He stares as we bring over the food, picks up the plate, smells it and then if we’re lucky takes a tiny bite; and by tiny I mean that ants would probably carry a bigger bit than the amount he is willing to try. Then comes the silence – we hold our breath, fists clenching, heart racing all waiting to see if he approves of the dish. It all sounds a tad bit dramatic but imagine going through that every day, every meal, worrying about every restaurant, every holiday – we’ve become immune to it now. In fact we find it strange when kids just start eating their food without an investigation.
Did I mention my dad is a brilliant chef? I think today would be the day to incorporate this into the blog. Pasta & tomato sauce, curry & rice, egg & lemon soup, chicken nuggets, toast. Sounds simple enough to make; the worrying comes when this is all your child will eat or even try and when they need to meet the GFCF diet requirements.
Let’s get down with science for a bit.
The GFCF elimination diet requires that all foods containing gluten and casein are removed from the child’s daily food intake. Gluten can be found in wheat, oats, rye, barley, durum, bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, soups, sauces, candy etc. Casein can be found in dairy products in general; milk, butter, cheese, ice cream etc.
There’s a theory that supports the idea that children with autism process foods containing gluten and casein differently and this – hypothetically- intensifies autistic symptoms because the brain treats them like chemicals. The reaction to these toxins, it is said, leads a child to act in a certain way. Reducing or completely avoiding these chemicals can improve social and cognitive behaviours as well as speech for people with autism.
Marilyn Le Breton, author of ‘Diet Intervention and Autism’ explains:
“When you eat, the food you consume is broken down in your stomach. The bits that are not used by the body are flushed out as waste matter. In autistic people, the breakdown of two proteins present in some foods, gluten and casein, is not completed properly.
The resulting fragments of these proteins are called peptides. Peptides are small enough to pass through the wall of the gut, rather than being processed in the normal way.
As the peptides journey around the body, they make a pit stop at the brain, where they do untold damage before continuing their journey and finally making their way out of the body, via urine. Both are very similar to morphine, a highly addictive drug.”
Throughout the years of us trying to modify and regulate Chris’ diet my dad has been the driving force; he never stops fighting. He has adjusted every recipe Chris is willing to try to the diet and makes it so amazingly tasty that even we love it. Who ever said healthy food doesn’t taste good?
Keeping in mind that Cyprus is tiny and in some ways – let’s use the word – limited, gluten-free products are not readily available. Gluten is essentially banished from our family home.
Pasta is made of corn and shipped in bulk from Italy. Dad used to bake gluten-free bread from scratch, and freeze it for Chris’ morning toast, we used to order it from the bakery but Chris didn’t like the taste or texture of it. Marmalade – only apricot – is home-made from our amazing Nan and he will only eat the toast if it its crust-free and cut into small rectangles.
Dairy products are all goat because of the smaller size of the fat globules in anything goat-made seems to make goat dairies more digestible for some people; goat cheese, home-made goat halloumi (of course), goat milk, goat-anything.
Chicken nuggets are also home-made; the crust is gluten-free and in the mixture he crushes vegetables like peas and carrots, as Chris won’t eat vegetables any other way. All nuggets need to be a certain shape and colour otherwise he will become very suspicious of them, also he will always have 6 nuggets; no more, no less.
He loves curry – like a true (half-)Sri Lankan – and eats his turmeric with a side of rice; he loves the yellow colour of it and the taste – which is good news for us as they can help with detox. We have ample supply of sea-salt and fresh pepper.
Like I said in my last post he loves soup. Not any kind of soup of course but our own home-made edition of the traditional Cypriot egg & lemon soup. This is usually served with chicken, but as he doesn’t eat chicken my dad boils the chicken, carrots, other vegetables including fresh onions and then removes them to complete the soup. This way he gets all the vitamins and nutrients he normally wouldn’t.
The recipes my parents have come up with over the course of the diet are amazing and could probably make an incredible cookbook. If you can relate to the madness of meal time at our house and would like some delicious and healthy recipes please let me know, we are more than happy to share.
When he was younger (and now) he craved candy, crisps, chocolate or ice cream. Throughout the years we have reduced the amount of these he consumes by allowing him one thing every week. He will accept anything as long as it’s properly displayed on his weekly schedule (which I will be talking more about in the next post).
The GFCF diet apparently has no scientific or medical back-up evidence. However, Chris became less aggressive after he got into this dietary routine. There was a definite change in attitude once gluten was out of the picture and this becomes more obvious on the occasions when he does eat gluten or casein products because he is clearly more easily agitated, restless and overactive. It’s amazing to monitor this change in behaviour which is caused by these toxins. Furthermore, he finds it easier to concentrate and feel sympathy when he is gluten-free. He slowly became more adaptable, could pick up learning, reading and maths easier.
It might sound like a lot of work to comply with a diet but it was worth it when we started witnessing the change in him; like when he started speech therapy and said “one, two, three” for the first time or when he said our names. I would ask him to say it so many times he would get annoyed with me; no gluten needed!
All your hard work, sacrifices, nights up worrying will be rewarded the first time they say your name. That is the only thing I can guarantee.