Gluten-free living goes beyond bubble-gut
Two years ago I decided I’d had enough of the frequent ER visits for mysterious gastritis that had me levitating off the toilet in pain and decided to try out a new diet based upon a theory I developed – this bread-o-holic was, in fact, gluten intolerant. Boy was I right, living gluten-free was one of the smartest and hardest decisions of my life, but I’ve adjusted despite my misguided beginning and I’ve found that life without gluten is easier, healthier and a lot less excruciating. My bubble gut is a thing of the past. This week I decided to expand the gluten-free life to include my now 3 year old son Noah. Just when my little family of three settled into our different dieting needs I decided to throw it back into a state of upheaval.
Two days into this “gluten-free trial” for Noah and I have a feeling it will become a permanent way of life – my kid is going to be “that” kid, you know, the one who says “Oh I can’t eat that, I’m gluten-free.” But hey, that’s not so unusual in the hippie raising culture of Northern California. I’d much rather have him be the gluten-free kid then the kid he was last week when gluten was ruining his happiness.
I’ve always described Noah as a sensitive kid. He had colic as a baby, is easily startled, and has specific fears. I always chalked it up to Noah being a very intelligent child, which he certainly is, and hoped he would grow out of these little idiosyncrasies. At a little over 3 years of age, the issues that were always there have become more dramatic and harder to deal with – I can’t easily move him out of a situation. He’s literally ¾ the size of me and as strong as a wild gorilla. His reactions to noxious stimuli are larger, louder, sometimes physical, and there’s no way of talking him “off the emotional ledge.” Specifically he’s extremely sensitive to certain loud sounds, some textures, and generally has a short fuse.
I’ve tried most angles, aside from physical punishment, to help him and even focused on developing coping strategies — like plugging his ears. In the past month, the phrase “I’m so scared” gets uttered more often throughout the day — every day. It is heartbreaking to watch him suffer, and sometimes his fears have debilitated him from enjoying the things he loves most.
I started speaking to other moms about Noah’s challenges, only to find that “sensory sensitivities” are more common than you’d think. We all have things we don’t like – I’m particularly sensitive to people screaming on rollercoasters. My husband won’t eat rice because the texture reminds him of maggots. With sensory sensitivity it’s more than a dramatic dislike, it’s almost like the sensory input overwhelms them to the point that it causes emotional and even physical pain. It’s scary to watch. I finally broke down last week after a string of “bad days” and called for help — his pediatrician, the Alta regional social worker, his speech therapist — anyone who had connections to services that might help us. Our pediatrician jumped right on it and we’re set for an occupational therapy evaluation later this month.
Sometimes it feels like the answer is right in front of you. With the colic, Noah actually had a milk protein intolerance. Different formula = happy baby! In the forward of my newest and most favorite gluten-free cookbook the author (the wife of a celiac maniac) described how her children’s issues (ADHD, vision problems, dermatitis, and night terrors) all disappeared once the entire family went gluten-free. It was my “ah-ha” moment. My son eats gluten like I used to. Sure he doesn’t have the obvious GI issues I had, but maybe gluten was poisoning him in another way? It’s not farfetched to think that his short fuse, sensory sensitivity, and outbursts are brought on by the nutritional deficiencies, GI upset, and general feeling of “yuck” I experienced when I was being poisoned by gluten. Maybe this explains the inconsistency in his behavior? Are good days related to less gluten in his diet, and vice versa for bad days?
I’m listening to this VERY LOUD hunch and putting my theory to the test. Today is Day 2 of the gluten-free trial week and I’m already seeing major behavior differences. Does he still react to things he doesn’t like? Of course, he’s 3 years old, but the reaction is less on every degree and short lived.
I know this will take time, preparation, planning, and “buy in” from Noah’s community of caretakers, but I truly feel I’m onto something — Gluten sucks.
Gluten is in everything. It’s commonly used in processed foods. It’s hidden in things like soy sauce and caramel coloring. It’s easy to cross contaminate. It takes a lot of willpower — one thing a 3 year old has very little of. But I can do this. If I did it for myself, then I can do it for him. I can’t help but think that the past two years was just the warm-up for my entire family’s diet overhaul. I’ve also started thinking about what else could be out there debilitating us from achieving our true potential.
With the rise in developmental issues such as ADHD, autism, learning disabilities and social issues, one has to wonder where it’s all coming from. Why are our children having such a hard time?
I’ve read that if you took the DNA of a wheat grain today and compared it with the DNA of a wheat grain 100 years ago you’d find a completely different species of plant. Through cross-breeding in farming and genetic modifications our wheat has completely changed, and may possibly be incompatible with our digestive systems, wreaking havoc on our bodies. Our western society has also seen an influx of wheat in our diet, as one of our countries top agricultural markets, and the base of the FDA food pyramid. Could gluten also be the base to our country’s health and emotional wellness issues?
I don’t know if this is THE solution. I do know my son is sensitive, and it makes sense that he could be sensitive to gluten just like his mom. I just want to do my best for him. He’s the light of my life and I want him to have everything he needs to flourish in this world. Heck, two days in and he hasn’t even noticed! He’s young enough that he won’t remember what he’s missing.
Our body is only as strong as the food we provide it. We have a responsibility as parents to provide our children the fuel they need to thrive. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I’m living this one. I’ve experienced the transformative process of going gluten-free and although I do miss a nice buttery croissant, my body has taught me that “cheating” isn’t worth it, and consistency pays off. If I’m willing to make this change for my own health why in the world wouldn’t I want to do this for my son as well?