child’s diet. They probably don’t for you either. It doesn’t mean that our diet can’t impact our emotional well being as well as our physical health. As I said earlier, we are whole persons – what we put into our body absolutely can impact our emotional and mental well being. It doesn’t just pack on the pounds when we eat unhealthy {we don’t dispute this fact, do we?}. Food is what our bodies use to function. Giving our bodies the best possible foods can only help . . .

Additional note: I wanted to eliminate gluten too {I have been gluten free since 2009}. I had a sense it might help him. But that was a bridge too far between our schedule, life as a single mom, and the drastic nature of that change. However, if you have a little more time to work with, I highly recommend Gluten Free on a Shoestring! She has a wealth of information and incredible gluten free recipes she’s developed since her son was diagnosed with Celiac disease. She even has a recipe for gluten free “Twix bars.” To read about one family’s experience with a gluten free diet and ADHD, read this article.

Essential Oils & Wellness

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On a long journey to wellness, I’ve begun to find what works for me – after a lot of experimenting. As my blog makes a transition {writing more of my wellness journey}, I will share some of these strategies, as well as experiments I try along the way.

When I was a child, my Mexican grandparents taught me a lot about plants. They grew native or drought resistant {we are from Southern California} plants – many of which had multiple uses beyond making their wild garden, pretty. They grew herbs, flowers, chayotes, avocados, and more. My Grandpa worked for the state – first at San Clemente State Park, in landscaping. His knowledge of plants that were native to or friendly to, the drought-prone desert of California, were among his expertise.

My Grandma taught me that Native Americans {and our Mexican ancestors} used plants medicinally. But they aren’t the only ones who used plants as medicine. Tea has been used for thousands of years and is said to have been invented by Chinese Emperor Shennong. He is also considered to be the creator of Chinese herbal medicine. Even today, tea is recommended in the most mainstream medical channels for everything from nausea {peppermint, ginger, etc.} to insomnia, to being a great source of antioxidants, or in the case of green tea, it’s said to lower blood pressure.

Lantana – one of Grandma’s favorites. Photo by: Valter Cirillo

Even the National Institute of Health has a section on their website that covers the healing plants used by natives of Hawaii, Alaska, and the mainland.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
― Hippocrates

While the use of essential oils takes its fair share of teasing these days from those who doubt their usefulness, there’s really nothing new under the sun. For me – essential oils used topically, ingested internally, or diffused – are no different than those plants my own ancestors used to cure a stomachache or relieve a headache.

Essential oils & wellness are in that same lane as far as I’m concerned.

I have arthritis. I have taken powerful medications {immune suppressants} over the years that cause nausea. Years ago, before I really knew much about using essential oils, my favorite remedy for managing nausea was ginger – specifically Gin Gins candies. Later, after experimenting with EOs, I started using peppermint, with a carrier oil applied directly to my stomach. The nausea just disappeared.

It wasn’t just that I felt a little better. My nausea would be completely gone after using peppermint essential oil. Gone. For a person that has battled less than desirable side effects to RA meds over the years, that is significant.

Now . . . before you think I’m trying to MLM you into buying oils from me, I don’t buy exclusively from one company. While I do have a Young Living membership and can help you become a member too, I’m not a poster child for YL {sorry} or any direct marketing essential oil company.

A few of my favorite YL oils include: Valor, Stress Away, Raven {that oil deserves its own post}, & Envision.

But, the EOs I used in the beginning were not YL. I purchased Aura Cacia and NOW. Aura Cacia’s Chill Pill was the first blend I ever used and it quickly became a favorite. Chill Pill, as an insomnia sufferer, was a calming comfort at night. I typically only buy NOW’s peppermint, for instance. I was using those brands long before I even knew Young Living or other direct marketing EO companies existed.

Listen, I am 100% certain that companies like doTERRA and YL are selling wonderful products. But I also know that long before these companies existed, regular old folks were using plants and flowers for medicinal use. There’s nothing new under the sun. So – yes, I believe you can find good, quality essential oils that are reasonably priced.

One last note on membership sites – their prices are high and that is often used as an indication of their purity. This is not the case. Their prices are high because of their compensation plans for distributors. That’s okay. It’s a business model that works for some companies. But be aware that you can get pure, therapeutic grade EOs {and CBD – that’s a post for another day} from other sources.

I saw positive impacts in my life from the oils I bought directly from NOW/Aura Cacia, my local health food store, Whole Foods, or The Vitamin Shoppe. So while I am a YL member, I don’t see a better response from their oils compared to those I purchase elsewhere, though I like them. I’m anxious to get a hold of their Hawaiian Sandalwood someday {so expensive}. But, typically speaking, I use what has been proven to work for me, even if the label isn’t all the rage. Some of what has worked for me I can pick up at The Vitamin Shoppe any old day of the week.

One of my favorite Auria Cacia oils is Texas Cedarwood. I love to diffuse it at night with lavender {and sometimes sweet orange}. That also became a favorite for my {foster} son when he lived with me. I read somewhere that it might help with pain relief. Several years ago, I was experiencing a crazy amount of joint pain. My feet were particularly painful. The joints in my big toe hated my guts. For someone that worked all day – and sometimes found herself running all over the place – especially on event days, that was not good. They were so bad I sometimes wondered how I would get through my day. You would never know it from the output of my work, but the pain often brought me to tears when no one was looking.

I started using Texas Cedarwood & coconut oil on my feet. I cannot tell you the difference in pain. I also used it on my hips on particularly bad days. The relief was immense. I didn’t need anyone to convince me. I was sold. Geranium {purchased at Whole Foods} has become a favorite to diffuse and I use it for a couple of long standing issues I’ll share someday. I also use it in a “glow serum” for my face, after I shower.

The more essential oils I bought and diffused, the more uncomfortable I became with wax melts and candles. Yes – I’d heard that “fragrance” is basically a chemical $#%& storm of epic proportions – for quite some time. But I loved my candles & melts. But the more I diffused EOs, it was harder & harder to use the wax melts. I tried this past fall to use some of my old fav fall scents, I immediately started sneezing and my throat got raspier and raspier the longer it burned. Within a couple of hours, my throat hurt like I was getting a cold. I turned it off and I haven’t used my warmers since.

Sometimes I diffuse blends because I like the scents or I want to recreate some of those scents I used in my wax warmers {fall & Christmas scents are my fav}. I’m currently diffusing a “California Coast” blend that is copaiba, frankincense, orange, cedarwood, and peppermint. Pinterest is a great source for diffuser blend ideas. I also choose specific EOs to uplift, reduce anxiety, or inspire creativity. They’ve become a regular part of my day – whether it’s at my bedside, in the kitchen, or next to the couch in the living room.

I use essential oils for:

  • Cleaning {spray bottles of EO blends & vinegar have replaced chemical cleaners as much as possible}
  • Skincare {glow serum & under eye oil}
  • Hair care {also buy a fairly clean shampoo that uses EOs}
  • Household Deodorizing
  • Emotional support

While I’ll cover some of my favorite EO blends for emotional support next time, I did want to mention a quick note on CBD and essential oils. I tried my first CBD/EO combination last February for the first time.

I purchased a muscle rub, with EO and CBD, during my visit to the Asheville Salt Cave. My hip pain after the long car ride to Asheville was just too much. I bought the CBD/EO blend and used it on my hips twice the day I was to drive home – once before getting in the car and once midway through my drive. I couldn’t believe the difference. My pain was not only drastically reduced – but I was less stiff and able to get out of the car much easier.

I was, once again, sold on the benefits of plants & their extracts, in my health journey. A CBD/EO combo is a huge favorite now. I have purchased several brands of CBD {tinctures, edibles, & balms} to date and though I buy from a local hemp farm sometimes, I have settled on a company who has some values I support. Their product is the best I’ve tried yet – which is even better.

I use a full spectrum CBD/lavender from Lazarus Naturals that is a huge benefit for painful shoulders and hips. These natural products have made a significant impact to my quality of life as I do not use prescription pain medication. I work hard & can’t be sidelined. These products help me stay in the game.

Friends – If you’re struggling with pain, side effects from other medications, anxiety, etc., I will tell you this much – it doesn’t hurt to try a natural source for your relief or as a compliment to what you are already using.

There are natural remedies that are worth a shot, especially when you don’t have mucho dinero. If you’re feeling hopeless because you’re just not finding anything that helps, this is an inexpensive, easy place to start, in my opinion. Well, let me walk that back. CBD is expensive. If you find it cheap, it’s probably not a good product. But start with EOs if your budget is tight. A bottle of Aura Cacia’s Texas Cedarwood is not expensive in the least. And because it’s strong, you won’t use more than a drop or two at a time – even when diffusing.

If you’re struggling and frustrated, it’s worth a shot. I am sharing these experiences with you because they’ve helped me. In future posts, I’ll share more about what I’ve used for combating anxiety and in my {foster} son, hyperactivity, depression, and anxiety.*

Do you have a favorite essential oil or essential oil blend? Share below! I’d love to hear.

Be well,

*Please note that my foster son was treated with traditional medicine, by medical professionals. But, we used essential oils and dietary changes alongside of traditional approaches.