How Food Affects Behavior: “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them”
Theology aside, there is a lot we can learn about food from children. As I have posted before, it is really important to teach them about making healthy food choices, but it is also really important to learn from them.
Yesterday I posted about becoming more aware of how food affects your body and your behavior. Kids are really, really good at this. They just do not have barriers up to hide them from themselves.
In fact, some foods affect kids approximately twice as much as they affect adults.* These effects show themselves in the way kids behave.
Unfortunately, most adults have built up a life-long resistance to the way certain foods affect them. This makes it harder for us to notice or understand their impacts. You see, the more of these things that we eat, the more we must eat in order to feel their effects. Thus it is that you can see a long-time coffee drinker have four or five cups in the morning but not shake, jitter, or buzz in the least bit, but you see someone like my husband, who never touches the stuff, drink one cup of coffee in the afternoon and be up buzzing for the entire night. Children react to all kinds of food the way my husband does to coffee – they have no resistance.
Try to pay close attention to the children in your life. Watch how food affects their behavior and see if you can notice any correlation to your own. You may learn something!
It is also really important to watch children and the impact food has on their behavior because this is one way we can help them.
Once we have determined how food affects behavior, we can make the conscious decision to change how we eat in order to change behavior. For our children, we can change how they are eating in order to change their behavior.
I have frequently observed, for instance, other peoples’ children acting totally wild. They run amok, break things, and generally go wild. Then I notice the parents bribing them to behave better by offering them treats, like candy bars or bowls of sugary cereal. This creates a vicious cycle. The extreme highs and lows created by the sugar make the child go wild. When the child gets out of control, the parent bribes them to act more calmly by distracting them with something sugary. And the cycle continues, with the child’s wild behavior constantly being both fueled and reinforced by sweets.
Sugar is by far the most common food element we can identify as affecting kids’ behavior, but many children are exposed to a plethora of other influences as well. Some kids are made drowsy by eating foods high in tryptophan. Other kids will also act out and be wild when they have foods containing caffeine, such as chocolates or coffee.
But don’t be fooled – it’s not only sweets that affect kids’ behavior. Simple carbohydrates like white flour can do the exact same thing within the body.
By watching our kids’ behaviors and developing an awareness of how each type of food affects each child, we can improve our kids’ behaviors simply by changing what they eat! In the coming posts I will include comments about how certain types of foods will affect our kids’ behaviors. In the meantime, build up an awareness about what is affecting your child and how.