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Why Can’t My Child Behave? The Relationship Between Diet and Behaviour

Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.

Why can’t my child behave? Why can’t my child cope? Why can’t my child learn?

The subject of this article is the title of a book written by Dr. Jane Hersey. Twenty years ago, she had a “problem child” and a book by Dr. Benjamin Feingold changed her son’s diet and changed his life.

Dr. Feingold discovered that emotions, behaviour and diet are directly related, this does not apply to children only, it will affect adults’ performance in school, work and at home. Grateful parents setup the Feingold Society and continued to offer solutions to parents who have “problem children”. The key is to avoid artificial colouring, preservatives, artificial flavouring, aspirin and fruits with high Salicylate contents.

A paediatrician shared her experience in the book. A mother with her lovely blond hair daughter visited the paediatrician. The little girl seemed to have been possessed and screamed with fear. The mother cried that she usually behaved this way and was at her wits end. On examining the little girl, the paediatrician suggested that she seek the help of the Feingold Society. Six weeks later, the mother and daughter came back to see the paediatrician and thanked her with kisses. This paediatrician fully understood the relationship between diet and behaviour. For the past ten years, she has also seen many cases of behavioural improvements as a result of changes in diet.

What are the behavioural problems that could be improved by a change in diet?

• Impatience
Low tolerance of stress
Need immediate satisfaction
Short tempered
Cry easily and frequently
Throwing and damaging things

• Lack of concentration
Easily distracted
Inability to complete tasks
Inability to listen to a full story
Inability to listen to instructions

• Poor sleeping habits
Dislike going to bed
Not able to sleep
Tossing in bed
Frequent nightmares

• Restlessness
Non-stop movements
Running and not walking
Inability to eat quietly
Abnormal movements of limbs

• Impulsive aggression
Creating havoc in school and at home
Disobeying rules
Inability to sense danger
Impulsive repetition of actions
Ill-treating small animals
Fighting with other children
Inability to control oneself

• Impulsiveness
Unpredictable behaviour
Producing abnormal sound
Talking too much
Talking too loudly
Interrupting others
Nail biting and scratching
Biting clothes and other items
Over sensitivity towards touch, pain, sound, and light

• Frequent Illness

Nettle rash
Stomach ache
Bed wetting

• Nerve obstruction
Reading disability
Speaking difficulty
Problems with eye movements
Muscle cramps
Accident prone
Inflexibility of the limbs
Poor eyes and hands co-ordination
Writing and drawing difficulties

Dr. Feingold noticed that one could be sensitive towards certain objects, the items listed below are related to learning and behavioural problems:

Artificial colouring
Artificial flavouring (including vanilla flavouring)
BHA, BHT, TBHQ preservatives
Aspirin and food with natural salicylate such as almond, coffee, capsicum, cucumber, plum and dried plum, grape and raisin, orange, berries, peach, tea, cherry, tangerine, tomato, clove.

When practicing the initial phase (2 to 3 weeks), avoid all the above-mentioned items. Improvements can be realized within a few days for children who are not on medication and more than a week for those on medication. Gradually include the salicylate fruits and vegetables in the second phase to determine the tolerance level. If previous problems surface, avoid these foods temporarily. Not only can food cause abnormal behaviour, unconducive school and family environments could also influence sensitive children and adults negatively such as paint. Therefore, it is better to paint, change carpets, use of detergent and pesticide, repair roofing during the school holidays.

In 1993, a research on the relationship between food and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) was conducted. 59 out of 78 children of age 3 to 12 who were on a strict diet showed considerable improvements in their behaviour, 17 showed some improvements and condition became worse off for 2. Americans consume more chemical colourings than other countries, therefore there are more children with ADD than England and France. Japan has not focus on such problems yet. With the East adopting more Americanized diet, such problems will become more common.

Prevention is better than cure. If there is a need to gather such information, you may contact Feingold Society at the following address:


P.O BOX 6550

Alexandria VA 22306

Tel : 1-800-321-3870