As published in Macaroni Kid – November 4, 2015
It was subtle at first, some weight gain, more frequent gas and headaches. Then began the bloating, brain fog, anxiety, forgetfulness, increased motor tics. He was 7 at the time.
As a parent, the progression of emotions is normal. Impatience with the child’s behaviors. Realization that this is not a behavioral issue. Confusion over what is causing your child’s distress and discomfort. Frustration with the doctor’s lack of direction. A chronic need to have an answer and a plan to return your child back to health.
As a nutrition professional, I knew there was an underlying issue. Something that the pediatrician would not normally look at. In the integrative community, we are learning more and more frequently that behavioral, emotional and digestive issues in children usually points to food sensitivities and nutrient deficiencies.
Sure enough, the food allergy testing showed not one, but several food sensitivities including gluten, whey, cow’s milk, eggs, beef, peanuts, cheeses – all these things that are found in so many of the foods children eat.
We stared in both amazement and fear at the results. There is a level of shock when you realize that everything has to change. Restrictions, especially for children, can be extremely difficult to manage, as I’m sure every parent knows. Even though I have struggled with years of my own autoimmune-related dietary restrictions, I knew that for a child this would be a different kind of battle and my heart broke for him in that moment.
There is one positive thing about a broken heart – it drives us. It drives us to improve, overcome, fight or whatever the case may be. Change is difficult, but with the proper motivation, anything is possible. So, sometimes – we have cookies for breakfast.
There are few things from this journey, good lessons, that I would like to share – to give hope and guidance to other parents struggling with similar circumstances.
It’s OK to have cookies for breakfast. Restricting you and your child’s diet can take the fun out of food. We have so many online resources available to us, it is possible to find easy, fun, nutrient-dense recipes for any meal. My favorite decision I’ve made as a parent of a child with food sensitivities, is to make it OK to have cookies for breakfast. I make cookies that are filled with protein, carbs and healthy fats (find my favorite recipe below) to give the children the fuel they need to function at their best – but to them, they’re having COOKIES first thing in the morning, and it’s awesome! Food should be exciting, but for some reason, in our society we relate excitement to negative items such as cake, cookies, candy, ice cream and other refined sugars – feeding into the development of food sensitivities. With a little bit of effort and a whole lot of reward, you can give your children the same excitement, without the repercussions on their health.
Communication and education are the most important tools at ANY age. When it comes to our children’s health, we don’t always take the time to explain. “Eat this.” “Take that.” “Because I said so…” Take a moment and think about your own experiences. Aren’t you more likely to comply with something if you understand the reasons, the WHY, behind it? In my practice, my priority is to spend time educating my clients on the WHY for that very reason. I spent numerous hours over the course of this transition within my family explaining about nutrition and their health. No, I didn’t sit there, lecture and torture them with boredom – but we talked about it over dinner, or while I was cooking, or when a symptom came up and or when someone wasn’t feeling well. When the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed and ran with it. And sure enough, because he understood how the food sensitivities were affecting his body, it was easier to adjust and accept the changes. In fact, he has come to enjoy learning about nutrition, he asks questions and loves telling others about healthy food. Children will understand a lot more than we give them credit for, as long as we take the time to nurture the interest.
Take care of yourself. There is that example that’s constantly used – you know – the one where you have to put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else with theirs. Well, they say that because it’s true. We are no good to anyone else when we do not care for ourselves. When we are overwhelmed, stressed, tired, we are short tempered, rushed and easily distracted. Allow yourself any chance you can take to just breathe, and when time allows (or sometimes we must MAKE the time), engage in activities you enjoy. Do not always put your needs aside – It is OK to do something for YOU. When your child is struggling with a big change and dealing with food sensitivities it is even more important to make sure that you are at your best. They will need extra understanding, communication and love from you during this time.
There is hope out there, parents. I am thrilled to say that most of the symptoms we experienced are resolved with the new dietary changes and it was worth every single moment of difficulty, stress or bewilderment. It taught me many things as a parent and it taught him, first hand, the importance of health and nutrition – an important lesson for any child.
Mainstream medicine has taught us how to treat a symptom. There are medications for everything – digestive problems, behavioral issues, headaches. However, our children deserve more. They deserve to uncover the root cause of their symptoms and heal in order to promote a successful, healthy future. If your child is currently struggling with any type of symptom, do yourself (and them) a favor and take a look at their diet – you may be very surprised by what you find.
Jessica Sullivan, LMSW, SFG, NTP
Recipe for Breakfast Cookies:
- 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
- 2 ripe bananas
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 tbsp unflavored collagen (try Great Lakes brand)
- 2 tbsp Enjoy Life brand allergen-free chocolate chips (optional)
- Add bananas, collagen, cinnamon and 1 cup of coconut to food processor.
- Process until smooth.
- Add 1 cup of coconut and stir until fully combined.
- Stir in chocolate chips, if using.
- If runny, add more shredded coconut until desired consistency.
- Scoop mixture onto greased cookie pan in 2-3 tbsp increments and pat down into cookie shape
- Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until they are browned to desired crispiness.
Store in the fridge. These also taste great cold.