10-Day Detox for Autism & ADHD

I could feel it coming.

We had visitors in town, the twins had two birthday parties, and then Valentine’s day came. All of this celebration led to a gross overindulgence of sugar and screens.

By Valentine’s Day, we were cranky, wired, over-tired, undernourished, overstimulated and sliding frantically down a slippery slope.

Screens and sugar – and especially their toxic combination – bring out the worst in us. They are the Achilles heel of the Rinna family.

So when their effects reared their ugly head during that week I knew without a doubt…

It was detox time.

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10-Day Detox for Autism & ADHD via My Life as a Rinnagade

What’s a detox?

To detox simply means to abstain from toxic or unhealthy substances for a period of time. The purpose of a detox is to rid toxins from the body and “reset”, so to speak. You can do this with your body (mostly by getting rid of sugar and processed foods) or mind (people call this “unplugging”) or both, which is what we chose to do.

Here is the detailed list…

  1. No screens
  2. No sugar
  3. No caffeine
  4. No/minimally processed food
  5. No fast food
  6. No gluten
  7. No dairy
  8. No artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives

When to detox?

Here’s a list of our red flags:

  • Poor quality sleep
  • Meltdowns (yelling, whining, backtalk, disrespect, apathy)
  • Intense behaviors (hitting, kicking, pushing, biting, self-injurous behavior)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Intense sugar cravings
  • Irritability
  • Itchy skin
  • Poor eye contact
  • Mood swings

When these behaviors become commonplace in your home, it’s time to detox. This is ESPECIALLY crucial for our kids on the autism spectrum and with ADHD as their brains, immune system, and gut are already hypersensitive to much of the junk that is normally consumed in our culture. This is why it is particularly appealing to have a detox for autism and ADHD but it can certainly be done by anyone else.

**If you don’t believe me about the brain/immune system/gut thing, you should definitely grab a copy of Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies

The problem with our culture

It all comes back to mindset. I talked a lot about mindset in this homeschool post but it’s just as relevant here. “Oh, but it’s just a little cupcake…it’s just an hour on the video game…it’s just a turn on the iPad…”

I don’t know about you but we can’t do moderation. I don’t really think any child can, especially when it comes to screens and especially with children who have autism or ADHD.

Wrong or right, binge and purge really works best for us.

Let me give you an example. Every Halloween we have a choice. We can spend an entire month or more have a piece or two (or five) of candy a day and keeping that sugar constantly circulating through our bodies, building our tolerance and each day needing just a little more to get our “fix” OR we can binge that night, deal with the sugar hangover the next day and more on with our lives.

We choose the latter.

But sometimes we don’t move on with our lives; sometimes we blink and there’s another holiday. Another party. Another excuse to binge and too much binging has great consequences for us.

Sugar is in EVERYTHING. I want you to take a minute to really think about what you’ve eaten – just so far – today. From the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, sugar is a staple in the Standard American Diet. For more information on a healthier lifestyle, I highly suggest reading The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life.

Screen are EVERYWHERE. I am of the generation who remembers a time without the internet. We had a house phone. There was no such thing as an iPad.

Now think about your kids’ existence…the computer is like a refrigerator. They are not impressed by it. It’s just another piece of furniture around the house.

For this reason, it takes a conscious effort to set it apart from the norm and create a boundary. Why do we need a boundary? Here’s my short answer – we were created for relationship. With people…not things. For more information on the effect screens are having on our brains, I highly suggest reading Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time.

Tips for success

  • Remember, starting is the hardest part.
  • Set up accountability. This will be a tremendous help. We always detox as a family. This is a team sport; if one child is singled out this is not going to go well. Not to mention, what you are doing is good for everyone in the family, so why not?
  • Have a Plan. Figure out how many days (a weekend? a whole month?) and write it in marker across your calendar. Don’t give yourself an out.
    Figure out what you are detoxing from – sugar? packaged foods? screens? all of the above? Make a list of what you CAN do and what you CAN eat. This flips the situation and takes the focus off feeling deprived (because really, we’re not.  As my pastor says “everything beyond food and shelter is gravy.”)
  • Know your weaknesses. I knew our biggest challenge was going to be packaged chicken fingers, crunchy snacks (packaged popcorn, chips, pretzels, veggie straws) and of course, my morning coffee. Try to soften the blow by weaning off of certain items (like the sugar in my coffee) a week ahead of time.
    Find your “screen time hot spots.” For us, it’s right after lunch and rest time. The afternoon is the time we would usually put a show on. I made sure to have an few activities available – puzzles, kinetic sand, legos, and music. Audiobooks are a lifesaver.
    Have some activities planned throughout the week, as well – the library, park, playdates, and family game night are a few of our favorites. Be sure not to over schedule and trade one poison for another. 
  • Begin…and don’t look back. Stick with your goal. Push through. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

So, how’d it go?

It was not as bad and worse than I thought in the same breath.

If you follow me on Facebook, you heard me whining for 10 days about bitter decaf coffee. I posted as a way to stay accountable and to blow off some steam in the process.

We’ve gone screen-free before and I love it (though I am constantly crutching on it when screens are an option) so that was not so bad. The kids whined about it the first couple of days – mostly the younger two – but after that everyone was okay. I noticed increased creativity in their games and as the week went on, they played more and more actively. There were some spots in the first few days they sat around bored. It was as if their imagination needed to be reawakened ;).

I had to bake and cook A LOT. I already make our pancakes, waffles, burger buns and muffins but I had to add chicken tenders, fish sticks, and bread. It was very time consuming though everyone enjoyed it.

Life after detox

After 10 days of detox what permanent changes did we make?


No screens Monday – Friday

Saturday: shows are okay in the afternoon and we have family movie night

Sunday: Jesus shows are okay in the afternoon. Some of our favorite Jesus shows are Buck Denver Asks: What’s In The Bible?, Torchlighters and, of course, Veggietales

Holidays/Birthdays: interactive screens (iPad, video games, computer games)

Break Week: Shows okay in the afternoon. They can each have a turn on our favorite websites, as well.

**As you might have guessed, the boys are not as thrilled with these new boundaries as I am. Jackson has announced that we are NOT normal, but we already knew that, didn’t we? ;).


Homemade treats and juice boxes are for holidays/birthdays/special occasions only.

Small amounts of chocolate chips, syrup and honey are okay with food/drink.

My coffee is now black with ONE sugar…although sometimes that spoonful is heaping ;).

Pair sugar with protein. Sugar and carbs affect blood sugar and protein doesn’t so if we are having pancakes, I’ll also make bacon.

Packaged Foods

Frozen chicken tenders are a treat for Saturdays only. Packaged fish sticks for Sunday lunch.

Sadly, we cannot live without our Bread. I simply cannot bake enough of it fast enough OR find a recipe we all enjoy that actually cuts like sandwich bread. I have been making hamburger buns a couple of times a week and those make great sandwiches and helps to reduce the amount of bread we use.

I keep this granola in the house and *try* not to buy packaged cereal (this is way easier when the kids are NOT shopping with me!)

I keep nuts and homemade popcorn on hand and if I do buy chips, they must be paired with real food.

All-in-all a good experience…but I’m hoping the changes will prevent us from needing to detox again any time soon ;).

I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever done a detox for autism and ADHD? Do you find avoiding certain foods help your child to be more successful?

photo courtesy Markus Spiske via thestocks.im

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