Friday, July 8, 2011

My Mama Always Told Me, You Are What You Eat (Turns Out She Was Right)

I've been reading a lot lately about--I mean, I'm off work for the summer, and actually have time to pick up a book or two again!  I prefer novels that allow me to lose myself in someone else's life for a few hours, but I like to try to balance out the mindless drivel with something informative and useful once in awhile.  So I've been checking out a lot of books at the local library (but not the one that insulted Munchkin, if you heard that story) about some of the issues my children are dealing with.  I figure I might as well approach the coming school year with more information and tools to help them succeed.  Plus all these books have little anecdotal stories about other people's kids, many of which make me feel so much better about my lot in life.  Let's face it--when your own "issues" try to overwhelm you, reading about someone who has it a lot worse than you makes you appreciate that your issues are not THEIR issues.

Anyway, all of these books have what I'd call a nutrition component in them.  Eat this, and you'll focus better.  Eat this, and you'll behave better.  Don't eat this, or you'll be out of control.  And supplement with this, this, and this, or it's all for nothing.

I go back and forth on the diet issue.  (And I don't mean my own diet--though I tend to go back and forth on that one too!)  No, I mean what my kids do and don't eat, and whether or not it actually makes a difference.

Way back when (which was really less than 2 years ago, though it seems much, much longer), when we were still in the agonizingly long process of having Munchkin evaluated and eventually diagnosed by Dr. N., our neuropsychologist, several of the therapists evaluating him mentioned these "blank stares."  We'd seen them too--he would be doing something, and suddenly go into his own little world for a few seconds.  He wouldn't hear you or see you until he snapped out of it, and then he'd go on as if nothing had happened.  We laughed about him going into his own little world and how spacey he was.  We had no idea that these were actually seizures until all these therapists started showing concern!  So we followed Dr. N's advice and made an appointment for an EEG--four months later.  Yep, that was the soonest they could get us in for the 24 hour EEG she wanted him to have. So in the meantime (and armed with a new diagnosis to Google) I started researching.  And one of the first things I read about was something called MSG.

Like many of you, I thought MSG was that stuff they shake on Chinese food.  But I read that MSG can cause hyperactivity, meltdown behaviors, sleep disorders, and--wait for it--seizures.  And then I read more and found out it's in everything!  Anything that has been processed most likely contains chemically-created MSG.  And then they go ahead and add it in as a "flavoring" too.  Feeling horrified that I had been poisoning my children for so long, I went a little nuts.  I emptied out our cabinets--I read every label and threw everything that had anything "bad" into boxes and trash bags.  (Which I donated to the local Food Pantry, feeling only slightly guilty that I was probably poisoning other people's children now.)  Then I spent three hours in the grocery store replacing everything in our pantry with healthier alternatives.  And I followed a dye-free, preservative-free, MSG-free diet with my children religiously for several months.

And Munchkin's seizures stopped.  Completely.  His meltdowns became less frequent, his hyperactivity seemed to be less extreme, and he started sleeping through the night more often.  It was a small fix in most ways, but the absence of seizures was amazing to me.  I was sold.  (The fact that my migraines stopped for the most part, and my stomach issues cleared up was also an added benefit.)

When the behavior problems began to intensify again, I started looking at what else we should cut from his diet.  I'd read a lot about the Gluten/Casein Free diet for kids on the spectrum.  But he is such a picky eater, that I hesitated to take chicken nuggets, yogurt, milk, cereal, and pb & j from his diet--that would leave him with nothing to eat!  We decided to go gluten free and see if it helped, and it did to an extent.  It cleared up the eczema he'd had since infancy, and made him more "regular" in the potty sense--which apparently made his tummy feel better, and I hadn't even known it was hurting him!  Actually, I don't think he realized it either--he told me a few months into the diet, "Wow, Mom, my tummy doesn't hurt anymore!  I didn't even know it hurt me before but it's all better now!"

We still follow a dye-free, preservative-free, mostly MSG-free diet today.  ("Mostly" because that stuff is in everything!  It's so hard to eliminate it, unless you're going to cook everything from scratch and never use a boxed or canned food again. And I am not willing to make that kind of commitment.)  I am a label-reader anytime we try something new.  I ask to see nutrition information at restaurants before we order.  I bring a lot of our own food when we eat somewhere outside of our own home.  But I'm also less nutty than I was when I started this.  I do allow my children to have Popsicles at a friend's house.  I let them eat birthday cake at the party.  For awhile I didn't--but I got really tired of telling them "No" all the time and feeling like they were missing out on a part of childhood.  We suffer the consequences afterwards--usually extreme hyperactivity and some intense meltdowns will follow for the next 24 hours or so.  We're not as strict with the gluten restriction anymore either, mostly because it's so darn expensive and so hard to find substitutes that actually taste good for my picky little guy.

I guess there is something to this diet component.  It seems that a diet change can fix whatever ails you these days.  I read about a mom today who's suffering joint pain.  Every other comment on her Facebook status was from someone who knew someone who fixed their similar health woes by eliminating or adding something to their diet.  I do know that adding protein to our breakfasts helps Squirrel focus better.  So do the DHA supplements.  Adding a fruit and veggie supplement to Munchkin's daily regime has helped him finally put on some weight.  And cutting caffeine and caramel coloring out of my diet cleared up my stomach pains.

Well, I'm not ready to go all food-Nazi on our cabinets again anytime soon, but I guess I'll continue keeping an eye on our diets.  It might not make all the difference, but every little bit helps!

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