‘Cutting out junk food improved my son’s ADHD’
Posted on 19 December 2016
Brandy Massam found that changing her son’s diet improved his school performance and behaviour almost immediately.
Brandy Massam has two adopted children, Dylan (9) and Leia (4). Dylan was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) four years ago, leaving Brandy unsure about which treatment option to choose. But a chance encounter with red food colouring led her to eliminate junk food from Dylan’s diet. He resisted at first, but the results were overwhelmingly positive.
‘We adopted Dylan in 2007 when he was a bouncing five-month-old baby boy,’ Brandy remembers. ‘In our eyes he was perfect. He exuded such zest for life and was an extremely happy, easy-going baby. He loved doing puzzles and when he got bored, he’d turn them over and build them that way – no puzzle was too difficult!’
But at age two, Dylan’s preschool teachers started raising concerns about his behaviour and his inability to sit still during story time. Just before he turned three, he started playschool. ‘He became noticeably more active and going out was a nightmare – he’d always run away from us,’ says Brandy. ‘His speech wasn’t good even though he was already five. The year he turned six, he was diagnosed with ADHD. This didn’t surprise us. I’d always suspected that he had ADHD, so I didn’t find the diagnosis difficult. It was more like closure for me.’
After his first six weeks in Grade R, Dylan’s teacher contacted Brandy to say they needed to discuss his behaviour. He was crawling under the desks during class time and doing cartwheels during story time. The meeting was set for the following week, but before they could get together, a chance encounter led the Massams to scrutinise Dylan’s diet.
Finding the link between food and ADHD
‘He’d been for a playdate at a friend’s house and they had eaten red ice lollies. Dylan complained of stomach pain and before he could make it to the toilet he had an accident. I decided to look into whether he perhaps had an allergy to red food colouring. I found a wealth of information about ADHD and diet and we started making changes,’ says Brandy. ‘We cut out additives and gluten. We found that all artificial colourings cause a problem – not only the red additive.’
‘I was totally honest with Dylan and explained to him that if he wanted to do well in school he had to trust me. There were times when he begged for things that he was not allowed, but I always made sure I had alternatives to offer him. For example, if we went to a party, I would pack a “special” party pack for him. Our daughter Leia does not always follow the same diet as Dylan but she knows she must not eat anything in front of Dylan which he can’t eat.’
Dylan is doing well. His teachers are happy with his personal, social and work skills – areas where children with ADHD battle, according to Brandy. And as he grows older, he’s starting to do his own research into healthy food choices.
Brandy believes that ADHD must be viewed holistically. ‘Lifestyle changes keep your child healthy and functioning at an optimum level, with medication there only if necessary. If you choose the lifestyle modification route, then you need to stick to it with dedication for at least six months before you’ll experience the full benefits. In the beginning, it is time-consuming to read every label in the supermarket, but you will soon get to know the various options and find plenty of products your child can eat,’ she says.
Brandy has released a self-published book based on her and her son’s experience with food and ADHD.