A Labor of Love – Raising Children with Food Sensitivities

This is a guest blog post by Beth George

I am a mother, child advocate lawyer, food activist, and entrepreneur.    This is a story of how focusing on diet made a huge difference in my son’s life.  I hope our story may help others.

As a child advocate attorney, I worked with many children in juvenile courts, in state custody, and in special education. I was alarmed by the number of children being diagnosed with various disorders and systematically placed on drugs with no real testing, and worse, no quantifiable improvement.

Then the issue hit home and my son (who was then 4-6) started to exhibit significant behavioral problems, along with serious health issues.  I became motivated to take immediate action.  At a young age, he was (mis) diagnosed  with ADHD, Asperger’s, Pervasive Developmental Disorder and other maladies. I was not convinced of the accuracy of the diagnoses, and chose not to put him on the recommended psychotropic drugs.

Along with significant stomach upsets and a compromised immune system, my son would sometimes flap his hands, moan, and get red-hot ears; he could rock, become extremely agitated or hyperactive.  At times, though, he was quite calm, introspective and manageable.

By the time he was 8, we started exploring diet as a possible cause for our son’s various behaviors.  We removed common wheat (replaced it with the ancient grain spelt), and removed all artificial additives, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and anything that reeked of an artificial process.

The results were profound.

After implementing a regulated (but very satisfying) diet, our son’s life was completely turned around.  By middle school, he was placed in the gifted math program and did quite well in school. He is now free of any diagnoses. He was never was put on any medications. He is well adjusted, creative, and grounded. At age 14, he is now taking courses at the local community college.

My son is a very sensitive individual who still gets incredibly itchy from his own haircuts, is extremely empathetic to people and animals, and is exceptionally bright.  His environment and the foods he eats profoundly impact him.

A little bit more about my son’s diet; We implemented diet change through a process of trial and error.

My son clearly has trouble digesting common wheat.  When he eats too much of it, he literally shuts down.  When he was younger, he would go into a complete fog; he also had significant digestive issues (frequent vomiting or constipation). We didn’t know the cause, but it was suggested to us that he might have food sensitivities. So we started with removing wheat and dairy.

We would test my son by removing wheat from his diet and then putting it back in – a modified elimination diet.   When we witnessed the recurrence of head fogginess, irritability and digestive issues, we knew wheat was a culprit for him.

We tested him for celiac and found that he does not have the autoimmune disorder in which all gluten should be eliminated.

We heard that the ancient spelt might be a good alternative.   Spelt does not cause the same reactions for him.  The gluten is water soluble and much easier to digest.  Plus, as an heirloom grain, it is loaded with many nutrients that have been stripped from the new varieties of grains.  We have heard similar stories from many of other spelt eaters.

As for the artificial additives, we were able to determine his reactions by process of elimination.  My son would get red-hot ears and have meltdowns after eating foods with artificial colors – especially the reds and yellows.  There is a study published in the Lancet in September 2007 demonstrating the connection between artificial additives and hyperactive behavior in “normal” children. The Feingold Association is a great resource on the problems they can cause.

My son would get extra hyper after eating food with high fructose corn syrup.  He once had such a bad reaction after chewing bubble gum (it was the only thing we allowed him to have from his Halloween booty).  We then learned it was the BHT preservative in the gum that was the likely culprit.

We also did metabolic testing and learned that his body lacked essential Vitamin Bs.  We supplemented him with complex Bs, omega 3s, and calcium and magnesium to help with the absorption.

My advice to parents is to look at all foods as suspects (it could be wheat, corn, soy, eggs, or whatever for some kids), but there are some biggies out there to start with: wheat, dairy, and, of course, all of the artificial junk.  We just don’t need that stuff in our diets.  Also, parents should consult with medical professionals who are knowledgeable about metabolic testing to see if their children might be nutrient deprived.

This wrinkle in our lifestyle – the options for all natural, no common wheat options were quite limited a few years ago.  This led us to creating a small baking company, Spelt Right, with the dual mission of making the best tasting healthful spelt products anywhere and to do outreach on the connection between diet and behavior.

But back to eating well….The importance of which is nothing new.  It is simply the amnesia of the American Public to have forgotten what has been known for thousands of years:

“Let Food Be Thy Medicine; Let Medicine Be Thy Food.” Hippocrates, 460 BC

Beth George is a mother of three (19, 14, 9), a child advocate attorney by trade, and an entrepreneur, food activist and founder of Spelt Right Baking Co by passion.  She currently spends her time between Coastal Maine and Metro New York, speaking on and writing about her experiences with diet change, while also building her natural food business.

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  • Mitchell in Miami

    What are the evolutionary implications of a race of mentally superior humans who can safely feed only on ancient grain spelt? Is that sustainable in today’s world…was it ever sustainable? Sounds like a Darwinian dead end, especially with global warming looming over us all.

  • KM

    Usually this blog is pretty factual, pretty science-based, and this post is not really in line with that. Unfortunately. What does “he literally shuts down” mean? He dies? “My advice to parents is to look at all foods as suspects” — oh, dear. Lots of unscientific stuff, not an author with appropriate credentials — c’mon, Fooducate!

    I wonder how many kids whose behaviour changed with a careful diet are changing their behaviour because they’re getting a lot more attention…?

  • KM

    Usually this blog is pretty factual, pretty science-based, and this post is not really in line with that. Unfortunately. What does “he literally shuts down” mean? He dies? “My advice to parents is to look at all foods as suspects” — oh, dear. Lots of unscientific stuff, not an author with appropriate credentials — c’mon, Fooducate!

    I wonder how many kids whose behaviour changed with a careful diet are changing their behaviour because they’re getting a lot more attention…?

  • JohnnieJ

    Why didn’t you introduce this article as an advertisement for Ms. George’s spelt bakery business? Had to read all the way to the bottom and make the connection — “spelt products”, hmmm, where have I heard “spelt” before…oh, wait that’s the magically restorative functional food that cured the poor, ailing hypersensitive genius kid in the above article! So relieved to learn where I can buy me some of that. What a convenience, Fooducate, thank you so much!

    Foodies are such suckers for lame infomercials like this one.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Hi JohnnieJ, thanks for your comment. This is not an advertisement or an infomercial, and Fooducate received no remuneration for posting it. If and when we host sponsored content in the future, we will make sure a notice is the first thing our readers see.

    • atc

      Foodies love hearing about companies which exist because of real experiences, which are started by people with a positive mission and provide alternative food options that make life better.  There is positive energy to Ms. George’s article, which is infectious.  The article has none of the self-promoting quality of an advertisement, but is rather a testament to family love and devotion to children’s health. 

  • Gretchen

    Maybe this was meant to be an advertisement, but I have a son with a milk allergy and the difference is profound when he doesn’t consume milk.  Listening to what ones body says about the foods one eats can really make a difference for some people. 
    My son gets no attention for dietary changes (he’s 2).  In fact, he doesn’t even know I change what he’s eating.  What I saw was little guy who used to wheeze and cry when he moved too much change to a very active toddler now running ahead of me on our walks.
    Good article! 

  • Kelli

    Sure there is the plug for her company at the end but I think the story of her son’s life change because of food might be helpful for some mothers or fathers who are in a similar circumstance. It seems like medicine is often pushed before diet and lifestyle changes.

    Now if she were pushing some product that you can only get through her company I would take issue with this post. But the fact is spelt is becoming more and more common at grocery stores. You can pick some up in the bulk section and bake your own bread. I personally don’t have a problem with fooducate sponsoring small businesses that are trying to do right by people and food.

  • Youhavehowmany

    Those who zero in on the fact that Ms. George owns a baking company totally and completely miss the point of this article! “Artificials”, as well as some very common natural foods, are often the culprit when our children have health or behavioral issues. The problems that two of my nine children were having led me to Feingold in 2003. HERE’S your “shameless plug”–Feingold worked a MIRACLE. When our children avoid certain substances that our foods should not contain in the first place, as well as a couple of common food items (for one of our kids, it’s red apples and green grapes), they are able to function. When they get these substances (which our government chooses to allow in our food supply despite the known dangers), this is not the case. I choose to feed my children real food, and avoid a lifetime of suffering for our family. I wish more families made that choice.

  • WF

    Commercial.  Self-promoting.  Inherent bias. 
    I am very disappointed…

    • atc

      I did not get this sense at all.  The article seemed honest.  Persona.  Coming from a place of experience.  Truly inspiring.

  • http://twitter.com/delishknowledge Delicious Knowledge

    Food sensitivites are MUCH more common that we realize, inflammation presents itself in a variety of symptoms: migraines, IBS, fatigue, pain, ect. You don’t have to do a guesswork elimination diet- LEAP testing uses MRT (mediator release test) to identify what foods are causing you to be sick. It’s a simple blood test and I use it often with my patients with great results like Beth’s. You can find out more information at http://www.nowleap.com or http://www.delicious-knowledge.com

  • one proud mama

    Wow! You have written the story about my son too. By age 6 he had been asked to leave multiple preschools and schools. Diagnosed with ADHD, Pervasive development disorder, Aspbergers and Intermittant Explosive Disorder, they recommended that he be put on Welbutrin and Clondine at age 7. That was the ONLY option given to us. We were told that he had to be in a class for the Emotionally Disturbed since he could not be mainstreamed into a normal class as he was a danger to himself and others.

    We put him on the Feingold program instead. He has never been medicated and never been in  a self contained classroom. Has remained mainstreamed. Today he is a straighte A student, and will be graduating from High School this year. Did I mention he is an Eagle Scout?

    He is caring and compassionate for others and a real joy in my life.

    One proud mama.

  • atc

    What an incredible article.  So, so important that the author shared her story.  Also, so nice to see a woman/mother starting a company to help others, due to her own family’s experiences.  The drive, compassion, and kindness of this writer shines through!

  • Beth George

    I appreciate that some may consider the mention of my business as a plug.  If I eliminated the very real fact that I started a business as a result of our struggles with food sensitivities, schools, doctors, and professionals, I would have told only a piece of the story.  It would have been untruthful not to mention it.  The business is an important part of our on-going saga –  that is, our family’s decision to create a product that was not available in the marketplace to serve unmet needs. Starting a small business is never easy. It requires persistence and sacrifice from the entire family.  It pulls from family time and challenges the mind and body with 12 hour work days and 24/7 concerns.  It also is a beautiful gift to children – it teaches them to work with their hands, interact with others, overcome challenges, and learn that there are certain things worth fighting for.  A recent gift from my 19 year old sums up the impact our endeavors have had our kids.  She gave me a scroll with the words,  ”Courage: not the absence of fear or despair, but  the strength to conquer them.”   She has gained an understanding and appreciation for the challenges we face.  If any of the critics out there have had a child with food sensitivities and have started their own business as a result thereof, then I applaud you for being forthright.  But, if you have not experienced either, you may wish to rethink your criticisms. 

  • http://www.foodallergy5k.org Cat Perry

    to action! Active Blast Sports is seeking an action oriented leadership team to help plan South Florida’s 2nd Annual Food Allergy 5K.  The 5K will take place this spring and proceeds benefit the Food Allergy Initiative. If
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    email to Cat@ActiveBlastSports.com.