I haven’t written a blog post in almost a year. I have several reasons for this: in order to learn to cook and accomplish the million things I attempt in a day, I’ve cut out writing to make more time; as I’ve learned better to cook, I’ve had less interesting things to say about my time in the kitchen; as my son gets older, I’ve been concerned about his privacy and his right to own his own story.
But probably the biggest reason is also a hard one to swallow: The diet hasn’t worked. Perhaps because we have not been able to stick with it.
Three years ago, right about this time of year, we started the Body Ecology Diet (the quick recap, for new readers: no dairy, no grains, no soy, no sugar—including fruit) after meeting a family whose daughter had recovered from autism and reading a good deal about other families’ positive experiences with it. Over those three years, we grew frustrated with slow progress, switching to the GAPS diet (another quick recap—this one is largely the same but follows stages, beginning with nothing other than broth), then allowing more foods back in our diet as we grew more frustrated with such a limited menu. Mainly, this meant occasional honey and fruit. Then it meant gluten-free bread. About three months ago, it meant dairy.
It is incredibly hard to hear your kid begging for “real milk.” He had been fine drinking quinoa milk for a couple of years, and then suddenly, he wasn’t. I’m not sure why exactly he decided his body was ready for dairy, as he told us. My guess is he’s growing up and yearning to have command of something when so little is in his control—he’s 6 now—and around this time he also started rejecting his morning vitamin-probiotic shake he’d been drinking since he was 3. There were mornings when he’d eagerly gulp it down. This spring he started arguing and complaining about it, and by summer he flat-out refused to drink it.
What could I do? He’s not a baby anymore. I also don’t want to continue making him take something he so adamantly hates. I tried giving him his vitamins in pill form, which came as six gigantic capsules every day. He hated them. I hated them. Desperate, I asked a friend who follows a very similar path with her daughter what she did for vitamins—she said her daughter simply swallowed them. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Maybe it’s because I hated swallowing pills as a kid, but I just squirmed every time I handed Logan his six vitamins.
So I stopped making him take them. I switched to a brand with chewable vitamins, still natural and sugar/gluten-free, but pretty drastically lower levels than what he’d been getting before—merely 100% of most things instead of 2,000% or so. Did he need those crazy-high levels of micronutrients? I’d thought I’d known. I don’t anymore.
I do know I see changes in my son. I hate throwing my husband, Jason, under the bus, but he claims to not see them, or not see them as often, or not see them as related to dietary changes. I believe my son’s ears flare red far more often than they had when we were strictly following the diet (though admittedly, they still burned every so often, and we could never figure out why). I believe he’s had far more difficulty focusing, is far more wiggly and distracted, and is far more defiant and—not aggressive exactly, but physical. I’ve seen him pushing his body into things and people as he used to do, and I wonder how this—and the other changes—can’t be connected to diet. But, then again, as lots of people are quick to point out, there simply is no proof or scientific evidence that any of these things are real. And it is true mothers can see what they want to see. Perhaps that’s simply a human trait.
Jason and I both have our son’s best interests at heart. Jason gamely went along with a diet he hated (food is supremely important to my husband) because he saw enough potential that it could help. But then he didn’t see enough progress. I didn’t really, either. Putting each day under a microscope is draining and demoralizing when everyone has good days and bad days, and progress is almost never linear. Put more plainly, it literally is hard to see the larger forest when you’re focused on each individual tree. I tried to avoid doing that, but the big picture can be hard, too. Trying to quantify “good” and “difficult” days and track trends over time (three “good” days this week, four “good” days last week, two the week before) proved exhausting. So I abandoned that exercise—but that, of course, leads me right back to no proof. Just intuition, which, according to the books I was reading last year around this time and, more prominently, Jason, doesn’t account for much.
So I agreed to incorporate some milk back into the diet, at a slow pace to see what happened. And as I could have guessed, it’s easier to see things like progress once they’re gone.
Or, is that simply a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do I see a reversal of progress because I expected to?
From the start of the diet, I knew it would work only as long as my son felt buy-in and support from the family; if it were “normal” at home and he had a strong foundation of valuing healthful foods, he himself would want to eat this way. I believe this is where we failed. Jason argues the times he eats bread with supper and the times he eats other “off the menu” foods aren’t visible enough to make a difference, but I think kids notice everything. Jason also argues that our son sees that his food is different at school, so he should be used to eating differently, which I also think is wrong—he needs to feel completely normal at home so he doesn’t feel weird at school—it’s all the other kids who are eating weird, fake foods. In any case, my failure to fully enforce a strict BED/GAPS diet in our entire kitchen, I think, has led us to this point.
Whether this is a “good” point or “difficult” point is also up for debate. Another question that has plagued me the past three years is “What is this for, anyway? What are we trying to accomplish?” Our baby is the smartest kid in his class, likes playing kickball at recess, and looks forward to bike rides with his friend from up the street. He’s a big-hearted big brother who loves to play and cuddle and laugh. Perhaps it really shouldn’t matter that he interrupts too often, needs to stand while he eats, eats with his fingers, and has trouble keeping his voice at a “number three” level when he gets excited.
Then again, the excessive wiggling and chattering and the struggle to follow directions is growing more noticeable and unacceptable the older he gets. I know from teaching his Sunday School class how impossible it is to get him to sit still during a story—not only sit still, which I think many kids might find hard, but keep his entire body in its own personal space. While other kids are fidgeting with their hands or shifting on their seats, my son is literally stretching out his entire body on the ground, rolling, flipping his feet over his head, turning his head all around.
Jason never sees this behavior. He doesn’t teach Sunday School and is very rarely with him in large group settings, especially with groups of his peers or groups where it’s expected everyone sit still and listen. So when I try to insist we need to cut out milk again—just try it a few months, maybe make another attempt at quantifying things for evidence rather than intuition—he grows angry and refuses. My son, too, shouts “NO! NO!” every time I suggest that perhaps dairy has been hurting his body, which makes it hard to focus in school.
So, just as I was in the beginning, three years ago, I feel torn and desolate. How do I best help my son when he doesn’t even want my help?
I suspect that’s a common bond all mothers share.