Wednesdays are our Guest Blogger Series day where we feature Paleo and real-food bloggers. We hope you enjoy the new view points and unique content; if so, we encourage you to show these guest bloggers your support by visiting their blog and social media links at the end of this post!
This week we’re visited by Heather of Tip Toeing Odessa. She writes a terrific blog where you can find posts on topics that range from parenting and medical mission work to fermentation and paleo cooking. Today Heather shares tips on how she integrated a paleo diet into her family, and more specifically how she helped her son adapt to the change in tastes and textures.
When I found out I was to become a first-time Mom, I started dreaming about our new life as a family. I just knew my child was going to be easy, love to try new things, a great traveler and just be simply amazing. Life sort of veered us off our perceived course and down a path of parenting a child with special needs. Not better, not worse, just different. It took time to accept the new emotions that come with the diagnosis and to realize that my kid may not be an easy traveler or a lover of new things but he is a truly, TRULY amazing being and in turn has helped me become person that I never imagine I could be.
Seth was diagnosed with autism at 2.5 years old. He was non-verbal, would stim for 5+ hrs a day and lived in perpetual meltdown mode. To abbreviate this story, when we were given the diagnosis of autism it crushed me. All the cool idiosyncrasies that I loved about my son, like recreating constellations in acorns, were actually blaring signs of autism I had missed.
Fast forward to us spending the next 5 years trying almost every recommended “autism fix” known to man from the GF/CF diet, Feingold diet, GAPS diet, Raw diet, Defeat Autism Now doctors, chiropractic care, Chinese Medicine, Anat Beniel Method, supplements and along with the classic therapies like speech, occupational therapy, Early Intervention and Applied Behavioral Analysis. We learned and gained so much from every one of these but nothing has had as much impact on Seth’s well-being as a healthy diet has.
He went from a perpetually sick, non-verbal child who would constantly grind his teeth with stimming being his only form of “play,” to a functional, verbal, friendly 7-year-old. We removed gluten from Seths diet when he was 3 years old. At the time he communicated with two semi- intelligible words, 2 days after the diet change he started speaking in complete sentences. The 5 times a day diarrhea became regulated and he was actually able to potty train a few weeks later. I understand this is not a typical reaction but as time went on I found that both of my parents are Celiac, my brother and I are gluten intolerant as well as our children. Removing the gluten that was aggravating the autism symptoms, Seth was able to use the tools he learned in therapy to help self-regulate when he stressed instead of shutting down.
Somewhere along the way I found the awesome Paleo lifestyle that filled the gaps we were missing nutritionally. While the rest of the family was able to change our eating habits, we were struggling with Seth’s. Vegetables made him gag, fruits made him gag, eating 2 or more different textures (think rice with chicken) made him gag, anything green made him gag (notice a theme) and we began to realize this whole gag thing might be that he in fact has a Sensory Disorder.
Sadly, we never quite saw this before on our version of a Standard American Diet, due to the fact what we ate was mostly cheap, carb heavy meals that were planned from “food products” I obtained at an extremely discounted price with my mad couponing skills. We were also stuck in this mindset that since he was a “toddler” and he should eat “toddler” things like Cheerios or crackers but that is ALL he ever wanted to eat. If you are not familiar with the autism brain, the commonly suggested “they will not starve themselves” mentality does not work with these kids, they WILL literally starve themselves with severe cases having to be tube fed.
For time sake here is a highlight of the most effective things we found helpful in transitioning Seth to a whole foods diet. Some may not work for you, some may not. Find what works for your family and do not let the S-L-O-W wheels of progress disappoint or derail you. Keep your eye on the big picture of your childs health.
A parents of children with special needs we realized we had a bit of two-fold battle when it came to adjusting our diet. First we had the typical family resistance that you commonly hear about, but secondly we were also trying to adjust meals to a child who has such difficulties with textures and change.
We try different fats and oils, different types meats, different ways to cook the food and even started hiding food. I hide it all the time!! Liver in the sauce, spinach in eggs (and smoothies, spaghetti, Paleo cakes/muffins, pancakes… lol) and even seaweed flakes instead of pepper. I also do everything I can to keep green on his plate, especially in foods he enjoys eating so hopefully he will stop discriminating just by color.
Really try to think out of the box for meal time. This leads me to a great program called Food Chaining. Food Chaining is a whole other blog post in itself. This is for the child that is more than just a “picky” eater. If you are the parent of a typical picky eater there awesome ideas here on introducing new foods, but in general Food Chaining is specifically geared towards children with food and texture aversion. For more information on Food Chaining, checkout the Facebook page here and Amazon book here.
Finally here is an example of our most recent attempt to get Seth to tolerate vegetables. As a family we focused on produce since this is his biggest food aversion. Seth recently started to drink apple juice so I bought a juicer and juiced apples. Slowly I added different vegetables or fruits besides apples each time, finding a combination he liked. Each time I would add a little more of the veggies and less of the fruit. From there we moved to smoothies with the same fruit/ veggie combination in the VitaMix to help him adjust to the thicker texture and to consume fiber. Sometimes we would make homemade Paleo ice cream of the same recipe with tiny, tiny chunks and then eventually introduce the food item in its whole form. Because the food experiences are kept positive he is less fearful of change plus his palate is adjusting. Realizing as I type this, some may think that 5 years to go from gagging on foods to a few bites of vegetables seems almost fruitless, I see it as a huge success.
I hope that some of these ideas help encourage you to keep trying through the difficulties, do you have any further food suggestions for the readers with special eaters?
Heather is a wife and working Mom of 4 kids (2 adopted from Haiti, 2 the old- fashioned way, 3 with special needs). She currently works on a tissue/ organ recovery team after spending many years as a career Firefighter/Paramedic. Heather is passionate about encouraging other families with special needs kids or from difficult beginnings and has a heart for Haiti which she frequently visits on medical teams. She loves spending time with her family, cooking, traveling, SUPing and a good dark chocolate. You can find her blogging over at www.tiptoeingodessa.com or peddling Choffy here.