a new journey: background and project

Hello friends!

Many of you may know that I am not a blog person. When my husband Shane kept a blog consistently, he had to set it up to email me his posts so that I would read them. I am wary of using the internet as a primary form of communication and I prefer face-to-face interaction. However, I also want to be able to share with many of our friends and family the journey on which we are embarking.

Short version: We are starting a special diet together as a family in order to try to heal our guts. While neither Shane nor I have particular gut problems that we know about, Cyprian’s many allergies are the sign of a damaged gut wall. This diet will be intense, but we feel like the time is right to try something new for the sake of our son.

The could-be-longer-but-no-one-has-that-kind-of-time version:

Our son Cyprian was born in September 2013, four weeks into my second year of graduate school and six weeks into Shane’s second year of teaching middle school special education. He was a very healthy nine-pound baby and nursed well, even though it felt like he hardly slept.

He had eczema from pretty early on. I tried a variety of lotions and moisturizers. We were prescribed steroid creams, which I had no desire to use. We changed our shampoos, soaps, and laundry soap to non-detergents. His eczema has improved but still crops up.

When he was eight months old, we gave him some sharp cheddar for his first taste of cheese. The third time he consumed it, he broke out into full body hives. We called the nurse hotline and Shane went 55 miles an hour down a 25 mile an hour road to Walgreens to get some benedryl.

Food allergies? How could he have food allergies? Neither of us are allergic to anything, I exposed him to everything in the womb, and I breastfed exclusively for the first six months and no drop of formula has ever touched his mouth. We went to our first allergist appointment a month later, only to find that Cyprian reacted strongly to seven out of the eight major allergens on his skin test–the only one he hadn’t reacted to was shellfish.

The doctor said we would need to do blood tests to confirm the allergies. We were sent three different places to get his blood drawn because the phlebotomists were unsuccessful. When I called the lab three weeks later, the third person I talked to told me that the lab tests were canceled because of an insufficient sample. Crying, I hung up and contacted our PCP for a referral to a different allergist.

During this time I began to research other options for dealing with food allergies. I was intrigued by NAET, an acupressure technique, so I read the book about it and found a practitioner thirty minutes away. Unfortunately, for a child like Cyprian who seems to be allergic to everything, it would take at least a year of weekly treatments to make headway. At $45 a session, it was unsustainable, and although I thought we were seeing some effects, my husband was doubtful, so when we couldn’t afford it anymore we stopped. We had also had a bad experience in which he had been treated for egg and he then eaten some and had projectile vomiting.

We liked our new allergist much better; he acknowledged that he does not do much with complementary/alternative medicine and can’t endorse it, but he will respect our decisions as parents even while giving strong recommendations for what he thinks we should do. Cyprian was starting daycare and his eczema was flaring, so we agreed that we would apply the steroids to control severe flares. I estimate we apply it once every two weeks or so now.

At our new allergist the phlebotomists took his blood with no problems and we got our test results back ASAP. His numbers were off the charts: There was no way he would be eligible for the “baked egg challenge” that we had hoped for, and he recommended getting rid of our cat (which we have not done). We were upset, but we coped–he settled into a diet that consisted of a lot of beef, chicken, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, fruit, sausage, and lentil loaf. We made everything from scratch and steered clear of processed foods, most of which he couldn’t eat anyway, but he would have the occasional potato or corn chip. He had a few severe reactions but we never have had to use his epipen. Every few weeks he develops hives at daycare and gets benedryl and is fine. So we’re managing.

Yes, he may grow out of some allergies. But what do his allergies indicate about his deeper immune health? I am not at all surprised about the jump in prevalence of food allergies given the way our food industry works and the environmental toxins surrounding us. Is there a way we can help him heal so that he can eat some of the foods that are good for him, like eggs and dairy? He already feels the exclusion of not being able to eat what the other children at daycare eat and is always so excited when he can have something off the menu.

When I first heard about the cookbook Nourishing Traditions, I rolled my eyes at some of the “extreme” measures Sally Fallon suggests. But as I have searched for a way to heal my son, traditional cooking and real food makes so much sense. Cooking has always been an integral part of my husband’s and my life together, and we believe strongly in making things from scratch and eating locally and in season. But we still do eat a lot of bread and sugar and have long histories of consuming at least some processed food.

I kept coming across the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet online as I tried to find ways to help Cyprian’s eczema and allergies. I was open to trying it, but I knew it looked like a lot of work, plus we live in community with other people. But after reading the book and continuing to see no real change in Cyprian’s allergy status, I began to think about starting together as a family, giving my gut a chance to heal before passing on my microbes to a second child.

The basics of the GAPS diet is this: No grains, starchy foods (e.g. potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, etc.), no refined sugar/sugar products Lots of pastured meat, broth from meat, vegetables, fermented (thus probiotic) foods, eggs and fermented dairy (which sadly Cyprian won’t be able to have), seeds/nuts, coconut oil and animal fats, honey, etc. You begin on an introduction diet that phases you into the full diet to optimize healing; the first stage of the introduction diet is basically meat stock soup and vegetables, along with fermented vegetable juice. That’s right–Cyprian is going to have to go a couple weeks with no bananas. AHH! The hope is that eventually you can reintegrate properly prepared grains and starches and have non-GAPS food again after you have healed (1-2 years for most people…I am hoping it is shorter for us!).

Then one day my husband, Shane, said, “Let’s do it.” Not because he has any gut issues–he is participating for solidarity, even though that means no beer for a year! I can’t even communicate how much it means to me that he is committed to trying this as a family. But anyways, we kept thinking, “We’ll start then…or maybe then!” Well, the time has come. We are going to start on July 3. We would appreciate your prayers and thoughts as we begin this journey, which I will try to chronicle on this blog even though I hate blogs. 🙂

One of the most challenging parts of the diet will be not being able to eat what our housemates and friends make for us. This goes against our deep value of hospitality and it pains us. We ask for your understanding and patience as we attempt this diet for a time. 

We will not only be chronicling our experience with the diet, but mulling over connections to land, theology, parenting, etc.

I know there is so much more to say, but it’s bedtime. Stay tuned for my post tomorrow, entitled, “One More Day to Get Ready AHHH!” At least, that is what I am thinking right now!

Pax Christi.

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3 thoughts on “a new journey: background and project

  1. Congratulations on all the steps you’ve made so far, and are setting out to make now! My experience with dieting to identify allergens and heal my immune system is that while it seemed to take forever, it got easier once I started thinking in terms of what I could eat instead of what I couldn’t. And once my symptoms started clearing up, it felt really good to know I was doing the right thing. The hardest part was feeling isolated at every food-themed social occasion, and trying to dissuade people from inviting me over because I didn’t want to inflict my restrictions on them. But then again, some of the strongest friendships I’ve made are with people who didn’t let me put them off. 🙂 So I’m glad you’re doing this as a family, for the mutual support (and because it’s comforting to have every food in the house be a safe food), and I’m glad you’re starting this blog to let us all cheer you on.

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    1. It’s getting better all the time. Just recently I re-tested oranges and had no reaction at all, which is such an encouragement since they were the first things I tested on the elimination diet and had given me a huge multi-week eczema flare-up. So that’s oranges and tomatoes I can now tolerate again, and I have high hopes for the other foods on my list.

      I’ve got some other chronic symptoms I’d love to kick, but it’s hard to know what the cause is. Stress? Lack of kimchee? For now I’m just doing the best I can.

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