When you watch TV you see there are lots of commercials for ads with Rolaids, or Pepto Bismol or other antacids. Why? Well let’s take a look at the following scenario…
“Ah yes, please more free bread!” “Oh, is that stuffed mushrooms, spinach canapés, and little yummy piggies in a blanket? Oh well, just a few can’t hurt”. “Soup course! Not a fan, but can’t waste a good creamed soup….” A few hours later… “I’m a bit stuffed from the Prime Rib, but chocolate cake with chocolate icing!!! Gotta have just a little slice!!”
Now I’ve never been a big drinker. Usually got a migraine before I got any sort of “buzz”. It all sounds like a typical Wedding Dinner, work party or extravagant dinner party that you have with some really cool friends!! Whatever the case, the result you feel – usually the next day – is often the same. You feel sluggish, can’t seem to think straight, you might be bothered by bright lights or loud sounds. You’re irritated, or sleepy or just struggling to function with your normal daily routines.
So, can diet really affect the body and more importantly the brain even on a short term basis? YES! So then I have to ask… if everyone at the wedding or party event ate the exact same thing would everyone be affected the same? NO! I consider myself a chocolate connoisseur and have over the years been able to consume large amounts of the dark goodness without any side effects (ok yes, there were some side affects, but that’s a post for another day… seriously too much of anything is never any good no matter how much I convinced myself otherwise!). Yet if I were to have a couple of drinks, I would be feeling ill and have a pounding headache starting.
Well, what have we learned? Parties have often really great food that we all over indulge in only to suffer the consequences later. But the “effects” will vary greatly from person to person. And yet ALL of us affected most likely wouldn’t be doing too well if we had to 1) give a presentation the next day 2) write an exam or 3) play in a championship game for any sport. The combination of rich foods, sugary sweets swimming in a pool of alcoholic beverages makes any of those tasks much more challenging. There is the obvious hang over, the sour stomach lining from all the different courses of food and that… BRAIN FOG!
We all know the picture so how does this relate to diet with kids on the spectrum. Well that is the analogy I usually give to family and friends who wonder “why can’t your kid eat ‘normal’ food?” This usually makes me chuckle a bit because as we have transitioned over the years from processed Gluten and Casein food to now a GAPS intro diet consisting of vegetables cooked in meat stocks, no starches, and no processed food… I feel WE are eating “normal food”. Food that doesn’t get delivered to your doorstep in 30mins or comes out of a cardboard box! But I will get into exactly what we eat in another post. And just to clarify, our diet didn’t happen over night! We all love the convenience of getting our meals delivered, or from a box in your freezer. I get it, life is busy and I for one, hate the day to day cooking too! I’ve been there and like many things with our family it has been a journey and lots of time to get where we are today… yet we still have things we can (and hopefully will) change too!
The funny thing is Ted’s pediatrician back in the U.S. actually talked with me briefly about diet and Autism. He had just been flagged and gotten his temporary diagnosis of PDD-NOS. She said to me then when Ted was only 18 months old that she had read that many parents had helped to make some changes with their children through diet. I heard her say it, I even acknowledged that she said it, but sadly… that was as far as I took it at the time. I was already a mother to one “normal” child and I did not give my kids lots of sugary foods or candy so I thought I was feeding them healthy food. I of course really had no idea what exactly I was feeding my kids. I only ever read the front of the package… “oh, sweetened with apple juice, not sugar”… “not from concentrate”… “4 of 5 essential nutrients” BUY BUY BUY!! I never read the back of the actual ingredients… ok well maybe just to make sure if it was something I was eating that sugar wasn’t in the first 4 ingredients. I knew THAT much!
I also knew that kids needed vegetables and vitamins, not too much sweets, they needed to run and play etc. I wanted my kids to “look” healthy but had no idea what was going on in the inside with them or myself. The fact that certain foods could cause a leaky gut was not main stream, talk of chemicals in food and things passing the blood brain barrier was not on my scope of parenting.
Sadly I learned a hard lesson with my own health how food can drastically effect you… and more than just gaining weight or having high blood pressure. I had developed Ulcerative Colitis just prior to having kids and both pregnancies put me in a fast downward spiral. I had always been healthy and hardly ever sick so I never thought food and my immune system could gang up on me. I never would have believed how fast and how far I could fall if I hadn’t actually lived through it.
The power of food (for good or for bad) is amazing. You need to have the right combination of vitamins and minerals to have both your brain and your body work at its optimal level. The wrong combinations might not make a lasting impression. You might not even recognize the “symptoms” like you do the day after the Party. But trust me when I say that once you reach that “tipping point”, the road back is a long and hard one.
Luckily for me, my experience with food and health had me revisit the Diet and Autism question, and when Ted was just 4 years old we tried him with a Gluten free and Casein free diet. At the time Ted ate pureed baby food, so it wasn’t really too difficult to remove the Gluten from his diet. There were only a few semi-chunky foods that he could tolerate and they had mushy pasta in them. We just upped his meats and veggies in order to “fill” him up. The dairy was harder. Ted loved yogurt and we often used it as a finisher for meals. He would eat all of his dinner in order to get the yogurt at the end. So our only choices were 1) cold turkey and just stop giving it to him OR 2) giving him less and less everyday. We started with #1, but Ted is a smart little cookie and he quickly realized he wasn’t get the full amount so we started adding some pureed fruit. He was angry, so it took a few more trials with just pureed fruit and trying to tell him there was no yogurt at the store. It was some really trying weeks, but we managed to get him into a new eating menu that he was happy with. We had to stick to the GFCF for 3 months in order to really see if it was working for Ted. It was hard to see at first between the crying and fussing, me trying to figure out what a new balanced meal should look, and barrage of supplements we had also just added in. About 6 weeks in we hit a low; lots of new meltdowns, he was irritable, weepy… and so were we. Then over a few days, things seemed to be better. We held our breath and had a few more good days. By the end of just the 3 months we could already see some improvement. Better focus, mood, eye contact and the best part… functional speech. Ted had words. He could label and even read beyond his years, but he still struggled with the “W” questions like What, Where, Why etc. To answer “what is your name” you would need to ask it 5 times at least. “Where are you in the house” took labeling the actually wall of every room in the house and then playing games of “where are you?”. But it all suddenly just “clicked”. He was answering without prompting, he would take much less time responding, and he would ask YOU questions! The “why mummy” days of a toddler was finally coming out in Ted. And it all happened with our diet changes and a bit of biomed. In time we did some processed GFCF and all the sugar in those foods didn’t help Ted and he was much more irritated and frustrated again. If he accidentally had any gluten he was spacey for weeks and extremely bloated, trouble sleeping, not focused etc. It was clear to us, that Ted was definitely someone that is affected by his diet.
Now for Oskar we have had to go even more extreme. There could be many different reasons for this and I will explore them at a later time. But for our family diet and health of our kids is top priority. Having battled an autoimmune disease and spent time in hospital and been injected with a zillion different drugs in order to get my body to just stop attacking itself. I realized how much it sucks and takes a hold of your life in a way that makes you think you might never get control back. I wish my GI doc had told me about possible diets I could have tried instead of reaching for his prescription pad, but then again my experience made me see the possibility that my kids could be severely affected on the inside with their diets too.
Health is never something we should take for granted, but when you push the limits… even when you don’t know that you are… the body can react “unnaturally” to the possible “unnatural” ingredients we put into ourselves. Living a life with medications to mask symptoms, or having surgery or years of therapy to try to regain a life… is no life for us!