Many of you perked up your ears when I mentioned my daughter’s elimination diet here. I promised you I’d tell you more later. Today’s the day.
My oldest daughter, Sarah, was sensitive to milk when she was born, and tested positive for a milk allergy. Our pediatrician told us it was likely she’d grow out of it, and until a couple of years ago, we thought that she had. But to make a long story short, Sarah started experiencing symptoms again at age 6.
At our doctor’s suggestion, we first eliminated dairy, and then gluten, with great results. We finally figured out that soy and seed oils (like canola) were trouble. Sarah had been off gluten, dairy, soy, and seed oils since February of last year, and her symptoms had disappeared.
How we knew it was time to try an elimination diet
Sarah’s symptoms started up again over the holidays. I thought we were keeping to the plan, but we ate out a lot during the holidays, and it’s very easy to accidentally consume gluten, dairy, or soy when we’re out and about. I chalked it up to that. But the New Year came and went, and we were still dealing with symptoms. A lot. Even though I was cooking at home and I was positive that her food was “safe.”
Our pediatrician had told me before that if we ever had any questions about her trigger foods, we should try an elimination diet. Suddenly, we had a lot of questions. It was time. We started on short notice because we were at the end of our rope. Sarah was miserable; I was miserable for her. So I pulled out the notes I had from my chat with the pediatrician:
Based on these lists, we dove in. I was in the middle of my Whole 30, so our fridge was already stocked with fresh, whole foods. (LINK)
How an elimination diet works
An elimination diet works by removing all problematic foods from the patient’s diet. After a two-week period, those foods are added back in, one at a time, one new food every four days. With this slow, systematic approach, it’s much easier to see which foods are causing problems.
The elimination diet was surprisingly difficult. My family eats very little gluten, dairy, or soy. I’m used to navigating food allergies, and I think I’m pretty good at it. But this extra layer of complexity threw me.
Sarah helped brainstorm “safe” foods on the first day of her elimination diet.
On day 2, I added lime (citrus, one of the nasty nine) to guacamole without thinking twice about it. On day 3, I cross-contaminated her food with an eggy spoon, thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal. (It was a big deal.) I’d hand her almonds for snack and she’d laugh at me, saying, “Mama, I can’t eat those.” Despite these slip-ups, we made it through–and by the end of the two weeks, her symptoms were gone.
The question I get asked the most is, “how did you keep your daughter on the plan?” Sarah has been 100% on board with all the changes we’ve made over the past few years. She’s old enough to understood cause and effect, and she wanted to avoid the effects. (She’s a better label-reader than I am.)
Where we are now
Now we have a fairly lengthy list of foods Sarah doesn’t eat. 99% of the time, she avoids those foods and she feels great. But about once a month she’ll feel terrible after a day of eating food that ought to be perfectly fine. My suspicions are on the olive oil, because much of it is known to be contaminated with cheaper canola oil. But I really don’t know. We haven’t actually tested all the foods we eliminated from her diet back in January.
Sarah’s hesitant to add potentially troublesome foods back in, because she doesn’t want to suffer the symptoms if she turns out to be sensitive to them. Sarah and I add a long talk with our pediatrician about this last month, and everyone agrees that it’s okay to wait to add those foods back in until Sarah wants to. Even if that day never comes. Right now, I have two big things on my mind when it comes to my family and food allergies:
1. If it’s worth trying a GAPS protocol, and
2. How we’re going to survive summer travel without anyone bursting into tears at the dinner table.
We’ll see what happens. Wish me luck—I’ll need it. Hearing others’ experiences played a crucial role in figuring out what the issues were for our daughter. If you’ve had any experience with trigger foods or an elimination diet, would you share them in comments?