Sunshine and Superheros
To Gluten Or Not To Gluten, That Is The Question
Such a hot topic! And since I am going to a workshop about eating gluten-free tonight I feel like this is as good a time as any to explore the subject in greater depth.
I come from a long line of folks with intestinal issues. Bloating. Gas. Indigestion. You name it, someone in my immediate family has experienced it. And I was no stranger to feeling uncomfortable after a meal, I just figured it was something I was predisposed to and therefore not able to do anything about. When I began to experience other symptoms, such as joint pain, acne breakouts, lethargy, depression, and looked into possible causes I learned that these could all be side effects of a gluten sensitivity. Interesting, and didn't require me to take more medicine, so I decided to give it a try.
What I learned is that going gluten-free is so much more complicated than I ever imagined! I kind of thought I could stop eating bread and the world would be wonderful. Wrong! Gluten is a protein found in grains including rye, barley and wheat. These grains, evidently, are in everything I love to eat or drink. And in a lot of places I wouldn't expect, like packaged soups and chocolate bars. It kind of made me crazy. But it also made me learn what I was actually putting in my mouth/body and make more things from scratch. I've been able to step back from packaged food a bit and eat more naturally, something I have been meaning to do for, well, forever. Some things I cannot make from scratch so I have had to try to find a suitable substitutes at the store. Like pasta, one of my favorite meals. Most gluten-free pastas do not compare to their gluten filled cousins. It took A LOT of experimenting with a lot of products, but I have found varieties that I am happy with (especially in casseroles). Bread is the other staple I miss. Gluten-free breads are notoriously crumbly (Gluten is like a glue when baking, so no gluten = crumbs). The magic ingredient when baking at home, for my recipes anyway, has been xantham gum. You only need a tiny little bit, it doesn't change the taste, but everything stays together like I'm used to!
Long story short, I do feel better after going gluten-free. And I do notice when I eat gluten, like when I had Chinese carryout this weekend not knowing that soy sauce has wheat. Oops! I blew up like a balloon, couldn't bend my fingers, and took 2 naps yesterday! Soooo not worth it.
On the flip side, I feel like I should mention that our whole gluten-free adventure started when my daughter, who has autism, was put on a full elimination diet (no dairy, gluten, eggs, or peanuts). She hated it. She swore up and down that she felt worse without gluten, and was so angry with me that I was forcing such atrocities on her. I thought she just missed pizza and was being a typical grumpy teenager! Turns out, she was right. Her doctor ran some allergy and genetic tests and we learned that she was in fact not gluten sensitive but was in a category of folks who don't metabolize folate appropriately. By not absorbing/using folate correctly she was more tired, moody, anxious, fearful, foggy headed...basically, she felt really bad. And where do most Americans get their folate? Yep, wheat products. We add folic acid to most of our flour, and without it she was miserable. Since re-introducing gluten to her world she has not had sleep problems, no anxiety attacks, no random crying, and her grades are soaring.
Our story is not unusual. It is very difficult to find the right fit for your family when looking at dietary interventions, since we are all unique and individual. But I definitely believe in taking the path of least invasiveness when treating many ailments, such as eliminating foods before loading up on medications. And like with any new treatment, always discuss big diet changes with your physician before implementing. It is not right for everyone, but when it is it is so worth it.
How many parents do you know who think they have done a perfect job raising their children? None, right?!! That is because we are all human, we all make mistakes. And for whatever reason, when you have a child with a disability you feel like people are judging you more harshly, watching your every move so to speak. That can lead us parents into a tailspin of doubt that can be really hard to find you way out of. I have gathered together some strategies today that have worked well for myself and other families I know when dealing with the ups and downs of parenting a child on the autism spectrum. These strategies will ideally keep you, and your family, out the tailspin altogether and maybe even enjoying your time with one another!
1. Make "Me" Time.
That goes for everyone in the family. We hear a lot of experts talk about taking care of yourself in order to be the best parent you can be, but people forget that children need their "me" time too. They need time and space to just relax, explore, let their minds wander without grown-ups directing their every move. For me it means waking up at least 30 minutes before anyone else so I can slowly prepare my mind for the day. For my daughter it means spending time in her room, as soon as she gets home from school, and simply listening to music and looking out the window. It makes for much kinder interactions, and it is noticeable when we have to break from our routines.
2. Plan Thoughtfulness.
In the hustle and bustle of parenting it is easy to overlook all the helpful things our friends and family do for us on a regular basis. But everyone likes to be appreciated, so make a habit (or put it on your schedule) to send words of thanks to some of your support network each week. Let your children see you expressing your thanks and appreciation too, so that it becomes more natural for them to recognize kindnesses. And don't forget to thank children for their efforts as well!
3. Be Screen-Free.
No, not all the time! I'm not that naive! But I have heard from a lot of families who enforce (at minimum) a nightly cut-off time for any screens, which includes phones, t.v., computers, handheld games...everything, for everyone (YES, parents too!). Research suggests that we allow our minds to slow down and adjust for sleeping by dimming the lights, turning off electronics, and listening to classical music at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. Perfect setting for a good bedtime read, don't you think?!
4. Declare Home a Safe Zone.
By no means am I implying that disagreements aren't allowed at home. However, I am suggesting that an arrangement be made that discussions happen, listening happens, and feedback happens...all with the intent of creating more capable, caring, successful people. A lot of conversations in homes (especially between siblings!) can be downright mean-spirited. I like the idea of home being a safe haven, where we can express our feelings and opinions without the fear of being attacked, and that really cannot happen unless everyone in the home is working from a place of growth rather than defensiveness. When you have a family member with a disability there is often more frustration than in a typical home. Just listening to one another, instead of trying to stir up controversy or play the blame game, is a wonderful way to remind our family that they are valuable and important.
I cannot tell you how many times a deep belly laugh made the difference between a good or bad day in my life! From the outside we might look incredibly goofy, but get those happy endorphins flowing and I don't care how silly I look!
Overall, these sound easy enough, right? They aren't though. They take some work. New routines can take anywhere from 21 days to a year to become habits, so be patient with yourself and your family when starting something new. I have seen plenty of homes where many of these ideas are a way of life, and it is well worth the effort in my opinion. Your family is worth it. And the more kindness you share, starting at home, the more kindness that will come your way. I don't know how or why it works that way, it just does. So, like Ellen says, be kind to one another.
Colleen writes with the real-life experience of raising three children as a single mom, one of whom happens to have autism. With too much on her plate, humor is Colleen's survival technique, often to the horror of her children! Welcome to the Land of Sunshine!
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