What Happened When We Tried Organic Eating for Our ADHD Child

I remember last year when the doctor told me Lucas had more than enough symptoms to confidently give him an ADHD diagnosis, and how the doctor asked me if I would like him to prescribe medication. I was all, “Huh??? I thought you were supposed to tell me what to do!” I felt like I was slapping the doctor in the face when I hesitantly asked him if there was anything else we could try before resorting to medication (the medical community is generally in favor of medicating for ADHD). “Organic food has helped many of my patients,” he said.


Why had I never read or heard that before?

In all the hundreds of hours of research I’d done, I’d heard of the Feingold diet, gluten sensitivity, and food-coloring sensitivity, but I hadn’t read anything that said organic eating might have an impact on ADHD symptoms. But I do trust my doctor, and I was willing to try anything.

So that afternoon, we went to the grocery store and spent two hours (lots of label-reading) and $200 on organic food shopping. Lucas was suspicious at first (does organic = yucky?), but I explained to him why we were changing the way we eat, about how there are pesticides in food and that we were trying to live a more chemical-free lifestyle to help make behaving and thinking clearly easier for him. I told him it might take a few weeks, or maybe even months, but we were going to do whatever it took to help him. He became a willing, if skeptical, participant.

We ate an organic meal that night. And either because of my awesome powers of mind-control and psychological manipulation, or because it was actually true, Lucas said the organic food tasted better. The next morning I fed Lucas organic cereal with organic milk. Organic packed lunch for school. Organic dinner.

And the following morning after a day and a half of organic eating, Lucas was ready for school ten minutes early.

If you have a kid with ADHD, you know why the Hallelujah Chorus just erupted in the background.

If you don’t have a kid with ADHD, you have to understand what the typical morning in our house used to look like. I used to break down Lucas’ whole morning into little tasks, set a timer for each tiny job. Putting on underwear, shirt, pants, belt, socks, shoes – all these seemingly simple jobs were separated. I would yell at him to get moving, take (or throw) away toys as punishment for being off-task, and in the final count-down of seconds to get out the door, I would sometimes grab his mouth and swish a toothbrush around in there just to get those damn teeth brushed already since he’d wasted ten minutes singing in front of the mirror, or maybe just staring at himself and humming quietly like the creepy kid from the horror movie does right before the mom gets the ax.

I was setting the alarm clock earlier and earlier. And still, somehow we always ended up racing around in a frenzy in those last few minutes. On a daily basis, I bit back tears as I herded the kids out the door a few minutes late, where the neighbors’ kids would wait patiently for me to take them to school, sometimes asking innocently, “How come you’re always yelling at Lucas?” because they had heard me screaming at him from inside the house. Which would make me have to try even harder not to cry, and then I would make stupid nervous-sounding small-talk in the car with Lucas on the way to school, saying ‘I love you’ about a billion times in an guilty attempt to reassure him of my undying love for him.

Mornings. Were. HORRIBLE.

So being ready ten minutes early after ONE DAY of organic eating pretty much blew my hair off my head.

It was a miracle.

Lucas had a great day at school that day. The following week, after gymnastics, his instructor came running out to find me, eyes round with excitement. “Are you Lucas’s mom? WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING? He was a different kid today! I have never seen him so focused!”

It seemed that we had found the ‘cure’ for ADHD: Just eat properly. Feelings of self-righteousness crept in. My husband and I started having those kinds of conversations, the ones that go something like this:

What is wrong with the food system here in the United States?”

“The entire system needs a major over-haul.”

“I can’t believe we’ve been putting poisonous, carcinogenic chemicals into our children’s bodies all this time.”

“I can’t believe people just give their kids whatever crap they find on the grocery store shelf without reading the labels or understanding where the food came from.”

“This is why everyone has ADHD. It’s because of the food.”

“Yeah, and cancer, too. And diabetes. And every other health problem.”

“Yeah, it’s all because we eat a bunch of crap.”


I did my little victory dance up there on my high horse, even as a knowledgeable friend warned me that the positive effects of the organic food could be a result of the sudden and drastic change, and that I shouldn’t be surprised or discouraged if the effects weren’t long-lasting or didn’t sustain the initial level of intensity.

I couldn’t stomach her negativity though. I needed a win. But unfortunately, my friend was right. As time has slipped by over this past year, we’ve lost some of the ‘miracle’ effect of organic eating. We still eat primarily organic though, and I have noticed that if we go off organic for more than a few days, Lucas starts scaling the walls like Spiderman on crack.

We still aren’t ruling out medication, but Lucas is doing well enough in school that we feel we can hold off for a while. So for now, we’re sticking with our not-so-miraculous-but-definitely-worthwhile solution of eating an organic diet.

Now, if only eating organic was a sure-fire way to prevent mamma from losing her mind on a busy morning…

Lucas tea cup


Comments (3)

  • Great post Kristen! I think when people are faced with the ADHD diagnosis they are willing to try anything first to avoid medication. Organic,. dye free etc. Every child is unique and making these dietary changes is a huge decision both financially and in terms of time because it involves so much label reading that it almost feels overwhelming. Way to go on the effort and I’m so glad you were able to find a way around meds!

    Sharon Vinderine
  • Thanks. It’s tough. I vacillate on a daily basis as to what is best for Lucas. There is simply NO black and white when it comes to ADHD.

  • I bought almost exclusively organic for the first 15 years of my kids lives. Because they are growing and small and this was just better for them period! Same reason I gave them fish oil (and still do and they are teens) It is good for them – Brain food. Even if the benefits for ADHD lessen the benefits of not having cancer causing pesticides in and on our kids foods is reason enough (in my opinion) The slips over the year may have nothing to do with the organic foods but simply that with age comes different pressures and challenges then the year before. He may be going through a growth spurt. As you say no black and white, just degrees, change and adaptation. Best of luck and good for you for being open minded and always searching for solutions that work for you. Certainly there was no down side to organics and lots of up sides (in my opinion).

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