Saturday, March 3, 2012

Going Gluten-Free

Let me preface this post by saying several things. I am not a doctor, pediatrician, dietician, or expert. I am going to discuss a small child's bowels. Talk to your doctor before attempting your own dietary changes. If you're easily grossed out, you will either want to skip certain parts or just hit the back button.

I have 2 children, the youngest is our son D. His older sister is smart as a whip, outgoing as all get out, and is clearly born to be a leader (and possibly an actress/gymnast/president). Until about 2 months ago, it appeared as though D man (while obviously quite smart) was a little more laid back, observant, chill-out kind of personality. The only indication that something wasn't right was his little tummy. (Poop discussion!) He was pooping with almost every diaper, 6-7 times a day like a newborn, and it was unformed and raunchy as all get out. I mean, we're talking smell him from across the room before he's even done. With that much pooping going on, he was almost always battling diaper rash in varying degrees. There were some days where I could never get ahead because he wouldn't stop pooping long enough for the diaper cream to do its job. I would slather the rash in cream, and then sprinkle a rash powder on top of that to form a sort of paste that would prevent the cream from soaking into the diaper before it had a chance to do its job. Unfortunately, he kept pooping so much that it was not unusual to have small spots that were bleeding on his poor little heiney, and after one particularly bad day I decided I'd had enough. There was no way this was normal, and I was going to figure out what was wrong with his gut.

I entered his symptoms into the WebMD symptom checker (due to my having been laid off, we don't have health insurance right now and I wanted to do my research before we paid for a pediatrician visit.) and 2 of the results stuck out to me right away. Lactose intolerance and Gluten intolerance. I remembered my good friend Jenn saying at one point that their oldest had gut problems and when (for other reasons) they took him off gluten & dairy those symptoms resolved. I shot her a message and asked her about what they did to get some more details. Mid-October, we cut dairy from his diet and observed the results. After 5 days, there was no change whatsoever so we concluded that wasn't it. It would be almost 2 months until we could try gluten free since it's expensive, we have no money, and the foods can be difficult to track down if you don't know where to look. The week before Christmas I had accumulated enough GF items that we could do a GFree week for D, which should be long enough to notice any changes. Within 4 days his tummy issues resolved. He was down to pooping twice a day, max, his rash cleared up, and while it still stunk (it's poop, after all) it wasn't nearly as raunchy as before. But it's what happened after that that was truly amazing.

Remember earlier when I talked about our children's (supposed) opposite personalities? Turns out, they're not that different after all. Little Man's hanging back, shyness, and clinging to mommy was because he didn't feel well! Nobody, including himself, realized just how badly he felt because he'd never felt any different. Not only did most of his shyness and clinginess disappear, but his vocabulary nearly doubled in a week. In one month, he went from saying a few words to speaking in complete sentences. Granted, they're not long sentences (he's 22 months old, after all) but he's talking out the wazoo, asking questions and learning new words. Just this morning he brought me a book and started pointing to things, asking me "mommy, dat?" because he didn't know what they were. He's interacting more, speaking more, and overall is much less grouchy. It's rather hard to describe, because it's not like it changed his personality. He isn't doing anything now that he wasn't doing before, it's just magnified. Brightened. Increased. The best way I can describe it is: it's as if we only got to see him out of a dirty window before, and since we'd never seen "clean window D" we didn't know just how dirty the window was until it was cleaned. Now that the window is sparkling clean, we realize just how much he (and we) were missing.

I know what some of you are probably thinking, "There's no way one ingredient could make that much difference, it must be coincidence". Honestly if I hadn't observed it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it either. Bogie didn't believe me at first when I started mentioning D's demeanor changes, but now he's just as amazed as I am because he can see them too. It is quite possible that some of D's vocabulary changes are due to the fact that he's a month older, but trust me when I say that those changes didn't occur over the course of a month. Most of them occurred almost overnight, right around the 4-5 day mark. It was clear that all the harmful gluten had worked its way out of his body and he was coming out of the fog. It wasn't that he didn't know the words, letters, numbers, etc, it's that he wouldn't say them, couldn't focus, couldn't remember, didn't care...who knows what all went on in his poor little head and body.

Example One: Wakey, wakey. Before we went GFree, whenever he woke up from a nap or sleeping, he cried until I came to get him out of his crib. I would often wonder why he cried since he was long past object permanence stage and knew that mommy or daddy would come get him, but I figured it was just a stage or a personality quirk. But now? Now, Little Man talks to himself, opens the curtain and watches the cars go by, talks to the cars, talks to the birds, talks to his pacifier. He just chills out in his crib, chattering away and playing with his stuffed animals until I get him. (He does still occasionally cry when he wakes up after naptime, but it's pretty clear it's because he wasn't ready to wake up.)

Example Two: The church nursery. The aforementioned shyness and clinginess really reared its ugly head when I had to drop him off in the nursery. He'd start crying before we even got to the door. The girls would tell me that once I left, he'd settle down but he never really showed an interest in the toys, and usually clung to one person the whole time & fell asleep on her at some point. When I would come to get him, he'd start bawling as soon as he saw me and wouldn't stop until I picked him up and made it clear he was coming with me when I left. That first sunday after all the gluten was out of his system, I went to get him and he was on the floor playing with toys. He saw me and came running over with a ball in his outstretched hand saying "mommy! look! ball!" I said "I see that ball! What color is it?" "Orange!!" he yelled, then gave me a hug and turned around and ran back to the toys. Yes, I said "ran back to the toys". He had NEVER done that before, not even close. The closest we had ever come to that moment would be the days that he didn't cry when I got him (which happened maybe once or twice). I was shocked, as was the girl who was in the nursery because she was used to pre-gluten free D.

Example Three: Vocabulary. Like I said, it's hard to tell just how much of this he had already learned and just wouldn't say, but I was not kidding when I said his vocab doubled. He's speaking in full sentences (again, he's 22 months old, so those sentences are around 3 words long, but still) and picks up on things very quickly. He's got most of his colors down, misses a few letters in the alphabet but can recognize quite a few of them, and it appears he's going to be good with numbers. I was holding him on my hip while boiling some eggs, so we were watching the timer together when he suddenly started counting backwards from 10 to 1. Over and over again, pointing to the timer as each number changed, he recited them correctly the whole time. I was amazed.

Had I known the switch to GFree was going to change more than his tummy issues, I would have taken videos of typical D to compare with GFree D. As it is, I went back through my videos to find one as close as possible to right before we switched. The best one I could find was him going through one of his books, naming objects. On 1/29 I took another video, with the same book. I was hoping for some type of difference between the two, but this surpassed even my hopes. There's a noticeable difference in my son. While he's clearly cheerful and participating in the first video, he's just sitting there letting me do the prompting and pointing. There's nothing wrong with that, and without something to compare it to we'd never have thought it could be any different. Enter video #2, taken 3 weeks after the first one but these kinds of results we saw after 4-5 days of being GF. Notice that all I'm doing in this one is holding the book and confirming his words. He's more alert, focused, interactive and intent.

Besides the differences I've already mentioned, he's more cheerful, more active, and more confrontational (in a good way, mostly) with his sister. ZaZa is 3 1/2, going on 20. She likes to give orders and command the situation and before, he would either go along with it or ignore her. Now, he'll either happily join in or tell her "no!" and go off to do his own thing. He's also more mischievousness, and you can see the little twinkle in his eyes that tells you he knows exactly what he's doing. He's still a little lovebug, only now it's in hugs and kisses and piling me up with cars rather than clinging to me all day. He's still a little reserved around people he doesn't know, but now it's a small smile and a couple minute warm-up period whereas before it was a stern "I don't know you" glare and a good 20 minutes before it was even "safe" to get out of mommy's arms. I wish I had more than words to show how much of a difference it made, but it really did. I would totally encourage you, if you or your kids have been having similar problems, to try going gluten free and see if it makes a difference. We gave it a solid week, but it only took 3 days to notice a difference in that boy.

When we can afford it, I'm going to take D to the pediatrician and get him tested to make sure his intolerance isn't more severe than we thought. I will also get tested eventually because I've had tummy problems of my own for as long as I can remember. This diet that Bogie and I are on is Gfree simply because we're not eating any grains anyway, and it's the best I've felt in years (and the best my gut's done in years). I also remember both my dad and my Grandma saying (at different points in time) that whole wheat foods taste bitter to them so I wouldn't be surprised if that's where I got it, and maybe we're ALL gluten intolerant! Again, I'm not a doctor or dietitian, so talk to your health professionals before you make any huge changes. If you're already eating Gluten Free, please feel free to tell me about it! What prompted the change? What are your favorite foods? Where have you found the best deals on Gfree foods? I'd love to hear any tricks or tips you have!


  1. have you tried g-free pizza crust?!? i have! i love the cauliflower based one the really cannot tell it's not wheat!! seriously. google it! it's great! :)


  3. Thanks, Sooz! I'll look into it. We've ordered a Gfree pizza for D before, but haven't attempted to make our own yet.

  4. How crazy! I've heard that people used to always eat their grains slightly fermented (i.e. sourdough, etc...) and that makes it more digestible. How wonderful that you're seeing such a difference!