My husband and I have had a lot of conversations about my daughter’s behavior and disposition lately. We both agree that it has improved immensely and we’re really enjoying spending time with her. The only thing we don’t agree on is how to explain the recent improvement.

I, of course, believe my daughter is doing better because of the changes we’ve made in what she eats. It’s been about three weeks and while I know we can’t be sure yet if the diet has really made the difference, it’s absolutely what I’m attributing it to. It’s too much of coincidence that her attitude and behavior turned around so significantly at exactly the time we started eliminating additives and adding magnesium, especially considering she’s been managing the stressful transition to Kindergarten, which I expected would make her more irritable and more easily upset.

My husband remains unconvinced. He thinks there are any number of possible causes for the turn around: she had anxiety about starting Kindergarten that has dissipated now that she finally started; she is going through one of her “good” cycles, possibly following a rough couples of months of rapid cognitive development; her brother is developing his own interests, affording her more space; she is settling into a routine after the random weeks of summer (our daughter has always done better with a solid routine). While my husband absolutely believes the diet and supplement are a part of the improvement, he thinks they are merely one piece in a series of moving parts.

This has been very frustrating for me.

And finally, last night, I figured out why.

The thing is, my husband’s explanation is a reasonable one. In fact, it may be considerably more reasonable than my own. It certainly is more conservative and measured, and it makes quite a bit of sense. There is a reason my husband studied law–he is good at arguing his case and he appreciates the importance of solid evidence.

Solid evidence is something I don’t have. And yet I choose to believe anyway. I choose to believe because if I think all this is helping it makes it easier to do all the hard work. I choose to believe because it feels good to think I’m helping my daughter.

I choose to believe because it gives me a feeling of control.

And that, in the end, is what it comes down to. I want to think the diet and the supplement are making the difference because I can keep eliminating additives and mixing magnesium into my daughter’s warm milk. I want to think this is all making the difference because then I can ensure things will keep getting better, or at least stay as good as they are now.

If it’s other things, a more elusive convergence of the situational and developmental, I have no control. I can’t ensure that my daughter won’t wake up one morning angry and upset, ready to meltdown or become aggressive at the slightest provocation. If the diet isn’t the causal force of all this good, I can’t guarantee that this new reality I love so much won’t evaporate in a puff of smoke.

I need that control. I’m desperate for it. Things are so much better than they’ve ever been, and I’m terrified it’s not going to last. If I think I’m doing something to cause these positive changes then I can continue doing something to ensure the positive changes don’t stop.

My husband and I had a good talk about all this last night, and I appreciate better understanding why it frustrated me so much that he didn’t attribute the improvements to the changes we made. Recognizing how terrified I am of losing this amazing version of my little girl, and understanding how desperate I am to ensure it doesn’t happen, is an important step.

I hope, moving forward, I can remain impartial in my recording of my daughter’s behavior, and be sensible in my interpretations of what might be causing any anomalous outbursts. A level-head can only help me moving forward, and I can only have one if I learn to accept my fear instead of allowing it to get the best of me.

And if I can’t, I hope my husband less emotional, more prudent interpretation can anchor me.

Have you even chose to believe something because doing so afforded you control (or the illusion of it)? How do you accept how little control we actually have?


  1. I’m glad you posted this. I haven’t commented on any of the posts about your daughter’s new diet, because I was afraid it was just your New Big Thing Thar Will Fix Everything. Like the minimalism, or the budget project, or diets. I know you love to throw all your energy into some big Plan, that it gives you hope and something to focus on. But this one seems like a huge adjustment and s lot to put your daughter through, to give you that feeling of control. Didn’t you also start therapy with her recently? Do you need to do both at once? Why not see if therapy helps first, and then discuss the diet with her therapist?

    I’m really glad her behavior has improved so much recently. I hope it lasts. And if she likes some of the new foods, great. I don’t doubt that you want the best for your daughter and are doing what you feel will help her. I guess I’ve had a lifetime of my mother trying to restrict my food choices (even now), and I don’t want to see that happening to your daughter.

    I hope you don’t mind me saying this. I want to be a supportive friend, but I also want to give you my honest feelings.

    1. We only ended up going to three sessions of therapy. It was hard to schedule and so expensive. If my daughter’s behavior continues like this I wouldn’t feel a need to go to therapy because the number one reason we were going was to better manage her aggression and right now she just isn’t aggressive. At all. I do need to follow up with the OT who did her sensory assessment because I still see some of that being an issue, especially her visual acuity struggles. Most of her homework is writing and if she is having trouble with that I would look into if an OT could help her.

      1. Hi again. I have to say, it really surprised me that several people viewed my comment as critical. That wasn’t my intention at all. More like a concerned friend. Some have said that it doesn’t do any harm to eat cleaner, and I’m sure it doesn’t do any *bodily harm* (and may even do some good, as others have said). I just feel like it’s having a big impact on your daughter to not be able to eat what others are eating. My mom has projected her own food issues onto me for as long as I can remember, and it’s stressful. Just a few years ago, she offered me an apple for dessert and minutes later offered my sister pie, because she wants me to lose weight. When I’m at her house, even now at age 37, I will ask her what snacks I’m allowed to have (only half joking), or I’ll grab a snack only when she leaves the room. I constantly have feelings like somebody’s going to take my food away from me or if I leave it, there won’t be any food later. So I guess I am sensitive to how it might impact someone to have food restrictions put on them, especially ones that set them apart from other kids. I really try not to do that with my own kids. Yes, I restrict the nonstop potato chips or tell them they need to try at least a few bites of dinner, but I don’t deny them food if they’re hungry, and they eat what others are having at get-togethers, because those are things I’m really sensitive to.

        So I guess that’s where I’m coming from, and what I wanted was to give you that perspective. Like I said before, I do not at all doubt your commitment to your daughter, and whatever the reason is, I’m so glad she is behaving better these days.

  2. Yeah, your husband could be right. My kids, who are both smart, are terrors when they aren’t getting enough mental engagement. Or when they don’t get enough exercise. Or occasionally when they don’t get enough attention. Behavior is part of the reason DC1 stared K early. Mental engagement brought him back to being an angel.

    At the same time, my kids already eat very good diets that are pretty much additive free (though we do not control what they get outside the house now that DC2 has outgrown her allergies). It’s not like there is anything wrong with only eating healthy food. And in SF of all places I would think there would be a number of “organic mommies” as our first daycare used to call the moms who brought their own snacks. Hopefully if you continue this diet thing you will figure out what foods aren’t causing any harm so it won’t be quite so restrictive.

    I agree with Deborah above but I also think you know that about yourself and I suspect it doesn’t matter. To be brutally honest, you will probably give up on the diet completely when the next thing distracts you. And you will write a lot of entertaining blog posts about it and then move on to the next thing. I don’t know if that’s good or bad or what… It’s not like the things you’re trying are bad things or that stopping is terrible either, but it does give insight into your husband’s reactions. Why he doesn’t read up or fully support things. And maybe if he did each of these movements would last longer, who knows.

    It is still a good thing to pay down debt and save a reasonable amount of money. And it is a good thing to eat healthy food.

    My vote for the next thing is cooking school. Not that you’re taking votes.

    1. Well. Thank you for being brutally honest. I appreciate hearing everyone’s thoughts and opinions on this stuff.

      I will say that these behavioral improvements have fundamentally changed my experience as a parent, and if abandoning the diet results in a return to the way things were, I assure it won’t happen. But I suppose if it didn’t have much effect, I may stop doing it some day.

      And as for me jumping from obsession to obsession, don’t worry, I have lots of budget posts in the works. I’m definitely not abandoning that topic. I wish I could but I can’t. Our financial security depends on me sticking with that.

  3. This is a really good insight.

    I hope that the diet and magnesium marks a corner turn for all of you.

    Is your son on the diet? I think avoiding dyes is probably a good thing overall and maybe your daughter won’t feel that you are restricting her if both kids were on the diet. I know this is a major overhaul for you all, but it still seems significantly easier than gluten or dairy free which I think would cause a lot of stress.

    1. At home our son follows the diet because he eats what our daughter eats. We aren’t asking my husband’s parents to follow it at their house, and we won’t be packing him a separate lunch at his daycare where they feed the kids. So at home, yes. Out in the world with other people, no.

  4. I guess that you could have your daughter go off the diet and see if her behavior changes back. That would suck for everyone involved (if the diet did help), but maybe that would be enough “evidence” for your husband to get him fully on board.

    1. We’re going to stick it out for six weeks (the very lowest end of the recommended amount of time to strictly follow it) and then decide if we want to start reintroducing things to see if they cause a reaction. Maybe then we’ll have a better idea of how much the diet is affecting this change.

  5. WOW. Surprised here. I do not know if magnesium is the issue (but many people seem to have found deficiencies with magnesium may underlie other problems including migraines and infertility.) Or maybe the issue is in foods. Or perhaps in a need for structure and mental engagement. But she had structure and mental engagement last year in school and you said life was a huge struggle then so that seems less likely to me. Or maybe it is maturity happening… I don’t know.
    I do know most people really like to think they have some control over things in their lives so you wanting to be able to control and save your daughter from her chaos is normal and reasonable to me.
    What surprised me was what I read as attack-feeling remarks (though clearly not intended as damaging you but observations) that you jump from enthusiasm to enthusiasm…. as if you do not continue on paths. And that surprises me as I read you as continuing on the minimalism effort, first jumping in with both feet then slowly adapting it to fit you. Same re budget control~ publishing your spending and then adapting to fit you and your husband’s needs. Again, but over a way longer time span, trying to find answers for why your daughter was so high-needs and aggressive in her actions.
    Really made me reflect on how we all know you through your writings but seem to know different people anyway. Maybe, we see reflections of our own strengths and weaknesses in your writing.
    I lived, as a young parent, through the 70’s parenting period about artificial colors and flavorings…. and I remember some artificial coloring agents were later banned as proof came in. I know how we have changed the composition of foods like potatoes and wheat through science without consideration of any possible interaction with human bodies. We are just now finding out about intestinal gut flora connections to the brain, and it was recently that we found tooth plaque connects to plaque in blood and heart attacks. We used to say it was safe to dump all waste into the ocean…and now we know there are HUGE DEAD miles and miles in the ocean killed by floating plastics and garbage.
    My life is a study in unintended science experiments conducted on women in particular. I believe we do not know what is happening as a result of changes in our food supply, composition of soil from all the additives, and damages to our water supplies from injecting poisons into the ground…. but there are earthquakes in the southern midwest correlated to fracking, ground subsidence in CA’s central valley related to overtraining our aquifers, the Colorado river basin is drying up…..and we continue to flush toilets with drinking water. As a species we are experiencing on our selves and not acknowledging openly the huge risks of experimenting blindly.
    I support you efforts to help your child. Yes, there could well be multiple variables… but I would encourage you to not give up now, to keep up your efforts for the next 5-6 months and keep tracking and then gradually see if you makes some adjustments if things are changing as she grows older. They may or may not. Some children outgrow nut allergies and some adults still die from nuts.
    I am so tired of being a science experiment, and knowing my children are science experiments… and their children too. Look at ‘sperm motility and count and defects studies’ from Europe over decades and studies comparing life-long Europeans to immigrants from outside ‘world world’ countries and what happens to the immigrants as they stay in Europe……and Europe is so much more restrictive about food chains than we are (I agree with the EU on this!!!!). We are changing because we have altered what contacts and is ingested into our bodies……. No heating soft plastic formula bottles today is just one example.
    Hang in and keep talking with your husband; that multiple things may be involved does not mean any single variable in the possibilities is not part of the change you are seeing.

    1. As always, thank you for your support. It means more than I could ever say. And I absolutely agree that we have no idea what all the changes to our world are doing to our bodies. I don’t know how it could possibly be good. And I’m sure as we better understand it all, we’ll only realize how important eating clean (or as clean as we can) really is.

  6. I very much understand the desire to have some control because you desperately needed a “miracle fix” for your daughter when you’ve worked so hard for years implementing behavioral advice to help her and it hasn’t made enough progress. Maybe her sunnier disposition is the diet or a combination of things and I guess only time and more experimentation will tell.

    We ran into our OT recently (we’re done for the moment) and she was asking about E’s tonsils & adenoids surgery and the intense behavioral struggles we were going through earlier this year. I had desperately hoped no adenoids would help her sleep and she’d be a “new kid” behaviorally like so many web pages promised. Four months later, she IS a new kid. But it took so long after the surgery that I don’t think the adenoids had anything to do with it (thank goodness we did the surgery though, since her nasal cavity was so blocked). Since I can’t explain the new better behavior – other than she just grew into a new phrase right around her birthday – I am steeling myself for the difficult behaviors to return at some point. What I’m trying to say is, I think you’re doing the best you can and your desire to see results and know where they came from is natural.

    And as for the above comments, I see that you jump whole-heartedly into activities but I don’t see that you jump from one to the next in the way they imply. You embraced minimalism and got rid of a ton of shit. You did a yardwork project and the updates looked great! You’ve started a budgeting project and stuck to it. I appreciate the enthusiasm that you learn about new things because I married someone who does that. He gets accused of being flighty sometimes because he gets SO into things, but the interests never die, he just makes room for new ones. End of novel-length comment!

    1. As always, you TOTALLY get where I am coming from. I always appreciate hearing your perspective because I know you, more than most people, understand what our home life is like.

      It’s true that my daughter has been through “good cycles” before. I guess it’s just been such a long time since we got to enjoy one I kind of forgot about their existence. My husband and I were talking about it and we both agree she hasn’t had an “up cycle” since her brother started crawling, which was over a year ago. I feel like she hasn’t since he was born, but my husband wasn’t sure it had been that long. If it is mostly just an “up cycle” and has less to do with the diet, she’ll be back to her raging self in a few months. Unless she really is maturing “out” of these feelings and behaviors, which really would be wonderful because then we could go back to eating whatever we damn well please and letting people give her all kinds of crap when we’re not around. That really would be the ideal scenario I guess, and if that is where this is going I’m all for it.

      1. I remember you mentioning an up cycle about a year ago. You had some story about how she didn’t freak out when you couldn’t find the book she wanted and you and your husband were surprised and relieved.

        1. I was thinking back on the book incident as well. I though it might have been when she was 3.5 years old but maybe she was closer to 4. I feel like that was more of an example of her becoming more mature and less of her overall disposition being better for a while but I could be misremembering. They usually do happen at the same time.

  7. I do tend to agree with your husband, but I totally get what you’re saying—that your belief that this is the answer is the motivation behind sticking to it. But can you allow the other possibilities in and still be committed to the diet changes as part of a multi-faceted plan?

    As for Deborah and Nicoleandmaggie’s observations above: I wonder if what they are seeing is based solely on the frequency that you post things. Like you post a lot about minimalism when you first started, and then stopped posting about it so regularly—maybe because it became a more integrated part of your life, vs. the sole big-push focus you need when you are getting started. Same with budgeting. Or, maybe (because I don’t know) you really decided minimalism wasn’t for you, and moved on. You do jump into things with both feet—that can be a really great thing! I admire it, because I am WAYYYY more cautious & tend to take baby steps with everything, which sometimes means that nothing ever really changes. If I was considering such a diet, I’d hem and haw and think of all the downsides and eventually never do it—and thus never find out if it works. In ways I think its laziness/resistance to change for me. Probably the same for your husband—its easier to just stay the course and hope things improve on their own—and then when they do, even a little bit, or even for a short period, you feel “see, I don’t have to do anything drastic! it’ll get better on its own!”
    The fact that you dive all-in with research AND implementation and are willing to try these experiments shows that you are not afraid of change and are willing to put in work & trouble to make things better for you/your family.

    1. I can allow the other possibilities in and still stay committed. I will admit that it’s harder, especially when we’re out of the house or I’m putting together a treat bag to give after care so that she is never left without a special treat when they randomly give them out.

      And I think you’re right about the subject matter of my posts not accurately representing how much a part of my life something is. Minimalism is still something I strive for, though I am letting myself get there more organically. I actually have quite a few posts about minimalism on my “to write” list on my phone, and I was just in the bathroom the other day contemplating the disposal of a hug box of bath toys because they just take up space and the kids rarely play with them. It’s still a part of who I want to be and what I want our life to look like, but it’s kind of on the back burner right now. Same thing with the budget. I have been mentally drafting a lot of posts about the budget, because I need to start focusing on it again. These things are still a part of my life, even if I don’t write about them as consistently anymore.

  8. It’s likely that the changes are a combination of things. I understand wanted my to know what made the change happen, but it’s so hard when kids develop so fast! Maybe reframing the additive diet into a “good thing to do regardless if it makes a huge difference” will help you let go of the control factor. Because, whether it is the smoking gun or not, eating more food that doesn’t have artificial flavor or color is always a good thing!

    1. I think it’s easier to have that attitude about it at home, when it’s easy to give her the healthier alternative, but it’s harder to know how to translate that attitude into the outside world, where we have to pack her separate snacks for after care or bring a special cupcake to the birthday party. I think after the initial six weeks we can start being less strict and see how things go. Maybe then we’ll have a clearer idea of how to proceed long term.

  9. I love being able to control my life! But I know it’s not realistic. I totally get why you’d want to think the changes are responsible and based on the popsicle incident it seems like good anecdotal evidence at least. But, I agree try it for the full 6 weeks and then see- and slowly reintroduce. You’re doing it a sensible, measured way. Funny, I didn’t think you were diving in to all these things and then giving up on them as other people evidently did. You always seem to circle back to the minimalism, the budget etc. I just think focus changes depending on what’s going on in our lives on any given day. And it’s been a long time since you posted about a “good” cycle with your daughter. I remember the story about the book but I felt like that was even more of an isolated incident than an ongoing trend but I’m probably misremembering…. Good luck!I hope whether it’s the dietary changes or a combination that it continues. And randomly I’ve been taking magnesium for about 18 months and will never stop. Muscle cramps? thing of the past! I even lost about 5 lbs when I started taking it which was a bonus! And it’s supposed to help with sleep- I’ll take anything that helps me sleep! LOL

    1. I am going to start taking magnesium as well. It’s supposed to help calm over active nervous systems and I deal with a lot of that. If it helps my daughter it will probably help me too. It’s good to hear someone else has been benefiting from it as well.

  10. I TOTALLY understand where you are coming from with this. It’s a good feeling to think that something you are doing – something you have control over – is helping your child to have a better life. I hope the improvement continues!

    1. Phew, I just read the comments above. I was a little taken aback by them, maybe b/c I’m a lot like you. I think I write a lot about things I’m passionate about in the beginning, but just b/c I don’t keep blogging about them doesn’t mean I’m not still doing them / they weren’t integral in changing my life in some way. I think all of the changes I’ve seen you strive for the last few years have been great ones!

  11. I understand this sentiment completely. Not only is it hard to continue on with the changes when you doubt their efficacy but you also have the background fear/worry of a return to the prior unsustainable behavior problems. I would want to control every little bit of it.

    I think it would be good, too, to remember that even if the diet is the reason for this improvement that does not mean it’s a magical fix-all. Your daughter will still very likely have an outburst (or four) or a rough day (or four) somewhere along the way. We all do, even when we’re generally stable, contented individuals. Don’t let those perfectly normal ebbs and flows get you down or dissuade you from staying the course. Six weeks will fly by.

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