Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Introduction to oppositional defiance
The bad news

The good news
"Where do I start?"
Readers stories
Scientific references
Further information

Keywords: oppositional defiance, temper, anger, hostility, conduct disorder


Introduction to oppositional defiance

The main feature of oppositional defiance is irritability

  • oppositional defiance generally develops between the ages of 1-3 years
  • the child’s behaviour depends on interaction - when life is good the child is good but the child can overreact when asked to do something he or she doesn't like
  • children with oppositional defiance like to say 'no'
  • children with oppositional defiance display a pattern of negative, hostile and defiant behaviour lasting at least six months and including at least four of the features listed below

Symptoms of oppositional defiance

  • losing temper
  • arguing with adults
  • refusing adult requests or defying rules
  • deliberately annoying other people
  • blaming others for own mistakes
  • touchy or easily annoyed
  • angry and resentful

Oppositional defiance can exist with or without ADHD

  • oppositional defiance runs in families
  • your child doesn’t have to be diagnosed with ODD to have features of oppositional defiance that will respond to diet
  • adults can be oppositionally defiant too

The bad news

Medications for ADHD can make these children worse because they are better able to focus on being defiant.

Behaviour management is hard to do and doesn’t always work

  • avoid confrontations
  • avoid arguments
  • avoid smacking
  • never back these children into a corner
  • offer options
  • be calm and positive

If untreated, oppositional defiance may progress to Conduct Disorder which includes lawbreaking.

The good news

Oppositional defiance can be well controlled by changing what the child or adult eats. You can see this with your own eyes in the dramatic video of the Shipley Project in which eight extremely oppositional chronic juvenile offenders literally change under our eyes as they follow an elimination diet for three weeks.

              Littlemonsters  (37Mb, 4:56mins)

Most parents have never noticed an effect of food. A few children ‘go ballistic’ soon after eating food colours but for most families, the effects of food chemicals creep up, unnoticed. What most people see is this:

  • Food chemicals can build up gradually, resulting in good days and bad days with no obvious cause
  • When a child eats fast food or spaghetti, he or she might be irritable or have a bad day at school the next day or the day after.
  • Not everyone reacts to the same food chemicals.
  • Some natural "healthy" foods can be a problem.
  • Some families are more sensitive than others.

Some other effects of food chemicals

  • eczema 
  • migraines 
  • tinnitus 
  • irritable bowel 
  • bedwetting 
  • sneaky poos 
  • difficulty falling asleep 
  • restless legs 
  • asthma 
  • arthritis 
  • impairment of memory or concentration 
  • anxiety 
  • depression 
  • panic attacks 
  • unexplained tiredness

These symptoms may appear in other members of the family.

Common problem-causing foods

  • Additives in soft drinks, cordials, lollies, flavoured snacks, chips and biscuits, takeaways, icecreams and "healthy" foods like bread (preservative 282), yoghurt (colour 160b) or sausages (preservative 223).
  • Natural chemicals in some fruits, juice, dried fruit and vegetables, especially tomatoes, oranges, sultanas, grapes and broccoli.
  • Food chemicals can pass through breastmilk and affect babies.

“Where do I start?”

Some families see an improvement just by cutting down on the worst foods:

  • switch to preservative-free bread
  • avoid artificial colours in products such as drinks, lollies and icypoles
  • water is the best drink – kids drink water better if given their own water bottle
  • avoid citrus and tomatoes

If that’s not enough, you can do an elimination-and-challenge diet supervised by a dietitian to find out which food chemicals cause problems. Ask for our list of failsafe-friendly dietitians.

When symptoms are severe, dairy foods and wheat or gluten may have to be avoided as well as additives and natural chemicals called salicylates and amines.

What can we eat?

The plain, natural, unprocessed foods that children ate 40 years ago were low in additives. Contrary to public opinion, white sugar does not affect children's behaviour.

Some additive-free alternatives:

eg. Brumby's bread, pure (not softened) butter or Nuttelex margarine, Arnott's Saltine biscuits, Glengarry shortbreads, traditional rolled oats or Rice Bubbles, Kettle plain chips, failsafe sausages, Peters original vanilla icecream, Pascall's white marshmallows, Darryl Lea butterscotch, home-made magic cordial: dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup warm water and add ½-1 tsp citric acid. Dilute to taste.

Additives to avoid

The following additives may cause problems. Some people may also need to avoid natural food chemicals called salicylates, amines and natural MSG.



Additives that commonly cause problems

Artificial colours (in sweets, drinks, takeaways, cereals and many processed foods) 102 tartrazine, 104 quinoline yellow, 110 sunset yellow, 122 azorubine, 123 amaranth, 124 ponceau red, 127 erythrosine, 129 allura red, 132 indigotine,133 brilliant blue, 142 green S, 143 fast green FCF, 151 brilliant black, 155 chocolate brown

Natural colour 160b annatto (in yoghurts, icecreams, popcorn etc, 160a is a safe alternative)


200-203 sorbates (in margarine, dips, cakes, fruit products)

210-213 benzoates (in juices, soft drinks, cordials, syrups, medications)

220-228 sulphites (in dried fruit, fruit drinks, sausages, and many others)

280-283 propionates including cultured whey/dextrose (in bread, crumpets, bakery products)

249-252 nitrates, nitrites (in processed meats like ham)

Synthetic antioxidants (in margarines, vegetable oils, fried foods, snacks, biscuits etc)

310-312 Gallates

319-320 TBHQ, BHA, BHT (306-309 are safe alternatives)

Flavour enhancers (in tasty foods)

621 MSG, hydrolysed vegetable protein, yeast extract

627, 631, 635 disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, ribonucleotides

Strong flavours in many foods and children's medicines (vanilla is safest)

Readers stories

You can see inspiring collections of success stories on anger and aggression which are characteristic of ODD. And also a large success story collection on ODD itself.

[1255] Oppositional defiance disorder ODD - thread from facebook (February 2014)

My DS7 admitted tonight that he is doesn't listen because he does not like what he may have to do at the time (i.e. defiant after they didn't practice enough flips at gymnastics tonight). Is then just a derivative of ODD or is food intolerance contributing to it? I hate to keep him on the elim diet if he is just naturally, if you know what I mean - Michelle  READ MORE

Scientific references

Clarke, L and others (1996) 'The dietary management of food allergy and food intolerance in children and adults'. Australian Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics (53:3),89-94.

Bennett and others, (1998) 'The Shipley Project: treating food allergy to prevent criminal behaviour in community settings', Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, 8, 77-83.

Jacobson FJ and Schardt D, 1999, Diet, ADHD and behaviour: a quarter-century review. Centre for Science in the Public Interest, Washington DC.

Rowe, K.S. and Rowe K.L. (1994) 'Synthetic food colouring and behaviour: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study'. Journal of Pediatrics (125),691-8.

Further information

Fed Up with ADHD, Fed Up and The Failsafe Cookbook by Sue Dengate, available on our website and in bookstores and libraries

Introduction to food intolerance

The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Elimination Diet Handbook, available from dietitians and the RPAH website

Friendly Food by Anne Swain and others, available in bookstores

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update January 2013