Monday, March 05, 2007

The Sugar Sensitive Child

On Saturday the Boy had an incident. On Thursday morning we also had an incident, there was a brief one on Monday as well. Monday and Thursday’s incidents were occasioned by the fact the Boy hadn’t yet gotten himself breakfast even though it was 9am already and he rises between 7 and 7:30am. On Saturday it was because his great grandparents arrived with lunch and nasty packaged cookies and donuts. I let him have one of each after lunch because it was still Shabbat and so treats are technically allowed. Allow me to describe the scene that followed.

Half an hour after eating Boy comes in crying, not just regular crying, deep chest shaking sobs are erupting out of him, hiccups and belches and incoherent sentences accompany this crying. We find out what’s going on that’s upsetting him. (The bigger kids want him to stop jumping on the trampoline for a minute so that they can mark lines with duct tape for a game they have planned.) We send him back out with a solution to try. He returns a minute later sobbing as though the entire weight of the world is upon his tiny little shoulders. He proceeds to sob and hiccup and wail for a good half an hour. People, this is not fake crying, which he often likes to do, this is not his regular response to not getting his way or being thwarted, this is apocalyptic crying that just doesn’t stop. He will go on like this for hours.

We are experienced at dealing with this sort of thing now, so we let him cry, though still expecting him to comply with our directions, and without lecture or judgment we cut up some cheese and offer it to him. (Cheese has protein and fat and no sugar so it’s a good thing to throw at a brain that’s in severe chemical flux because of blood sugar, it helps to release one of the relaxing chemicals in the brain seretonin I think but don’t quote me, which is why a heavy meal of starch and cheese and meat will put you to sleep. Yogurt will be better, but it’s harder to coax a 5 year old to eat yogurt when he’s bawling his eyes out and you don’t want it spilled.)

Eventually he manages to gain control over himself to start munching on the cheese hiccupping and choking back sobs as he chews. Ten minutes or so go by. He is now quiet though still tormented looking. After another 15 minutes of sitting on the couch we ask him how he’s doing. He gives us a sunny smile and tells us he feels fine and with a quick, “Thanks mom” and a hug he runs off to play. The day is without further incidents as we make sure that dinner is early.

This ladies and gentlemen is why I keep my child’s sugar intake as low as I can. I have at least one sugar sensitive child and he has a fast metabolism so the results are easy to observe. My mother in law thinks I’m a little obsessive about it, though she respects my wishes in it. That is until Saturday, the meltdown happened at her house and she got to watch it and it’s resolution, and I think she gets it now.

I am sharing this because it may help some other parents out there who have children prone to inexplicable meltdowns and long bouts of sadness. In my child these go on indefinitely, unless I can get him to eat something that will help.

So if you have a child who is prone to this type of behaviour, who seems like Jekyll and Hyde, it may help to track their eating for a while, and notice the timing of such episodes as they are related to diet. Look for episodes that follow on the heels of recent sugar intakes, especially without meals or with meals that are low in protein and fiber, and long stretches of time without food. I’ve met a lot of children who have obvious, to me but I know where to look, sugar sensitivities. Their parents are often baffled, perplexed, confused and helpless in the face of these meltdowns. It won’t kill your child to give them less sugar and experiment with diet to see if that is one of the factors, in fact it’s good for them even if that isn’t the ultimate solution.

I hope this helps.


a. borealis said...

Wow - how did you first discover this? Did you know about sugar sensitivities before him, or is it something you learned after him? Please share!

Carrien said...

I was already aware of these types of reactions before I had children. I am hypoglycemic and my husband is borderline hypoglycemic. We don't allow ourselves to have an important discussion without eating properly first. It's saved our marriage.

I started watching the boy as he would have meltdowns and realized that he was acting exactly the same way I did when I was little and had low blood sugar episodes, so I started paying attention to what he had eaten to see if there was a relationship and sure enough there was. I'm quite certain that if I hadn't discovered it he would be one of those "difficult" children who has mood swings all the time for no apparent reason. I think avoiding processed foods helps as werll.

a. borealis said...

Interesting...that makes sense. That is really good that you were able to detect it so early. I can imagine that saved a lot of damage on everyone's part.

So basically, you make sure he has eaten frequently enough, in addition to the quality of food he eats. Right? Anything else?

The reason why I'm so interested is that while I don't believe I'm hypoglycemic (after reading about it), I am extremely dependent on food for my emotional/mental state. Eating 3 big meals a day just doesn't work for me -- I need to have continuous small meals. It took awhile to realize that about myself and based on genetics, I want to watch for the same thing in my child(ren).

Thanks for the info!

Carrien said...

Yes, basically we make sure he eats good food frequently. We have a snack in between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner so he goes a maximum of three hours in between eating. (I can always tell if I forgot, the mini meltdowns start acomin' to warn me we are headed for disaster.) Every meal/snack has some protein in it and is balanced to keep his insulin levels steady. I think I will post some snack ideas next. Stay posted.

Michelle Bretschneider said...

We have these same issues with our son. I didn't put two and two together until we were at our naturopath and within minutes of eating a gummy vitamin, that she was testing for him, he went spastic. Jumping around, not listening just out of control behavior. My naturopath gave me a look and said, see how sensitive he is to sugar? It just hadn't occured to me.
Now after reading your post I see that how often he gets his meals is important as well. I can sit here and think of example after example of how his behavior is terrible and when I think about his meals surrounding the behavior, there usually aren't any. I will definetly be more faithful in making sure he is getting meals at regular intervals and seeing if behavior improves.
Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

With our daughter, it's not the sugar but the artificial colors and flavors. Each child is different and it may take careful monitoring to discover which trigger is causing the behavior. I would never have believed behavior could be so affected by what we eat unless I had lived through parenting our daughter.

AuPairMama said...

The internet being timeless please excuse the very late comment but I just wanted to chime in that our daughter even responds to the sugar in fruit. We can't give her grapes if we need her to be sane.

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