Treating a Child’s ADHD Through Diet (Part I)

Though I usually advocate baby steps as a means to adopt a healthier lifestyle, sometimes more drastic measures are required. When serious medical issues afflict us or our children, skipping the chips may not do the trick.

I recently interviewed Samantha, mother of two, whose 8-year old child was diagnosed with ADHD. After eighteen months of disillusionment with medication, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Read Part I of Samantha’s amazing story of treating ADHD through diet. Click here to read Par

How did you know your son Mark had ADHD?

Mark began daycare when he was 19-months old. He was our first child and we felt he was perfect in every way.  Ever since his first year in daycare, however, we received complaints about his inability to sit still, listen, participate in group activities and follow instructions. At first, we thought it might just be the inexperience of the daycare provider (most looked like they were 20 and didn’t have kids).  We couldn’t believe that anyone would have a problem with our perfect baby boy.

We changed daycares, and the next one had the same problem.

We relocated him again, and still had the same problem.  We discussed the issue with his pediatrician but were told he was a typical boy- – too young to be diagnosed with having any attention problem.

Mark was enrolled in his fourth daycare as a kindergartener when he turned five.  Soon after he started, Mark’s teacher and school principal requested a meeting with me and suggested I have him tested for ADHD. They said they had experience with children with similar issues as Mark and thought testing was a good idea.

What was the doctor’s diagnosis?

I took him back to his original pediatrician for an official evaluation, and was told that even though he was still young, his attention and energy were “off the chart” compared to where he should be. They recommended two different options for medication.

My husband and I are not medication takers, so we did not feel comfortable about the recommendation at all. We sought a second opinion from a pediatrician who specialized in ADHD and were given the same diagnosis.

Neither pediatrician made any mention of diet.

How did Mark respond to the medication?

The next 18 months were more than an emotional roller coaster; they were hell!  We tried several different medications, different dosages of each, all at Mark’s expense.  The side effects from the medication were extensive. He did not gain a single pound from the time we put him on medication until we decided to take him off (18 months later). He couldn’t sleep, complained about constant stomach pain, was always dehydrated, would wake up screaming from nightmares, saying he wanted to kill himself and that everyone hated him. These words were never anything I imagined I would hear from my child’s mouth, especially at the age of 5 and 6.

One minute he’d be contented, the next moment crying. His behavior was completely unpredictable.

We enrolled him in Taekwondo to help him gain self control, but it was difficult because he was irritable in the afternoon after the medication wore off. If we gave him a second dose of medication before the class, he would be too slow to follow instructions and understand what was happening around him.

What happened next?

His school liked him on medication.  He would sit in class and stay out of everyone’s way.  However, when we asked him what happened that day, what he ate for lunch, what he learned or with whom he played, he always answered, “I don’t remember.”  We stuck to his treatment plan, because we had faith in our pediatrician.

Then one day, there was a school play that my husband and I both left work early to attend. After the play ended, we greeted Mark and he looked at us as if he didn’t know who we were.

That day, we informed the school that we were Mark taking off medication and attempting a new approach.  They supported our decision for one day! After that, his teacher was unable to cope with his questions in class and asked us to keep him on the medication until the school year was over (in a month and a half).

We said no. The following year, we changed schools and repeated first grade at Mark’s request.  He said he was afraid he wasn’t ready for the second grade, and we supported his decision.

What was your new approach?

My mother gave me a few books about an alternative way to treat ADHD through diet, and that’s how it all got started. (The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution: A Drug-Free 30 Day Plan, ADD/ADHD Drug Free: Natural Alternatives and Practical Exercises to Help Your Child Focus, Dr. Bob’s Guide to Stop ADHD in 18 Days). Basically, the books offered a non-medical way to treat my son’s ADHD and made me really rethink all of the food I was buying, from top to bottom.

I threw everything away and started fresh.  We eliminated all processed foods, juices from concentrate, foods and drinks containing high fructose corn syrup and red dye, and filled our kitchen with all natural, organically grown food.  We did not avoid gluten, but I did decide at that time to make our own bread and pastas from scratch. If a recipe called for sugar, I’d use agave nectar instead. Sometimes when baking, I would substitute with applesauce or another fruit.

Once I got over my fear of not following my written recipes, I began having fun creating our own home recipes and teaching the kids how to cook with whatever natural ingredients we already had. I now look at our mealtimes as a creative adventure with all good, wholesome food.

Part II contains more information about Mark’s healthy diet, its affect on the family, and how they make it work, despite challenges.

Note: The names in this interview have been changed per privacy request of interviewee.

Melinda Hinson