Sometimes there are posts that have been in my head so long, written and re-written mentally, that I am afraid to actually publish them for fear that they will never live up to my expectations. Today is one of those posts.
I have talked a lot in this space about my kitchen. It is a space that has been very important to my family, and a place where I spend the majority of my days. It is also the place where most of our healing has been found.
Many of you know that my oldest son, Jacob, was diagnosed with celiac disease a little over 5 years ago. Since then we have found out that all of our children carry it, as well as my husband and I. What I haven’t shared, and what I even hesitate to share now, is the journey that Jacob and I have been on these past few years. I hesitate because the story is not mine, it is his. So I want to preface this by saying that Jacob has been a huge part of writing this post today, and he has expressed that in the future he would like to write a few on his own (that would be cool) that goes into even more detail. We both decided that we wanted to share his story after he was invited to talk on the subject to a group of young people who had recently been diagnosed, and who were struggling to change their diets to accommodate the illness. In putting that talk together, Jacob realized that his journey has actually been a lot tougher than he realized, but that the changes that we have made have truly given him a whole new outlook on his life and his future.
I grew up in a family that valued good food, which to this day I count as a huge blessing. My mom and dad tell stories of how they carried around tackle boxes of vitamins wherever they went in the 1960’s, and my brother loves to joke with my mom that he had to sneak Doritos, his favorite snack, because she was so against processed food. Our pantry rarely had a snack in it, and my mother insisted on cooking us meals, rather than giving us empty nutrition. I have to admit that I hated that as a kid, truly hated it. I always thought that life would be better if only I could have a Pop Tart in the morning.
In my early 20’s I became a yoga teacher, and at the same time I was struggling with my own chronic illnesses that were wracking my body. I saw every specialist that I could, had surgery after surgery, tried experimental medications, and things just kept getting worse. As I reached my late 20’s I became pregnant with Jacob. I struggled to keep my thyroid in control, my weight dropped, I developed eczema, and asthma, and I could feel my body declining. After Elwood was born, I developed severe post-partum depression, insomnia and PMS. I began to see a naturopath who helped me to see the way that my body was attacking itself. I saw acupuncturists, massage therapists, alternative medicine practioners, etc. As good as they were, and as important as they were in the beginning of my journey, my symptoms persisted.
Then Jacob was diagnosed. He was 3 1/2, had not grown an inch since he had turned 18 months, was underweight, and was clearly experiencing mal-nutrition. I was dumbfounded. We were such a healthy family, how had this happened? I never once drank caffeine, took medications, drank alcohol while I was pregnant, etc. How had this little boy that I had done everything to protect and be healthy, how was he this sick? It was in that first appointment with his doctor after his diagnosis that I figured it out, or should I say that I began to figure it out. No matter how healthy we were, we were not eating the right foods.
Celiac is an auto immune illness that is triggered by gluten in the gut. In removing the gluten from the system, the celia are able to grab the nutrition from the food being eaten, and health begins to be restored. At first I thought that this would be the end of the discussion for us, that simply removing the gluten would provide all that we needed for Jacob to get better. That turned out to be anything but the case. Although Jacob’s overall health was getting better, he was beginning to grow, and you could tell that he was absorbing nutrients from his food, things were still off. He was developing neurological tics, anxiety, and other neurological issues that were impairing his happiness and ability to relax into his days. Any kind of excitement would trigger severe anxiety, even though we lived in a very calm household, strived to create rhythms that would bring about a sense of peace, and kept him away from such things as TV, the computer, and video games.
We took him to one doctor that said that he had Tourette’s, another that said that he had ADHD (although he was never hyper), another that said that he had transient tic disorder. I was honestly starting to lose my mind. This child who was so bright, and such a joy to be around seemed to be quickly fading away. My anxiety levels rose, and the stress in our household was palpable.
Although we were going through so many different diagnosis and paths, I also knew from my own experience the power that food could have. For at this time I had gone gluten free myself, and had made other changes to my own diet. From those changes, all of my previous illnesses, asthma, etc. had gone away in full. I was clear that food and health were interconnected, I just still did not have the answer I needed for my son.
My mother had always taught me that when something feels overwhelming, let it all go and go back to the basics. I took that advice and began to look at the fundamentals of what we were doing in our days, and in our kitchen. Joel and I decided to go back to the root of it all, and start again with his food. We removed dairy, that helped. We removed every ounce of processed sugar, that helped. The tics began to dissapate, the anxiety became a little more under control. Jacob suffered from horrible insomnia, and that began to subside slightly. We could see some definite changes happening.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was the beginning of an answer. I spent countless hours researching food and health. It was confusing because there are SO many theories on food and diet. Everyone believes that they have the answer. From Paleo, to GAPS, to Eating Right for Your Blood Type, to Macrobiotic cooking. I read it all, dismissed what did not feel right, and then began to put some new things into place. I remembered in my doula training that high protein diets were considered to be a huge benefit to women for not developing pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, and I had heard that protein could help with tics. I took the target of 100 grams of protein that we suggested for pregnant mamas, and fed that amount to Jacob everyday for about a month. It was instantaneous. Within weeks every last tic was gone, the insomnia disappeared, the nose bleeds ceased. It all just went away. This child who had struggled so bad for so long, was literally someone new.
Now, before I go on, I want to make clear that this worked for him. I am not suggesting that exactly what we did would ever be a cure all for everyone. The idea of what occurred here, in our kitchen and in our lives, is that we looked at our food as healing, and we were determined to make the changes that we needed to get our son, and ourselves better. We did not follow any one diet, but instead realized that Jacob was different from anyone else, as were each of us, and that what he needed to eat needed to be as individual as he is.
That was July of 2011. We still continue, daily, to look at the foods we eat and how they heal us (or harm us). We have continued to make changes, and I am sure always will. In a funny twist of fate, I have followed in my mom’s foot steps and we keep all processed foods out of the kitchen. That makes for some long days, and a lot of good menu planning, but it is worth it. Knowing where everything that we eat comes from, and feeling a greater sense of connection to our food helps me to understand what is best for each us.
I am a baker, a lover of food, and certainly someone who wanted to keep the joy in eating with my children. Even though we made a radical shift in diet over the past few years, I really want to convey that we certainly did not take away yummy eats. I still bake, daily, and my children still enjoy everything from scones to cinnamon rolls, we just do it with alternative ingredients and added protein. We cook with almond flour, use coconut oil and milk, use small amounts of agave nectar and honey, rather than sugar, etc. It felt a little overwhelming at first, but really once I knew what they could each eat, I was able to adapt most recipes to suit their well being.
There is a lot of discussion right now about food elitism, and how only the wealthy can afford to eat well. Nothing breaks my heart more than hearing that. The local food movement, the drive to bring healthy food back to the table is anything but elite. It isn’t an easy shift, and it does take some very creative budget planning, but health and well being is something that we all deserve and can achieve. I think that more than money, eating well takes time and patience. The amount of times that we have had to go back to the drawing board feels ridiculous. In the end, it has been way cheaper for us to make all of our food, as well as grow it, rather than buy it.
There are countless doctors (including Dr. Sears), nutritionists and scientists who are currently researching and bringing to light the connection between food and children’s health, especially in the areas of ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Tourettes. I have a strong feeling that as time moves forward, we will see greater discussion on this subject. However, I think that it is the parents that will have the greatest impact. Those of us who are determined to help our children recover and be the healthiest versions of themselves will help to show that food has a strong impact on some of the major problems that little ones are combating today.
A few months back, when Joel and I made the switch to leave processed foods out of our diets, I told him that what I was most afraid of was running out of ideas for cooking. If I was going to make every meal, every snack, every beverage, I needed some good resources. At about the same time those words came out of my mouth, Heather announced she was holding an online course on Whole Food eating. Heather’s work centers around creating a healthy kitchen, plant based/whole food nutrition, and individualized enjoyment. She has a wonderful way of drawing you back to the kitchen, of drawing you back into a joy of food. We have spent the past 10 weeks eating from her course, and once again jumping into a new way of looking at things.
Heather’s class brought me a lot of joy at a time that I really needed to see food as not only healthy, but fun and delicious. It is in that spirit that both Heather and I would like to give back to all of you.
Heather’s new class, 30 Day Vegan opened for registration a few weeks back, and I signed right up. At the time Heather was kind enough to be offering a Bring a Friend discount. I emailed and asked her if it would be ok if I gave the spot to one of my readers in a giveaway. She not only agreed, but offered a second spot!
The giveaway is simple. Leave a comment here and we will draw two winners on Sunday afternoon. I will email Heather your name and she will send you what you need for registration. We would love to also hear what changes you have made in your kitchen that have brought healing. Sharing those stories always gives me inspiration to keep moving forward in our quest for health and well being.
This is not the end of the story for my family. Life is not one sided, and many things contribute to one’s overall health. For us, food plays a major role, and if what we eat is off balance, everything else seems to go with it. My hope in writing this post today was not to assert the idea that food always changes everything, but simply that food and health are interconnected. Jacob’s story will continue to go on, but I am confident that even at 8 years old, he has learned what health feels like for him as an individual. That, I suppose, is all that I could ask for as his mama.
Congratulations to the two winners who were chosen though the random # generator (thank goodness for that thing, because I never could have chosen a winner from all of the amazing comments)
Loved this post! I strongly believe that food and health are connected. It’s no surprise to me that the countries who often have the lowest cancer, autism, alzheimers, and other disease rates are often countries that eat primarily whole grains, non-processed foods, and minimal meat. Though I am blessed to not have any allergies in my household, I am always looking for ways (preferably easy) to incorporate better choices. I garden, I cook with whole ingredients when possible, research food often (latest is bringing chia seed and coconut oil to ourdiets), make all our soap/shampoo/lotion and am always on the lookout for ways to avoid toxins. I often am challenged with a lack of inspiration and perhaps training in the kithen…behind unhappy with foods that don’t abound with flavor. My husband is Sri Lankan, and spices and flavors are a must. Though I stay home with my kids now, when I was previously working, my kids were in daycare…where they (unfortunately) developed a taste for processed bland food. I struggle with getting them to enjoy whole foods, and would so appreciate a dose of inspriration! Thank you, Heather, for sharing your family’s journey….what a blessing to have such a clear voice to put to words so beautifully what you experience.
It is with thankfulness I post a comment here. Sharing your story helps those of us that pursue a healthy walk in our kitchens to know that we are not alone. Others are struggling with issues, bigger than ours, and doing it with those we love in mind. I too struggle with auto immune issues and much pain. Because others depend on me I must press on and fight this fight in order to nourish myself and them. Thank you for the encouragement, inspiration and keeping it real.