When you start a special diet with your kids it can be a lot to manage. Every digestive healing diet out there has a set of instructions and particular foods, and you think to yourself, “If I just follow it to a “t” my kid will start healing and every day will get better and better.”
So you start this new diet will lots of enthusiasm, but every day isn’t better. There are some good days at first, and then a couple bad days crop up. What now?
Do you decide that this diet doesn’t work after all and give up? Are you just not doing it “perfect enough,” and should buckle down even more?
Let me share another way to look at this, because I believe in the middle way – which is committing to being your child’s diet detective.
In December 2014 Julie contacted me for a GAPS Diet™ consultation for her son, Jeremy. Jeremy was four years old and he’d been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder in March and had a specific challenge around accepting new foods.
During the summer Jeremy and his family had attended an eight week intensive therapy program for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder, and they felt like they learned to “read him” and be proactive to support him emotionally, but Jeremy had already regressed 100% in his feeding challenges.
Julie’s biggest fear around starting the GAPS Diet was, “Is this achievable?” Would it really be possible for Jeremy to eat natural meat and veggies instead of McDonald’s pancakes, cheeseburgers (with no pickle!), fruit, and Ritz crackers?
Jeremy, like most GAPS kids, ate about 10 foods that were very brand and texture specific. It was all processed food, with the exception of fruit. Even when his parents tried to cater to all of these things, he still refused to eat dinner about three nights a week.
He often complained of stomach aches and sometimes felt relief from these after a good bowel movement, which were happening every 2-3 days.
He had significant trouble with sleep, often waking multiple times in the night, and getting up at 3:30 or 4am for the day. He wouldn’t take naps and was just exhausted every day when he got out of school at 11:40 am.
Jeremy also had immense anxiety about going to school, new situations, and any change in his routine caused him to go into “overload.” Although, he did feel happy and safe with the small number of people he knew well.
Even though all of these symptoms were a big headache in their life, Julie and her husband were still hesitant to start something as extreme as the GAPS Intro Diet.
And then came Jeremy’s birthday. After he ate the cake at his celebration he just had an absolute meltdown. They knew they had to start GAPS now because his emotional state was getting more volatile.
Jeremy started the GAPS Diet early in July 2015, and he began like most sensory and autism spectrum kids do – by refusing to eat. His parents continually offered him meat stock, cooked meats, and veggies, and he’d accept only small amounts.
On Day 7 the breakthrough occurred – he ate scrambled eggs for the first time since he was 18 months old. This was our “in.” Once we figure out which food a kid will regularly eat, we can start sneaking other foods into it. In this case it was meat stock, finely chopped beef and chicken, and then veggies.
Right away he started sleeping great without melatonin, and just six days into the GAPS Diet his anxiety had decreased so much that he went over to the neighbor’s house without Julie walking to the door with him.
Ten days in, he was drawing more pictures than he had in his whole life and he had normal bowel movements once a day. By the end of July his clarity was unbelievable and his mood was great!
A couple of weeks into the diet, Julie introduced the GAPS 24-hour yogurt, with just a little toothpick of honey added, and Jeremy loved this. Then early in August Jeremy lost interest in trying new foods and had some situational anxiety and meltdowns again. Detective Mom traced this back to dairy, eliminated it, and he started doing much better again.
Jeremy went back to school on August 19th and there were no tears when he was dropped off, but he was tired at the end of the day. Being in a big group during school lunch was overstimulating, and made it hard for him to eat much.
Just a week later he was complaining of stomach aches again and there were a few tears when he was dropped off at school. Detective Mom looked back to see what might be causing the stomach aches. She stopped adding collagen powder to his eggs, and that cleared it right up.
By mid-December, after just a few sips of juice, Jeremy would say that his tummy hurt again and he was waking up at 4:30am again. Detective Mom noticed that his energy spiked after every meal and then he crashed with exhaustion shortly after. When Julie “ran out” of fruit, Jeremy’s tummy felt fine again, and he went back to sleeping until 6:30am.
At this point Julie recognized that sugar was really impacting Jeremy. And not just added sugars or candy, even naturally present sugars in fruit and starchy veggies had a big effect on him. It was now obvious to her when Jeremy had too much sugar because he became “a little maniac,” had dark circles under his eyes, and crummy sleep that night.
She lowered his overall daily sugar intake to about 9 grams, including squash and fruit. Jeremy was open to trying new things again and liked pumpkin bread, chicken nuggets, and a coconut flour waffle. He began to accept broth in a syringe and she could work with him on his textural sensitivities. He was eating at school, his sleep was superb, and his appetite had increased greatly in just two weeks.
Today Jeremy is dropped off at school without a meltdown, and when school gets out at 3PM he’s ready to play with the neighbors. He’s much more verbal. He goes to bed by 7pm and he wakes up at 6- 6:30am. He’s on zero medications, and just a few GAPS Diet supplements. He hasn’t been sick at all, even though his sister has been twice. He never has a tummy ache and his bowel movements look great every day.
Jeremy has some anxiety about a summer program he’s scheduled to attend because he doesn’t know the teacher, but now he can be reassured that things are safe. He’s calm with his anxiety, whereas before it would consume him. He’d just say no and scream and couldn’t be reasoned with.
When it comes to food, they’re still working on the texture of dipping sauces. And over the past few months, Julie has determined that Jeremy can tolerate about 10 to 15 grams of natural sugar a day now.
Julie feels that the improvements they’ve made with GAPS in the past 10 months equal more than everything they’d tried before. Even after almost a year, she considers this the early stages of GAPS, but is completely committed to this diet.
Her message to other moms? Be willing to put in the work, learn to get in tune with your child, and monitor them every day.
Here are my tips on becoming your child’s diet detective:
- If you have brain fog, fatigue, or excess stress of your own, address those issues first with your healthcare practitioner, so you can give your child clear-eyed attention.
- Take a deep breath and a step back each day to objectively look at, and reflect on, your child’s progress and setbacks.
- Keep a detailed journal on your child, including foods, supplements, bowel movements, mood, sleep, and other symptoms that are pertinent to your kid. This can be in a paper notebook, or an online document or spreadsheet.
Being your child’s diet detective isn’t easy, but you can do this too. A healthcare practitioner can help guide you, but there’s no one better suited to this day-to-day detective work than you!
I think it’s amazing Jeremy’s mom was able to recognize what foods were the trigger foods causing the symptoms. What practical tips would you give for trying to figure out these sort of things? (what to look for, tips on keeping a food journal/what to look for in it when searching past entries for potential trigger foods, etc.?
Hi Kali – Great questions! I suggest keeping a food & mood journal on paper or digitally – whichever way you would consistently use and always have with you. Note foods, amounts, and then stool, mood, behaviors, etc. Often things aren’t obvious in the moment, but looking through detailed notes it’s easier to spot trends. You can highlight/color code certain symptoms that are really tricky to see a pattern pop out. The most important tip is to introduce things slowly! Spending a few days on each new food or preparation method. Trying just a bite. Fermented foods can require even slower introduction. With several of my clients we’ve introduced ferments a drop at a time to stay symptom-free (extreme fatigue, bed wetting, anger). It’s not always the type of food, sometimes it’s the amount or the frequency. Having a food every 4-5 days may be no issue, but three days in a row can be. Or a few bites may be ok, but binging may cause big problems.