Making the Switch: Jen's Story


I think I speak for all parents reading this. When it comes to the health and well-being of our children, we will do whatever it takes. Sacrifices made to bring healing are nothing compared to the reward of meeting the smallest of milestones or having a normal bowel movement! Today we are hearing from a fellow mamma bear. Jen and her husband have had their share of challenges and have faced them head on with a modified diet and help from above—much the same way my husband and I have gone about dealing with Miles' health. Jen, 39, admits that "going grain free was no easy task...especially for a gluten-loving Italian. No pasta?! NO BREAD?!?  Are you kidding?  Fugettaboutit." But they did and it has made a huge difference in their daughter's health.

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For the first five or so years of our marriage, changing our diets was something we knew would be a good thing, but didn’t take too seriously. Some changes were made—such as fewer processed foods in the pantry, but more drastic changes came later for us—around the time our second child was born. Serious health issues have a way of waking you up—especially when it affects your children.

From infancy, our daughter’s health was compromised. She couldn’t gain weight as a baby and, though I greatly desired to breast feed, my milk production was very low. (I came to find out later that I had hypothyroidism—most likely the cause of not making enough milk all along.)

Our pediatrician at the time insisted that I start supplementing her feedings with infant formula. I understood where he was coming from—she was painfully underweight - but breastfeeding was a very difficult thing to give up.  I battled with the emotions of sorrow—knowing that I would be missing that special gift God gives to mothers when they tenderly feed their little ones. On top of that, I had to deal with the guilt of believing that I would be giving her little body something I knew wasn’t best for her.

After trying different formulas, both milk and soy based, she seemed to get worse. She projectile vomited, screamed and cried and was passing bloody mucous in her stools. I remember feeling utterly helpless and fearful for my little girl—a feeling I would experience again. The memory brings me to tears even now.

My dearest friend, Julia McRae, who happens to be a nutrition consultant, remembered hearing that a couple who owned a local health food store adopted a child many years ago and made the child’s formula themselves. She got the recipe for me and I went to work. I pleaded with my pediatrician to allow me to try making the formula myself and see how my daughter’s body responded. If she wasn’t gaining weight or thriving in some way, I would put her on whatever formula he thought best.

I won’t go into the nitty-gritty, but formula making was no easy task. Before long though, we got into a groove and had it down pat. Long story short, at four months old, my daughter ended up contracting a virus and landing in the hospital. Our pediatrician said he had given me some leash, but it was time to put her on formula. From there, he put her on Nutramigen (a formula for children with food allergies).

We are thankful to God that our daughter began gaining weight and thriving on the Nutramigen. However, once she got old enough for solid food, she wanted nothing to do with it. I can’t say I blame her. By about 10 months old, she finally began to eat baby cereal.

Our woes continued once she started eating food. I made healthy baby food for her, but we still saw her struggling. Every couple of months, she would go through a period of not wanting to eat, then vomiting. We thought at first she kept getting stomach viruses, but then began to notice that neither we, nor our son, would ever come down with the virus.

About this time, my best friend discovered a pediatrician, Julie Buckley, M.D., that specialized in children with autism and intestinal problems. Though our daughter isn’t autistic, she has many of the same intestinal problems that autistic children struggle with. We’ve been with Dr. Buckley ever since and she has been a special blessing to our family. She found that our daughter had no intestinal flora (none) and needed a good probiotic, as well as enzymes to help digest her food.  We also supplemented with a good multi-vitamin and began tweaking her diet—no dairy, no wheat.

She steadily improved, gained weight and grew! We were thrilled.

To be honest, we haven’t always kept her on a strict diet. Once she improved, we thought she was back to “normal”. Years later – she’s now 9 – we’re getting back on the wagon. After having her on a strictly gluten free and lactose free diet, we weren’t seeing the results we wanted.

My friend Julia suggested I read a book called “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” by Elaine Gottschall. After reading the book, we decided to take the plunge and remove certain carbohydrates. Our diet basically consists of no gluten, no grains, no casein (a milk protein shown to be very irritating to the gut), and no soy.

We’ve been on this diet about three months now and we’ve seen her steadily improve. She is no longer up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache, crouching over the toilet afraid she is going to be sick. Her “my tummy doesn’t feel well” bedtime mantra is happening with much less frequency, and she seems on the road to recovery.

Lessons learned along the way:

As I look back now, I can see how the Lord was preparing me—even in my daughter’s infancy—to be in the kitchen more. Truth is, He’s even given me a love for it. There’s a purpose to it—to nourish my family and even, as God allows and answers our prayers—repair what is broken.

I have failed many times along the way—my own selfishness and fear often getting in the way. But when my little girl gives me a great big hug and says, “Thank you for being the kind of Mommy who takes care of me,” my heart melts and I ask the Lord to forgive my sin and give me the strength to continue on.

Jen blogs about her family’s story and favorite “good for you recipes” at My Big Fat Grain Free Life.

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Making the Switch, spotlights everyday people journeying on to better health and well-being by choosing pure food over processed. For some, it has been gradual. For others it was a complete about-face.

Putting the modified diet focus of this blog aside, Making the Switch is open to all. The point being to bring personal stories to light that encourage young and old to get back into the kitchen to cook real food. As Jamie Oliver puts it, “make only a few small changes and magical things will happen.” Whether it’s weight loss, improvements in a child's behavior or the regaining of health, magical things will happen.

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Any single moms or dads out there? We'd love to hear from you?