Thriving Gluten-Free

A warrior mom’s victory over gluten’s effect on her family

Thriving Gluten-Free ImageEvery mother’s prayer is that her child will be strong and healthy, possessing all ten fingers and toes. When a child emerges into our life receiving good APGAR scores and showing off his or her amazing lung capacity with loud crying, we breathe a sigh of relief. We cuddle them close while they sleep and wonder how we ever lived without them. We have no idea what the future will hold and as we feed them, we are clueless (at least I was) as to the key role these nutrients will play in their present and future well-being.

I struggled to have my third child, Sammy, at 41 years old. You can imagine my joy and elation when I received the news that I was pregnant and then again when Sammy was placed in my arms for the first time. I existed in maternal bliss while nursing, diapering, and attending baby music classes. Life was good from my perspective. As little signs began to surface with my new baby, I attributed them to the unique individuality of each person. I thought that Sammy’s hypersensitivity to sound surely meant he was going to be a musician. As a mother of three children, I was keenly aware of how differently each child responds to the world. My two older children suffer with allergies and intestinal issues, so Sammy’s colic and chronic constipation concerned me but did not surprise me. He was born into a family of allergic, sensitive people.

Even when I began to suspect that his speech was delayed, I was not overly concerned. He is a boy, after all. They are typically slower to develop than girls, I told myself. It was much easier to stay within my box of denial than to face a potential problem. It was my 16 year old daughter that confirmed my suspicions about Sammy’s sluggish speech development (based on her experience with baby- sitting other children Sammy’s age).

Around the same time, Sammy’s uncle on his father’s side was diagnosed late in life on the autism spectrum. Curious about this new diagnosis, I did some research and ran across information on symptoms in infants and toddlers. I read over the bullet list of symptoms and my heart sank. Sammy had almost every symptom on the list and as I read on, I learned that this disorder is considered genetic and tends to be more common in males. My heart sank even further.

At Sammy’s next checkup, I casually mentioned some of the symptoms I had noticed. His pediatrician immediately ran an autism screening test and then suggested, based on the results, that we do a formal evaluation at the autism spectrum center. After a full day of testing and analysis, I sat in the psychologist’s office weary and tired trying to entertain my equally fed up 2½ year old. The doctor immediately began discussing early intervention therapies. I raised my hand in front of me so he would pause and said, “Are you saying he does have autism?” He nodded his head in agreement and began to explain the autism spectrum. I heard very little of it as I felt like I was free falling through a big black hole. My son has autism.

I knew from that day forward our lives would be forever changed. While looking at him in my rearview mirror on the way home, I noted his chubby little cheeks and his wide innocent eyes. My tears began to flow. I vowed in that moment that I would figure this out. I would save my son from the grips of autism.

What I didn’t realize in that moment is that I already possessed the knowledge to heal his body and mind. Only one year prior, I had made a drastic lifestyle change in my diet. At the time, I was obese (size 22 and over 200 pounds), horribly depressed, suffering with anxiety, insomnia, palpitations, heightened allergies and asthma, chronic body pain, and digestive issues including heartburn, indigestion, gas, bloating, and irregularity. I had been diagnosed with arthritis and could barely get up and down the stairs in the morning. I was desperately seeking answers when I ran across information on an elimination diet that suggested removing potentially inflammatory foods such as gluten and dairy. I had suffered with allergies and food sensitivities my entire life, so the diet concept really resonated with me and I decided to try it.

The results were astounding. My depression immediately began to lift. My anxiety and allergies calmed down and my body pain began to dissipate. My excess weight began to melt away and eventually I lost over 60 pounds and seven dress sizes. In this process, I discovered I am sensitive to gluten, dairy (which I already knew), soy, eggs, chocolate, canola oil, nightshade vegetables, and flaxseed. Removing these foods from my diet cooled the inflammation and allowed my body to begin healing.

After reading several books written by autism parents who were successful with diet intervention, it was a “no brainer” for me to put Sammy on the same diet. They spoke of words such as “recovered” and “mainstreamed.” For the first time in weeks, I had hope and dreamed of using these words, too. I knew my children had inherited my sensitive immune sys- tem so I was intrigued to see if the diet could work for Sam.

It’s interesting that at the time I didn’t consider myself “gluten-free.” Gluten was just one of many foods I had to remove to improve my health. The GF craze was just beginning to surface. In the autism world, the diet is referred to as GFCF – GF for gluten-free and CF for casein-free. Casein is one of the protein molecules in milk. After reading the books, I realized that I, too, was “GFCF.” When I read that gluten and dairy can affect brain function, I immediately removed these foods from Sammy’s diet. I took it a step further and implemented a full elimination diet. He was eating only vegetables, lean clean proteins, fruit, brown rice, and healthy fats. He transitioned beautifully.
Thriving Gluten-Free Image It’s interesting that at the time I didn’t consider myself “gluten-free.” Gluten was just one of many foods I had to remove to improve my health. The GF craze was just beginning to surface. In the autism world, the diet is referred to as GFCF – GF for gluten-free and CF for casein-free. Casein is one of the protein molecules in milk. After reading the books, I realized that I, too, was “GFCF.” When I read that gluten and dairy can affect brain function, I immediately removed these foods from Sammy’s diet. I took it a step further and implemented a full elimination diet. He was eating only vegetables, lean clean proteins, fruit, brown rice, and healthy fats. He transitioned beautifully.

It was a complicated journey figuring out all of Sammy’s food sensitivities. I was careful to identify the other foods that Sam is sensitive to such as eggs, sugar, and color dye. I also removed toxic substances such as pesticides, genetically modified foods, additives, and preservatives. His bath and drinking water are filtered to remove fluoride, chlorine, and other possible toxins. I protect his body as much as possible to avoid potential inflammation.

In the healing process, we also learned that Sammy has a low level of glutathione, which is like an army in the body that fights toxicity. We also investigated and addressed issues such as Candida, parasites, bacterial overgrowth, nutritional deficiencies, and heavy metal toxicity. All these things, I’ve learned, can contribute to impaired digestion and brain function.

What I didn’t know seven years ago is how intimately our digestive system and brain are connected. For me, my food sensitivities manifested as depression, anxiety, and many other health complications. For my son, it manifested as autism and borderline failure to thrive. As I look around my side of the family, I see rampant depression and anxiety (as well as many other health issues such as asthma, various digestive issues, and diabetes). I’ve heard it said that genetics load the chamber of a gun while environmental toxicity and stress (including food sensitivities) pull the trigger. Even though Sammy’s problems compared to mine look very different, they were solved with the same prescription – identifying all food sensitivities and cleaning up the diet. I now run several gluten-free support groups in my local area and have noticed that a very high majority of my members have multiple food sensitivities. Gluten very often is only the beginning of the list.

Today, at seven years old, Sammy is considered to be in “managed recovery.” In 2012, he was mainstreamed for elementary school with no assistance. He is doing well in all facets of his life, including socially. He is well liked by his peers and has more play dates than I can keep up with. He’s tough, courageous, and has a big heart. There is no doubt in my mind that this diet played a key role in healing our bodies and transforming our lives.
Thriving Gluten-Free Image

It’s been an amazing journey of discovery and transitions for us. People often ask me how I manage this gluten-free (and more) lifestyle. It can be challenging, but the results are well worth it. I am grateful to have learned all that I know about diet and our nutritional needs. I was asleep at the wheel seven years ago. I ate whatever was convenient, quick, and easy. I had no idea how it was affecting mine and my children’s bodies. I had yet to connect the dots between what I was feeding my family and what was manifesting in our health and behavior.

As I watch my son having everyday typical experiences and as I play with him, going up and down the slide with ease, I am eternally grateful for all that I have learned and am glad that I connected the dots. I tell people, “Yes, my son still has autism. But autism doesn’t have my son.”

Written by Kim Rice

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