#mummyfail, Allergy, baking, Dairy intolerant, Freya, Silent reflux

Can diet affect a child’s behaviour?


We left our last hospital appointment with Freya’s consultant and dietician feeling something we had never felt before in nearly two years – positive.

Her reflux symptoms were gone and aside from the continuing night wakings she was a happy and seemingly healthy little girl so we all agreed now might be a good time to start challenging her food issues.

She has been dairy-free since she was 16 weeks-ish and has had a limited diet since we started weaning and everything seemed to make her reflux worse but I’ve worked hard to gradually introduce a range of things which, to me, seem like a pretty healthy diet (she certainly has five a day, if not more, along with either meat, free-from pasta or fish). The trouble is it’s a bit samey and when it comes to treats rather limited to free-from biscuits or things I make from scratch so when they suggested trying out new things we were all for it.

We were to start with wheat and gluten, the proteins found in wheat and other grains, then try soya and finally the holy grail of dairy.

We started off gently and this appeared to be going well but as the weeks went on her behaviour deteriorated like you wouldn’t believe. Freya has always been spirited, which I like, but this was ridiculous. At the time I put it down to the start of the terrible twos – even though my mum says that isn’t a real thing and is made up by the media (she gives me, as someone in the media, the look when she says it).

And then I suddenly had one of those: “Waaaait a minute” thoughts.

I’d seen this behaviour before and it was right before we cut wheat and gluten out of her diet. What if she wasn’t just REALLY REALLY angry that her dad had treated her to a Frozen sticker book which she DID NOT WANT which meant kicking off in the middle of the supermarket and for the following 40 minutes to the point she was shaking with rage even after the offending book was taken away? What if it was actually something in her food that was making her a bit crazy?

I was loath to go down that route and, yes, it has something to do with the way people look at me when I say she is intolerant to certain things but also because I really want her to have what they call a “more normalised diet”. I want her to be able to go to parties and eat the food without me panicking, for us to be able to go out for a family meal and not have to take her food with us or when she eyes up something on my plate, to be able to give it to her to try.

However, after about five weeks of her behaviour gradually getting worse and sleep all but disappearing as her intake increased, I felt it might be worth a shot. And, what do you know, she’s been clear of it for just over a week and, touch wood, we haven’t had an epic mega meltdown since and her sleeping is getting back to where it was. My generally happy girl has returned and we just have the normal huffs of toddler-hood which are more than manageable.

Obviously I don’t know that it’s wheat or gluten, it could any one of the things they add to our food these days, although I did do a bit of research once she came off it and apparently it is thought that gluten can cause behavioural issues. My mind was blown.

Before having Freya I didn’t pay much attention to what I ate, although as a veggie I don’t think my diet was too bad. I had a vague notion that maybe e-numbers could be a bit iffy and I didn’t want her eating too much sugar but now I have to read every single label three times my eyes have well and truly been opened to all the additives.

So for now, after taking to the experts, she will remain free-from and perhaps we will give it another go in the future – hopefully after she is also over the terrible twos too.

Has anyone had any experience of this as a child or adult? Do you watch what you eat?

  • I’m not suggesting that people should randomly start cutting things out of their children’s diet. We work closely with a dietician and are under the care of a consultant with regular check ups to make sure she is ok. It’s also worth noting that to test for problems wheat and gluten have to be present in the system. I’ve written this post just to highlight our story in case anyone is going through something similar.

19 thoughts on “Can diet affect a child’s behaviour?”

  1. It is really eye opening the things that food can cause and be responsible for, even foods we think are healthy or good for you! I know I generally feel bloated from bread most of the time, but I just put up with it because I love bread, but to think it was affecting my mood. Actually I know when I lived on my own and my diet was probably at it’s worst, I ate lots of processed foods, couldn’t be bothered to cook (I like to cook for people, bit boring just for myself), I ate a lot of stodge and carbs…I felt grim! I was lethargic and miserable. As soon as I snapped out of it and attempted to get healthier, and ate healthier that all lifted and I felt loads better!

    What does Freya’s dietitian think about low gluten wheat free grains like spelt? Now I make my own breads I don’t feel quite so bloaty and I do notice the difference if I start eating processed bread.
    Well at least you noticed an obvious change so you could pin-point the culprit, it’s just a shame it does have that effect 😦


    1. The change in her, both on and off it, has been amazing. Everyone who spends time with her has noticed and had their eyes opened. The dietician has not really been that helpful to be honest. All the way along I’ve had to find foods she can have. I must look into spelt. Thanks for commenting. I hope you’re doing ok. Loving your header designs!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your next! 😉 I’m going to try and send you an email later, need a few specifics, got a good idea!

        I think dieticians can be a bit fixed in their views, so you are probably best trusting your own instincts and evidence and then when you feel comfortable try experimenting with specific ingredients to see if there is a change. It’s just not very nice that Freya has to suffer the mood swings, etc whilst trying different foods. Glad she’s good now 😉


      2. Ooh really? I’d love that, thank you!

        Yes, our initial dietician said food wouldn’t have caused any of her problems. I think they have so many patients and paperwork they just can’t give everyone the attention they need, especially if they are generally healthy like Freya.


  2. I’m gutted for you that she has to stay free from for now. It must be quite restricting for you. Still it’s better than her feeling miserable (and showing it! 😉 ) Hopefully she’ll be able to try again when her system is more mature.
    When our children were younger I cooked everything fresh, we were all very healthy and had very little processed in the house. Despite all eating fabulously when small we do have a certain pickiness now we are older and even more annoyingly they all like very different things. Factor in clubs, activities and driving about and to my disgust we eat a lot of convenience food these days. Oh and I have completely lost the love for cooking, especially when they all eat so differently. Argh!
    I think I just need to move in with Mands!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think moving in with Mands is the best option for everyone (apart from maybe her..and Tom…and Mac). Having one fussy eater is bad enough, I wouldn’t cope with three. They’d live on cereal (I don’t know why I’m saying that as if it’s wrong) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Only one is really fussy, the girls both eat wonderfully but just completely different diets. One’s all about the meat and carbs, the other is all about vegetables, salad, nuts and seeds. The boy is all about fish fingers!
        I’m also quite rubbish at getting to the supermarket, they declined my offer of cereal last night so I actually had to go to the shop! Ha!


      2. I’m fine with being everyone’s catering slave 😀 Haa! Nah, I love nothing more than cooking up lots of grub for people 😉 Just watch me have really picky children now…they’ll be big trouble if they are, I’m not having that 😀

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I have experience with this! I usually eat Paleo because of it.

    D had some terrible problems a few months back. We switched him to my version of Paleo and he was doing better in three days. Every time we reintroduce, we’re reminded why we stopped in the first place


    1. I just find it amazing that food can have such an impact. Freya was like a different child. I’m glad you’ve worked out the issue with D too. Do you have any problems finding food he can and will eat?


      1. He ate a lot of Paleo with me before, so he doesn’t reject too many foods. The big struggle is with his lunchtime fat source; it’s between olives, avocado and nuts, and some days, he doesn’t want any of these. Also, in the first week or two eating Paleo, he does a lot more asking for treats. It does pass!


  4. I saw a huge difference when I cut refined sugar out of my son’s diet. I realised that he really hadn’t been able to manage his moods, and that must be such an unpleasant feeling. I think I might be sensitive to sugar to – I get a real feeling of being physically and mentally uncomfortable in my skin if I eat too much of it.
    There’s other things that I wonder about – the winter I was diagnosed with depression, I was on a low carb diet, and I later read that there might be a link between low carb and low mood.
    Freya is fortunate that you made the link, and were able to respond to her whole being in finding the right diet. Good luck with introducing new stuff.


    1. I agree about the unpleasant feeling, even at two she was so sad after a meltdown, it exhausted her. I’m glad you made the link too (for both of you). I am still amazed that it could make such a difference.


    1. Thank you, I just feel sorry for her because she wants to eat different things and doesn’t really understand why she can’t. It could be much worse though so I’m thankful that’s her only problem.


  5. Have you seen fabresearch? (fab standing for food and behaviour?) They have a newsletter highlighting new research on this area, and various resources. I’ve skimmed through and they seem pretty well referenced etc. My entire family is full of such issues so we’re veterans at this game. Totally with you on food changing behaviour… Not just in children…!


    1. I haven’t heard of that. I’m going to Google it now. A whole new world has opened up since Freya was diagnosed. Would you say you’re managing your family’s issues now? I still feel like we’re a bit clueless.


      1. Sorry, I’ve just got a new phone and realised that my old one wasn’t telling me about comments/replies ! We don’t have dramatic allergies here but various generations in my family find life is very different if we avoid various things. Makes us very awkward to invite for dinner but does mean we can do stuff like earn a living…! There’s a lot more awareness around these days so although it’s bewildering at first it’ll get easier. And you never know , you might be one of the lucky ones if she grows out of it 🙂


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