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The mystery deepened when we considered my husband Howard's two older children as well. By 15 his daughter was failing in half her school subjects, while his son at 13 could not read well enough to keep up with his class. Yet their mother had a postgraduate degree, Howard was a research scientist with a doctorate and I was a former English teacher with a degree in psychology. Howard and three of the children were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder which explained but did not solve the problem.
After years of searching for answers, we discovered a remarkable reason for their difficulties. Most of their troubles were caused by foods they ate every day. All six members of our family experienced unexpected benefits when we made a change in our eating habits, based on new research. Behaviour, mood swings, intelligence or health improved in everyone. In the most dramatic case, our daughter's oppositional behaviour vanished and her school marks, like her measured IQ, jumped from below average to well above. We soon found our children weren't the only ones in the world affected in this way.
'Kids have changed', says a primary school principal with 34 years of teaching experience. 'You see them arriving at school angry or unhappy. They stay like that all day . I used to think it was television, or a problem with the parents. But you have to look at food, They come to school eating junk, and when you ask "why are you eating that?", they answer, "it's my breakfast."' In a society where rages and suicide are on the increase it is worth taking seriously this observation about angry and unhappy children.
Since my first book, Different Kids, my interests have extended beyond the attention deficit hyperactivity disorders which affect 3-5 per cent of the population, to the irritable, restless and inattentive behaviours in much greater numbers of children. An estimated 15 per cent of school children are badly enough affected to place them at risk for literacy and numeracy problems. I am disappointed that most health professionals emphasise medication and dismiss the role of food in disruptive behaviours, especially since studies have been unable to demonstrate long-term benefits of medication. By comparison, families using dietary management in the long term report improvement in self-control, which is the single biggest predictor of success in adult life.
As author, support group leader, editor of the national newsletter about ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), food intolerance counsellor, and more recently as a researcher into the food-behaviour connection, I have talked to thousands of families whose children have difficulties with learning or behaviour. Some families, like mine, had realised that foods were a problem but were not sure of which ones. Others had not seen the food connection. There were also some, like this mother from Italy, who had not even realised that there was a problem: 'He used to be so unbearable that I would make myself scarce; we were often at different ends of the house to get away from each other. Yet I wouldn't have said he was abnormal. Now the real, nice, intelligent person has come out. It is worth a few sacrifices, even for me!'
People have to be desperate before they will change their lifestyle and difficult children make mothers desperate. This book is full of their stories. The majority of women spoke of seeking help from health professionals, only to be discouraged or rejected because 'food has nothing to do with children's behaviour', 'foods only affects a few, so it's not worth trying', 'it's too difficult, I wouldn't bother', 'your child is too young (or too old) to do an elimination diet'. Many were given the wrong information, such as an out-of-date diet, or advice such as 'don't worry about sticking to it too strictly.'
Others were glad they ignored their doctor's or dietitian's advice and went ahead with an elimination diet but most needed more information and support than were available. Overwhelmingly, people were amazed to find that sugar by itself was not a problem and that foods like fruit which were perceived as healthy often caused a bad reaction. The mother of a nine year old reported: 'I had my son on a diet free of junk food and high in fruits and vegetables for four years and it turned out I was doing all the wrong things for him. Some natural foods are just as bad for him as the lollies and soft drinks.'
Health professionals tell us that 'only a small subgroup of children' are affected by foods. I do not agree. Theoretically, anyone can react to food chemicals if the dose is high enough, and the doses are increasing every year. People assume they will know if they react to foods, because they will see an immediate reaction. This is wrong. Most food reactions are delayed. They are not an allergic reaction, but the side-effects of food chemicals. Everyone knows that drugs can have side-effects, but few people are aware that both artificial and natural chemicals in foods can cause the same reactions. Like the side-effects of drugs, side-effects of food chemicals are often misinterpreted.
Food scientists estimate that it takes 30 years to notice the effects of a national change in diet. There have been enormous changes in our lifestyle during that period. Party foods have become everyday foods, additives which did not even exist then are eaten frequently and flavour enhancers are common. Children and adults are affected in varying degrees by the changes in our diet, but these effects are mostly unrecognised or ignored. Hyperactive children are just the tip of the iceberg. Considering the marked rise in irritability in our society and that irritability and restlessness have been found to be the main symptom of behavioural food reactions, it seems likely that far more are affected in this way.
During this century, humans have been exposed to unprecedented quantities of industrial and agricultural chemicals which can provoke sensitivity to food chemicals. It is even possible that behavioural changes and learning disabilities due to chemical exposure can be inherited by the next generation. Changes in behaviour and learning ability are the first signs of chemical toxicity (see Notes), yet food chemicals are not tested for behavioural or learning effects before approval.
To protect our children and ourselves and to prevent a national decline in behaviour and learning standards, it makes sense to avoid the chemicals which are affecting us. Irritable, restless or inattentive behaviour, sleep disturbance, eczema, other itchy skin rashes, migraines, recurrent headaches, stomach discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, reflux, colic, urinary urgency and asthma are some of the symptoms can be caused or aggravated by common foods. If you have any of the above problems or if you have ever seen, even once, a reaction to foods such as cordial, cola, alcoholic drinks, chocolate, savoury snack food or takeaways, then it is worth taking food chemicals seriously. Some people who are affected have never noticed a food reaction.
Fed Up will help you to discover which foods affect you. Through years of trial and error with my own family, the similar experiences of the thousands of families who have contacted me, and my research, I have discovered that the foods which I call 'failsafe' can help to improve the health and happiness of whole families. To find out how foods affect people, why food reactions are so difficult to identify, which foods are likely to cause problems, and how to manage the side-effects of foods, please read on ...