Today we’re going to take a closer look at gluten. What it is, and how it might be affecting us or our children.
What is gluten?
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, commercial oats, kamut, and spelt. In baked goods, it gives that desirable sticky, gluey texture.
Gluten also hides under many pseudonyms, in countless packaged foods. It can be lurking in everything from baked beans, to vinegar…soy sauce, to candy…spices to hot chocolate.
Why is there so much press around gluten?
Gluten is becoming a hot topic, and rightfully so. More and more, we are learning how gluten can negatively affect the body. But it this ‘new’ news? Yes, and no.
- Evolutionally-speaking, gluten-containing foods are relatively ‘new’ for humans (we existed for over a million years without eating them). So in that regard, our bodies may not be genetically well-equipped to deal with these foods.
- The foods themselves, especially wheat, have changed quite dramatically since the days of grandparents and great grandparents. Many of these foods have undergone genetic modification, and are sprayed heavily with pesticides, giving our bodies extra hurdles to overcome when it comes to digesting and absorbing nutrients.
- Our bodies are not as resilient and robust as they once were. We’re being bombarded with toxins, medications, stress, processed foods…all which damage our guts. A damaged gut means weaker digestion and altered immune response, which then further affects how our bodies are ‘recognizing’ and digesting these foods.
As a result, more people are reacting to gluten-containing foods.
But are these affected individuals *aware* that they’re reacting to gluten?
In most cases, no.
Most people associate food reactions with something dramatic like an Epipen-entailing anaphylactic response, or severe digestive distress such as chronic constipation and/or diarrhea. But in the majority of cases, symptoms can be much broader, more subtle, delayed reaction time, and can years to intensify.
What are the ways that we might be reacting to gluten?
An individual may be reacting to gluten in one, or a combination, of the following ways:
- General Inflammatory Response
When we are physically injured (i.e. a bump of a cut), an inflammatory response is initiated. As the body works to heal the injury, the affected area gets red and swollen. This is a positive (beneficial) reaction.
However, inflammation doesn’t always result in positive results. Gluten is a gut irritant and causes inflammation, to some degree, in every individual. When we repeatedly irritate the body via inflammatory foods (or other sources such as stress, or poor sleep), inflammation occurs in the gut lining. Here, inflammation wreaks havoc on the gut, resulting in poor digestion, altered immune response, increased permeability (Leaky Gut), disrupted microbiome, decreased neurotransmitter production, and secondary inflammation in the brain.
2. Decreased Enzyme Production
The enzymes required to breakdown gluten (and dairy) are produced in the gut walls. In North America, a large percentage of the population has a deficiency in this enzyme, either due to a genetic predisposition, or as a result of damage to the gut lining (see point #1). When the enzyme levels are low, the gluten (and also the milk protein, casein) are not completely broken down. As a result, the peptides (partially-digested proteins) circulate in the body where they can cause other issues, such as those outline below.
The gluten (and dairy) peptides can sometimes mimic the chemical composition of opiates (the drug family that includes morphine and heroin). As can be predicted, this has quite significant effects on the body, and can result in behaviours such as spaciness, ‘brain fog’, fatigue, problems with speech and hearing, irritability and aggression, moodiness, anxiety/depression and sleep problems. The affected individual can become addicted to the foods and the feelings/physiological effects that they bring.
Methylation is a complicated topic, warranting a separate (or series of!) blog posts. Briefly, impaired methylation can result in difficulties removing toxins from the body, and imbalanced production of neurotransmitters.
3. IgE Allergies (Wheat Allergy)
IgE-mediated allergies are the type of food allergy that most people are familiar with, and it is this type of reaction that is involved in the acute and dramatic responses to foods such as peanuts. In terms of gluten-containing foods, the body’s reaction may not be to gluten specifically, but an allergic reaction to any of the hundreds of proteins in wheat; wheat is one of the top 8 food allergens in North America. (An individual with a wheat allergy may tolerate gluten from non-wheat sources.) Symptoms come on quickly (minutes to hours after consumption), and may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, itching, swelling of the lips and tongue, trouble breathing, or anaphylaxis. The immune response also creates inflammation, which can affect the brain.
4. IgG Sensitivities (Delayed Hypersensitivity / Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity)
IgG-mediated food sensitivities are much more common that IgE reactions. The symptoms are more varied, more subtle, and can occur hours to days after consumption; as such many people (including many MDs) do not make the link between the symptoms and food. Symptoms of food sensitivities can include: dark circles under the eyes, puffy eyes, joint pain, runny nose, chronic ear infections, eczema or other skin conditions, sleep issues, headaches, anxiety, depression, emotional instability, irritability, and behavioural concerns (hyperactivity, poor impulse control, repetition, poor attention).
5. Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a genetic, autoimmune disorder. In response to gluten consumption (or even topical exposure), the body mounts an immune response, which damages the lining of the intestine and severely affects absorption of nutrients. Those with Celiac disease must be hyper-vigilant in terms of gluten exposure and cross-contamination, as even the smallest exposure to gluten can cause severe damage to the body, with lifelong implications to their health.
It is predicted that up to 40% of the population carry the genes predisposing them to this condition; individuals with genetic predisposition can develop Celiac disease at any point in their lifetime. It is estimated that approximately 83% of those individuals with Celiac disease are still undiagnosed.
Some assume that Celiac always presents with severe gastrointestinal distress; this is far from the truth. Many Celiac individuals have subtle to non-detectable GI effects, but may have symptoms such as: fatigue, irritability, depression, hypoglycemia, migraines or chronic headaches, peripheral neuropathy, ‘fogginess’, difficulty with focusing, hyperactivity, anemia, weight loss or inability to gain weight. Interestingly, many children and adults diagnosed with ADHD may actually have Celiac disease at the root of their concerns.
How do we know if we fall under one of these categories?
If you suspect that you or your child might be reacting to gluten, or have unexplained symptoms that you hope may respond to dietary changes, then there are a number of different approaches to take.
Bring up your concerns to your MD. The best case scenario would be that your MD is up-to-date on, and supportive with, the link between diet and physical/mental/emotional health. He or she may suggest testing (in one or more of the areas listed above). If you feel discouraged by your MD visit, then don’t give up.
Seek support from a Nutritionist or a Naturopath who has experience in this area. The alternative practitioner will discuss the various testing options with you, and may suggest an elimination diet. An elimination diet will give you clear symptomatic feedback…but be sure that the elimination diet is being properly executed, and followed for a sufficient length of time. (Also keep in mind that if Celiac disease is a possibility, then this testing should be done *prior* to eliminating gluten from the diet.)
If we opt to (or are forced to!) eliminate gluten, how do we go about this?
As I’ve already mentioned, gluten lurks under many names, in countless foods. Some of these foods are processed and our bodies will thank us for ditching them, but some are quite nutrient-dense. So we need to not only make sure that we’re removing all of the gluten-containing foods, but that we’re proceeding with the diet in a healthful way. Read more in my article on “The Four Factors You Need To Follow When Going Gluten Free” over at Green Moms Collective.
Will I need to be gluten-free forever?
For some individuals, such as those with Celiac disease, a gluten-free diet may be life-long. In other cases, once underlying root causes are addressed, and gut healing work is done, gluten may be successfully reintroduced into the diet in the future. Many people experience such an improvement in symptoms while gluten-free, that the choose not to reintroduce gluten-containing foods at all. Your practitioner can help guide you as to which approach is best for you.
As always, I encourage you to trust your intuition. If this information resonates with you, then take a closer look at gluten. Pursuing testing, or starting a (well-executed) elimination diet may very well bring you some answers, and improved health and well being.
I’ve alluded many times to the fact that Little B has a unique diet.
But I’ve never gone into much detail about the path that brought us to where we are today, and the positive results that we’ve witness along the way.
Prior to Little B’s arrival, I was eating what I felt was a very healthful, balanced diet.
Lots of whole foods, fruit and veg, a balance of meat and non-meat proteins, wheat-free grains (spelt and kamut), limited refined sugars, some organic dairy products, and minimal packaged/processed foods.
When Little B was just a few weeks old, I noticed that he was experienced a lot more digestive distress than my older son did as an infant. B’s diapers were sometimes mucousy, he curled his legs up to his chest a lot, was quite gassy, and was developing a diaper rash. I knew that although these symptoms were common in babies, they were not ‘normal’ or optimal, so I began to look at my diet. Research and intuition led me to consider DAIRY as the culprit, especially since my intake of, and desire for dairy increased during my pregnancy and postpartum. I cut all dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream) out of my diet, and saw improvements within days. (Due to the fact that dairy and soy sensitivities usually go hand-in-hand, I also removed all sources of SOY from my diet.) He was a happier baby, and his tummy was much calmer.
By the age of 2, his sleep remained very restless, and he developed an eczema patch on his arm. I began to suspect that another food might be at fault, and this time we trialed GLUTEN. I adopted the Paleo style of baking, which guaranteed no gluten (instead using almond and coconut flours), dairy, or refined sugars. Immediately the eczema patch cleared up, and his sleep showed improvement. We did, however, continue to buy some of B’s favourite foods in gluten-free versions (tortillas, bread, and crackers).
My next eye-opener was at Christmas time, when we made some gingerbread houses. In addition to the some healthier decorations (raisins, cranberries, chocolate chips), I bought a very small amount of candy from the bulk store. While decorating, Little B sampled one of the bright strips of candy….and proceeded to act like a wind-up toy. He talked a ‘mile a minute’ and ran in circles until he eventually crashed from exhaustion an hour later. So, we added FOOD DYES to the ‘no’ list!
When he was 3 year old, I was dismayed to see the eczema coming back. He had new patches on his arms, plus a few on his tummy and back. Unlike the previous eczema flare-up, these patches were raised, raw and itchy. And when the redness started to fade, so did the pigmentation of his skin. A referral to the Pediatric Dermatologist gave us the diagnosis of “Vitiligo”, a condition that is thought to be autoimmune in origin. The Dr’s only suggestion was to use an immunosuppressant cream, which had at best, a 50% chance of working. And of course, it came with potential side effects.
In the meantime, Bennett’s moods were becoming more extreme. He would often get ‘stuck’ in an angry state, asking the same question repeatedly, and at times getting violent. His highs were very high, his lows were very low, and he had days when he had trouble focusing or staying still. He was able to control his moods while at school, but they would burst forth on his days home with me.
At this point, I suspected that he was still experiencing some inflammation and gut imbalances. Along with increasing his gut-healing foods, I decided to go GRAIN free, removing the rice– and corn-based products that we were still consuming on occasion.
As of today, Little B’s moods are much more balanced. He is able to flow from one emotion to the next without getting ‘stuck’, and his lows and highs are less intense. The perseverating and repetition of requests has decreased, and while he still has boundless energy, he is better able to express it in positive ways. His eczema has healed, and some of the vitiligo spots are fading. He is no longer bloated or complaining of tummy aches, the dark circles under his eyes have faded, and his sleep is much more restful.
Along the way, we have also used various supplements and complementary healing modalities (homeopathy, energy medicine, Osteopathy, essential oils) that have, without a doubt, aided our journey.
And it still that, a journey.
We don’t yet know if he will need a restricted diet for the long-term, or with time (and gut healing), he will be able to consume some of these foods occasionally.
But for now, we have found our ‘groove’.
In the beginning stages of each elimination, it was definitely challenging; I liken it to learning a new language. Now, we have our go-to products and recipes. I know how to read menus and food labels to search for the tricky ingredients. Bennett knows to ask before eating something, and has grown comfortable with the idea that his school lunch looks different than his peers’. He is eating a variety of healthful, tasty foods, and does not feel deprived.
And what I know for sure, is that the time, effort, and cost of his current diet is absolutely worth the positive outcome.
Little B is a happy, healthy, thriving, amazing little boy. ♥
(Please remember, you don’t have to face this sort of journey alone. It is *exactly* why I do what I do. I want every child to have a chance to be their ‘best self’, and am here to help parents find their own groove…minus the overwhelm and stress.)
In this blog series, we’re taking the blinders off and taking action for a better future for our families.
The blinders are off, and we’ve decided to empower ourselves, and our families. So, what’s next?
How do we give our kids this best chance for health and happiness given the world that we now live in?
The good news is that there are MANY things that we can do.
- We can ensure that their bodies are being fueled by the best nutrition – clean, whole foods.
- Identify and take away those foods which are doing them more harm than good.
- Recognize the many sources of toxins (in food, clothing, cleansers, personal care products, and the environment), and reduce their exposure.
- Boost their immune systems so they don’t get sick as often, and learn ways to support and heal them when they do get minor illnesses.
- Learn to use food as medicine, and natural remedies, rather than turning to harsh pharmaceuticals.
- Spend time outside, planting gardens, playing in the dirt, soaking up the sunshine, and connecting with nature.
- Give them tools like meditation and mindfulness to help lower their stress levels and help them cope with life’s daily challenges.
But how do we know which “facts” to believe? How do we decipher all of this information?
Where *do* we start to make positive changes? How do we make that crucial first step?
It can be overwhelming and confusing (hence the knee jerk reaction to resort to options 1 or 2!)
The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone.
I *did*. And trust me, you don’t want to! I created my business (Fresh Start Family Wellness), to help other families make their own “fresh start”. Minus the confusion and overwhelm.
How can we work together?
There are a few different ways that I can guide you on your journey.
For ongoing tips, guidance, and recipes, keep an eye on my Facebook page.
If you’re looking for your wellness ‘village’, please join us over at the Empowered Moms, Nourished Families Facebook group.
And when you’re ready to take the leap and want some customized, judgment-free, compassionate guidance to help you on your way, let’s chat.
My coaching packages are designed to give parents the hand-hold that they need to successfully integrate positive changes into their daily lives. I can take away the confusion and the fear, and replace it with power, confidence and satisfaction. I work one-on-one with you to answer all of your questions, and support your family’s unique priorities and needs.
Together, we create new family wellness traditions that will empower you, and your children, for life.
I’m a huge supporter of the idea that kids need to have the space and time to feel BORED.
No extracurricular activities lined up, no playdates scheduled, TV and screens off.
That was definitely the case here yesterday. It was raining. Little B and I had played lots of bored games, and done a Valentine’s Day craft. Big E came home from school early (buses were cancelled and I was nervous about the upcoming weather). We had a snack, and then I had some work/cooking to do.
And that’s when the boredom (and resultant chaos) hit.
Bickering, whining, getting in each other’s space, poking, teasing.
And JUST when I was about to completely lose my mind (I had already had a few minor outbursts, to be totally honest)….they came to that place of inspiration.
(Cue the heavenly music). Their eyes lit up, and they sat down to brainstorm.
They devised a plan, dissected the couches, gathered blankets/toys/gadgets, and set to work in the family room. They worked for over half an hour assembling it all. All things considered, they did a pretty good job working as a team (some yelling, negotiating, elbowing was involved).
I admit that the “in between” time…that zone of chaos and noise and whining and drama…can be little challenging to breathe through.
Sometimes they need a little help with inspiration (some families create ‘bored jars’ ). Or if it’s been a busy day with my Mom- or work-related tasks (or distractions), they need some quality connection time with me first, to fill their tank.
But it is in these moments of “boredom” that my kids have created some pretty amazing things…books, games, crafts, wacky inventions (that involve a LOT of tape), and forts.
Or in this case, side by side thrones. ♥ ♥
“You did XYZ as a kid, and you turned out fine”
As a parent attempting to forge a new path for her family, this is a phrase that I hear often. It is repeated by our own parents, our peers, our doctors, and perhaps even our partners.
But once the blinders started to come off, once I decided to listen to my intuition rather than media, once I decided to ask questions and research alternatives rather than following the herd…
Once that awareness begins, blanket statements like these no longer sit well.
And they certainly do not provide a strong enough justification for us to tune out those important instincts and fall back in line with the status quo.
What’s wrong with the status quo?
Why should we take that ‘road less travelled’ for our families?
Because the stark reality is that today’s kids are growing up in a world that is *very* different to the one that we grew up in. And one that is light years away from the world that our grandparents and great grandparents grew up in.
The food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink are all vastly different now.
Instead of playing outside, in the dirt, we’re staying inside, and slathering ourselves in hand sanitizer. And the ‘good bacteria’ in our guts is suffering the consequences.
Kids have less down-time, and more activities and screens.
Harsh chemicals surround us, in our cleansers, personal care products, clothes, and mattresses.
Rather than resting and listening to our bodies, commercials try to convince us to take their medicine so that we can suppress our symptoms and get back to work/school/activities sooner.
And why do these things matter?
Because we’re stressed, we’re sick, and we’re overwhelmed.
Rates of childhood illness are on the rise:
- ADHD: 1 in 10
- Asthma: 1 in 10
- Allergies: 1 in 4
- Autism: 1 in 50
- Obesity: tripled in last 25 years, 31% overweight/obese
- Steady increase in anxiety and depression in children
- Increased incidence of childhood cancer
Eye-opening, isn’t it?
So what do we do about it?
Stay tuned for the next blog post, when we’ll talk about next steps to consider.
(or, if you’re impatient and ready to take action, send me a message and we’ll get started ASAP!)
Today I’ve got what I call a ‘tantrum hangover’.
Little B (age 4) had a rough time yesterday. What started as fun time stomping through the icy snow, turned into a full-blown, 45 minute long tantrum. The topic of the tantrum shifted many times, as it wasn’t really *about* anything, it was just a lot of pent up feelings, and physical discomfort looking for an outlet.
The timing was less than ideal. I had to carry a thrashing, snowsuit-clad kid home through the deep snow, and then do my best to be present with him and accommodate his ever-changing needs…*while* cooking dinner and getting my older son ready for his Dad to pick him up. The rest of the evening was a write-off, and I surrendered and went to sleep with Little B at 7:30pm.
As a result, this it what my kitchen looks like today.
So, I will follow Little B’s lead, and shift gears today. Tonight, we’ll stay home instead of going to a much anticipated event. Well, *I* have been anticipating this event. I didn’t tell the kids about it yet, since I didn’t know yet if the stars would align for us to go…and I didn’t want my sensitive little kiddo to be burdened with guilt that it was ‘his fault’. Because, truly, he has no ‘off switch’ for these tantrums. He feels remorseful afterwards, and has trouble understanding why Mommy is tired and emotional and doesn’t have much energy left to play. But this isn’t his fault.
And so, I am taking a step back today, and trying to reset things. Shifting his vitamin protocol a bit. Removing the gingerbread cookies from sight, so they won’t be so tempting. Scheduling some quiet family time to fill his emotional tank.
And being easy on myself too. Tonight’s dinner will be simple. We’ll lay low tonight, play a boardgame, and watch a Christmas show while cuddled on the couch. I’ll refill *my* tank too, so that I can be prepared if another tantrum is brewing.
And yes, the kitchen might look like this for a couple more days. And that’s okay.
Navigating a child’s food sensitivities can be challenging on a regular day. Bring on a holiday, especially a food-centered holiday like Halloween, and things get even trickier.
As parents, we’re inundated with mostly well-intentioned, but ultimately guilt-inflicting opinions from all sides.
- It’s only one day, just let them eat the candy!
- Just let your kid be a kid!
- A little candy never hurt anyone!
- You’re taking the fun out of Hallowe’en!
- Halloween isn’t supposed to be healthy!
- You’re being too strict!
- You’re making candy a ‘forbidden fruit’ and making him want it even more!
- Everything in moderation!
Of course, we want our kids to have fun and enjoy Halloween (and every other day). But like anything related to food, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
So how do we approach Halloween in our house?
My goal *is* for my kids to have fun. And I firmly believe that junk food does not have to be the key source of the fun associated with Halloween.
The kids and I get excited about planning costumes, and the idea of pretending to be someone else for the evening. We do Halloween crafts, and anticipate the amazing decorations in our neighbourhood.
I surprise them with Halloween-themed foods – foods that are fun, *and* also nourish them for the upcoming busy evening and late bedtime.
On this year’s menu:
Monster Smoothies for breakfast: pineapple, mango, kale & coconut smoothies with spooky dollarstore faces on our glasses
Dirt and Worms for after-school snack: coconut avocado pudding with homemade grass-fed gelatin gummy worms
Spooky Tacos for dinner: the orange pepper “jack o’lanterns” held our taco meat and avocado cashew cream.
And leading up to the big day, we have a family meeting about the Trick or Treating plan, so that there are no surprises.
As much as I cringe when I read the ingredient lists of Halloween treats, my older son’s body is resilient enough to handle a few of these foods. I’ve empowered him to read labels, listen to his body, and balance those foods that fuel our bodies with those that are full of junk ingredients. He knows that he feels better when he doesn’t eat gluten and dairy, and knows that everyone should steer clear of foods with bright (fake) colours. And, on Halloween night, he indulges in a handful of his Halloween stash, and then trades the rest in for a toy or a ‘cleaner’ food treat (e.g. a high quality dark chocolate bar). He’s happy with this agreement, as am I.
But things are different for my younger son. For him, the ‘in moderation’ and ‘it’s just a once a year’ theories just don’t fly. If he ate even one of the dairy- or gluten-filled treats, then his eczema would flare up, he would have a sore tummy for days, and he would have a restless nightmare-filled sleep. These foods would damage his sensitive digestive system, ultimately causing poor absorption of nutrients, a weakened immune system, and trouble regulating emotions. If he had something bright-coloured, he would be wired for hours, after which he would have an epic meltdown which wouldn’t end until he was exhausted enough to crash and sleep.
For him, I can’t let him have free reign of choosing treats from his stash. He is prepped in advance that he is welcome to collect lots of candy, but that there would only be a few things that were ‘okay for his body’, and from those, he could choose 2 or 3.
We went out Trick or Treating for an hour and a half. My younger son skipped from house to house, chatted with the neighbours, ooh-ed and aah-ed over the decorations, and generally, had a blast. And when we came home, he carpeted the floor with his treats and joyfully sorted through them all. We chose a bag of plain chips and a juice box, and the rest went away.
There were no tears. He was happy to indulge in these once-in-a-while foods. And if there had been tears, I would have been okay with that. From his perspective, it’s hard being different than most of his peers. If he needed to grieve that he couldn’t open and eat the things in those shiny wrappers, then I would have supported him through that with empathy and a hug. But I know that giving in and letting him eat those foods would have undone all of the healing work that we’ve accomplished, and that is DEFINITELY not worth it.
End result? We had a GREAT Halloween…on *our* terms.
Once our eyes are opened to the effects that food have on the physical, mental, and emotional health of our kids, it’s impossible to put the blinders back on…even if it’s for a once-a-year holiday. Please remember that it’s okay to tune out the unwanted advice, and block the unnecessary guilt. Do what you know is best for *your* family.
And if you need some help figuring out what the best plan-of-attack is for *your* family’s nutrition, I’m happy to help. 🙂
This is Little B, the rockstar. This morning, I came out of the shower to find him standing on a makeshift stage (stepstool from the bathroom), with his radio on FULL blast, tuned into some hard rock station. He was doing a combination of air guitar (using the guitar on his t-shirt as a fill-in) and air drums, his little bum shaking in time to the heavy beat.
This kid lives life out loud.
He brings so much joy to the house, and to those around him. He is full of energy, has a wacky sense of humour, and is amazingly curious and bright. When he is happy, he is SO happy – giving endless cuddles and kisses, singing and dancing, doing silly voices to make his brother and I laugh.
And then there are the other times. The times when that pendulum of extreme emotions is swinging in the other direction.
The joy is replaced with an intense frustration. The silly voice is now an angry one that asks the same question over and over and over again, not truly listening to the answer. The dancing has switched to the flailing limbs.
Every child experiences a scope of emotions. And most kids move in and out of these emotional extremes fairly quickly, and a trigger (hunger, exhaustion, frustration, jealousy) can usually be pinpointed as the root cause.
For Little B, I believe that his root cause is a bit more complex. My Mother’s Intuition tells me that there’s something else going on. Something deeper, at a physiological level. Something that needs to be addressed and healed.
What is that root cause?
That’s a mystery that I’m still working to solve. I know it’s linked to his food sensitivities, as well as his ‘leaky gut’, dysbiosis, and his bizarre skin condition. There are likely some environmental triggers, and some underlying genetic predisposition. I am working to join the dots, and am grateful for my education and experiences, both in the Pharmaceutical world and as a Holistic Nutritionist. I am also blessed to have a team of holistic practitioners by my side, and an MD that is open-minded and curious.
It’s a long, overwhelming journey, but it’s a journey that I’d like to share with you. It is my hope that our challenges, and our learnings, can help others who are facing similar hurdles.
With much love and empathy,
Often, clients are reluctant to remove “suspect” foods from their diets, as they insist that they aren’t reacting to them. While it’s true that some people have obvious, dramatic reactions immediately after consuming a food (i.e. digestive upset), most people react in much more subtle ways.
I (somewhat reluctantly) gave up gluten and dairy while breastfeeding my son. The positive effects were quick and quite dramatic for him – his gassiness decreased, his moods improved, and his eczema faded away. I didn’t notice any obvious effects on myself, but stayed strict with the diet while nursing him.
When he fully weaned, I found myself being drawn back to my old favourites, like crusty bread, pasta, and cheese. Over the Easter holidays, I indulged in quite a few foods that contained gluten, dairy, and refined sugar. At the time, I felt a bit guilty, but truly didn’t expect any repercussions.
Yikes, was I wrong.
Things that I had taken for granted as being ‘healed’ in my body, returned with a vengeance. Acne, daily headaches, anxiety, cold sores, sinus congestion, bloating, exhaustion….they all arrived within days of my feast-on-inflammatory-foods. It took me by surprise, and I didn’t put two and two together until about a week later. The ‘icing on the cake’ was my full-body swelling. My watch, which used to be loose, is now doing this (see pic) to my wrist, and is so tight that I can’t wear it.
Oftentimes with foods, it’s a ‘hindsight is 20/20’ situation. We have no idea how poorly we are feeling/functioning, until those symptoms disappear, and then return again (when the foods are reintroduced). This, for me, was a wake-up call that I need to go back to my stricter ways with dairy, grains, and sugar, as I don’t want to feel (and look!) like this anymore!
Yes, cheese still tempts me. But next time it’s calling my name, I’ll just take a look at this photo for a much needed reality check!
Growing up, our holiday celebrations included many food traditions. Platters of Christmas cookies, a homemade gingerbread village, hot chocolate with marshmallows and a candy cane stir stick. So many great memories…and traditions that I would love to share with my own kids.
But when you have a child with food sensitivities, navigating day-to-day meals is challenging enough. Holidays? Unfortunately, it is easy for some of the joy to be bulldozed by stress and guilt. Sorry, kids, we can’t go to the family gathering because the menu would be too tempting to a carb-loving (and carb-sensitive) 3 year old. Hot chocolate? No Timmie’s drive-through; it has to be made at home, with dairy-free mix and almond milk. The cookie that our friend gave you? Yes, it’s beautiful…and oh-so-tempting. But if you ate it, you’d be sick for days. Social gatherings are chosen carefully, and usually require food to be brought from home.
I’m not sure what nudged me to take a risk last week. I don’t recall if it was a childhood memory that surfaced, a Facebook photo that flashed by, or maybe a display in the grocery store. But the guilt hit: my youngest had never joined in the tradition of making a gingerbread house. Being sensitive to dairy and gluten, the store-bought kits wouldn’t fly. So, breaking our grain-free streak, I bought gluten-free graham crackers. Carefully carving them with a knife, I stuck them together to form a makeshift house with dairy-free icing. I had already planned on using some ‘weird, my-Mom-is-a-Nutritionist’ toppings like raisins and dried cranberries. But the guilt, combined with my love of food, convinced me to buy a few candies as well. Off to the bulk store I went, to get a tiny sampling of some dairy-free treats. There. Now things seemed more traditional, and the guilt was momentarily eased.
The boys had a blast decorating the houses; it was such a joy to watch their faces. Memories and photos? Check.
And then came the aftermath.
Little B had sampled a few of the candies, and munched on one wall of the house. Within a half hour, complete chaos hit our house. He was spinning in circles, fidgeting non-stop. Talking so quickly that he was interrupting himself, often with pure nonsense, rather than words. He would be happily laughing and singing one minute; the next he was lying on the floor in a full-blown tantrum. This continued until he finally collapsed into a restless sleep, an hour later than his usual bedtime.
And…food dyes are now added to the list of forbidden foods.
It broke my heart to see him reacting so strongly like that. And my heart broke again the next day when he repeatedly asked why he couldn’t have any more of his beloved gingerbread house (which, by then, had been tucked out of sight in the compost bin).
Cancelling get-togethers, avoiding restaurants, spending a small fortune on speciality flours and ingredients, and altering family food traditions. I admit, it can be easy to get stuck in a “woe is me” cycle. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and isolated.
Knowing that these emotions will easily fester if I let them, I remind myself to breathe and release the self-pity, guilt, and frustration. To look at my son’s sweet face and remind myself why I go to this extra effort.
Time to brainstorm a *new* family tradition. A creation made from fruit? A hand-painted cardboard gingerbread house big enough to play in? I’m not sure yet exactly what next year’s celebrations will entail. But I do know that with some extra effort, a little creativity, and lots of love…we can create a family celebration that allows *all* of us to focus on the joy of the season. Do I miss all of the treats? Honestly, yes. And, I also know that, even for this foodie, a smile on my (healthy, pain-free) child’s face is much more delicious than any edible treat.
Happy Holidays, everyone.