Because Lelhani shared such a great amount of detailed information, I will be posting the Process of Elimination- Advocating a Diet Free of Fakes as a 3-part series.
For the record, in no way does Lelhani consider herself an expert on the following topic. The conversation below is a series of events that has occurred in her own life. It demonstrates her personal experiences with the situation, what actions she took, and an observation on what has/hasn’t worked for her daughter and her family. If you have had any experience with this topic and would like to share information or research please do so in the comments section as we both are open to learning more about the subject. Furthermore, you should always consult with your own medical professional on any changes to current treatments taking place in yours or your child’s life that would affect their health.
As mentioned in her profile introduction, Lelhani has diligently researched and changed the way her daughter, and her family eat based on issues with her daughter’s behavior and control issues with food. This interview is a reflection of a conversation I had with Lelhani in regards to the challenge of an elimination diet she has taken on to better her daughter’s health.
RSM: Tell me about your daughter’s initial diet. Were there always challenges with food for her?
LMP: There always seemed to be issues with food since birth with my daughter. Nursing was a challenge. She also had reflux and would projectile vomit, so we went to formula. We tried every formula on the market until we discovered she couldn’t tolerate cow’s milk or soy products. We finally ended up being successful with Similac’s Alimentum. Even though it is a cow’s milk product, it is broken down enough that the proteins did not cause the allergic reaction she was getting from the other types of formula. Our pediatrician kept telling us that it wasn’t an allergy, she just wasn’t tolerant of the protein found in milk products, and that one day she would outgrow it. At 2 years old, we were still waiting for her to “outgrow” her intolerance to milk. She couldn’t tolerate any dairy products…yogurt, cheese, ice cream. She was also having issues with legumes, beans and vegetables like lentils and peas. So we completely eliminated those things from her diet from the time she was 18 months old until around 3 years old. At 3, we slowly started to reintroduce them again to see if she had outgrown her intolerance. Shortly after, we began to discover these red, itchy patches around her mouth, ears, elbows, thumbs and forefingers. At the time, we didn’t think to link the patches to a food allergy, and later found out it was eczema (a rash commonly associated with allergies and asthma).
RSM: Sounds like it was difficult to establish a routine with her eating. Were you able to discover foods she could and would eat? How did you manage that?
LMP: Just like any kid her age, some things she would eat, others she wasn’t interested in. What we started to notice was how she would use food to control certain aspects of her life. This started at a young age, around 2 years old, when we first put her in school. We were having a hard time getting her to eat lunch. I was buying her hot lunch every day as well as sending her to school with a sack lunch, and asking the teachers to assess what she was and wasn’t eating. She would get stuck on eating one thing, for example, a cream cheese and jelly sandwich, and I would have to put it in her lunch every day. She ate this sandwich for a year straight. If I tried to mix things up a bit, she would refuse to eat lunch at all, which would upset the teachers, so I was forced to keep putting the same thing in her lunch every day. It was at this time we also started to notice some changes in her behavior.
RSM: That is really interesting. Would you talk a little more about the controlling and the changes in her behavior?
LMP: Yes. She was starting to use food for control. There were a few factors in this. 1. She knew if she didn’t eat, it would upset us. 2. Things could be going great in her little world, and then if one thing upset her, she would stop eating. She would also experience night terrors, sleep walking and excessive nail biting. 3. She would ask for foods that she knew weren’t good for her, like McDonald’s. Even though I didn’t want to feed it to her, I figured if it was all she would eat, then I needed to get it for her. In addition to the control factor, we were having some major behavior issues. Her behavior was becoming so uncontrollable, that it started to take over the whole family. We were afraid to go out in public because we weren’t sure how she would act. My youngest daughter was constantly being carted from place to place so we could keep our older daughter entertained. She had a ton of energy and required a ton of attention and challenge in order to get through our day, and at the end of the day, everyone was exhausted.
RSM: Can you discuss in detail some the behavior issues you were dealing with?
LMP: At 3, her behavior had us seriously questioning whether or not we were dealing with an autistic child. When we signed her up for summer camp, she developed this habit where she would parrot everything the camp counselor was saying. She would repeat it over and over and over again. At first, endearing, later concerning. We discovered this was called echolalia, and it can also be a positive indicator of Autism. We also noticed that she didn’t make eye contact. She was very chatty and engaging with others, and affectionate, so Autism and ADHD crossed our minds, but we just weren’t ready to place that kind of stigma on our daughter at such an early age. I took her to several doctors, looking for some kind of answer. At least if we had an answer, we would know how to deal with it. But the only answers they would give us was that she was “fine.” Yes, maybe she was a little hyper and didn’t always connect with the other kids, but that was because she was highly intelligent and needed more challenge in her everyday life. My husband and I still weren’t buying it. Something didn’t match up and I wasn’t about to give up on my daughter that quickly. I insisted she have a screening through the Clark County School District for Autism. After being assessed by 5 people, the conclusion drawn was that by the time she reached 5 or 6, she may be diagnosed with hyperactivity or ADHD, but she was not Autistic. Not only that, but I wasn’t about to put that kind of label on my daughter at the start of her school career. I was advised by her current teacher to not go that route as it would lead to specialized classes and care throughout her education. I knew she didn’t need that kind of attention, but I was at a serious loss as to what kind of attention she needed. It was suggested I try Behavioral Therapy so I could learn how to parent my daughter. We were so frustrated and at our wits end.
RSM: So what lead you to believe that an elimination diet of all artificial dyes, flavors and preservatives would be the missing link?
LMP: Don’t get me wrong, I love our pediatrician, but they are trained to compartmentalize everything. They diagnose something, then treat with meds. I can’t tell you how many times a doctor wanted to prescribe me Ritalin, another road I didn’t want to go down. When you are strictly dealing with the medical world, there is not much gray area for alternative options. A friend of mine’s child had just been diagnosed with Autism, and she suggested to me that I try an elimination diet. She herself had been working on taking all gluten, artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives out of her child’s diet and was finding some success with it. When I mentioned it to her teacher and the pediatrician, they also suggested behavioral cases where there was success from an elimination diet. I started to do more research on the topic. When you Google “diet and autism,” a million links come up on the topic. There was obviously some truth in it. Mainly, what I was discovering is that some kids are super sensitive to these dyes and artificial additives and it is exemplified in their behavior. Not only that, kids with these types of allergies tend to request and want to ingest these things that are bad for them because their body becomes addicted in a way to the high and the crash they get from it. I felt so devastated to learn that these fake additives were holding my daughter hostage in her own body. As her mother, I felt this tremendous guilt that I had the power to help her all these years, and instead I was bathing her in toxins and feeding them to her on a daily basis.
RSM: I’m sure we’ve all had those moments where we realize our parenting skills were off a bit. At least you got to the bottom of it right away and she didn’t go on for years in this distress. With your dedication to her overall improvement in her health and behavior, you were able to take steps to help her now.
LMP: That’s right. After spending a whole night on the computer researching all of this, I went straight for the contents under my sink and in my pantry. I started to analyze the ingredients listed in everything I used for her, and realized that there was not one thing, from her shampoo to her lotions to her waffles, that wasn’t filled with additives, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors.
This week’s Sunday Morning Coffee will feature Part 2 of Lelhani’s Process of Elimination-Advocating a Diet Free of Fakes, where she will discuss how she went about eliminating items from her daughter’s diet, finding whole, healthy foods and products, and the changes she has seen in her behavior.