I’ve decided to call this next little series of posts “Feeding Your Family at the End of the World” because when you have kids with autism sometimes (especially at the first) it feels like the end of the world, and when someone tells you about the Brain Balance diet, it really can feel like the end of the world. We’ve been at this Brain Balance thing for a while, and it’s tough. The exercises are tough. The no screen time is tough. But maybe the toughest thing is the food. The program is comprehensive, meaning they don’t just deal with behavior by addressing behavior. They change lifestyle in a way that is conducive to healthy brain and body function. Part of this is a change in diet. So here it is:
- No gluten (that means wheat in all of its forms)
- No soy (pull ten things out of your cupboard and nine of them will have soy in them)
- No peanuts (adios PB & J)
- No dairy
- No MSG (which are pretty much in every processed food)
- (almost) no refined sugars (… ‘nuf said)
We are part of a Brain Balance support group online, and I’ve seen lots of parents say that they cried when they left the center after having learned about the diet. I’ve heard of mothers weeping in the aisles at the store as they realize just how much they can’t eat.
Imagine for a minute if you pulled this diet on your kids today. What would happen? I’m guessing most of you imagine you would have mutiny on your hands.
So how have we done it?
I’ve been thinking about this, and I’ve come up with a few tips that I would have liked to have had when we started the program. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but good guidelines. As always, the first person who learns from all of this is myself. We aren’t perfect, but I think we’re doing pretty good, and we’ve learned a lot over the past five months. So here goes.
- BE CONVERTED and COMMITTED
I can’t stress enough how important this is. You will NEVER succeed at something as difficult as overhauling your diet and detoxing your family if you aren’t convinced that it’s the right thing to do. How did I become convinced? Over the past couple of years I became increasingly convinced that there was something wrong with my gut. I had a lot of gas (my cousins will tell you this is nothing new for the people in my family), and there were lots of days where I just didn’t feel great. Then last year in October Betty and I decided to go off of sugar to see how it would affect us. I felt pretty good. Then on Halloween we decided to let the diet slide. I had a couple of candy bars and a soda. I went to bed feeling pretty bad and woke up in the middle of the night feeling much worse. Two days and about a hundred trips to the bathroom later I had lost over ten pounds and was a weak sick mess. I called our midwife, who is one of the wisest women I know, and she got me on an elimination diet. Suddenly I felt better. My body got strong, and when I started working out again, I didn’t have to go through the usual stage where I feel awful. I just felt good. I was convinced and decided to stay on a gluten- and nearly dairy-free diet. I feel as good as I ever have, and I never put the weight back on.
Then it was Betty’s turn. She saw how good I was feeling so she jumped on the bandwagon and had similar results. She lost weight and she felt great. So when the Brain Balance people told us that we had to go on this diet, we were already convinced that it would be the right thing to do. We were converted and because we were positive it wasn’t hard to get the kids on board with us.
If you are contemplating getting your kids on a strict diet, I HIGHLY recommend that you try it out yourself and see the benefits. You could also do some reading. I would start with something like this “Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet” by Steve Kamb at Nerd Fitness. The Brain Balance diet isn’t strictly paleo (in which you eat like cavemen) because we still can eat some rice and corn, but it’s pretty close.
Maybe you haven’t done all of the research, and maybe you haven’t had your own six-month trial of eating super-healthy. Maybe you’re doubting if this whole change is worth it. I love what Steve says in his article:
If you’re happy with how you look, your energy levels are good all day, and you don’t see any room for improvement, then keep doing what you’re doing – I won’t force you to eat like this. However, if you’ve been struggling with weight loss, have no energy throughout the day, need eight cups of coffee, hate counting calories, and want to start turning your life around today, why not give it a shot for 30 days?
I would say it like this. If your kids are always focused, never have tantrums, have a healthy weight, have a great sleep schedule, are doing awesome in school, have really great friends, and you just can’t imagine how your (and their) life could be any better than it currently is, then please don’t change a thing. But if you have that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you want to give it a try, then GIVE IT A TRY. You won’t regret it. But this is like marriage. If you go into it thinking that you will back out when it gets hard, you won’t make it past the first week (if you make it through the first day). This has to be a total commitment — especially at first. This is not about moderation, it’s about clearing your and your children’s bodies of harmful toxins and it takes a while. So no cheating. No letting things slide. Take a stand for 30 days.
“But it will be so hard!” you say?
Think about it. Scientists and doctors are finding out every day about how the refined, processed, sugar-ridden diet that we currently eat and feed our children is POISON that WILL (not might) lead to chronic illness in the future. If it isn’t autism or ADD it’s diabetes, or cancer, or dementia.
“Are you saying that eating bread is causing my child’s autism?!!” you ask?
Absolutely not. Autism is caused when a genetic pre-disposition is combined with environmental factors. It manifests in a wide variety of ways and to say that it is all caused by wheat or soy or dairy or sugar is a gross over-simplification. There are certainly myriad environmental factors that exacerbate the autistic tendencies in both children and adults, and it is impossible at this point to identify any single one in any given case. So the best approach is to eliminate as much of the stuff that we know exacerbates it, and then slowly re-introduce them over time in order to figure out which are the culprits. It isn’t fanatical, it’s smart and logical. If you have no negative reaction to gluten after being off of it for an extended period of time, for example, then some whole grains might not be bad.
“But I love my otter-pops/ice cream/candy!” you say?
If I told you that had to choose between otter-pops and the future happiness of your child, between daily junk-food and chronic illness, between Halloween candy and your child’s ability to build deep long-lasting relationships in the future, wouldn’t you at least be willing to give it a shot? If you are willing to turn your back on that because it is too hard, then by all means do so, but if there is a chance that you could reverse these trends for your kids, wouldn’t it be worth at least a 30-day trial?
Maybe this sounds like overkill, but the more I read (see books like Wheat Belly and The Disease Delusion) and the more I talk to other parents, the more I realize that we owe it to ourselves and our children to make some sacrifices. I have also found that kids are far more resilient and willing to make changes when they have strong positive leadership from their parents. It’s not usually kids who are the problem, it’s parents.
Is it easy? No. If it were, everyone would do it. But it’s worth a try.
So step one in changing your diet is to be converted and committed. Make the decision that you are going to eat this way come hell or high water, and you will find that it isn’t as tough as you thought it might be.
I have much more to say about how we have found success in feeding our family a healthy diet, but I’m running out of time today, so I’m going to make this part one in a series of several about this topic. Please let me know in the comments here or on Facebook if you have specific questions about how we have handled certain challenges so that I can address them in the future.
As always, please feel free to comment on and share this post with your friends and family. We hope our story helps other people working with children and adults with autism. Feel free, as well, to click on the thermometer and donate to help us pay for the Brain Balance program that has done so much for us. Every little bit helps!