Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What do you eat?

When you tell someone you avoid certain foods due to an allergy or an intolerance, about half the time, they respond with, "What do you eat?" The smartass in me wants to respond with "Food."

People find it hard to believe that we can eat a lot of the same foods and be gluten/dairy/corn free. The catch is, I have to make a LOT from scratch. I don't buy cake mix or muffin mix. I make hamburger buns, salad dressing, dairy free yogurt, etc. I had to make Felix's dairy free margarine, because even the dairy free ones on the market contain corn. But, most of it is easy.

There are thousands of recipes for salad dressing on the internet. I even found one for dairy free ranch dressing that uses homemade mayo (you can buy regular mayo if you aren't avoiding corn or eggs but can't have dairy) and Felix loves it for dipping veggies. It maybe takes me about 15 minutes to whip up, and most of that time is waiting for my food processor to whip up the mayo. If you avoid several foods, click on that link and surf around, her blog is amazing, and she even posts meal plans so you can get ideas.

There are tons of things on the market these days that are gluten and dairy free. Most of them, we can't use because of the corn issue, but don't let that stop you! One thing to remember, though, is that all whole foods (fruit, veggies, meat) are gluten free, as long as they are fresh and not prepackaged. (The jury is still out on baby carrots) Many companies are jumping on the option to label their products gluten free, especially the ones that have always been gluten free. Many types of chips, sauces, or even hot dogs now are labeled gluten free. And, if its not, be wary. The reason is, it may not actually contain gluten, but if it is manufactured in a plant where they also make something containing wheat or other glutenous grains, there could be trace amounts of gluten in them. Some people can eat these foods and be completely fine, but some, like Felix, eat it and react just as badly as if they had eaten something made from wheat. If you are starting out on this gluten free journey, avoiding them is your best bet. That way, once you see how good you feel without it, you can try it and see the difference.

Everyone has different tastes, but after trying many different products, we've gotten pretty set on brands for certain foods that are gluten free. Its no longer a challenge for me to go to the store, and I don't spend hours reading labels while I'm there. If you are just starting, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It gets better and once you get your bearings, you can handle just about anything. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Blame the food

This house has been through a very drastic change in the past year when it comes to foods. My son has food allergies/intolerances and it makes every day just a little bit harder when it comes to preparing meals and packing lunches. Grocery shopping has turned into some sort of scavenger hunt, reading every label, knowing words to look for since one of the foods we need to avoid is NOT a top 8 allergen.  All of this pales in comparison to social events.

First, let me say that I am not writing this in an attempt to gain sympathy or pat myself on the back. Even if you don't have a child with food allergies, its likely that you know someone with them. What does that mean for you? Well, it can mean that if you want to have this person visit your house, you may have to hide all of your peanut filled products, or it could mean asking them to bring food that doesn't contain dairy. It shouldn't mean that you hesitate to invite them over or just pretend that the food allergy doesn't exist since they are probably used to dealing with it.

As a parent of a child with food allergies and intolerances, I can tell you that I've felt guilty for probably causing his food issues, I've felt envy of families that don't have to read labels when they go grocery shopping, I've felt anger that I have to tell my son that he can't have what everyone else is eating when someone sends in treats for a birthday at school, and I've had my heart break when he mentions how he wishes he could eat like everyone else. What you have to understand is that I don't feel these emotions at you for not knowing how to handle my child's dietary restrictions, I feel them towards food.

Weird? Maybe. Justified? I think so.

So, what I ask of you as a parent, friend, relative, neighbor, or acquaintance is this:

Talk to me about it.

  • Tell me what you're having for a birthday party, so I can make the same kinds of things for my child, so he feels included. I have cupcakes in my freezer that I just have to frost so I can bring them to parties and keep him from feeling left out. I can whip up "safe" pizza that he can eat and he's perfectly happy with eating that while everyone else eats their "normal" food. 

  • Let me bring a dish to a family get together. You can even tell me what you would like me to bring, and as long as I can find a good recipe, I'm in! Sure, it may not have dairy or gluten or corn, but guess what? I bust my ass to make sure that what I make tastes pretty darn close to the stuff we used to eat. You might like it just as much, and then I know there is at least one food there that is ok for my child to eat. 

  • Offer to make something. Now, I'm going to be honest. 99.99% of the time, I'll say I've got it covered, but you have NO idea how much it means to me that you asked. Some days I feel just as isolated as my son must feel, and hearing someone say, "Is there something I can make for him?" may just bring me back from a meltdown. If you do it in person or over the phone, be prepared. I might tear up a little.
 But, one of the most important things I can ask of you if you don't understand food allergies or intolerances, is this: Please remember its not a lifestyle choice, its a necessity. I'm not forcing my child to eat this way just because I think its better, I can tell you what kind of reaction he has to every single food we avoid. There are days when I dream of going back to eating the same foods as everyone else, just so I don't dread Thanksgiving or a birthday party or Christmas. But, I wouldn't trade my child's well-being for the world, and that means I accept the social awkwardness that comes with not letting my child eat your food or bringing our own to a catered party. Don't hold it against me or take it personally.

Don't blame me, blame the food.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My gluten free journey

When I began our gluten free journey back in November, I never thought I would feel the way I do now.

I started out grasping for air, trying to find something, ANYTHING that would make my Felix's behavior change. Someone recommended trying a gluten free diet and I knew we were already having issues with dairy, so I thought I might as well give it a shot, right? So, my husband kind of thought I was crazy, but I needed to try, needed to know if this would help before resorting to any sort of prescription.

A little back story: I had ADHD as a child. I'm pretty sure the H part is gone for me now, and I still have ADD. My parents refused to put me on medication, did allergy testing, and removed milk, eggs, and as much sugar as possible from my diet. They told me later on that the doctor they spoke with said that most cases where kids absolutely need the help with medicine is when they have a learning disability along with ADHD because they can't fight to control their impulses. Keep in mind this was also back in the 80s and early 90s when there weren't many options, and my parents were both in education, so they had seen the good and bad effects of medication.

So, knowing that I am lactose intolerant, and that a doctor in the family highly recommended getting Felix off of gluten, so I jumped in feet first. I was overwhelmed, but I fought through it. We started him on some supplements and I was so frustrated that I had to work so hard at grocery shopping, read labels on everything, and find hidden gluten and dairy in things I never thought of. (Beef bullion cubes! They contained both gluten and dairy! What?? I found out the food club brand had neither.) I kidnapped my mom's bread machine and started making bread with mixes that I bought Bobs Red Mill 36995 Cinnamon Raisin Gluten Free Bread Mix and Bobs Red Mill 19550 Gluten Free Bread Mix I felt like some sort of champion when they turned out great, and it really kept me moving forward. I tried explaining to his teacher that this was a process, and it takes time for his system to clear out and see the good effects of the diet, but she was frustrated and didn't seem to think I was doing the right thing. I ignored her.

So, we survived 3 months of gluten/dairy free life, although most of my house was still eating normal food. I would make something, and have it one way for Felix, and another way for the rest of the house. I hated cooking that way. I would eat what Felix was eating, just so he didn't feel alone. My husband thinks its weird that I'm so concerned about that, but I was there. I was in a house where everyone ate dairy products, regular cereal, and things with sugar and eggs, and I was stuck eating plain old rice puffs with soy milk and sweet n low, or option 2 shredded wheat instead of the rice puffs. I was in 3rd grade and couldn't eat birthday treats and instead, was sent to the office to get a measly little piece of sugar free candy from the secretary. I still scowl just thinking about those stupid candies. I vowed to make it different for him. I emailed his teacher and asked if she could notify me when she knew birthday treats were coming in and I would make something for him and send it. She said sure, and I felt good. Well, that was until he came home one Friday and told me he ate a chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing because the substitute teacher gave it to him. UGH! So, I searched for something I could send in and it could be left there. Its a lot harder than it sounds, because gluten free things don't keep as long as foods with gluten in them. The best I could come up with was breakfast bars, so I sent those in.

But here's the thing... We were still having behavior issues. I know, I know it can take time for gluten to find its way out of the body, but it seemed like something more to me. It was like this 6th sense in my head was telling me there was some sort of pattern and reason to it all. So, one day when Felix was home from school, we had a good healthy breakfast. He decided he wanted cereal for lunch, and since it was organic, gluten free, and dairy free I figured why not. So, he ate his cereal, and about a half hour later the downward spiral began. Attitude, meanness, mood swings, all out of nowhere. So, I thought maybe I missed something in the  cereal and picked up box to check the ingredients. First ingredient was corn meal. I have family members that have issues tolerating corn, so I decided to cut it out and see if it improved.

Let me tell you, corn is by far the hardest thing to remove from your diet. Gluten and dairy combined was nothing compared to this. Basically, everything that is somehow processed probably contains corn. Corn starch, corn syrup, citric acid, and the list goes on. Did you know there are about 100 different names for ingredients derived from corn, so you're probably eating it without knowing? Its crazy. So I started the process of removing it from his diet, but it was SO hard. I felt like every time I turned around, I found another 'oops' where I gave him something that I didn't know contained corn. So, I cried, got frustrated, and then I just started making EVERYTHING.

While its hard, and it would be nice once in a while to be able to cook with all the shortcuts I used to and not have to make broth before I use it, or not have to make salad dressing, my family is eating healthier because of it. Also, when my son goes to visit grandparents, if I eat gluten after not having it for so long, I wake up feeling hungover. My whole body aches, I have a headache, my brain is in a fog, and I'm just so tired. I would have never done all this for myself, but because of Felix's problems, I found out how to make myself healthier.