How Food Sensitivities Affect Behavior

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » 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!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


51 responses to “How Food Sensitivities Affect Behavior”

  1. Sara Avatar

    I eliminated gluten and dairy from my daughter’s diet, and she is a new kid. Sleeping better, less tired during the day, better social skills and calmer demeanor. I suggest any one with a child with any kind of sleep issues or behaviorial concerns look at their diets first. My daughter wouldn’t make it in school without this diet, I’m sure of it.

  2. Trish Avatar

    Hi there
    After having severe learning diffiuclites and massive problems with focus and concentration, I have just changed my daughters (age 7) diet, taking away gluten and sugar, I have also added essential oils through a diffuser in her room at night (vetiver and frankincense) – it has only been two days, but she has woken both nights with night tremors and has also wet herself. She has also been very short tempered and easily agitated, as an adult these are some of the systems I have felt when giving up coffee, sugar or alcohol, do you think she is just going through detox, or should I have not cut everything out at once? Feeling a bit lost at how best to tackle this naturally.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      That is so tough. I have heard of kids having this reaction when changing diet and I would think it should pass, but certainly talk to her doc if you are concerned or any of her symptoms are severe.

    2. Danielle Avatar

      Try stopping the oils at night. My son had night terrors whenever we diffused oils at night. When we stopped the oils the terrors stopped too. Sounds wacky but it worked for us.

  3. Jen Avatar

    With my second son, he had just started sleeping through the night at a year, when all the sudden he was back to waking up multiple times, and on top of that, had started having meltdowns where he’d completely lose control over the smallest things (at 12 months!) Honestly, there was a school shooting right around that time and I remember thinking, is this how those kids started out?? It was scary. I got to thinking it all started right around the time I started giving him dairy, and no kidding, he was a completely different kid after just two days without it! 5 years later, I can still tell when something sneaks through because he’ll just lose control so easily. We’ve done a couple rounds of elimination diets over the last 5 years, and while I’ve gone GF for energy and brain fog, it doesn’t seem to affect him. We’ve cut waaaay back on regular consumption though. I wish everyone would know that foods can have this effect!!!! I hurt for the kids who don’t have a chance….!!

  4. Chris Avatar

    I’m curious about whether any of you noticed unusual stools in your kids who had behavioral issues that were improved with a gf df diet.

  5. Laura Avatar

    My son was born with a multitude of health problems, including an omphalocele and bladder extrophy. That omphalocele was repaired at birth, but he wound up with short bowel syndrome after an impaired surgeon literally butchered my son. From that point, he was on IV nutrition for 8 years until we lost all veins to feed him with. He was 8 years old and 22 pounds. He was dying in front of my eyes, starving to death. I started feeding him small amounts of medical formula every half hour, which fortunately worked. I figured out a concoction of “No Salt” (potassium), salt, baking soda, and sugar that kept his electrolytes stable – I add this to his formula everyday. Long story longer, he is incredibly sensitive to foods and his behavior goes wild when he’s gotten something that doesn’t agree with him. It’s a little scary how much food can affect him! On another note, I want you to know how grateful I am for this website. You’ve helped me help my son and that means the world to me. I’ve been able to make things for him from your recipes that have cleared up problems (like rashes from laundry detergent) The more “natural” I go, the better he seems to do. Unfortunately, there’s a limit for us. His medical formula is not what I’d consider such a great thing, but it did save his life, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much (corn syrup solids is the first ingredient – knock me over!) I wish I could make a formula for him and ditch this junk, but …I’m afraid. If you happen to have any suggestions about formula, I’d be very-very interested. Thank you so much for all that you’ve put out here! You’ve not only helped me and my son, you’ve made it FUN to do it!

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