I think a large majority of people are seeking better health, wouldn’t you agree? Are you one of those people? I know I was—and still am to some degree. What is health? How do you define it?
I think of it as having energy, feeling good, having a good quality of life which means I can do the things I need to do and want to do with ease. It also means having healthy relationships, having a good home environment and culture, personal relationship with God, close friends, doing things I find fun or interesting, learning, being emotionally healthy and having ways to deal with the stress, mental chaos and negative energy that I might encounter. I think it also means having financial stability as well. Basically, I look to improve some key areas of my life: Spirituality, Relationships, Home Environment/Culture, Social Life, Emotional Health, Career/Work Environment, Finances, Education, Health/Food Choices/Cooking and Exercise.
I didn’t always think this way. Years ago, as a young mom of three children, I subconsciously accepted the fact that kids were sick a lot. I cannot pinpoint a place in my life where that became a belief of mine—it just was what it was. I had 1 girl and 2 boys at the time, all under age 10. My oldest had somewhat “grown out of”** some of the things she often dealt with as a very young child, but with three kids under 10, there was a lot of sick days.
**Why do we use the term “grown out of” when it comes to things like frequent illnesses???? Shouldn’t that just be reserved for clothes and shoes? Illness means the immune system is fighting something, right??? I think we should be looking at that and why kids are so sick so often nowadays.**
My youngest child at the time was ill a LOT. We were in the doctor’s office probably 3-5 times a month. It was ridiculous when I look back at it now. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Hindsight is always 2/020, right? Constant ear infections, upper respiratory infections, fevers with no known cause, mysterious rashes, stomach pain, vomiting, difficulty falling asleep, and the list goes on. His chart from his doctor is thicker than most adults! I think it’s thicker than mine and I’ve had six kids—you know there’s a ton of paperwork that goes along with pregnancy and delivery!
To say our quality of life, HIS quality of life was lacking is an understatement. Those days are somewhat of a blur because I was constantly in survival mode. (Too bad I had not yet found that I love espresso—maybe that would’ve helped me stay awake????) Looking back, I’m really not sure how I survived—-but I certainly did not thrive. Those years were hard and lonely.
When you have a child who is sick so often, you miss out on life. It was about to get worse too.
As my son developed, we noticed that he wasn’t talking, he was clumsy (lots of falls, bumps, bruises and even head wounds requiring stitches). He lost coordination and stopped babbling so much. We noticed he stopped displaying some skills that he once had and he didn’t respond to his name like he used to. He seemed to not even notice we were there and was off in his own world. Taking him out anywhere was nothing short of a nightmare. He couldn’t handle Wal-Mart and from a young age he HATED his car seat. So, outings were few and far between. I had to start grocery shopping alone, at night. I had always taken my first two babies with me, proudly, to the grocery store. This child was having NONE of it. It didn’t make sense to torture him, or myself by taking him with me. I hated shopping at night,though. I’d be so tired, literally exhausted by the time I got there that I just threw stuff in the cart without paying much attention to it. It was just sort of automatic. Nutrition was definitely NOT on my mind.
Eventually, my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I don’t know that I ever grieved that time in my life, or his. It was such a time of transition and changes. There were a lot of adjustments that had to be made whether I wanted to or not. I just did what needed to be done and never thought much about myself—-or what my other kids might be going through. Therapy, doctor’s appointments, a developmental pre-school and lots and lots of research. Late into the night I’d be on the computer looking up ways to help him learn, feel better (he just looked miserable most of the time and like he didn’t feel well—-if you’re a mom, you know that look your child has when they don’t feel good, right?), overcome challenges, sleep better, fall asleep, wake up (he was and still is VERY difficult to wake up) and how to “treat” him. What were all the options? What new therapy was being used? Where were the best therapists in town? Who is the best doctor? What can I do at home? and on and on and on….. This went on for years. Not kidding. From the time he was three years old when we first suspected he was autistic until he was age 13 or so, I spent hours and hours each day researching. Over a decade of my life and his looking for something to help him function the way God intended for him to function. But primarily, I wanted him to feel better. No one functions well when they don’t feel good and the once bright eyed boy that I had now had a dullness to his eyes that I didn’t like and I think I only noticed. You can see it in pictures. His eyes lost the brightness and spark, his skin became dull, he had dark circles under his eyes (I came to know that this meant he was dealing with a lot of allergies) his expression was droopy. Basically, he looked how we all look when we are sick, only this was every day for years. It didn't go away for a very long time.
Like I said, those years are somewhat of a blur. Lots of therapy and doctor’s appointments so a lot of driving. The days were long, stressful and I mostly couldn’t wait until they were over. I was on automatic pilot mode. When he started developmental pre-school, it was early mornings which were like WWIII. I can only imagine what my stress levels were back then because I paid NO attention to my own health and had very little time to nurture my other children. We tried pharmaceutical medicine—many times, many different kinds. None of them worked long term, many never did anything and several caused side effects that were scary and/or possibly permanent. What I would soon discover, is that meds were never the answer. They don’t address the root of the problem which to be fair, at the time I didn’t know what the root was, but neither did all the doctors I took him too. They were treating symptoms and came from the mindset that his issues were ONLY neurological. Their explanation didn’t tell me why he was constantly ill, why his bowels didn’t move like they should, why he had so much trouble falling asleep, where the rashes came from and they certainly never tested him for food or environmental allergens. Most of the time, bringing up his physical symptoms was attributed to him somehow causing them because of what they said was his neurological issues—basically, he was either faking or somehow causing his physical symptoms. (Make sense to you???? It never did to me. If my older son could have a physical illness that a doctor might say warranted treatment or testing, then so could his younger brother. Having a neurological issue doesn’t prevent you from having physical issues/ailments.)
I’m not sure I could adequately describe my frustration level at this point. By this time in my journey, he was about 7 years old and something had to give. As he got older, his challenges and needs were taking over and having a huge impact on our family. Everyone’s stress level was high. There were monumental meltdowns, a short period of self abuse (he would hit himself or hit a part of his body on something—thankfully, this didn’t last long), the struggle to get him to sleep was nothing short of what it must be like to wrestle an alligator. The physical, mental and emotional exhaustion was real and it was intense and it didn’t let up. I’m sure my son was dealing with a lot of the same but he was, and still is to some degree, unable to tell me what he feels or how things effect him in an emotional sense. There is a lot about him I don’t know, that I have to guess, or observe from his behavior and obvious changes.
He was around seven when I heard that removing gluten and casein from his diet might be helpful. I talked to a lot of other moms who had done it, asked questions and did a lot of research. (Doctors weren’t educated on this and were less than encouraging.) After a few months, I decided to give it a try. We removed all gluten and casein from his diet (and ours) for two weeks. I won’t say this was easy, but it was also not as difficult as I had anticipated. I made a lot of the same type of meals we had always eaten, I just chose to remove the gluten or casein containing foods or opt for a replacement. When the two weeks was up, I bought my son his favorite food; A cheese pizza all to himself. That’s a lot of gluten and casein in one meal. I wanted to test and see if it made any difference for him.
**I had noticed during the two week trial of being GFCF that there were some sleep improvements, positive behavioral changes and some increased focus in my son.
He scarfed down that pizza quickly! We all enjoyed some pizza that night! About 30 minutes later is when I noticed something and so did my husband. My son became very uncoordinated, his speech changed and he was lacking the focus I’d seen the two weeks prior AND he was acting very silly—-almost “drunk-like”, as if he’d been given some alcohol. I think shocked would be an understatement in describing my reaction to seeing him like this, honestly. I didn’t think changing what he ate would make a difference. I had just never equated food as having any effect on the body other than satisfying hunger. That was the last time my son ever ate gluten. For a long time he didn’t have dairy of any kind.
I began looking really deep into foods, nutrition, how it effects the body, how to deal with it, the pros and cons of food allergy testing, rotation diets, elimination diets and what was IN our food available at the super market. I became passionate about changing the way I ate and what I fed my family. Food mattered more than I knew. I learned how it might effect the body and the mind, what was in processed food products and how they were made, plus the difference between an allergy, sensitivity and intolerance to foods. (I seriously wish they taught this in schools. It is SO important!)
I also started looking at ways to support our health naturally, instead of just waiting until we were sick to go to the doctor’s office. That clearly wasn’t working! A lot of changes were made over the next few years: We ate more whole foods (fruits, veggies, meats, eggs, nuts, etc… ) and I used supplements and some herbals to keep us healthy. Our trips to the doctor’s office started to drop as I was learning what the body needed to stay healthy and ways I could support the body during illness at home. We went from making 3-5 trips to the doctor a month to just 1 or 2, then NONE. The main reason for that was we DID NOT get sick like we used to. Changes to what we ate and supporting the body resulted in less illness and ear infections stopped occurring as well. We just simply did not NEED to go to the doctor and now, I can say that the last time anyone in my family needed attention from a doctor for an illness has been over FIVE years ago. We stay well and IF we do get ill, it’s much milder and short lived now. Our body’s are stronger and more able to fight off the germs that cause sickness. The resources the body needed in order to do this were always available, I just did not know about them.
I found out, that what I didn't know was far more important to our health and well being than I could have ever imagined. I was no longer blindly following the masses. I was empowering myself to keep my family well.
This is part one of a series on our family's Wellness Journey. I hope you check back for the rest of the story in the coming weeks.