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Victimized by the Feingold Diet

The Feingold diet can force kids to become liars, ruin parent-child relationships, and ultimately cause kids to self-medicate because they are being denied appropriate drug treatment for their ADHD. I know because I was one of them.

At age 4 or 5, I was put on Ritalin and did very well. In second grade, there was some discussion about my skipping a grade because I was many years ahead of my classmates in reading and at least one year ahead in math. But when I was 9, my mother saw Dr. Feingold on the Donahue show and instantly became a true believer. She immediately took me off Ritalin and put me on the Feingold diet, which she pronounced as an instant cure. My grades plummeted, but instead of looking at the most logical reason for this (being taken off of meds), she treated me as though I was morally flawed because I dared to defy her decree that I be cured. She obsessively checked what I ate at friends' houses, Girl Scouts, and elsewhere and would punish me if she found out that I had eaten something that this quack had decreed that I would react to. For drinking a Pepsi, I would be humiliated and grounded. Other kids thought I was really weird and rejected me. I had a few friends, mostly other outcasts. Thankfully, some parents became co-conspirators and permitted me to eat freely at their homes.

I ended up being forced to tell dozens of lies a week to my parents (denying that I had eaten enjoyable things), and, as a result, was convinced for years that I would go to Hell for having repeatedly violated two of the 10 commandments relating to lying and honoring/obeying one's parents). It took until the end of eighth grade for my parents to stop forcing the diet from Hell on me and to permit me to eat what I wanted (though I still got disapproving and rejecting stares when I ate something Feingold would have disagreed with).

From about third grade through 9th grade, my grades were horrible, because I could not concentrate on anything that was said. I would fade in and out constantly and couldn't focus on even one sentence. I would hear part of a sentence, and then get distracted by something else. How is one supposed to learn algebra or chemistry or physics under these circumstances? In high school, fortunately, I discovered that amphetamines enabled me to focus, and my grades shot up. (Ironically, dexadrine was my drug of choice, but I didn't understand how it worked until much later.) My self-medication enabled me to graduate early and earn a National Merit Scholar commendation. At age 19, I stopped taking amphetamines for fear of the legal consequences of getting caught. My concentration deteriorated, I dropped out of college, and for several years worked at jobs that included driving a truck and working in a factory, Then I resumed taking Ritalin and was able to finish a university degree and complete law school. While on Ritalin, I have no trouble maintaining my focus and paying attention in court,. In 2003, had an extremely complex week-long jury trial involving the mechanical condition of an aircraft.

My relationship with my parents remains poor. It might have been bad anyway because my mother is has weird ideas and my father seems to see his primary role as covering up for her. But thanks to my experiences with the Feingold diet and being deprived of appropriate medical care, my relationship with them is not just bad, it is horrid. I will never forgive them for forcing me to tell them thousands of lies over the years about my food consumption and refusing to acknowledge their mistake. My mother, who also believes all sorts of garbage about candidiasis, homeopathy, chiropractors, and other junk science, still insists that the diet has been "proven" to work and that my failure was caused by sneaking food that I liked. She refuses to consider the results of double-blind studies. In fact, she refuses to believe that the scientific method and double-blind studies are the appropriate way to test hypotheses. Over the years, she has blown tens of thousands of dollars in going from one quack to another for the treatment of imaginary problems. When she visits me I can't run the dishwasher or washing machine, and have to unplug computers, electronic clocks, and my refrigerator because she believes she is hypersensitive to electric currents.

My experience illustrates how the Feingold diet can ruin a parent-child relationship and destroy a child's self-image. (What child with a good conscience is going to feel OK about telling all of those lies regarding food consumption?) Had I not resumed Ritalin, I would probably be working at a menial job. Modern medicine got me to where I am now. I believe that parents who withhold effective treatment from their hyperactive children should be prosecuted for neglect and have their children taken away from them..

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The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is an attorney who practices in the Midwestern United States.

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This page was posted on March 15, 2004.