I stood in the aisle of a local all natural food store, my eyes brimming with tears, ready to run out. Confusing labels and too many options were making me crazy. The pressure felt intense. I turned to my husband and said, “We can’t do this.” He said, “Well, we at least have to try.”
We had our son on a Standard American Diet for the first year and a half of his life. Which meant that he was generally eating what many toddlers eat: mac and cheese, pizza, grilled cheese, pasta, PBJ, cheerios, bagels, waffles, pretzels, etc. Some fruits and vegetables when I could sneak them in. I had failed miserably at breastfeeding, only making it to six weeks (and by the skin of my teeth and with supplementation) before switching to several different formulas and then whole milk.
We had heard all about the benefits of a gluten and dairy-free diet for children showing autistic symptoms, and we knew this was going to be our first line of defense, but we were lost in a sea of too much information. I needed to be hand-held. We initially took Bean to a DAN doctor to help us get started. Again, we were immediately overwhelmed by all the information being thrown at us. I remember thinking, how am I ever going to learn to read a food label properly? How am I ever going to get him to try new foods? How can I take away his beloved grilled cheese? How do we even know this is going to work?
There really was no way of knowing. We started by replacing his current processed foods with GFCF processed foods. Which meant I spent a lot of time looking for the right gluten-free bread. Then the right gluten-free cookies and the right gluten-free cereal. All of them rice-based. We switched to a name-brand almond milk. Bean started to do a little bit better, was a lot less foggy, but his digestive tract was still a mess. It wasn’t until we hooked up with a holistic nutritionist that we started to realize what clean eating truly meant. She explained that moving from gluten and dairy to a diet heavy in rice and starches was not going to help. Bean needed whole foods, unprocessed foods, and lots of healthy vegetables to get his gut to heal.
I sat with this information for awhile, once again feeling overwhelmed. And by awhile I meant a few months. I was newly pregnant with my second child and was experiencing all day sickness. I was still getting adjusted to a life of daily therapy for our son, which often kept us tied down to our house during the day. I was training with Bean’s teachers to learn how to carry through on therapy even when they weren’t around, so we could keep Bean open to his environment and and learning. I couldn’t imagine never buying another processed thing to make my life easier.
My nutritionist broke it down for me. Keep it simple, she said. Just start with meat, vegetables, and low-sugar fruits. Simple enough, but a big leap away from the type of meals we were used to. No pasta or rice side dishes? No creamy sauces?
Well, over time, we would have our filling side dishes again, and our creamy sauces. It would just take some inventiveness and some research to find ways to make our foods tasty again. I just didn’t go into that right away. I needed to build up to the more complicated recipes. Heck, I’m still building up to those recipes. And that meant Bean has eaten many a scrambled egg while his Mama figured out how to do more.
Plus, you really can change your taste buds! I am a testament to that, and so is my husband, who would never in a million years have tried some of the stuff he now eats. E remembers how ingrained in his mind or “normal” our American (processed food) diet seemed at that time and how foreign the idea of eating whole foods was. His current perspective is a total 180 from where we started.
Next up, how we knew it was autism and the awesome progress our son has made since then.