Have you ever wondered why autistic kids love highly processed food? I mean, why not?
We normal adults do too. Plus, these foods are designed that way! Who doesn't love extra crunchy, lots of flavor, weird colors and the best taste buds combination of all: Salt & Sugar.
What I didn't know was that I was slowly and methodically killing us with my food choices. I consistently increased my sons inability to focus, grow and thrive. He became more irritable and my waist line expanded. The sugar high's and low's were Olympic in height and then the worse thing happened.
Everyday day felt like Groundhog Day except I had a plan for almost every possible variable. Every. Single. One. Yes, you know what I mean. Just in case those options did not work, I also had his favorite snacks - check, three changes of clothes - yep, The Woobie blanket - that smelled like death - never leave home without it.
As I reflect upon those moments I have no idea how I got through it. How did I work full time and take him to all of his weekly psychology, neurology, cardiology, occupational and physical therapy appointments? You know my son's Physical and Occupational therapist assigned weekly exercises for him to do at home too. Dare you not do them. Dare you!
How did this all get done? Yes, yes fast food!
We lived off of hamburgers and fries. Oh, Taco Bell was my absolute favorite! As a single parent to an autistic son, eating fast food secretly satisfied the comfort eater in me. It kept the almost daily overwhelming high levels of stress at bay like a band aid. A tasty one!
Quite frankly, for me, the choice of cooking a healthy homemade meal didn't seem possible. Going through a drive through almost everyday or tossing a few chicken nuggets with fries into the oven was faster. It gave me more time to wash and dry his favorite pajamas for the fifth time that week; before we got ready for bed, read the same book for the five hundredths time and lined up all of his three hundred dinosaurs in a row; all to hopefully prevent another meltdown.
Comfort eating made my life soooo much easier to handle. What I didn't know was that this destructive pattern, that I created, was causing incredible damage to my little boys body.
It did not help my waistline either.
As he began 2nd grade, almost seventeen years ago, things took a turn for the worst. My son began having explosive diarrhea and terrible mood swings. He became more and more listless. Since his birth Z was consistently fifth percentile on the Growth Chart. His skin color was turning greyish and when they checked his weight he weighed twenty-five pounds.
I was freaking out, crying uncontrollably as I asked his doctors what was happening.
They did not have an answer.
Desperate to find answers I read every article available regarding his symptoms. Nothing!
I read and tried to many magical potions to count. If an article said, dunk him upside down in green tea twice a day for a week, I would try it first on me and then do it to him!
After months of worry, despair and more comfort eating, his teacher, who I still say prayers for to this day, pulled me to the side. She said, I have taught special needs children for over twenty years. The one observations I have made is that children whose diets are filled with ready made or fast food drive throughs are changing for the worst at an alarming rate.
What I notice with your son is that the more you are stressed, the worse you eat. The worse you eat, the worse he is at school. You are making food choices that are terrible for him, his health and your health too. I thought she was crazy! But he was not getting worse.
Then a friend told me about this place in Chicago called The Pfeiffer Treatment Center, now called The Walsh Research Institute. This is not a sponsored advertisement. What I will say is that going to this place, seventeen years ago, saved Z's life. Learning that he was deficient of many vitamins, minerals and micronutrients along with being malnourished because of the food choices that I made for us made me unbelievably sad.
I knew better!
Having Dr. Walsh take me by my hand and tell me that my son will be okay meant the world to me. He explained why he had become worse in such a short amount of time. Especially after living through heart surgery.
His body was not receiving the correct type of foods to nourish his body. I took a crash course in nutritional therapy. I learned about why my food choices were reeking havoc on his system and quite frankly, mine.
The interesting thing is this. I was raised eating healthy meals. My parents cooked for us every day. I was beating myself up mentally for making such stupid choices. For months, over and over again I would say things like, you did this for your own convenience. This was all you. You did this. Your son almost died. You don't deserve to be a mother. I was becoming more and more depressed by the day, and yet, I still went to work and made all the new healthy meals.
Then, I asked myself a question: Is it true?
Was I being a bad mother? The answer is no. I am not a bad mother. I am actually a very good mother. Then I reflected upon all of the other things I did for my son. Yep, still a good Mom!
At that moment, I made a choice. I said to myself, I can continue to beat myself up about this or I can take small steps in a different direction.
I accepted the fact that, yes, I made those choices. Eating fast food and heavily processed food is not good for anyone of us. Yes, I was lazy and took the easy way out. But, I forgave myself. Now, I will make better choices for both him and me; and so I did.
I learned how to do something else. I began to prioritize making healthy meals. The recipes weren't bad. IT WAS NOT EASY! Many foods hit the floor, the wall, the dog and me. Sometimes all four!
It became easier and easier to introduce new foods, plus, bribing was key for him or maybe me. Yes, it was easier for me to bribe him. Much better than going to jail.
For example, I would say, when you eat these seven string beans you can have another oven baked chicken strip made from the dark thigh meat. Wow, the flavor was amazing.
The key is seasoning and, as I said, bribery.
Slowly and surely he began to eat more healthy food. Z gained weight. His skin was no longer grey. Most importantly, he no longer had mood swings, his explosive diarrhea stopped and his brain was working better than ever before. Come to think of it, my brain fog stopped right about that time and I began to lose weight too.
Learning these few simple tools allowed me to become accountable to myself. Are you interested in also becoming accountable to yourself, for your behavior and improving how to navigate, respond and engage with all of your relationships?
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Blog # 12