How Food Sensitivities Affect Behavior


Note from Katie: Please welcome Sylvie McCracken, author of The Gelatin Secret, for this guest post on how diet can affect children’s behavior and how she reversed behavior issues with dietary changes. Enter Sylvie…

This is Sofia’s Story

Sofia is the 2nd of my 3 kids and is turning 5 years old this month. She is a happy little girl who loves learning to spell short words and run around with her 3 and a half year old brother and copy whatever her 15 year old sister is doing. She is strong and often lifts up her brother for fun although they weigh almost the same.

A few years ago, Sofia was not this happy and strong. In fact she was almost impossible. Impossible to reason with; impossible to get to cooperate; and quite frankly, exhausting to parent.

Before you dismiss this notion based on the terrible twos (or ones or threes for that matter), just know that I have three kids so this mama can handle a little terrible twos, no problem. Bring it. But this was way more than that. I used to jokingly tell my husband we needed to call the exorcist. (Make that half jokingly.)

When I first switched to a grain free diet to resolve my long list of health issues, I did so alone. My husband thought I was nuts until he realized I was feeling so much better after just a couple of weeks and starting to lose an insane amount of weight without limiting my portions or exercising much (65 lbs and counting). It wasn’t until I started reading the literature on how diet affects our neurotransmitters and brain that I started thinking that maybe changing Sofia’s diet would help! I didn’t want to get my hopes up. My husband is the one that is home with them all day since they’re unschooled I simply suggested we try getting rid of gluten and dairy (two of the most common food sensitivities) for 30 days and see what happens.

When we started this experiment, Sofia’s diet was what I then considered to be “healthy”. We bought organic as much as possible, including our grains and dairy, which were 2 of the food groups she loved the most.

Of course if you’re going to change a toddler’s diet (Sofia was almost 3 years old when we did this), it’s going to be very difficult if the family is eating something else so we just did it for the entire household.

The Test:

Remove gluten and casein (the protein in dairy) for 30 days to see what happens.

We didn’t switch them to eating organ meats, bone broth and vegetables right away but rather just swapped out pasta with gluten free pasta and had it less often while incorporating new meats and vegetables into the repertoire. They inspected the food at first and did a bit of grumbling… but they ate it.

Rinse and repeat for 30 days… except that a couple of weeks into it there was no doubt Sofia was a new person. We were never going back.

Over the following weeks we transitioned more and more healthy, nutrient dense foods into their diet and continued transitioning out the less nutrient dense foods like the gluten free grains we’d been relying on. They still love some gluten free pizza on occasion but when we eat at home which is most of the time, we try to make up for lost time by sneaking in the most nutrient dense stuff we can find and making sure they to include plenty of gut healing, bone building broth which they love.

I never intentionally reintroduced gluten into Sofia’s diet. I was curious as to what would happen but I knew inevitably I’d find out eventually. Sure enough, she managed to sneak a few bites of a cupcake at a party and the disaster ensued shortly after: vomiting within a few hours and exorcist worthy behavior for the next 3 days.

Do I think going gluten free is going to cure all behavior disorders from ADD to Sensory Processing Disorder?

Probably not. But will it improve the symptoms even just a little? It’s certainly worth 30 days of extra time in the kitchen to find out. Gluten is not a food group and you’re certainly not going to give your child a grain deficiency by depriving him or her from their beloved cereal for a few weeks.

3 Tips for Making Diet Changes for 30 Days

There are several things you can do to help make a diet transition easier.

1. Start Slowly

Swap out one meal at a time if that’s easier and let them adjust. Just switching from pasta to gluten free pasta is a great start. Experiment with new foods and you might be surprised at what they end up loving. My toddlers love dipping artichokes in ghee for instance and now eat sardines out of a can! A few years ago it was cereal for breakfast, a quesadilla for lunch and pasta for dinner.

2. Run Out

If you don’t want them to eat it, don’t buy it. Chances are your kids are not the ones doing the grocery shopping. If they’re used to snacking maybe they’d love these delicious tangerine gummies or some kale chips or macadamia nuts. You can play short order cook if you’d like but trust me, that will get old pretty quickly.

3. Hold Your Ground

If you’re ready to make changes and you believe the food they’re currently eating is not what is best for them then say no, and stick to it just like you do in other parenting scenarios that are not negotiable (running into the street, seat belts on in the car, teeth brushing, etc). Our kids definitely noticed each change we made. Some days we got a mini hissy fit. Other days we were boycotted. Other days we got a full on kicking-on-the-floor fit (which, of course, we filmed for blackmailing later in life). 🙂

Thirty days will be over before you know it and it will likely change the way you view food forever. Happier kids are not a bad bonus either. 🙂

If this experiment seems daunting and you could use some hand holding throughout the process, check out my ebook, The Paleo Survival Guide: Getting Started with Paleo. With chapters on how to transition your toddlers, your teenagers and spouse; how to eat real food on the go and while traveling, sleep optimization and exercise and many recipes to get you started right away it is sure to help you get on the right track.

If you have teenagers you’re hoping to transition to a healthier diet this interview with my teen on her perspective on paleo may be helpful to you.

About the author: Sylvie McCracken is a celebrity personal assistant and mom of 3 by day, paleo enthusiast and author by night. She and husband, Eric, each lost over 65 lbs with paleo and continue to improve their family’s health with food and lifestyle tweaks. She blogs at

Has your children’s behavior been affected by food sensitivities? How did you deal with it? Share below!

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