This is Sofia’s Story
Sofia is the 2nd of my 3 kids and is turning 5 years old this month. She is a happy little girl who loves learning to spell short words and run around with her 3 and a half year old brother and copy whatever her 15 year old sister is doing. She is strong and often lifts up her brother for fun although they weigh almost the same.
A few years ago, Sofia was not this happy and strong. In fact she was almost impossible. Impossible to reason with; impossible to get to cooperate; and quite frankly, exhausting to parent.
Before you dismiss this notion based on the terrible twos (or ones or threes for that matter), just know that I have three kids so this mama can handle a little terrible twos, no problem. Bring it. But this was way more than that. I used to jokingly tell my husband we needed to call the exorcist. (Make that half jokingly.)
When I first switched to a grain free diet to resolve my long list of health issues, I did so alone. My husband thought I was nuts until he realized I was feeling so much better after just a couple of weeks and starting to lose an insane amount of weight without limiting my portions or exercising much (65 lbs and counting). It wasn’t until I started reading the literature on how diet affects our neurotransmitters and brain that I started thinking that maybe changing Sofia’s diet would help! I didn’t want to get my hopes up. My husband is the one that is home with them all day since they’re unschooled I simply suggested we try getting rid of gluten and dairy (two of the most common food sensitivities) for 30 days and see what happens.
When we started this experiment, Sofia’s diet was what I then considered to be “healthy”. We bought organic as much as possible, including our grains and dairy, which were 2 of the food groups she loved the most.
Of course if you’re going to change a toddler’s diet (Sofia was almost 3 years old when we did this), it’s going to be very difficult if the family is eating something else so we just did it for the entire household.
Remove gluten and casein (the protein in dairy) for 30 days to see what happens.
We didn’t switch them to eating organ meats, bone broth and vegetables right away but rather just swapped out pasta with gluten free pasta and had it less often while incorporating new meats and vegetables into the repertoire. They inspected the food at first and did a bit of grumbling… but they ate it.
Rinse and repeat for 30 days… except that a couple of weeks into it there was no doubt Sofia was a new person. We were never going back.
Over the following weeks we transitioned more and more healthy, nutrient dense foods into their diet and continued transitioning out the less nutrient dense foods like the gluten free grains we’d been relying on. They still love some gluten free pizza on occasion but when we eat at home which is most of the time, we try to make up for lost time by sneaking in the most nutrient dense stuff we can find and making sure they to include plenty of gut healing, bone building broth which they love.
I never intentionally reintroduced gluten into Sofia’s diet. I was curious as to what would happen but I knew inevitably I’d find out eventually. Sure enough, she managed to sneak a few bites of a cupcake at a party and the disaster ensued shortly after: vomiting within a few hours and exorcist worthy behavior for the next 3 days.
Do I think going gluten free is going to cure all behavior disorders from ADD to Sensory Processing Disorder?
Probably not. But will it improve the symptoms even just a little? It’s certainly worth 30 days of extra time in the kitchen to find out. Gluten is not a food group and you’re certainly not going to give your child a grain deficiency by depriving him or her from their beloved cereal for a few weeks.
3 Tips for Making Diet Changes for 30 Days
There are several things you can do to help make a diet transition easier.
1. Start Slowly
Swap out one meal at a time if that’s easier and let them adjust. Just switching from pasta to gluten free pasta is a great start. Experiment with new foods and you might be surprised at what they end up loving. My toddlers love dipping artichokes in ghee for instance and now eat sardines out of a can! A few years ago it was cereal for breakfast, a quesadilla for lunch and pasta for dinner.
2. Run Out
If you don’t want them to eat it, don’t buy it. Chances are your kids are not the ones doing the grocery shopping. If they’re used to snacking maybe they’d love these delicious tangerine gummies or some kale chips or macadamia nuts. You can play short order cook if you’d like but trust me, that will get old pretty quickly.
3. Hold Your Ground
If you’re ready to make changes and you believe the food they’re currently eating is not what is best for them then say no, and stick to it just like you do in other parenting scenarios that are not negotiable (running into the street, seat belts on in the car, teeth brushing, etc). Our kids definitely noticed each change we made. Some days we got a mini hissy fit. Other days we were boycotted. Other days we got a full on kicking-on-the-floor fit (which, of course, we filmed for blackmailing later in life). 🙂
Thirty days will be over before you know it and it will likely change the way you view food forever. Happier kids are not a bad bonus either. 🙂
If this experiment seems daunting and you could use some hand holding throughout the process, check out my ebook, The Paleo Survival Guide: Getting Started with Paleo. With chapters on how to transition your toddlers, your teenagers and spouse; how to eat real food on the go and while traveling, sleep optimization and exercise and many recipes to get you started right away it is sure to help you get on the right track.
If you have teenagers you’re hoping to transition to a healthier diet this interview with my teen on her perspective on paleo may be helpful to you.
Has your children’s behavior been affected by food sensitivities? How did you deal with it? Share below!
Discussion (51 Comments)
It’s so good to hear about this and I’m happy that people are getting answers. I have personally found that diet needs to be customized to the individual. I tried going grain-free/paleo for almost a year and it was awful. Now I avoid avocadoes, coconut, eat grains but very little wheat, limit my meat to 2 ounzes or less a day and I feel amazing and am losing inches. I focus mainly on fruits and vegetables, olive oil, lots of rice, vegetarian meals mostly, and it works for me. There are three members of my family that eat more paleo and one that eats more like me. We too have had our battles with behavious and food sensitivities and dairy turned out to be the biggest culprit.
Glad you found what works for you, Angela!
My whole family has recently gone grain free and dairy free (except for me on dairy because I’m pregnant and feel I need that source of fats/proteins). This was prompted by an autoimmune disease my husband and daughter have and because of my son’s severe digestive difficulties. We all feel better and my daughter’s mood is much better, a byproduct we weren’t expecting. I can relate to exorcist worthy behavior 🙂
My question is this: my son clearly has digestion that is not unhealthy and we are working to heal that. Do you think food sensitivities come from digestive system that is in need of healing or for another reason?
Giving up grains was not challenging as far as the theory behind it. However, taking dairy away feels like I’m depriving my kids of excellent sources (when from grass-fed cows and raw milk) of good healthy proteins and fats.
I hear you. Food sensitivities are often linked to gut health. You could read up a bit on “leaky gut” or read the GAPS diet book by Natasha Campbell-McBride for more info.
I think with dairy there’s a chance you could remove it temporarily and that your child will be able to tolerate high quality dairy after some healing has taken place. Also, not all dairy is the same. You could try re-introducing grass fed butter for instance and might find that they do ok with that but with milk all hell breaks loose. It will take some time and some n=1 experimentation.
Hope that helps!
Thank you so much for your post. We too made the switch to gluten free. My oldest daughter had horrible asthma and allergies. After eliminating refined sugars, food dyes and gluten she no longer has asthma. She can sleep lying down, not propped up. My son used to have horrible eczema, we had him allergy tested and nothing showed up, BUT when we went gluten free, and bean free his eczema went completely away. This wasn’t just a little rash, he was covered in horrible scales and he would scratch till he bled. The many things prescribed never worked well, but the diet change helped perfectly! Then my youngest daughter was exactly what you were describing, I too joked about exorcists. She had absolute un-normal behavior and hitting and screaming and flailing, yet she seemed to not really know what she was doing. Gluten free helped her, but not completely. She still had major breakdowns that lasted hours and sometimes days. It was very hard. Then we heard about Dr. Finegold and I started eliminating foods that mask acetylsalicylic acid. Those included cucumbers, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries and citric fruits. It seems like a lot, but it’s so worth it to see my baby girl (4) being happy, and delightful and not feeling like she can’t be in her own skin. She’s a new child. Food definitely is the BEST Medicine. Thanks again.
Wow, that’s amazing Kelley! So happy that worked out so well for you! Thank you for sharing your story 🙂
This is a fantastic post! I’m a grown adult woman and still don’t tolerate grains in any form or I suffer not only digestive pain to extremes but my mood goes South quickly. I tolerate hormone-free plain Greek yogurt just fine, along with hormone-free, sugar-free whey protein isolate but I don’t eat foods with casein due to the same reasons. Even the difference between whey protein concentrate (more casein and lactose) and whey protein isolate (no casein, no lactose) is noticeable in a very short amount of time.
Thank you for posting this because I think this is an issue so often overlooked and it frustrates me to no end that society can’t see food truly is either poison or medicine to our bodies. Bless you!
Thanks so much Heather!
Just to clarify. Casein isn’t the only source of protein in dairy. It is the protien that typically causes allergies but the whey protien, sans casein is an extremely good source of protein.
I know this May be off topic, but I was wondering if gelatin consumption can effect breastmilk production? I have been losing weight and my 2 1/2 month old has had really green stools and slow weight gain. I restarted gelatin around 2 weeks ago. He is a great nurser and my 7th baby. We have had a clean diet for years due to behavioral problems with my eldest child. I have never taken gelatin while nursing before, but we have had homemade broth on a regular basis for years (while nursing). Any correlation?
I honestly don’t know but I would suggest stopping and see if that makes a difference.
Hi. I realised when my youngest son was 3.5months I needed to cut gluten out of his diet so cut it out if mine as Brestfeeding. Never would have believed it would have really effected me but I’ll never go back and my son is doing great. I’ve read a lot of info on gluten and grain free diet and would like to convert my 3.5yr, which during week is easy. But my problem is my partner who is very stubborn and thinks GF is a joke won’t join in, and my older son like many boys is his dad’s shadow. I can already see it becoming a problem with my younger son now 13months is already noticing he not eating the same as Dad and his big brother. I don’t want him to feel excluded, ideas.
I feel your pain. I don’t even allow gluten in the house as I am so allergic I cannot even touch it. My husband and adult children realize that I’m not making it up, but they still think they ‘have to have’ gluten. It’s making my son so sick and he won’t listen. I think he believes it’s just my age or something.
If they eat at my house, they eat gluten free and I try to be as imaginative as possible. Tonight I made chicken and dumplins from the Betty Crocker cookbook, but instead of flour I used the pizza crust mix from Namaste. Best dumplins I ever made!
But they get sick of meat and veggies and I get discouraged.
Just DO what you can and try, try, try.
Let God clean up their mess that results from their poor decision making. Pray for them every day. Hmmm. Maybe I should take my own advice! Haven’t been doing that lately. 🙂
Just never give up.
I wrote a bit about that in The Paleo Survival Guide but honestly, you could also use the tips in the article above to transition daddy. They work for big kids as well as little kids 😉
I would strongly suggest asking your husband to just support you and your baby for 30 days even if it’s a joke to him. Just 30 days. Hopefully by then he’ll experience so many benefits he’ll be sold.
Hope that helps!
My son is 6 and recently diagnose with ASD, anxiety and also sensory issues. We are slowly trying to make the transition to no grains or dairy. We are stuck on the Quinoa pasta, try to introduce spaghetti squash but he would NOT eat anything!!! It’s very frustrating to watch him inspect the food and not eat it. His therapist says it’s part of his sensory disorder. Any advise, on how I could get him to eat? I’ve tried EVERYTHING!!!
I must admit I don’t have firsthand experience with ASD so my advice is not ASD specific. If you’re already off the gluten, that is amazing!
What about zuchini noodles? If alternative noodles don’t fly what about forgetting pastas altogether? Perhaps finding other meals they’ll like will be an easier route.
Hope that helps!
My daughter is very particular with foods. She is now 9 and was tested for food sensititivites. She had 38 foods she reacts to so we are very limited. She can not have gluten, corn or oat sooo not easy, but well worth it. She enjoys rice pasta ( not as grainy as quinoa) Van’s and Annie ‘ s both make a rice pasta/ mac n chs. She also enjoys the Bob’s Red Mill gluten free pizza crust. She is very aware of texture. Hope that helps! Sidenote: she was diagnosed with Anxiety disorder(selective mutism) and ADHD. She was on 4 meds daily just to get through the day. Since implementing the diet we have been able to remove 3.of the 4 meds and she is better than when she was on them. I wish great results for all researching this for their child.
We had a very similar experience with dairy. My daughter was diagnosed with a dairy allergy when she was 3 months old. At age 3 the allergist determined that she had out grown her allergy and we could start reintroducing it. She had always been a little difficult, colicky, unhappy. As we added more and more dairy she started to get worse. She started exhibiting a lot of anger. She started having panic attacks and was always anxious. By age 5 we had to stop going to crowded areas such as malls or community events, even restaurants were off limits. At age 6 we went to a child psychologist which suggested we put her on Zoloft. A few months later we found a play therapist that specialized in anxiety. After 3 months of weekly meetings she too suggested we consider Zoloft. We then tried occupational therapy for her sensory processing disorder, as suggested by the play therapist. They suggested having her tested for autism. At this point we were feeling completely lost as a family.
One day I was putting a clay mask on my face that contained yogurt. She asked to join me and I started putting it on her face. She immediately broke out in huge hives. We started removing dairy from her diet and within a month her anxiety had declined a lot. Her anger had subsided and she was able to make decisions without a full on tantrum or panic attack. A fog had lifted off her brain and she started blossoming and thriving socially. Its been a great change in her and our lives.
Wow! That’s an amazing, Elisa. I’m so glad you figured that out.
My son is 4 and it sounds like we are on a similar path as your family went through with your daughter. We have been gluten free for about 3 months and there is noticeable improvement, but we still have a ways to go. Now I am wondering about going dairy-free. He doesn’t consume much dairy now, but does love cheese.
Just wondering if you have any advice/suggestions as far as, how did you handle school for your daughter? We are having a terrible time trying to find a preschool for our son, that is a good fit. I am also concerned about sending him to kindergarten next year (it’s full day here), as I don’t think he will be able to handle it due to his sensory and anxiety issues. Also, how do you handle trying to go out in the community? Is it getting better for you? Going to get groceries can be difficult for us sometimes, let alone trying to go anywhere with a crowd or noise.
My son is 17 mo and has been on a dairy/gluten free diet since 1yr. I was wondering if your daughter is still on this diet? Just curious if sensitivities can be outgrown?? He had excezma is the reason we changed. Thanks!
Was your son tested for dairy and gluten allergies? My sons eczema is getting worse by the day and I feel food is to blame even though tests come back negative. Going dairy and gluten free is very daunting so I’m trying to warm myself up for the transition.
My sons test came back negative, but we went gluten free and bean free and his eczema went away completely.
My son has eczema too, he is gluten/dairy/corn free- we never got tested, I just knew it was food related and started with the usual suspects. Tests for intolerances aren’t very accurate, they are measuring for life threatening reactions not moods or ibs type stuff. I am my own doctor when it comes to things like this and cured my newborn daughter’s “reflux” by eliminating at least a dozen different things before we saw relief. I’m now starting to add things back in with great success. You can do it, so much more rewarding to “cure” your body of illness rather than great the symptoms… like putting steroid creams on my son’s eczema, no way!
Yes, tests are definitely not always accurate. My son had a reaction to cashews a few years ago. Just recently his allergist did a blood test and it looked good, so he wanted my son to try an in office food challenge. Well at the challenge they put a drop of cashew butter on his gums and he had an instant reaction. His doctor says the only fool proof test is a food challenge.
My son had very bad exzema. After I switched to goat milk and cut out all dairy his skin improved noticeable. Over the years he grew out of it
My daughter does not seem to be as sensitive to high quality dairy as she used to be. As for gluten, I haven’t tried and don’t plan on intentionally exposing her to it. I recommend reading Wellness Mama’s article “Gluten is Not a Food Group” linked within this post.
Hope that helps!
We took our daughter off dairy and de-toxed our home 23 years ago because she was sick all the time. She would cough so hard she’d throw up and her immune system was shot. 18 years later, she was able to add small amounts of dairy back into her diet, but that was after adding in essential oils, homeopathic medicine, and totally changing the way we clean our home.