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Confessions of a Health Nut

health_nut_t_shirts_and_gifts_custom_announcements-rd41380c863f74c5cb46411b027a39b3e_8dnmv_8byvr_512I have been feeling the need to tell my story. In as much as it relates to finding myself cooking liver for dinner. That’s right. LIVER!! Blobbily, slimy, bloody liver! First attempt was an utter failure by the way my friends. I couldn’t bring myself to make my family eat it. (It was saved and will be made into frozen pill shapes to swallow. So I suppose it wasn’t a complete disaster.) I wasn’t always this way. You know a crazy-crunchy-granola-health nut who has foods fermenting and cultures growing in her fridge. Seeking out organ meats from grass-fed butchers, and being upset at buying an organic chicken that doesn’t come with giblets. In fact, only 2 years ago my husband had to pull the giblet bag out of the turkey for me at christmas time.

Growing up my family ate fairly healthy. Eating out was a treat. My mom made us 3 meals a day, and we ate together as a family every day. Most of my grandparents and great-grandparents were from Oklahoma so hearty country meals were the norm. Dinner with the extended family was usually roast beef or fried chicken, 8 kinds of vegetables, bread and plenty of butter on everything. We would have mac n cheese and spaghetti often. Simple pasta dishes. I think jarred tomato sauce and kraft mac n cheese was the extent of our processed foods minus the occasional (maybe once a month) trip through a drive through. My great-grandma was our after school spot and she would make everything from scratch and canned her own peaches. Lord I miss her biscuits!

I grew into a young adult and turned into a lazy eater. There’s no other excuse. I have the skills and knowledge to prepare good meals and I choose the fast and cheap way. I was being lazy. Lucky Charms for breakfast, dollar meals at any drive thru for lunch and Hamburger Helper or other no-fuss boxed meal for dinner. I washed it all down with 6-8 Pepsi’s per day. Starting off every day with a minimum 32oz Super Big Gulp. Throw in a couple of candy bars, cookies or a piece of cake and you have a pretty good picture of my eating standards. I remember posting pictures of an Entenmann’s pound cake and a Pepsi as my “breakfast of champions.” Thanks to an auto-immune thyroid disease, that developed shortly after high school, I rarely put on weight, but I got to the point where I just didn’t feel good anymore. My teeth started sprouting cavities like weeds after a week of rain. I developed crippling IBS.. to the extent that my husband sent champagne and Immodium to me on our wedding day, because he knew the stress would cause an episode.

Within the last 5 years, I had started cooking more with my husband, but every meal still included a starch, and usually bread of some kind. Then we found Anna, our nutritionist, in our search for anything that would help with our son’s behavioral issues. When she recommended the GAPS diet she asked me to read Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride. It was an eye opener for me. Not only were my health issues related to my poor nutrient-deficient diet, but my son’s issues were because of my diet before and during my pregnancy. When we decided to try GAPS for Cullen, we decided to do it together as a family, not just because it would be cruel and unusual punishment to make a 7-year-old watch you eat the foods he loves in front of him, but also because we knew it would only improve our own health.

I tried to hold on to my Pepsi. I tried to just cut it back to one or two per day. I quickly realized that even holding on to that little bit made my cravings for sweets too strong to resist, so I slowly transferred to iced tea, making weaker and weaker batches to wean myself off caffeine. Now I might have very weak iced tea once a day, and I’m drinking my suggested daily intake of water. I have devoted hours more of my time to working in my kitchen. I make our yogurt, applesauce, salad dressings, condiments, nut butter, beef jerky, sauerkraut, ice cream and bone broth. Lots and lots of bone broth. Everything is from scratch with no additives, no preservatives and no pesticides. I’m hunting down sales and the cheapest place to find groceries. Trying to find soy-free eggs or chicken has been a battle and a half.

I was standing in front of my stove sautéing liver tonight, and I thought, “How did I get here?!?” I bought LIVER and I’m cooking it with the intent of eating it! And I am secretly hoping I will enjoy it! I have done a 180, dragging my carb-loving family with me into the world of grain-free and probiotics. I was talking to a friend today and she asked if I ever wanted to just give up. Absolutely, without a doubt there were moments I wanted to throw all of my pots out the window and never enter my kitchen again. But I kept trucking, because I truly believe in how much better I feel. Because my husband doesn’t have asthma attacks anymore. Because my son is finally making friends, and showing emotions. Because I get hugs from him at any time of day; not just when I tuck him in at night.

I went from a junk food addict to certifiable health nut. And I’m never going back.

An Interview With Our Nutritionist- Anna Hammalian

I get the opportunity to introduce you to our Nutritionist today! Anna has been a lifesaver for our family starting us on the road to better health, and keeping us on track along the way. I asked her a few questions so she can explain in her own words what she does. One of the questions is on the GAPS diet, which you can learn more about HERE.

annaPhoto by: D’Avello Photography

Anna Hammalian attended Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, CA where she completed rigorous training in the school of Nutrition and Dietetics. The program concentrated in the areas of nutritional science, medical nutrition therapy, community nutrition, food production and administration of food service operations, chemistry, physiology, plus a variety of supporting coursework in related disciplines. She achieved her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in June of 2009. Anna received her certification as a Board Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) from the Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc. (NTA) in 2010. This training has given her the ability and knowledge to specialize in digestive health, blood sugar management, heart health, and hormone balance using Nutritional Therapy.

Anna is also among the few health care advocates that are Certified GAPS practitioner. As a certified GAPS Practitioner, she works closely with children and adults with Autism ADD, ADHD, Asthma, Allergies, Schizophrenia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, autoimmune disorders and much more. Through Diet, Detoxification and Supplementation Anna has seen beautiful transformations in her clients while healing through the GAPS program.

Q: What exactly is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner?
A: A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) addresses nutrition from a holistic perspective. An NTP offers a clear alternative to the grain-based, low-fat nightmare that is the official diet of America. NTP’s address weaknesses in the body’s physiological foundations brought on by poor nutrition.  The alternative I offer goes beyond just diet and exercise, offering customized and highly effective natural approaches to each client’s specific needs. Nutritional Therapy can be applied to all areas of health, including: weight management, constipation, IBS, gallbladder problems, acid reflux disease, hormone health, infertility support, autism, depression, mood disorders, athletic performance, allergies/asthma, endocrine support and so much more! We strive to reverse the tragic and unsuspected effect of the modern diet for our clients. We also teach the importance of properly prepared whole foods that are delicious, nourish our bodies, and restore good health.

Q: What made you become a NTP? 
A: After working as a clinical dietitian while attending Loma Linda University I saw the need for more answers. Telling my patients to eat low-fat foods, 6 servings of adulterated grains per day, soy, and sugar-free foods was making the disease process worse. I saw patients decline at even faster rates. I sought out a few of my mentors in the medical field and nutrition field who are holistic oriented; to get a clearer understanding of healing with whole foods and natural remedies as opposed to the food guide pyramid and pharmaceuticals. As soon as I completed my degree at Loma Linda University  and came out from under the food industries umbrella, I started the NTP program and not only did my life change for the better, but every client I come across has a new and clearer perspective of real nutrition and its healing benefits!

Q: What kind of services do you offer?
A: Where Western medicine focuses on treating symptoms, Nutritional Therapy stresses a root cause approach to health. As a Nutritional Therapy practitioner, there are a variety of evaluation methods and techniques used, including a complete review of a client’s health and diet history, a 3-Day Food journal, and a through evaluation of the individual’s nutritional weakness in the body, utilizing the hands-on Functional Evaluation. Each individual possess different nutrient deficiencies, different toxic burdens, different eating habits, and different physiological functions. Therefore, each person needs a customized nutrition plan that will yield quick results.  Through carefully designed bio-individual dietary, lifestyle and supplement recommendations Nutritional Therapy promotes optimal health; along with advice and tips for adequate hydration, rest, and stress management. This will effectively balance body chemistry, and reduce, or even eliminate dysfunction. I also offer group workshops and seminars on educational topics regarding real food nutrition, detoxification, healing the gut and brain through the GAPS Nutritional Program, preconception nutrition and hormone balancing.

Other services:
  • Detailed client history via written intake form and lengthy personal interview
  • Blood chemistry analysis, optional
  • Comprehensive three-day stool analysis, optional
  • Salivary hormone testing, optional
  • Hair mineral analysis, optional
  • Other specialty testing analysis available

Q: GAPS is not well-known, why did you become a GAPS Certified Practitioner?
A: We live in a world of unfolding epidemics. Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD), Schizophrenia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder and other neuropsychological and psychiatric problems in children and young adults are becoming more and more common. I have been practicing the GAPS for the last 2 years, but decided to become certified so doctors don’t think I am crazy. Well, they still do; however, it enables me to work in a clinical setting guiding families through the program.

Q: What are 3 things you wish everyone would change about their nutrition?
A: 1. Eat real butter
2. Cook at home
3. Cut grain and sugar intake by half

Q: If someone wants to make a nutritional change what is the first thing they should do?
A: Look to the Weston A. Price Foundation website to help one understand the truth about whole food.

Q: What is the difference between therapeutic supplements and store-bought vitamins/supplements?
A: Pure, therapeutic remedies/supplements contain the total complex family of micronutrients (just as they are found in nature) with a potency that is highly effective. These micronutrients are indispensable for proper vitamin absorption and maximum utilization. Most stores are not allowed to carry therapeutic supplements because a health practitioner must dose them according to the bio-individuality of each person. This is to your benefit considering you might have to go through several bottles of a store-bought vitamin D vs. going through only 1 bottle of a therapeutic vitamin D given to you by your nutritionist.
Are the ingredient’s vital factors retained? The manufacturing process of store-bought products has been handled poorly and exposed to an undue amount of chemicals.  Along with the added toxic substances, supplements undergo high-heat treatment, which destroys enzymes and phytonutrients that are vital for your health; not to mention the reason you bought that particular product. Supplement manufacturers often add in a variety of fillers to their vitamin and mineral supplements for numerous reasons:
  1. Easier and faster production
  2. More appealing to the eye (colorants)
  3. Easier to swallow (coatings)

Could that supplement you bought be harmful? Don’t be fooled by “organic” or “natural.” Look at the ingredients listed on the label. Can you pronounce them and do you recognize them? Common chemicals and toxic substances found in most supplements that you can buy from health food stores, pharmacies and grocery stores are listed below:

  • FD&C Red #40 Lake, FD&C Blue #2 (links to cancer, ADD, ADHD, headaches and allergies/asthma)
  • Hydrogenated oils (encourages heart problems, strokes, nervous system problems, block the absorption of essential fatty acids, upset blood sugar regulation and more)
    • Soy (high levels of phytic acid that reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women. Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D).
    • Gluten (causes inflammation, intestinal damage, heartburn, constipation, and headaches)
    • Corn starch (headaches, gastrointestinal damage, allergies and much more)
    • Sugar (blood sugar irregularities, headaches, obesity, tooth decay and much more)

These preservatives and chemicals are stored in the liver. Your liver is your largest detoxifying organ. Keep it clean so it can do its job of detoxifying on a daily basis. Just like a recipe, the quality of the ingredients you use affects the quality of the final product. The final product being your health!

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: I have two!
1. Educating people about what real food is, and how we can find true healing and joy from eating the foods which we are designed to eat!
2. Hearing about the leaps and bounds of improvement in my client’s health. When I hear, “My doctor let me stop all my meds.” I am satisfied!

To learn even more (or to contact her) visit her website at www.selahwellness.net

GAPS Diet On A Budget

When I explain our food plan to inquiring minds I get, “You must spend a fortune on groceries.” Yes, it can get a little pricey at times, and there have been trips to the grocery store that have left my bank account weak in the knees. (Like the time I did all of our Christmas meal shopping at Whole Foods… and bought a goose.) Overall, I’ve found that with an eye on the mailers and shopping at 4 stores instead of one I can keep our groceries bills reasonable; if not low. A few things first before I get into the lists of what I buy where.

1. You should buy the best quality you can afford. If you can’t always get organic ingredients, fresh is still better than processed. I read in the GAPS FAQ’s that if you have to choose between organic meats and organic produce that you should always buy the produce organic because animals have immune systems to fight off what the farmers feed them, but vegetables can’t fight the pesticides. That being said, I try to stick to the less expensive meats and continue to buy organic. When I am making our bone broth I use only the best quality ingredients. We do save a bit of money by eating more veggies at mealtimes than we used to. Print out (or save on your phone) a list of the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen produce items. The Clean 15 are the ones you can get away with buying non-organic. The Dirty Dozen are the most contaminated and should always be organic.

2. In the beginning I spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to replace the foods we were missing; like baked goods, breads and desserts. Most of them did not compare to the real thing (which only made me miss it more) and the ingredients for baking are on the higher priced side. Forget about bread, there isn’t a good replacement. There are some crepe recipes that make a decent sandwich wrap or tortilla substitute, but they use a lot of eggs. Unless you’ve got a good line on pastured eggs for cheap I’d save this for a treat also. Lettuce is great for wrapping around meat for sandwiches. Experiment with different kinds. I like to use romaine hearts for tacos, red leaf for sandwiches and boston for egg burritos. Mix it up!

3. Check online for bulk items and dry goods. I was buying our almond flour from Honeyville online, until I realized they have a store near me. Now I’m saving on shipping! I always check online for items like: tea, kombucha, flour, nuts, fruit leather, coconut oil, raw cider vinegar, etc. And there are quite a few companies that ship perishable foods like: meats, dairy, starter cultures, honey, etc. Amazon surprisingly has quite a bit of food stuffs.

4. Farmer’s Markets!! Usually lower prices than a grocery store; if you live near one make it a habit to stop once a week. The farmers that come won’t always have certified organic produce (it costs a lot for the certification and many small farms just can’t afford it). Ask questions, because many will be practicing organic farming. Some of the big markets will have eggs and occasionally pastured chickens. Bring a cooler with you just in case. Eggs don’t need to be refrigerated right away, but it’s always good to keep your meat cold if you are lucky enough to find it at a market.

Below is a list of what I buy and where I shop. These stores are regional, so Southern California residents are going to have the best odds for this working for them. Start taking notes on your local stores for the best deals near you if you don’t live close by any of these stores.

Sprouts

This is where I buy the majority of our groceries. They have raw milk and cheese (but not cream), pastured butter, organic eggs, grass-fed meats and the largest selection of fresh organic produce in my area. They have everything on my shopping list, but not always at the best prices. Their regular (non-organic) chicken is hormone-free and free-range so when I need to save some dough I will buy this. Their sausages are hand-made and they have a variety of chicken that are nitrate-free and made with the same chicken. Most are gluten-free as well.

** I always stop by Sprouts on Wednesdays. It is the day their weekly deals overlap so you get the sale price on everything from the previous week and the next week. When their grass-fed beef goes on sale it’s always a good idea to go the first day because they run out.

  • Grass-fed steaks/roast (ground beef only when it’s on sale, which is often)
  • Organic produce
  • Organic spices
  • Organic eggs
  • Raw milk
  • Raw cheese
  • Applegate products
  • Purified/Spring Water (I buy the big jugs and then take them back to refill)

Trader Joe’s

The one by us is small and doesn’t carry everything. I go specifically for these items because they are less expensive here:

  • Raw nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans) We make our own nut butter because we like cashew butter better than almond and I can’t find one made with raw cashews. (And it’s cheaper to make it ourselves. It takes 15 minutes)
  • Organic, free-range chicken. Whole chicken is a better buy than individual pieces and is easier to prepare. Also, they include the giblets, which the whole organic chicken at Sprouts does not. (I like to add those in our broth) If you are making bone broth regularly roast a chicken for dinner and save the remainder to make broth from.
  • Grass-fed, organic ground beef.
  • Organic, no additives fruit leather (No added sugar, 100% fruit puree). I don’t give these to Cullen often.
  • Trader Joe’s brand Organic Diced Tomatoes in juice. (We don’t notice any adverse reaction when we use these)

Mother’s Market

I would probably shop more here if it was closer to us. Their produce section is awesome. Watch out for their restaurant and deli case as most of it has some type of soy or vegan substitute.

  • Raw cream (can only get it here)
  • Organic Pastures raw cheese  (can only get it here)
  • Ghee (can only get it here)
  • Evolution Juice – for when I am lazy and don’t want to juice it myself. It’s cold-pressed and unpasteurized. They have it at Starbucks too, but not the organic kind.
  • Celtic Sea Salt
  • Organic, unrefined honey

Costco

  • Wild salmon – sometimes they have a good deal on fresh, but I usually buy the 3 lb. bag of frozen for $28 (less than $10/lb). They come individually sealed so I can grab them out of the freezer and thaw what I need.
  • Wild shrimp – frozen, not always in stock
  • Canned wild salmon
  • Organic coconut oil – giant Costco size, organic, cold-pressed for $10. GIANT
  • Lamb – from New Zealand or Australia. (I was told that lamb from “Down Under” is always 100% grass-fed)
  • Organic baby carrots
  • Any other organic produce they might have (I don’t buy the sliced organic apples though.. the preservatives worry me)
  • There is supposedly organic chicken breasts occasionally, but I have never seen them.
  • Aidell’s sausage for our non-GAPS kids.

I always watch to see what items are on sale. I look online at the weekly deals before I go out shopping. If I can think of any more items I will add them as I go, but these are the staples. Our grass-fed beef bones I have to drive to Clark’s Nutrition and Natural Foods in Riverside or Loma Linda. Or I just found a new source Lindy & Grundy in West Hollywood (also a drive, but the bones were $4.99/lb).

Feel free to ask me questions or leave your money-saving tips below!

Barbara Manatee

There are a couple of tell-tale indicators for Cullen’s stress level. During the part of the year when he wears socks, the number of socks he tries on in the morning usually will tell me what level his sensory overload is. 1-2 pairs he is good to go, 3-4 and he is going to have a rough day, 5+ and I deliberate calling in sick to work and school to stay holed up in our Batcave.

Another one is his attachment to Barbara. His love affair with manatees started early. He was just barely talking, 3-years-old, and he discovered the manatees at Sea World. He stood nose pressed to the glass for well over an hour. Watching them float and eat their lettuce… they don’t do a whole lot of anything else. On our next visit we exited the manatee exhibit to the inevitable gift shop. He spied a giant stuffed manatee that was literally as tall as he was. He ran over to it, picked it up and turned to me with a face full of joy, “Mama, Barbara Manatee wants to come home with us.” The fact that he asked for something blew me away because he NEVER asked for anything, he was more content playing with notepads and high-lighters than toys. He also had never shown any interest in any of the stuffed animals he had at home, (I think he was even frightened of the monkey I had gotten him at Build-a-Bear). But here he was holding a 3 foot manatee that he had named… Barbara?!? I convinced him that a more manageable size would be better for taking home, and we left with Cullen clutching a brand new (12″) Barbara. He did not put her down for 3 days. And then the unthinkable happened. Barbara was stolen. Yes. Stolen. Who steals a stuffed manatee you say? A despicable, black-hearted person that’s who. Cullen was heart-broken.

Not being able to afford another trip to Sea World just to buy a stuffed animal we had to wait almost a year before a kind soul we knew planned a trip and graciously brought back the exact same manatee. I still don’t think I have ever seen Cullen as happy as he was to be reunited with Barbara. He would dance and sing the Barbara Manatee song with her, but she wasn’t allowed out of his room often.. and never out of the house. (Unless he was going to Grandma’s house for more than a couple days). Every precaution was taken to keep her safe this time. She had a special place on his bed, and he rarely went to sleep without her.

When we moved to our house we live in now, Cullen was careful to keep his “moving buddy” in sight at all times during the packing of the truck and when we reached the new house he safely stowed her behind his mattress in his new room. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that he is carrying her around the house with him in the mornings before school or after his shower at night. I feel like lately with the supplements he is taking for his behavior that he is feeling more vulnerable because his emotions are clearer to him. He can now clearly define how he feels when he is sad, frustrated, confused, happy or angry. Where before every emotion registered as the same.. something foreign that he could not grasp. Barbara anchors him and makes him feel secure.

I made dinner too late last night, and hungry Cullen brought Barbara into the kitchen with him and was swinging her around. I told him to be careful, not to be too rough with her. Multiple trips through the laundry have left her a bit more floppy than she used to be, and he pointed out the spot between her fins seemed a little empty. He said we should get a backup Barbara, just in case. I explained he should take care of her because the manatees have moved from California Sea World, and it would be almost impossible to get a new Barbara if something happened to her. (Do you know how hard it is to find stuffed manatees?) Then I said something silly.. or stupid. I said I once thought about having a Barbara made that looked just like the one on Veggie Tales……

meltdown.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth over a stuffed animal that doesn’t even exist! He went on and on for 10 minutes about how he had a “fake” Barbara, and how could he go on like that? How could I not get him the real one? Luckily, I finished dinner and satiating the hunger became a priority and the “fake vs. real” dilemma was dropped. At least for now.

Depths of Despair & Progress Report

I loved Anne of Green Gables as a child. I adored Anne’s wild impulsiveness and flair for the dramatic. I secretly wished I could shed my innate shyness and be like her; to my disappointment I was always much more like her quiet, proper friend Diana. My favorite part of the movie was when Anne accidentally turned her hair green instead of black. She flings herself on her bed sobbing that she is in the depths of despair. Even as a child I thought this frenzied reaction was a little over the top, but whenever I make a mountain out of a mole hill I am reminded of this scene and say that I must be in the depths of despair. Putting a 7-year-old boy on the GAPS intro is bound to result in plenty of despairing moments, and quite frankly it is never fun to write about the struggles as it always leaves me feeling a tad like a failure. Of course, I know that I am far from failing.

Since last writing we are 5 weeks into the diet and currently on stage 4 1/2. There is no 4 1/2 you say? Well then I will claim stage 4 with one or 2 items from stage 5. Cullen is now eating soup, well-cooked vegetables, roasted meats, avocados, cold-pressed juices, meat broth, yogurt, creme fraiche (sour cream), squash pancakes, scrambled eggs, GAPS bread, cooked apples and very small amounts of raw veggies. It doesn’t sound like a lot of variety I know. For the most part he will happily eat anything I make for him. The first 4 weeks of the intro we started to see some changes. His mood had improved, he was happier more often and talkative. He was enjoying spending time with the family and didn’t mind going out of the house. And then we hit a wall. After the wall he started to slide ever so slightly backwards, and I could not figure out why. Last Wednesday he came home more amped than I have seen him in a long time. Talking non-stop, not finishing sentences, getting distracted. It was awful! I asked him repeatedly if he had eaten something he shouldn’t have (because he had been caught on Tuesday with graham crackers at the YMCA). His answer was no. He even told me the next day that he had turned down a treat at school, but I should have known better.

It’s school that’s the problem. What little boy wouldn’t have a hard time watching everyone else eating fruit, crackers, cookies and candy?? Not many. And our son is no exception. On Wednesday one of the other students had a birthday and of course their mother brought goody bags for the class full of cookies and chocolate. He couldn’t resist and ate all of them before I picked him up that day. I found the wrappers on Friday stuffed in an unused pocket of his backpack. I was more upset by the lies than the cheating on the food plan. I can understand the cheating. Heck, if we go out to eat and they bring fresh rolls they are gone lickety-split. So I get it. I completely get it. But lying is never good, and like Mike said the other day, “We don’t want him to be so scared of being punished that he is afraid to tell us anything.” He’s right. So, we gave Cullen consequences for the lies. He lost his video game, Netflix, Lego, and (most devastatingly) Minecraft privileges all day Saturday. He helped me clean the house and earned his Legos back the next day. He told the truth twice and earned his Netflix back the following day. We are holding on to Minecraft until we can trust him again (which will most likely be a week). On Sunday, he messed up again, and snuck an Andes mint.. (don’t you just love those! They trump Junior Mints every time!) I had a talk with him, and left him playing with Legos in his room.

Enter the Depths of Despair: I could hear him talking to himself, berating his choices and saying he should be grounded even more, he was crying a little. I went back and cuddled him on my lap and tried to explain again why we are doing all of this for him, and telling him that I understand how hard it is for him. I asked him if he hated me because of the diet, and of course he said no. A little while later I found a little box made of Legos on my nightstand with a tiny note taped to the top. bo not open till tomoro. (He has a hard time with b’s and d’s). I left it there, but he told me later that I could open it. Inside was a note that he had written that broke my heart. In it he explained that he had no choice but to leave. He was going to pack some clothes and snacks, and he needed a map to get to Oma’s house. He told us that he loved us more than we think, but underneath his signature was a post script that read I might not leave based on what happens this week or next week. I spent a long time talking to him about the dangers of running away, and hopefully convinced him that a trip of around 60 miles to Oma’s house on foot was not a good idea. He told me that he had lied about hating me for the diet. I kept him home the next day from school and we built a very charming castle out of Legos, and spent the day playing games and talking. By bedtime, he had forgotten his plans for leaving, but I haven’t.

As parents, we want the best for our children. Even when that means taking drastic measures that they dislike. Our first job is to raise them to be responsible adults, they are not going to like it now, but (and I speak from experience) they will thank us for it in the end.

I feel like he needs more play time with us, we tend to get busy and forget that just because he likes to spend most of his time by himself does not mean that he should. So I am starting a Lego challenge a day. I am going to make a list of builds and we will each build our own version. For the first one (the castle) we both worked on it. I instagramed our creation (#aspieventures #legochallengeaday). I will post the list below, feel free to join in and email or hashtag yours!

Lego Challenge a Day

#legochallengeaday #aspieventures

Sept 17: Castle
Sept 18: Mushroom
Sept 19: Pirates! Aargh!
Sept 20: Zombies
Sept 21: Boat
Sept 22: Alien
Sept 23: Pet
Sept 24: House
Sept 25: Superhero
Sept 26: Ninjas
Sept 27: Spaceship
Sept 28: Trains
Sept 29: Dinosaurs
Sept 30: Robots

Progress Report – GAPS Intro

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We started the GAPS Intro almost two weeks ago. Cullen has moved into stage 2 and I feel like we are seeing a difference. A small difference, but any progress is progress, right? I have been trying to set markers or some sort of control for his behavior, but his improvement to this point have been so minor that it takes someone who is not around him every day to tell me that he is getting better. A part of me says that all of the time, energy and mostly the dollars we are spending on eating this way has to be doing something. I fear that my imagination is playing tricks on me; that I think he is behaving better because I want this to work so badly.

For most other parents we know the beginning of the school year is a relief. A relief from bored kids stuck at home and hectic vacation schedules. Not us. Back to school feels like tax day, a trip to the dentist, and being all out of clean underwear all rolled into one. Not fun. The hardest time of the year for us has to be the end of summer. Cullen has a strong desire to make friends. For the most part he enjoys being around other kids (even if he doesn’t understand how to play properly), and he really likes to make friends with adults. Despite this character trait, he has enough of an understanding to realize that he does not have any true friends, but he does not know why. We have many tearful rides home at the end of the day with him telling me variations of the same story. “I was trying to play with so-and-so, but they ran away.” I think his awareness that he somehow doesn’t fit in makes him dread the beginning of a new school year. Which causes him to start stimming more, craving more sensory input, using baby talk, or imitating animal behavior. In and of itself these behaviors are not necessarily unbearable. The other spectrum of stressed Cullen behavior is extreme moodiness, shortness of temper leading to anger, self-inflicted pain, and occasional depression. These behaviors are one that we spend the most time coaching on.

Cullen gets in trouble a lot at school, but his intentions are always good. He thinks he has figured out some facet of the delicate social system that is an elementary classroom, only to find that he only caught a small glimmer and has offended another student or, heaven forbid, the teacher. So we are stuck in a situation where we want to reward the effort, while establishing a consequence (even if it is just a firm talking to) for the poor outcome. Yes, he was trying to exercise his social skills and make a friend, but reading time was not the proper time to choose to do it. I can imagine that parents of neurotypical kids have a clear-cut path to consequences when their child misbehaves. I imagine that because when our other two boys do something wrong (which happens almost never) it’s not tied to any kind of behavior we’ve been trying to strengthen in them.

Now you know a little bit about our Back to School experience. Three weeks before D-day (first day of school) Cullen’s undesirable behaviors started popping up in full force. I had been preparing to start the GAPS intro. I stockpiled bone broth, fermented sauerkraut juice, ordered starter yogurt cultures, and scavenged for soup recipes. (I spend a lot of my free time in my kitchen. Thank goodness for crockpots!) One week later I was ready to start the Intro. Stage 1 includes soup. And that’s about it. We could eat boiled meat (organic, grass-fed or nitrate free) and well cooked gaps-legal stage 1 veggies (broccoli, squash, cauliflower, carrots, onions and leeks). Not a whole lot of variety there. The first 3 days we ate pureed soup, before I started adding back the pieces of meat and then veggies in broth. All the while increasing the dose of probiotic sauerkraut juice in each bowl. We’ve now moved on to egg yolks, yogurt (homemade), and soft-boiled eggs. I can tell you he is getting pretty sick of bland boiled food, but he has been such a trooper. He cleans his plate and complains very little.

Within the first few days I thought I noticed a little calmer demeanor and a definite regression of the baby talk and nervous hyperactivity. However, the sensory input cravings seemed to be worsening. I can’t walk into a room without finding him sprawled out with as much of his body as possible touching the floor, couch or bed. He will not sit still, but his movements are slow. There is more gentle rolling and wiggling than spastic jumping or bouncing. The nutritionist tells me that the deep-seated sensory issues will be the last to go, but that he is making progress. Now at the end of the second week I feel like he is even calmer, and he is rude less often (unless it relates to a misunderstanding or seeing someone eat food that is not allowed for him right now.) He is not sneaking food or taking forbidden items when offered. At the bank last weekend he had a conversation with the teller:

Cullen: What are those?
Teller: Those are chocolates. Would you like one?
Cullen: No, no thank you.
Teller: That’s weird. Most kids always want one.
Cullen: I’m on a very restrictive food plan. It’s not forever, but it’s for now.
(sniffsniff) Proud mom right here!

He started second grade today. This year I tried to keep him as calm as possible. I did not give him long lists of things he should and shouldn’t do. He picked out his first day clothes.. I could tell he was stressed though when we had an issue with which shoes to wear and if he should wear socks or not. He chose his new TOMS sans socks. I walked him to his classroom and he did everything else. Put his lunchbox (with a thermos full of meatball soup) away, hung his backpack up, found his desk and then sat there quietly with his hands folded until the teacher started class.

As I walked away I knew that I would worry about him all day. Some days I feel like he’s alone without a translator to help him communicate to those around him. I feel guilty, like I am not doing enough to teach him. It’s a slow process, but thankfully I am seeing a little relief and the comfort that everything Mike and I are doing is helping make Cullen independent, courteous and a good human.