I'm warning you now, this is a longer post than usual. There is no way for me to say what I have to say and make it short and sweet. Maybe I haven't wrote this post before because it's such a lengthy one, or maybe it's because I wasn't ready to share something so personal. But I am ready now. Ready to share with you, because it's such a big part of our life, and ready because as a student in holistic nutrition, I hope I can help other families someday. So sharing my own experience, is part of the journey.
How it all began...
When my son was born, he was the happiest, easiest little baby. He was so easy going and never fussy. I was so blessed to have him as a first baby! He always had these big, beautiful, "smiley" brown eyes, and from the moment he was old enough to laugh, he had the best belly laugh ever.
Days before he turned one, he started having night terrors, but I soon figured out they happened when he was over tired. So we were able to avoid them for the most part by being very careful not to skip naps and such. Right before his 18 months, his little sister was born. A month and a half later, we moved across country since my hubby started a new job and it was a new beginning for us as a family. I was happy to move, and felt at home in our new town right away. Right around the time of the move, I started having immense pains. It was gallstones. While we were still closer to my hubby's work, he was still away for 2 weeks at a time. So for two weeks, I'd deal with pain so strong I could barely get up and hold my baby to feed her, let alone chase my little guy around and keep him busy. I could barely eat anything, and making meals for just 1 toddler seemed unfeasable at the time. So I started relying on prepared foods. Sandwiches with processed meats, canned pasta in sauces, etc. I didn't know anything about healthy eating, and did the best that I could given my knowledge and situation. I didn't realize it then, but it's around this time his behaviour seemed to change.
Now, lets back up to the move itself for a second. It seemed hard on him. We didn't move with trucks and all our furniture. I took a plane with the kids and our suitcases. My hubby had been over here for a few months already, so he had found us a place, new to us furniture and everything. Of course, I brought some toys and the kids "blankies" and such, but for a 1 1/2 year old, having a new home, a new crib, a new mattress, missing half his toys and not having his grandparents across the yard anymore was all a bit too much. He wouldn't sleep at night. He wouldn't nap anymore. He was beyond exhausted and started having multiple night terrors at night. It was exhausting. And during the day, he was a little terror at times. Terrorizing the house, and he was already showing signs of defiance by the age of two. I remember thinking, how can a 2 year old not listen to his mother on purpose. Sometimes, many times, he'd look at me right in the eye, and do exactly what I had just told him not to. I think that it's not that I didn't see a change in behaviour at the time, but I think I was too sick to notice when it would happen and what the trigger was.
A mom's instincts...
Life went on, and I did the best I could as a parent. By the time he turned 3, the little voice in my head was telling me something was off. I brushed it off for a while, but looking back, it was a great lesson in listening to that mom instinct. Moms know best. If your a mom, don't ever doubt yourself! It's a heck of an instinct we have, we are wired to know when something is wrong with our child, to know that something has to change. I heard so many times, while talking with family and friends about how hyper he was, that "it's normal, he's a boy!". But still, I didn't think it was. After doing some research, I realized he might have ADHD.
When looking at the checklists, he had just about every single symptom. My hubby didn't want me to take him to the Dr, because he was against putting him on medication. I assured him I was against that too, but said I needed to know if that's what he had. I figured I'd deal with finding a natural way to make it better once I knew.
The importance of a good Dr...
I've loved my Dr from the first time I went to see him. I was lucky to have found him as our family Dr exactly 4 days after moving here. One of the things that makes him such a great Dr, in my opinion, is that he doesn't pretend to know everything, he doesn't try to get you to take all kinds of medication as fix all, and that he is very open minded, even when it comes to natural medicine. When I went to that appointment, telling him I thought my son had ADHD, he listened, asked questions, and listened some more. Finally, he gave me a questionnaire to take home. Having done some research, I knew it was the ADHD check list. But, that's not all he did... and this would be life changing.
He asked me to write a food and mood journal. Why? Because food sensitivities can disguise themselves as ADHD. That's right. If your child is sensitive to, lets say, strawberries, it could manifest itself as ADHD symptoms when they eat them. (I'll explain the why and how in detail in another post in the future)
Over the next couple weeks, I wrote what mood he would wake up in, what he would eat through the day, and would write down his mood changes along the day. If he got really upset, but felt there was a valid reason, I'd write that too. So that a few days later, when I'd look at the journal, I'd know if it was food related or not. It took me no longer than two weeks to realize that he was sensitive to sugar and food dyes, mostly orange. 2 weeks. That's it. And I did it on my own.
After that, over a very short period of time, I taught myself how to bake with natural sweeteners, changed his multi-vitamins for some without chemical food dyes or processed sugar, and learned more about the realities of the food industry than I was ready to hear.
The changes in my son were HUGE! He wasn't so aggressive anymore, and was so much calmer! (In a normal boy kinda way, LOL). I am so glad I didn't give him drugs to sedate him though, and wonder how many parents out there don't know just how much food could be the culprit when it comes to their child diagnosed with ADHD (or not diagnosed). And that ADHD questionnaire? I threw it out. Maybe he has it, maybe it's just food that's the issue, I don't know and I don't care. I don't need him to be labeled.
When I started feeling like things were changing...
Fast forward to this summer. We moved to our new house and the kids were SO happy to finally have a yard. When school ended for summer vacation, I thought it would be the best summer ever. I know I only post about the happy and pretty, and I don't do it to give people a false image of what our reality is. I do it because I want to look back and remember the happy moments. But this summer, was one of the worse ones ever, in some ways. I received so much attitude from my son, he didn't do what I'd ask, he would barely ever play outside, and he had no issue being rude to me. I was beyond exhausted.
I've never been perfect with the food thing, but I was still very careful. I still don't bake with processed sugar, won't feed him food dye either, but he'd still have some breakfast cereal that had "some" sugar in them. He'd still eat (certain kinds only) granola bars that had "some" sugar in them. I figured, ok, it's adding up and it's clearly too much for his system. So I started being even more careful. Things improved dramatically, and my boy was back! Until he broke his nose a few weeks ago. He fell in the school yard and landed on his face, poor kid. He was feeling ok the first day, but then started feeling the pain. The Dr at emergency said to give him some Ibuprofen to help with pain and swelling. Of course, I always buy the dye free ones, but don't like to give it to them. I usually try to do natural alternatives. But it's a broken nose, and he can't just carry an ice pack around school. So I gave him some Ibuprofen in the morning before sending him to school. And I did so for 3 days in a row. Until finally, he came back from school one day, a very angry little person. And angry and hyper one. One that couldn't listen, one that would be set off by the smallest little detail and gravely irritated if anything wasn't exactly what he wanted. He had tantrums to a 2 year old level, throwing himself on the floor screaming, but at 7 years old. That moment sparked something in me. I remembered reading something in my school books recently, about Sodium Benzoate being a common trigger for ADHD. So I checked the bottle of Ibuprofen, and sure enough, there it was on the ingredient list. To top it all off, while looking if Sodium Benzoate was in other foods he was already eating, I realized that the breakfast cereal he had been eating for 2 weeks had changed their ingredients since last time, and was full of food dyes.
After a few days and a bit of detoxing, he was getting back to himself. That's when I realized that I needed a bit of help. I had taught myself so much over the years about nutrition, and he even inspired me to study holistic nutrition (yes, that's why I started getting into my studies :), but clearly I couldn't do everything on my own if it took me 4 years to figure out this 1 ingredient was a major trigger.
So last week, I took him for a sensitivity test, done at my local health food store. The results surprised me!
First, she confirmed what my instincts told me when doing the food journal all these years ago. He is, in fact, sensitive to food dye and refined sugar (white and brown). I always felt that he was ok with molasses though, and he is. (See those mom instincts I was talking about? They truly need to be more trusted!) But I found out that he is also sensitive to wheat (but not gluten), dairy, soy, buckwheat, yeast and grapes. He also tested positive for the heavy metals Cadmium, lead and Mercury. Talk about crazy! She did a homeopathic treatment to help him get rid of the heavy metals (as they can also cause behavioural issues) and we've been monitoring his diet since that day last week.
The verdict? He is doing so much better already, it's amazing!
Now there was one day, where he did have something he shouldn't have, and you could tell it affected him. We really are what we eat! I am, our whole family is, in fact, on a new healthy whole food eating path now. Finding gluten-free products that are dairy free, is not that hard. But add sugar to the list, and it's next to impossible to find. I will be cooking/baking/making from scratch more than ever from now on (down to dairy-free yogourt). It's quite an adjustment, but I am glad it happened to us. Really, I am. Who better for this to happen, than a family with a mom studying nutrition. This is what I want to do, help other families change their lives through eating, and when I do that, I will be speaking from experience. Who better to help my kid than me!
If you've made it all the way here, thanks for reading this far!
It's such a personal journey, and it's one I was reluctant to share until now. I hope this can help others, in some way or another. I will be back tomorrow with a (much shorter) post, to tell you how I got my kid on board with eating "differently" without him being angry or defiant about it. I think this is huge if a child needs to eat a different diet. My approach was one that came naturally to me, thank goodness, and it's worked every step of the way.