I internally debated for quite a while whether Unschool Day was the appropriate venue for my family’s story of healing our bodies with real food. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how our story is perfectly aligned with a blog about unique learning styles and individual paths to success. My ability to research, think critically and act outside the box has brought great hope and health to my family. I hope you also see the connections.
I was a sick baby and child. It started early with a parasitic infection at four months old and quickly evolved into chronic sinus infections and seasonal allergies. Multiple surgeries, seemingly endless rounds of oral antibiotics and steroids, months of IV antibiotics, poor digestion and many many missed days of school were a big part of my childhood. At the same time, I was also dealing with an ADHD diagnosis with meds I hated, rage and impulsivity, large chunks of missed skills at school from being sick so often and other symptoms that made life difficult for me and my family.
But life marched on. I was a competitive gymnast, high school cheerleader, co-editor of my high school newspaper, left high school a year early and graduated college in 4 years. I married my true love and had three beautiful babies and a miscarriage in 5 years. It was that 3rd baby that really threw me for a loop. An undiagnosed upper lip tie wreaked havoc on my breasts – chronic plugged ducts and low grade mastitis was my life until his tie tore at 18 months with a very bloody fall down the stairs. Inflammation became my norm and I strongly suspect I was dealing with postpartum thyroiditis. After 2 traumatic gallbladder attacks, I went on a very low fat diet which eased the gallbladder pain but only compounded my poor digestion and overall declining health.
Then we moved into a (unbeknownst to us) moldy house. The proverbial shit hit the fan. Within a year of living in mold, my adult ADD symptoms exploded, my coping mechanisms no longer worked and my “mental file folders” were scattered throughout the recesses of my brain. My inflammation was through the roof and I was beginning to accept chronic joint pain as my new normal. My fingers could barely hold a pen, cut with scissors or text. The kids weren’t faring much better. Mr.7 was an aggressive sensory mess, Ms.5 was a digestive disaster and Mr.2 wouldn’t play with his toys because he insisted they stay neat and tidy at all times. We were falling apart and I couldn’t see the forest due to the many trees blocking my view.
In the fall of 2015, my sister mentioned a friend’s little boy who was on a behavioral diet that didn’t allow apples. “You know, he reminds me a lot of Mr.7 . . .” A diet that doesn’t allow something healthy like apples must be full of crap, right? I immediately began googling and found www.feingold.org. I obsessively read everything I could find about the Feingold Diet and suddenly my life made sense. My childhood ADHD diagnosis wasn’t just an attempt to medicalize a perfectly normal active child. One quick look at the “avoid” list of high salicylate foods immediately put together dots I never knew weren’t connected — food sensitivities were at the root of my neurological symptoms. And guess what? Now that I understood my adult ADD, I clearly saw Mr.7’s ADHD symptoms and it scared me. We began the Feingold Diet the very next day. Even though we had eliminated high fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes many years before, I was horrified to learn how many chemical additives we ate on a daily basis. I cleaned out the fridge and cabinets of everything with preservatives, flavors and chemical names that clearly were not real food. Our diet instantly became 100% clean. We only ate fruits and veggies that were “low” and “very low” in salicylates which basically eliminated all of the fruits and veggies my children obsessed over and craved.
My house was calm(er). My children were calm(er). My brain was calm(er). It felt like a miracle.
Suddenly, life was dramatically better . . . as long as we didn’t a long list of favorite fruits and veggies and maintained a clean diet. Eating clean was easy for us. Read the labels and avoid artificial additives. Avoiding our favorite fruits and veggies was harder but the kids were good sports and a few trials of high sal foods quickly put us all on very high guard about avoiding trigger foods. Mr.7 proved especially sensitive and reacted with rage, aggression and eventually depression when offending foods were eaten in his air space. We also identified dairy as a major trigger for Mr.7. It wasn’t an easy time for our family but I knew we were on the right path.
I eventually also eliminated nightshades in an attempt to ease the now-chronic pain of joint inflammation. In typical fashion, I avoided doctors at all cost but I strongly suspect I was headed towards a Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis. This autoimmune disease fit my symptoms and made sense of my chronic exhaustion and other autoimmune symptoms. Eliminating nightshades basically left with me with a handful of veggies, fat and meat. Meat made me feel nauseous and I had yet to discover the joys of eating high-fat foods. My diet was becoming increasingly more limited in an attempt to feel better. In March of 2016, I did 30 days of the Autoimmune Paleo Diet. This was another turning point for me as I now positively identified gluten and it’s many “cross-reactors” as triggers for my digestive symptoms although thankfully I was ok with eggs which were now a staple in my diet. Nuts were also now on my eliminated list. Looking back, I’m not even sure what I was eating at this time. My memories are hazy but I remember thinking my thyroid must not be functioning properly because I was freezing cold all the time and I continued to lose weight my body needed. But, I was actually feeling better. My joint pain was drastically decreased and my brain felt like it was back in proper working order. But, it was hard. Very hard. And I couldn’t imagine my body ever allowing me to eat a widely varied diet again.
Around the same time, I met a chiropractor who practiced Functional Medicine. She pointed me in the direction of learning about leaky gut and I immediately fit more pieces into our puzzle of poor health. In a nut shell, intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) is when the lining of the small intestine is damaged and allows food particles to flow through the lining and into the blood stream. The lining of the small intestine’s function is to absorb nutrients rather than allow food particles to flow into the blood stream so a reaction takes place when permeability occurs. This is the root of food allergies and food sensitivities. The more I learned, the more it made sense that Mr.7 and I were the most sensitive in our family. Antibiotics, vaccines, sugar cravings indicating yeast overgrowth, my history of parasitic infections (including an infection in India just 3 months before I conceived Mr.7), the list went on and on. I finally understood the magnitude of what we were dealing with. And since I am a fixer, it was time to keep fixing.
My first phone appointment with the Functional Medicine doctor resulted in a massively huge breakthrough. She thought it sounded like we were having a difficult time maintaining balanced blood sugar. Per her suggestion, I began keeping a food journal and within few days it was very easy to identify that Mr.7’s aggression and sensory symptoms were directly tied to how long it had been since he had eaten. I began feeding him every 2 hours and it was like peeling back layers of an onion. We were finally seeing more of our son’s true personality and it was a beautiful thing. Beautiful but difficult. Our days revolved around constant food preparation and fear I would be caught out of the house without enough food to sustain his brain’s proper glucose levels. Within a few months, it became clear he was experiencing hypoglycemia and it was only getting worse. His pediatrician was very reassuring that I was doing everything right and to trust my gut in regards to his diet. “He will grow out of it.” But, it continued to get worse. He frequently threw up at night, violently shaking with uncontrolled low blood sugar. There were many times I force fed him spoons of maple syrup, knowing if he puked just once more it was time to take him to the ER . . . which we thankfully always managed to avoid. I put him on a ketogenic diet, limiting him to less than 20 grams of carbs a day with his diet focused on protein and fat. This helped his hypoglycemia a bit but I was very wary of the consequences of longterm ketosis in a young child. Our lives literally revolved around his hypoglycemia.
During this time we decided to do Functional Medicine testing, i.e. very expensive blood work, for Mr.7 and myself. It showed exactly what I expected to see — a high load of heavy metals, yeast overgrowth and poor mineral and nutrient absorption. We began the regiment of Functional Medicine supplements but stopped after a few months. Supplements just didn’t ring true with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew our road to healing wasn’t paved with supplements or pharmaceuticals of any kind.
Fast forward a few months to May 28, 2016. I was sitting on the couch at my mom’s house and reading blogs about healing leaky gut. After reading a lovely story about a mom healing her toddler from ASD with real food, I discovered the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet (GAPS). As I tend to do, I obsessively googled until I felt like I mastered the basic understanding of GAPS — eating real food can heal your leaky gut, food sensitivities, digestive issues, hypoglycemia, ADHD, OCD, SPD, chemical sensitivities. Basically everything we were dealing with could be potentially healed by following the GAPS protocol. I instinctively knew GAPS was the final missing piece of our puzzle. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy but it would be worth it.
I was right.
To be continued . . .