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.)
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. 🙂
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.