Here’s a joke:
Q: How do you feed a violent child?
A: Very carefully.
I received an interesting comment from a parent that raised the issues of diet and supplements: “…I’d love to read more about micronutrients and supplements you use (and how you determined quantities) and how you get your son to actually take them. We are currently transitioning into a Paleo-like lifestyle eating only real food (including bits and pieces from WAPF, GAPS..) How do you handle sugar cravings and tantrums caused by food topics?”
Those couple of sentences had me staring off into the distance for many minutes, because they brought so much to the table at one sitting.
Food and Mothers
Food and eating evokes so much in the mind of a parent and, perhaps, most in a mother. We are the repositories of our family histories and cultures, and responsible for advancing these things forward into another generation. We are aware that when we raise children that we’re handing down not just our genes and habits but many generations of cultural and family history. What we ate, what we eat, what we feed our children…food is folded into our selves like wet ingredients into dry. “My mother made this for me when I was little,” we say to our children on weekends and holidays, when we have the time to create culinary memories.
If today were only that simple! While we are not very different physiologically on the inside from our mothers, grandmothers or great-grandmothers and the pie crusts they rolled out on their counters…clack, clack, clack went my mother’s oily wooden rolling pin as it dropped and rolled, forward and backward on the counter in our yellow kitchen in the prairies…our world is a significantly different place.
Food and Humans
In fact, the world is such a different place that I can’t pretend that the gluten in my mother’s pastry recipe does not risk elevating my family’s autoimmune reactions, leading eventually to a number of chronic diseases. I can’t pretend I haven’t heard David Perlmutter, MD, and his peers speak on the well-researched and evidenced connections between gluten and chronic Western diseases.
I can’t unhear what I know about genetically modified ingredients, or about the effects of generations of use of herbicides and pesticides, or about the effects of many decades of antibiotic overuse in industrially raised animals. I can’t unread what I know about pharmaceuticals and every imaginable industrial chemical in the water table, or about the effects of plastics on our brains and bodies.
I arrived at the ‘anti-gluten’ crowd with enormous skepticism, but after hearing and reading from the sources I’m now prepared to believe that the inflammatory gluten load in the human diet could indeed be the trigger to chronic mind and body disease. When I consider that gluten went from not being consumed at all, or irregularly and in a crude, more healthful forms, to something consumed thrice daily by everyone — with added sugars, and a plethora of chemicals, herbicides, pesticides — in a comparatively tiny space of time on our human evolutionary scale, then eating it doesn’t seem defensible. How could our physiologies and genes hold up under such an assault of foreign material?
So it kind of takes the fun out of feeding my children the cherished foods I loved as a child. And I’d have to be an idiot to continue on and pretend that the Betty Crocker Angel Cake I grew up on was anything but the environmental Devil in disguise. So I’m forced to reconsider how and what I feed my family.
[Additionally, like so many other women today, my own history with food was already more unhappy and complex than my mother’s. I struggled with food, weight and body issues before I had children, which gave another layer of complexity to my experience with food, cooking, eating and feeding. But this blog isn’t about women’s food, eating and body issues.]
It’s No Longer ‘Food’
My understanding of our why we need to radically upend our eating habits is this: The human body is collapsing — in the form of autoimmune and chronic disease — under the inflammatory assault of environmental toxins in gluten, sugar, processed foods, genetically modified ingredients, and chemicals of every type and kind (from plastics to flame retardants and on and on) and in everything we use, breathe, touch, eat, and drink. Apparently, environmental toxicity is actually altering the expression of our genes.
I’m prepared to believe that we’ve created a planet so toxic that it’s killing our fragile bodies. What does this have to do with my violent child? Well, those who work in Integrative and Functional medicine suggest that our environment has created many neurological problems, including those being suffered by children.
So, it stands to reason that I would try and lighten the toxic load on my behaviorally challenged child to see if a healthier environment would make a difference to him. Gluten is the last wall to tear down, since we’ve already reduced obvious and controllable toxic exposure to a great degree over the past 15 years.
Which Food: Paleo, Gluten-Free, WAPF, GAPS, Vegan…?
I can’t follow any particular new diet or diets to the letter. I find the detail involved absolutely emotionally and mentally overwhelming. Just making the changes required to lead a gluten-lessened life — forget gluten FREE — is an overwhelming, depressing, difficult task for a whole family, and for a mid-income family.
The only person I know following a strict, gluten-free life is a single, childless woman living with her boyfriend. She has one, single, normal, adult life to control. I can’t think of anything easier. I don’t know why nobody acknowledges the Herculean task of changing the diet of several people of different ages and genders, some with behavioural issues, and all with their own inner and outer reactions to such a radical shift. The whole task is depressing, and more so because I, too, am giving up some of the few things that comfort me and make me happier in life!
And a gluten-free diet has crazy costs associated for mid-income people. When the anti-gluten professionals expound on organic, grass- (not grain!) fed steak — at what, about $90 per kilo? — I want to pitch my computer across the room. But I don’t want to get too angry, because that causes inflammation, too. (Do terrorists, full of rage and gluten flatbread, die earlier than the rest of us? I hope the products they use to kill people are full of toxic chemicals, metals and plastics!)
Instead, I am slowly removing gluten-containing foods and processed food, and trying to make whole plant and animal food the greatest part of our diet. Pace is key to me, since my kids will resist such fast and sudden change with greater force than if I gradually educate them and remove the foods we all enjoy. Gradual change and education is more likely to be supported by my explosive son than if I suddenly wipe the cupboards empty of cereal, pasta and bread.
My key is educating my kids about the known effects to brain and body of sugar, processed foods, and gluten. Many Integrative and Functional medicine professionals can be found speaking on these issues all over the Internet, whether on their own sites or through ‘YouTube’. ‘Netflix’ is currently streaming several pertinent documentaries that tell stories of industrial food, gluten and health in child-friendly, accessible ways.
[Sugar cravings are not a huge issue in my household. I arrived into childrearing 15 years ago with my feet in both camps: I knew the science and I was a consumer of organics. I was also addicted to junk food, candy, doughnuts,chips… I knew that my junk food addiction was a poisoned legacy for my children, so I fed them the healthiest organic, whole-food diet…and got my dopamine fix through junk food hidden in secret, when my kids were asleep. They received junkie treats outside our home occasionally, but have never known their house to have processed, industrial sweet foods since I hid them all. The sugar/bad fat/refined fillers ADDICTIONS have been MINE alone to battle!]
I anticipate that moving away from bread, pasta and cereal will be very difficult for us all. But I communicate directly to my explosive son the possibility of being happier. “What if you eat X, Y and Z and feel better? What if the scientists are right, and that gluten is making you mad and sad?” He’s more able to be reasonable today, at 11, than ever before. And even if he wasn’t, I’d steamroll ahead if I thought these changes might alter his brain.
I love supplements. I’ve long read about crazy supplements, herbs, vitamins, and essential oils. I was tinkering around with these things long before I even considered having children. So, when I did have children, I began to read about which ones were thought to be safe and suitable for babies and young kids.
My older son’s weakness from infancy was his respiratory system. I quickly saw how the system operated on these kids: Conventional medicine chronically and predictably wrongly prescribed and over-prescribed antibiotics and immune-suppressing inhalers, which seemed to create a chicken-and-egg ‘asthma’ situation, and then eventually forced barely useful ear-tube surgeries. There was absolutely no logic to the treatments except that it enriched the manufacturers of antibiotics, immune-suppressing inhalers, and ear-tube manufacturers. Children were not healed in any way through this treatment.
Instead, we only used antibiotics when they were life-saving (pneumonia), and otherwise treated with Chinese herbs, Western herbs, essential oils and acupuncture during each bout of ear infection and bronchitis. We avoided sugar, used immune-suppressing ibuprofin only sparingly, taught him to wash his hands with plain soap (not Triclosan), and added herbs and vitamins to his diet. Unlike his peers, he never used an inhaler, never developed ‘asthma’, avoided repeated antibiotics and ear tubes, and his lungs and immune system were supported to develop normally.
(I don’t mock real diagnoses of actual asthma in children or adults. I don’t mock the life-saving, acute-care help that inhalers provide. But I saw many, and read of more, situations of very young kids who were being shunted down a system where their healthy-but-developing/struggling lungs were being over-prescribed and wrongly prescribed with inhalers, which likely weakened those kids further. One of MANY examples where conventional medicine doesn’t know where to STOP cutting and prescribing, and instead to promote the body’s own ability to heal itself.)
Behavioural issues are not so easily treated. My younger son’s diet was, and is, already virtually sugar/sweetener-free — although in retrospect I may have been deluding myself when I now consider the daily load of ‘organic’ sugar in his ‘organic’ wheat cereal. And I introduced healthy oil supplements (Omega-3s, flax, fish, DHA), plus Vitamin D long ago. But, based on what I read and and hear, it’s conceivable that my son’s behaviour could be improved by removing that daily assault of cereal (which, although organic and not over-sweet, is still probably quite damaging), adding a probiotic, and increasing his supplemented oils.
Integrative and Functional medicine report repeatedly that original gut flora is an essential building block of early health, and that it originates from vaginal birth and breastfeeding. My sons were born vaginally and breastfed, so that does remove one culprit (healthy original gut flora/microbe) from my violent son’s profile.
Might diet alter his behaviour? My ears and eyes as always open to new options coming down the pipe. More of this, less of that? Something new I’ve never heard of…?
Food Down the Hatch
Finally, in response to the kind reader on how I make my son ingest supplements: That’s a problem I’ve never had. While he was/is adverse to many directives and has had countless fits over mealtimes, meals, and food, taking pills or supplements was never a problem.
I mixed some into yogurt or applesauce, and I’m not beyond bribing my sons with screen time or a small Lego (neurologically toxic, off-gassing plastics…?) to do anything I really believe they need. Plus, today our son’s reactions are so much calmer by comparison to the fits he threw years ago that we’re practically inured to it all by now. My kids are simply not allowed to refuse my health-promoting directives.
So I’m one of many, many parents (mostly mothers) trying now to making this shift in diet away from the foods of our recent ancestors (of the last few hundreds of years or so) and toward a possibly healthier eating pattern. I can think of few things less fun and more difficult than this.