I love asparagus…with brown butter sauce, in quiche, on salad. Yummmm. I remember watching the Food Network where someone showed how to “bend and snap” asparagus to find the natural point where the spear goes from woody and fibrous to tender and green. This was such an a-ha moment for me. I had been doing it all wrong! So much asparagus in my life had been wasted by trimming the ends with a knife and way too many stringy, fibrous ends made it on to my plate.
But as Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” I’m happy to report that I’ve been properly snapping my asparagus and enjoying perfectly tender spears ever since.
This week, I had another a-ha moment when I realized that I have been poisoning my child with food. Many of the made-from-scratch, presumably healthy whole foods I have been feeding my daughter for the past three years have actually been making her incredibly sick and breaking down her immune system.
The road to this discovery has been long and winding and ultimately my mother’s intuition pulled all the pieces of the puzzle together when Gabriella was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. I’m not surprised, yet I feel blindsided. Food allergies are not new to me. I’ve had food allergies my whole life and most of my family has them. Most of my allergies are mild, but I have an anaphylactic reaction to pistachios that I discovered in college the first time I ever tried them.
Before starting Gabriella on solids, I took her to an allergist when she was six months old for allergy testing because I was so sure that she was going to inherit my food allergies. After her skin test didn’t show any reactions to the top allergic foods, she started eating solids and has been a great eater ever since.
Our first signs that something was not agreeing with Gabriella came when she was three or four months old. Her skin developed flaky, dry patches that her pediatrician diagnosed as eczema. They gave us a steroid cream and recommended lotion after baths to keep the skin hydrated. We used the steroid cream, hydrocortisone to manage the itching, countless lotions designed for eczema, healing ointments, oatmeal baths and more, but nothing helped.
I know that eczema is often related to food allergies and dairy is one of the top causes. I’m sensitive to dairy and Gabriella would projectile vomit when I drank milk as a baby which led me to assume she was sensitive as well. We spent 18 months dairy free while I was nursing and only ate small amounts of dairy after that, though I never saw any improvement in the eczema.
Around six months old, we began seeing signs of constipation, though they weren’t typical so I didn’t realize it at the time. Three years of battling chronic constipation, trips to the pediatrician and specialists, daily use of miralax for over a year, hundreds of dollars on supplements, play therapy and hitting rock bottom with this issue several times finally led me to connect the dots and begin to suspect a food allergy.
Then, about six months ago I saw a handful of tiny, pinprick-sized dots that looked similar to pimples on Gabriella’s legs when she got out of the bath. I didn’t think anything of them until several weeks later they were still there. The little bumps were Molluscum Contagiosum, a common virus that typically appears and goes away within a few months.
I didn’t worry about the molloscum until one burst and became infected. Conventional treatments for molloscum are ineffective at best and generally painful and damaging to the skin. I began a quest for natural remedies and tried expensive homeopathic blends and essential oil treatments along with expensive creams. Nothing worked. The bumps were spreading and getting bigger and with summer coming I wanted to get them under control so my daughter could wear shorts to get through the summer heat.
One day I came across this letter from a mom who went through a molluscum nightmare with her son which planted a seed in my head. It took several more weeks before I had my a-ha moment, but it help me to stop focusing on the outward virus and start thinking about why my daughter’s body was unable to fight off the virus like most people seemed to be able to.
The day after I shared about our war on poop and began Dr. Tom’s treatment program for functional constipation, I realized something physically had to be wrong with Gabriella’s digestive system. A full day of high doses of laxatives did nothing for us, and I was left with a very bloated, irritable little girl who still couldn’t poop. I broke down, I gave up and then I started Googling.
My research kept bringing me to moms who had children suffering from chronic constipation and encopresis who cured their children’s issues without using expensive programs or resorting to using laxatives for years. The cure was simple: go gluten free.
I learned more about Celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten intolerance in that one night on my computer than I ever imagined. All of the pieces of the puzzle came together in my head. The skin rash. The constipation. A cavity due to weak enamel at 18 months old. Never sleeping through the night. Her seemingly bi-polar behavior at times.
I shared bits and pieces with my husband as I was researching and when I said that she needed to go gluten free immediately, I think he was skeptical, but 100% supportive and willing to try it. The next morning, I received an email from a reader sharing that she struggled with the same pooping issues with her toddler and it turned out to be a result of Celiac disease; that personal testimony gave us the last push we needed to overhaul Gabriella’s diet.
The day after going gluten free was one of our worst days ever and almost ended in a trip to the ER for an enema. Somehow we survived and on the third day, something magic happened. My sweet, happy girl was back. We witnessed such a stark change in her attitude and behavior and I quickly realized that much of her whining, defiance and resistance to going to the bathroom was actually due to physical pain from a stomachache.
For years, Gabriella would lay on her stomach, hide in her bed or ask to snuggle when she needed to poop. I always thought these were just avoidance tactics but now I could see that they were coping mechanisms. In the following weeks, these things completely stopped, except when she accidentally consumed gluten.
I requested a blood test to screen for food allergies and Gabriella tested positive for allergies to wheat, corn, rice, oats, egg white, egg yolk, banana, apple, tomato, pecans, walnuts, almonds and peanuts. Whew. I sat down with the list and just cried.
It’s unfortunate that food allergies are so prevalent today, but I am thankful to know some of the most amazing food allergy moms. These moms are such an inspiration and offered so much knowledge and support knowing exactly how I was feeling in that moment.
We saw an allergist the following day to come up with a plan for an elimination diet. They did a skin test to give us a better idea of which foods she was reacting to. Even though the blood test was positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean her body has an actual reaction to each one. The skin test showed that wheat and all tree nuts, especially pistachios, had huge reactions. The allergist was pretty shocked that she’s been eating wheat and nuts daily without any typical allergy symptoms like hives. We decided to eliminate wheat, all tree nuts, bananas and eggs (except eggs in baked goods are ok in moderation). We’ll see how she does for a few weeks and then re-evaluate if we need to eliminate additional foods.
I admit it’s been a bit of a pity party at my house. Cooking all of our meals and being choosy about where we eat out is hard. Having to switch to a whole new way of cooking and having a very small list of restaurants to accommodate our needs is even harder. I will do it because I have no other choice and my daughter is worth it.
Gabriella has been a trooper in all of this. She didn’t put up a fight or shed a tear when I told her she wasn’t able to have gluten anymore. She took it all in stride when I told her we were adding bananas, eggs and nuts to the “no” list even though most of her favorite foods contain those ingredients. She asked me to make her a list of things she couldn’t eat and things she could eat so we wouldn’t forget. She dictated the list to me, and I love the variety she came up with for her “yes” list. She already knows that we have to be careful at restaurants or at friend’s houses and looks to me to make sure foods are safe before eating something someone offers her. We might be dealing with food allergies, but we’ll still be able to eat lots of delicious, real food.
I’m trying not to feel guilty, but I do. I thought I was providing the healthiest foods I could to my family. We focused on eating whole foods including whole grains, minimized dairy by using a lot of nut milks and ate pastured eggs daily. It’s still a shock to realize that the foods I have fed my daughter almost every day of her life are the ones that have caused her chronic constipation, sleepless nights, constant stomachaches and painful rashes. Knowledge is power and now that I know better, I can do better.
I know that learning about these food allergies is only the beginning of a long journey to healing, but I know we’ll get there. We can do this.