Parents told me about children who had never slept through a night in their whole three years who slept normally when put on the additive free low salicylate diet. They even checked they were alive because they were so still when asleep! Some parents reported children sitting still really playing with a toy when they had never sat still for a moment in their short lives. I remember the child who used to run across the back yard and bounce off the fence then back across the year and bounce off the other side for up to 30 minutes! Other parents were amazed when their children were still when asleep with just their heads showing above their blankets rather than wide awake at dawn with all blankets, sheets and pillows all in a confused heap and child on the go like a wound up spring! Small children often responded to diet in around seven days, and had quite severe reactions when someone gave a diet responder some brightly coloured food.
I met these parents as they were referred for a diet trial. They were keen to meet each other and were so relieved to meet other parents who had similar problems to deal with. They formed support groups and exchanged new information as it became known. An additional finding was the knowledge that diet responding children were very fussy eaters.
The diet information I was first given was on a tiny section of a scientific journal page, just a short comment with a list of do’s and don’t’s. I then found a wonderful elderly Sydney dietitian, Joan Woodhill, (who was probably nearly as old as I am now!) who had more detail from USA where the idea of a role of diet in hyperactivity was spreading like wild-fire!
Because there was no information about the diet for doctors, or for dietitians, they were understandably not supportive. Neither were the food industry where companies were competing with each other to provide the most flavoursome food. So there were many changes in cooking for those who saw improvement on diet. Families could no longer using heaps of brightly coloured biscuits, ice creams, lollies, flavours in milks, lots of tangy fruit. It is amazing to think why we never noticed the effect additives were having but it was the fruit, and herbs and spices too. At that time young dietitians like me were emphasizing not giving babies sugar in their first year and minimally in small children after that.
Many people were not happy and scolded me, and parents on the diet, for denying their children the usual birthday and treat foods. I shifted from being an admired bright young member of my profession to someone practicing what many thought was unprofessional behaviour.
The senior food technologists in the big food companies in Australia were very curious and amazingly cooperative. I was able to build up a commercial food list suitable for the diet. The diet was hard on young mothers who had entered a phase where convenient foods were available, but fortunately foods with less additives were easier to find. Most mothers were home full-time so were able to cook food from scratch.
It is interesting to note what was important to write in my first diet manual back in 1977. Articles include managing the child after diet reactions which could last up to eight days, managing withdrawal (worsening of symptoms) which we had not expected, cravings which did occur, encouraging fussy children to eat well. I am pleased to note that even then I was encouraging the testing for tolerance of individual foods. I called it “cribbing on the diet” so was suggesting gradual change in amounts. I mentioned the role of allergies, and wrote about supersensitivity to texture, temperature and taste. Perhaps because everything was so new and amazing I was really investigating all the changes that happened.
You can read more of this interesting story including what was being found in various centres around the world in Masters Thesis and in my first book for families: Are You Food sensitive? In a way what I and other research dietitians have found is not lost that initial amazement but we have become more sure of what is going on in food sensitive people.