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Diet Changes Are Hard, Part 3

The struggle is real! Some things are getting easier, some are still difficult.

Recall from parts 1 and 2, we gave up processed and over-refined foods at the beginning of the year, then we gave up diary, eggs, wheat, and peanuts about three months ago (for the background story on that later restrictions see this post).  Here’s an update on our progress…

First, the good. Dinners have become much less of a struggle than they were a couple months ago. We’ve found a few meals that are guaranteed hits, greatly reducing sorrow from both the diners and the chef. Kiddo1 has also been slightly more willing to try some foods, as long as each meal is served with at least one thing that he likes already. He’s much more willing to try a vegetable if it is served alongside the chicken he loves. And we found a vegan ranch dressing with which he’ll eat almost any veggie.

There are still nights when we butt heads a little, mostly the meatless nights. We’ve had Meatless Monday going for awhile now, but I just added Meatless Thursday (or leftover Thursday, depending). It is a struggle to find meatless meals with at least one thing that the kids already like, but it is good for us (both our physical health and financial health!). I’m sure they’ll get used to it just like the other changes! But it is really hilarious to see Baby2 get excited on the nights when we do have meat. She says, “Meat!” in this very excited voice and points to her empty place for me to pile it on.

Lunches are great. We’ve been very successful at putting together a healthy lunch for Kiddo1 to take to school every day. I’m sure that posting the lunches weekly has helped with that. Of course, I still struggle to get up from my home office computer and build myself a healthy lunch, but Mr. Handsome has helped – either by making my lunch or reminding me to eat on the days he can’t make something for me. I’ve found the key to successful lunches is making a bigger dinner than I think we need so that we have leftovers at the ready. That, and having a lunch fallback for the days there are no leftovers or the plan somehow falls through. Our go-to on those days is a lettuce wrap “sandwich” – ham and cucumber wrapped in a romaine leaf with a raw veggie side – usually carrots or, if we’ve got vegan ranch on hand, some broccoli.

Another good thing lately is that Kiddo1’s appetite has been super strong in the past couple months. I have to think that has something to do with eating foods that his system can handle well. Before we started these diet changes, he hardly ate at all. Now he’ll eat twice as much food as me and still ask for dessert. And a bedtime snack. At the beginning of the school year he complained that he had too much food for lunch, but now the lunch box comes home totally empty. Between meals he’s always asking for snacks and while that’s driving me nuts and wreaking havok on the grocery planning and budget, I couldn’t be happier that he is finally eating like a teenager. (PREEEE-teenager – I hope he didn’t hear that “teenager” slip! He’s only 11! But wants so desperately to be 13 already!)

Now the not-so-good… As much as I complain about the family’s willingness to try new foods, I’m probably the biggest “defector” of all of us. Confession time! Sometimes when I’m out of the house by myself, I go to Dairy Queen. I know! Now, I’ve already admitted this to the family and have made amends with them about it, but I still feel guilty. Although the guilt is not much in comparison to how my tummy has felt the last couple times I’ve had any kind of dairy. When I eat it, about three hours later I’m back to where I was two months ago – unable to do anything but lie down and wait for the pain to end. So now I don’t stop at Dairy Queen anymore. Damn you, Snickers Blizzard. Damn you.

Eating out in general is really difficult. Sometimes it seems like everything has cheese. Even gluten free hamburger buns have eggs. Meatballs have bread crumbs. There’s no getting away from all the allergens when we go out, unless we all have salads (and even then, the salad dressing could have cream, eggs, cheese, etc). We have been great at cooking our food at home, and the allergy concerns are a good motivator for that. Yet sometimes we want to go out for a special occasion or just because we have a free evening, but we have to be careful and plan ahead to find a place with a few items on the menu that we can have. That hunt is almost more difficult than just planning a special meal at home! But then we still have to do the dishes.

And as long as we’re on the not-so-good stuff, I’ll tel you that baking has been a struggle. After my first success with a bread mix, I went rogue and tried to develop a flour blend of my own that would work. The result? I found out it is really hard to do that! I must have baked 10 loaves of bread before deciding it was the flour mixture that was the problem, not the ratio of xanthan gum to flour, not the ratio of non-dairy milk to flour, not the baking powder vs baking soda (baking soda alone made the bread super gross!). But now I’ve changed my flour mix and the results have been better. Still not 100% awesome, but at least my loaves aren’t turning out super gummy anymore. The item that really got my confidence back up are the apple cider donuts I posted a few days ago. I’d still like to come up with a simpler flour blend for those, but for now I’ll bask in my victory.

Slowly but surely the new diet is getting easier. As it gets easier I find myself wanting to make more changes for example: I’d love to get us off sugar and I wish we’d eat more fermented foods. Perhaps I will make strides on those by the time I’m ready to post another update!

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Diet Changes are Hard, Part 2

Last time I wrote about why we’re making more big changes to our diet. Those changes are that we are cutting out dairy, eggs, wheat, and peanuts for at least a year. After reading a lot after receiving our son’s food allergy results (cause there were all kinds of weird stuff that came up on the IgE results that our doctor had never seen before and even the testing lab was really confused by; I won’t go into the details but I will say we always knew our son was one-of-a-kind!) and after learning so much more about foods I’ve also added some restrictions on our consumption of nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika, etc). We won’t cut them completely – a little pepper in a sausage skillet is okay, but we won’t eat a pizza (ugh, for multiple reasons, nightshades is like the least of our worries on that one).

We cut out all the 4 big ones right away (well, right after the ice cream binge I wrote about in the last post, haha). I’d say within two or three days we were totally converted (I still have a couple items in my pantry to give to friends but we’re just ignoring them for now). I took the time in the first few days to look up lots of new recipes that conform to our new diet so I wouldn’t have to wonder what to make. We went out to the flour warehouse and got some gluten-free flours to try. But no matter how much I try to research and prepare, it’s still hard to switch some things.

Breakfast had turned out to be the most difficult to meal plan for. It is hard to find breakfast items that aren’t eggs or bread/pancakes/waffles/muffins. Our breakfast staple lately has been bacon and eggs, so if we cut out the eggs we’re left with just bacon which, while delicious, isn’t the well-balanced breakfast that we’re going for.

Of course there’s fruit for breakfast, but fruit has a lot of sugar so I don’t want to just eat fruit every day. We need some protein, too.

One day we tried a breakfast skillet – it was mostly sweet potatoes (not a nightshade even though it has “potato” in the name, and actually they were yams or something), onion, our beloved bacon, garlic, salt and pepper (peppercorn: also not a nightshade). Mr. Handsome and I liked it, so did Kiddo1’s sleepover friend for the night, but Kiddo1 not so much. We will be trying again.

Flour is pretty easy to convert to gluten/wheat-free, although I’m discovering a bit of a learning curve with the more detailed baking tasks like muffins and pancakes. Bread, with it’s few ingredients, has been turning out great. I used the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Homemade Bread Mix for my first try, although I will experiment with GF flours to make my own mix (hopefully one that is nightshade-free, as BRM uses potato starch). I used the recipe on the side of the package (although I accidentally added both oil and my butter-replacer but it turned out really good!).

I really wanted to tackle an egg-free french toast for some reason (I guess because Kiddo1 loves french toast!) so the first thing I made with my first loaf of GF bread was super thick slices of french toast. I used this recipe from the Minimalist Baker – it calls for ground chia seeds instead of eggs (which I also used to make the bread). I used hemp milk for both recipes as well. For a dish that’s pretending to have eggs when it clearly does not, this was pretty good! I would add it to our regular breakfast rotation for sure.

We still can’t eat french toast every day, though (both because of nutrition and time, cause french toast took awhile to make). So I’m working on other recipes – more skillets, because they pack the biggest nutritional punch, but every few days we can have something bready like the french toast or pancakes (two fails on pancakes so far, still looking for a success on that front) or muffins (three sub-pair but edible tries on zucchini bread so far – we have a lot of zucchini from the garden to use). We’ll try to limit our fall-back bacon to just a couple times a week and sneak in other breakfast meats like sausage and even some chicken now and then (but we’re limiting chicken to once or twice a week cause that came up a little bit on Kiddo1’s food allergy test too).

We’re making big progress on breakfast but still struggling to find some rhythm with it. We have done really, really well at trying new things, though. In the last week alone we have done the following:

  • I made homemade lard and have used it as a butter substitute for almost everything (except greasing the baking pans – I still use butter for this because the lard doesn’t seem appealing and Mr. Handsome isn’t the biggest fan of coconut oil, so I need to come up with something for this).
  • Tries of GF baking/breakfasts already mentioned above.
  • We all tried several new-to-us squashes: acorn, kabocha, and yellow-hooked, with red kuri and pattypan waiting in the pantry.
  • We’ve tried coconut milk ice cream and while it isn’t totally the same it does help with the craving.
  • We’ve tried hemp milk in baking (I like it so far) and rice “chocolate” milk that isn’t so great but worth the try.
  • We’ve tried new allergy-friendly cookies from the store to also help with our sweet tooths.

I’m pretty proud of the whole family for coming along with all these changes so quickly. We still have so much progress to make with trying foods and incorporating new foods into our regular meal rotation but if we keep up this momentum we won’t have any troubles.

After we received the food allergy results and were leaving our naturopath’s office he said to us, try to focus more on the foods that you CAN eat instead of the ones you can’t. I try to think of that and remind everyone of it when things get tough. Sure there’s a bunch of things that we can’t have, but there are a bounty of foods out there that we can have and so many of those we’ve never even tried. I think we have a really exciting time ahead of us!

Foods and Bellies Update

Whoa, summer has totally gotten away from us! The days are slipping by so fast I can hardly stand it. I swear we were just on vacation and now it’s time to go back to school.

Speaking of vacation, I’m way behind on my recap posts but I’ll get there. I do want to make sure I document our trip as much as I can. Everything will get done eventually, right?

Today I wanted to write an update about how our diet changes are going, because there have been big developments. We’ve definitely taken things a few steps further…

I’ve briefly mentioned before that Kiddo1 has always had some stomach problems. We’ve seen a few doctors in the past and have been on a treatment plan for years, but nothing has ever really worked at making him feel better. We decided to take a completely different path than we always have – we’ve always seen regular doctors (two pediatricians and three gastroenterologists in two states) and have been prescribed pharmaceutical medications. There were mentions of other things we could do, mostly diet-related, but we never got a lot of guidance on anything else we could do. This time we scheduled another doctor’s appointment, but with a naturopathic doctor.

Naturopaths are like regular doctors – they have a license to practice medicine and they can write the same prescriptions as MDs. What is different is that they tap in to alternative forms as medicine to provide treatment as well. There are more interested in holistic health than treating symptoms, the latter of which we’ve found to be the M-O of most MDs (at least the ones we’ve seen!).

Right away we enjoyed hanging out with this doctor at our appointment. He asked us questions no one had ever asked before, and as I answered them I saw so many more probable causes of Kiddo1’s troubles reveal themselves. He looked at what I would think are totally random things, like at one point when we were checking out to leave he came over and asked to feel the texture of our hair. Kiddo1 and I both have sort of a dry, rough texture to our hair and he said this can be indicative of a thyroid condition (and wouldn’t you know it, thyroid issues are in my family history, which we had already talked about in the office). So we were impressed right away: impressed that he knew so much but, more importantly, impressed that he seemed to care about my son’s whole health (and even mine as we talked about symptoms that Kiddo1 and I might share). I could go on and on about how I now think everyone should go see a naturopath, but I think my point has been made.

So, the naturopath gave us a whole list of things we can do – supplements are on the list but there’s a lot of non-pill stuff too like breathing exercises and, wouldn’t you know it, diet changes. The first thing he had us do was get a food allergy test. Of course the test came with lots of disclaimers – it’s only so accurate, it’s just to get an idea of what could be the problem, it takes three weeks to come back, etc, etc. We also tested his thyroid levels with the same blood draw (which was good because we were not doing the blood draw twice! Mr. Handsome took him alone to that appointment and let’s just say Mr. Handsome and Kiddo1 probably needed a little more support for that activity).

For the last few months I’ve been blaming grains for his woes – I said so in that previous post I did about our diet changes. According to the food allergy test I was half right – Kiddo1 is sensitive to wheat (not rice or oats though!), he registered a 4/7 on the IGE allergen scale (that’s the one where you don’t have an immediate reaction to an allergen but rather a delayed one, which means that he can technically survive eating these foods but his body won’t work as well and he won’t ever thrive on these foods).

But the real culprit, which we didn’t really want to hear, is dairy. He’s a 5, almost 6/7 on the IGE for dairy. Casein, whey, yogurt, all of it. That was a rough blow for all of us.

We’re supposed to avoid dairy for a whole year. Avoid meaning do not touch it at all, watch out for hidden dairy in foods with caramel coloring, casein, and all that other stuff. We’re also supposed to avoid wheat and he came up high enough on eggs and peanuts to take those off the table for 3-6 months. In a year we will test again and if there is no change after all that avoiding, then we know the allergies are real. If there is change, we may be able to re-introduce foods on a super rare basis. So we do want to commit to this avoidance practice really hard so we can establish Kiddo1’s diet for the long term. I’d hate for him to have to avoid something for his whole life, so hopefully this year of sacrifice will pay off.

Damn you, dairy, with your delicious ice creams and cheeses! I never realized how much we relied on dairy until we had to cut it out. And by we…. I mean that we’re all taking on these diet changes in support of Kiddo1. Plus it’s really hard to make different things for everyone, and it would be really mean to scarf down a fat bowl of ice cream in front of Kiddo1 (or even behind his back – I had some cheese at a lunch outing last week and I felt so guilty! But it was so tasty!!). Cheese was getting us to try/eat so many veggies… What do we do about that now?

I’ll get into how we’ve reacted to this news in another post because this is getting long, but I wanted to add my own naturopath experince, too.

About a month ago I started getting stomach cramps. Not menstrual cramps because they were higher in my abdomen, but they felt almost the same – a tight, crampy feeling. The first day I had to lie down and I couldn’t make dinner because it hurt so bad. It happened again the next day, and again and again for like two weeks. I’m not one to go to the doctor voluntarily, but Mr. Handsome said this has gone on too long and I need to find out what was going on. If nothing else to rule out that I had something serious going on. I googled my symptoms (horrible thing to do when you have vague symptoms!) and everything from cancer to ulcers came up. So I caved to going to the doctor, but first I found a naturopath for myself! I like my son’s doctor but I just like to see a lady for some reason. And he likes to see boy doctors. So there you go.

My naturopath was also super great and asked a ton more questions than I normally get asked at the doctor. And not just the standard stuff they have to ask but honing in on something that catches their attention. By the end of the visit (naturopath visits are also really long – both our first appointments were 90 minutes each) we had ruled out cancer and ulcers, gull bladders and all kinds of stuff. My misery is a mystery! But she said that sometimes our bodies can only take so much of something. Maybe my wheat and dairy diet was just no longer serving me well.

This appointment happened about a week before we got the food allergy tests back. But my doctor and I also talked about my son and his digestive issues when she asked about family history (because digestive issues did not start with my son, they go very far up the family line except I’ve never experienced them). She said she’s seen his symptoms in 7 other children before (that she’s treated) and 5 times out of 7 it was a severe dairy allergy that was the culprit. I thought that was interesting, especially after getting Kiddo1’s test back the next week.

Anyway, even though we couldn’t pinpoint anything specific causes for my symptoms at my appointment, I still left with an action plan just like Kiddo1 did after his appointment (of course mine is different). I have a bunch of supplements to take and I’m supposed to journal my food intake (and sleep, stools, stomach “feels”), and I have some tools for dealing with cramps when I get them.

We immediately* changed our diet when we got Kiddo1’s allergy test and I started taking supplements around the same time. Since then I haven’t had another fit of cramps that have made me lie down for hours, so that’s progress! I thought maybe it was just the diet changes, not the supplements, but I didn’t take them one day and I didn’t feel as good. So then I thought the diet change had nothing to do with it, but after I had that cheese I didn’t feel as good either (and I snuck in a WHOLE pita bread the other day and just felt AWEFUL afterward). Of course these immediate reactions could be a result of all kinds of other things that I’m not aware of, but for now I’ll just keep taking my supplements and avoiding some foods because I feel better when I do so.

But eating, man… eating is harder. I promise to write soon about that!

*”immediately” meaning we all went home from the appointment and stuffed our faces full of ice cream and cheese and bread. Seriously, first we had ice cream, then mac and cheese for dinner and more ice cream. We gave away our wheat flour and our cheese and threw out old cereal and potato chips but we ate every last bit of ice cream in that freezer and felt damn good about it. It was gone after two days and we look back on it fondly. Everything else we cut out cold.