As a young adult and young mother, I used to pride myself on what I thought were good nutrition habits. I spent years in nursing school learning about low fat diets, heart healthy diets, the importance of milk and dairy, etc. I tried to make sure my kids got a few fruits and veggies each day and tried to limit the number of sucker handouts (why is someone always trying to hand your kid a sucker?!). I ate packaged bars and meals because they were advertised as “low calorie.” I would dump the egg yolks because they were “high cholesterol.”
Later in my 20s…I started to get real with my understanding of nutrition. The more I would learn, the more appalled I was with my old ways. Our pantry and refrigerator started to change. My husband would often rummage through the refrigerator looking for some staple item or condiment we used to have, and then say…"Oh, we aren’t allowed to eat that anymore, either?!”
Fast forward a few years. My oldest son was 8 and was struggling big time with a long list of things like ADHD, anxiety, belly aches, behavioral struggles, sleep issues and a tic disorder. I spent years feeling like I was spinning my wheels in circles with Luke. Pediatrician appointments with no answers. Department after department at Children’s. 5 different medications, each one a worse experience than the last. Lots and lots of tears (for both of us). I was tired. That kind of deep tired that actually makes you ache. Our family was stressed ALL THE TIME. At my wits end, we took a long shot and enrolled in a program that took a whole new approach. As one part of the program, we were asked to follow a strict nutrition plan. No gluten. No dairy. No refined sugar for 3 months. How in the world was I ever going to make this happen with an 8 year old?! I was anxiety ridden for days as I tried to wrap my head around how to introduce and implement this with him. What would he pack for lunch every day? What was he going to do at a birthday party? But if we were going to invest the time, money and energy…I figured we were going to do it right!
Luckily, I had enough base nutrition knowledge at this point to know that what the doctors were saying was true. These foods cause inflammation, and inflammation is often a silent, yet destructive, force in our bodies. We started seeing a new primary care doctor who also had the same nutrition advice. He told me to think of Luke’s brain as if it was on fire. If the inflammation would calm down, so would all of his symptoms. After years of spinning my wheels, he assured me that the answer would actually be quite simple.
We slowly started implementing the changes. We worked on one elimination at a time. There were some rough battles at the beginning, but, surprisingly, Luke got on board quickly. He seemed to enjoy being in control of his food. He also knew how bad he had felt for so long. As each month passed, one symptom after another faded. The anxiety dissipated. The hysterical phone calls from school because of belly pain stopped. He was falling asleep at night without the help of the nightly melatonin. His behavior outbursts dwindled. And last but not least, the tics finally faded. At the end of the program, we had the option to reintroduce the foods one at a time. Luke had zero interest. The changes were not only obvious to us…he knew how much better he felt.
Here are some tips that I have learned along this journey.
1. Food matters. We all like to think it’s not that big of a deal. Truth is…we become what we eat. If you’re struggling with any kind of medical diagnosis, don’t assume that you are doomed to be a product of the symptoms. Challenge yourself to really examine how food could be your medicine.
2. Eat REAL FOOD. If the ingredient list is a mile long and full of things you can’t pronounce, it’s not real food. Real food has 1 ingredient. The ingredient labels look like this…apple, egg, potato, fish.
3. Take a good probiotic. I have read countless articles about the gut-brain connection. Many doctors believe the first step to treating anxiety, depression, etc. is to take a probiotic. Healthy gut flora will help to promote healthy brain activity.
4. Sugar, gluten and dairy are the 3 top offenders for causing inflammation that wreaks havoc on our bodies.
5. Educate yourself. Start reading books, watching videos, listening to talks. The more you learn, the harder it is to continue your old nutrition habits.
6. Surround yourself with people who also care about their health...like your Cornerstone Family!!! Talk about food with them. Share recipes, ideas, struggles, failures. Be real. Let them support you.
7. Kids are capable of eating real food too! Get creative and allow them to be part of real food shopping, prepping and cooking. My kids love getting to go to the grocery and each pick something from the produce section that they’ve never tried before. There are some really interesting/exotic fruits and veggies out there!