Thursday, March 17, 2011

Behavior & Diet: Allergy Symptom or Quirk?

When I tell people that my son, William, doesn't eat grains or dairy (among other things), people often assume he has been diagnosed with allergies by a doctor. This is not the case. Firstly, he doesn't eat the above foods because I don't, and since I'm primarily responsible for preparing meals, everyone in our house eats what I eat! But more importantly, I removed these foods because of my own observations of William's symptoms. A common misconception about allergies or food sensitivities is that the symptoms are respiratory. But, they can also affect our skin, our digestive tract, and our behavior. Some of William's symptoms included:
  • A red, sandpaper-like rash
  • Dry, scaly, itchy skin
  • Burn-like rash around the bum
  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
Outward bodily symptoms are easier to spot, while behavioral symptoms are much more subjective. When I tell people about the behavioral changes I noticed in William after removing grains and dairy (you can read more about his symptoms here), I always get the sense that people feel I'm mistaking my child's quirkiness for something more. But, I think we often discredit mothers everywhere with their intuitive ability to know their child, and to know when behavior has strayed away from its norm. Allergy related behavioral symptoms can be subtle, and because they are connected with diet, may change from meal to meal, day to day, week to week. It can be hard to see a pattern, especially in children as they learn to deal with and express new emotions.

A great book, Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, refers to a child's quirkiness as more of a scale or spectrum, and I like that idea. Environmental stress - including diet - can quickly amplify a quirk into a behavioral problem. And that, in my opinion, is how we should be looking at the diet-behavior connection in our children when evaluating symptoms of food allergies.

If you suspect that you or someone in your family is suffering from food sensitivities, but aren't sure what constitutes a symptom, take a look at the chart below:

A great resource for common food allergy symptoms can be found on Dr. Sear's website here. Also, an interesting read that looks at the connection between child behavior and diet is The Crazy Makers, by Carol Simontacchi.

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