Every day for the last seven months I’ve written down in a little notebook everything I eat and drink, everything I feed Cedar, every time Cedar goes to sleep and wakes up, whether he’s had any gas or a rash that day, and whether I’ve put hydrocortisone on his face.
I have three makeshift columns: the left side is sleep; the middle is what I feed Cedar plus any gas or rash symptoms for the day; and the right column is what I put in my body—which usually starts with tea (x2) and ends with wine. My handwriting is messy and much of the notes are coded in a way that only I would understand (AB is almond butter; if something is circled it means I’m suspicious of it; if something is circled and starred it means it is something new I’m introducing; if something is highlighted it means I went back and tried to trace correlations over time; and, if there has been a reaction then I scribble all over the page, drawing arrows and question marks, making my best guess for the source.
As the months have progressed and as Cedar’s gas and rash problems have mostly gone away, I’ve gotten more relaxed about not recording every last thing— for example I might write down “chicken pasta” without listing the other ingredients—let’s say olives, mushrooms, balsamic, and zucchini—because I’m not worried about the dish and I trust I’ll be able to remember what was in it if I should need to go back and double check what I ate the last few days. I also might even skip a few days now, if, say, Cedar is mostly with his grandma for the weekend and thus I don’t know when he slept and woke as precisely; it’s good for me to let go a bit—and tracking sleep is more out of habit now than really necessary. (I will however go back and write down what I ate, roughly, especially if there was anything new or something old that I’ve still nevertheless had my suspicions about).
You might think I’m being a bit obsessive, but keeping this record has helped me figure out a lot of what would otherwise still be mysteries. To explain this, I’ll need to back up a bit, and also refer you to my old elimination diet saga post if you want all the background details. But in a nutshell, after many months of self-sacrifice, I figured out that Cedar was sensitive to: dairy, soy, garlic, tomatoes, plus various gassy vegetables and beans that I’ve continued to stay away from to this day. By now, with Cedar being almost one year old, I’m willing to test or retest virtually anything, but this process is still very time consuming. There isn’t a day that goes by where I am not either gauging the reaction of something new I’ve eaten or something new that I’ve fed Cedar, and waiting the requisite three days in between each new food. Plus, so often, results have been inconclusive and so I’ve had to go back and test things multiple times.
Cedar’s gas symptoms mostly went away once I figured out the main culprits. But they never went away completely, and nor did his rash, and then once I started introducing solids it became even harder to be sure what his lingering reactions were now from. Finally I got it together to visit a new naturopath, and she let me know an appropriate dosage of fish oil to give Cedar each day (1/2 a teaspoon), in addition to the 1 tablespoon I was already taking myself. This was for his eczema, and seemed to help a lot. I also started taking probiotics, and gave Cedar a pinch most days too for his tummy, which may or may not be helping, but it doesn’t hurt. The ND also suggested I check out the ingredients in my prenatals, and to my shock and frustration I discovered that there was soy lecithin in the coating! Soy was something that Cedar had some of his strongest reactions to, and here it was in the very pill I was taking every single day for his benefit. Oh, the irony.
Around the same time that I visited the ND, I also decided to contact a woman in Olympia who does muscle testing for allergies who had been recommended to me by several friends. “Applied kineseology” is a method of holding a series of little vials filled with different foods and potential allergenic substances against your body (or in my case, the body of my baby while I am holding him), then holding out your arm and having the practitioner press down on your arm to test for various levels of “muscle weakness”. Theoretically, when your arm stays strong and solid, there is no allergy detected. But with some substances, your arm goes weak and will offer no resistance to the person pushing, try as you may. I know this sounds a bit strange, and I’m sure you could get a better explanation of it somewhere online (along with sources that call it hokey which I’m glad I didn’t read before I went in or it may have prevented me from going). All I knew was that several of my friends had tried it for their children and wholeheartedly recommended this woman -- and these were intelligent, informed, open-minded women. It cost $60 for one hour-long session to test scores of substances and it was non-invasive. I figured it was worth a try.
I ended up taking Cedar to this woman twice. The phenomena of feeling my arm go weak in some instances and not others (without knowing what was being tested at the time) made me a believer. That, and the fact that the sessions confirmed what I already knew: that Cedar was sensitive to dairy, soy, tomatoes, and garlic. But more importantly, I also discovered a few surprises: sensitivities to onions, citrus, coffee and chocolate, too. Now, mind you, I had tested each of those things via the elimination diet; in fact coffee was the very first thing I reintroduced (which tells you how much I like it)-- and I had detected no reaction. But when I’d first tested coffee, I only had half a cup (then a little more a couple days later, until gradually over time I was drinking over a cup a day again). And when I tested onions several months later into the diet, I only had a little bit (knowing that Cedar was super sensitive to garlic, I was worried about its cousin). I had been a little suspicious when I’d tested citrus, and thereby concluded that a few squeezes here and there were okay, but whole oranges or glasses of juice were not. Now, I realized that it was entirely possible that these were all foods which, if I had a little here and there, there would be no obvious reaction. But if I ate or drank some combination of them every day, the cumulative effect would take its toll.
Sure enough, once I eliminated these last four things, Cedar’s lingering gas disappeared, as did his rash for the most part. I was bummed to give up onions and citrus since these added a lot of flavor to my no garlic, dairy, or soy diet. And though I knew I’d miss my coffee and chocolate, it was not that hard to give them up knowing that I was finally so close to solving the food allergy puzzle that I’d invested so much energy into for months now. There was nothing more satisfying than to finally get to the end of this intensely consuming investigation!
Of course, I wasn’t going to just blindly trust whatever the muscle lady confirmed, but once my own experimentation corresponded with our session’s results, I had no problem in believing in her methods. Sure, it still sounds a little hokey to me when I imagine explaining the method to those whom I know are going to raise their eyebrows with suspicion (e.g. my parents). But all I know was, it helped us, and this wasn’t any ‘placebo effect’ since we’re talking about Cedar’s responses and not mine-- and Cedar doesn’t know what I’m eating or not eating.
Our bodies are mysterious, sensitive, and complicated organisms. We manifest and register illnesses in such a magnitude of ways. Within the natural medicine world, this muscle testing practice is widely accepted and it is also used by many chiropractors. My mother-in-law, who is a counselor and hypnotherapist, also uses a form of muscle testing known as EMDR as a part of her practice, specifically for patients who’ve experienced trauma. You ask them a question and they respond by raising different fingers for yes or no. Our bodies know so many things that our minds suppress.
There is also a process of “clearing” an allergy which involves holding the offending substance (in the vial) next to your skin while having certain pressure points massaged at the same time, thus reconditioning the body to accept the substance. Although we did try this for Cedar for a couple things (why not?), I have less faith in this process (and time or money to invest in it), since it supposedly can take a few sessions to fully clear it. It does sound a little “too easy” to me, and perhaps I’m a little too traumatized to want to rush into giving Cedar soy or garlic again. But I am open to the possibility that it works in ways that are beyond my own abilities to easily explain. I’m also convinced that the world of naturopathic medicine has a lot more to offer to the growing rate of those who suffer from food allergies than Western medicine has been able to come up with. Where the pediatric dermatologist told me, “We mostly never know what causes the eczema,” the naturopath said, “Something is causing it and we need to figure out what it is.”
That said, I’m content for now with just staying away from dairy, soy, garlic, onions, citrus, tomatoes, coffee and chocolate, knowing that I won’t be breastfeeding forever and that Cedar will likely outgrow most of his sensitivities in time. I am however planning to try little bits of cheese (I heard that some dairy-sensitive people can often tolerate mozzarella), along with other foods that Cedar may be able to handle the older he gets. I want to try some organic soy sauce we found versus the regular GMO kind, as well as try cooked tomatoes versus fresh, and try dairy that’s baked into foods versus raw—all of which I’ve heard from a conglomerate of random sources that a some food sensitive people can better tolerate. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m still oh so eager to introduce Cedar to more foods (it’s so fun- so satisfying to see his facial reactions each time, not to mention to keep building a varied, flavorful diet for him), so it’s always a trade off—who gets to try something new this week?
Sometimes it seems like this is all taking so long, so I get impatient and thus more sloppy, not waiting the full three days in between trying new foods, or else eating something and giving Cedar something (both of which I’m not positive are okay) around the same time. I have tried goat cheese three times already, and every time I haven’t been sure about the results. (Was that slight rash from the dairy or from the cold air? Or was it from the coffee, onions, or citrus I was still eating back then?) Speaking of citrus, I only recently realized that lemon was in the Canola mayonnaise that I’ve been eating (with relish, I might add, once I deemed that eggs were okay). Which means that the food reaction I noted to banana during that time I was having a plethora of chicken salad sandwiches was not necessarily the banana. Sigh. Even after months of this process, I still make mistakes. If nothing else, this diet is a practice in careful regimenting and patience.
Yesterday, I gave Cedar banana again, letting him have a third of one. He loves tasting banana, and often reaches for it when I am eating it, so I was really hoping banana would be okay. It’s one of those easy foods that everyone always has around, no need to heat up or puree. Well, a few hours later—and all night long—Cedar squirmed and cried out in pain. All night long he sucked on my boob for comfort. Poor guy. Poor mama. We are both very tired today, and I’m not sure his tummy pangs have fully gone away. Now I know for sure: bananas are not okay. They may be fine for me to eat, but this is no way to gauge whether Cedar’s delicate system can handle it.
And so the food, gas and rash saga continues. Overall, however, the diet is much less work now, but still our life is not without it’s occasional wakeful nights of discomfort or regret for not being careful enough. And Cedar’s rash is way better too; I only put a dab of hydrocortisone on it about once a week versus almost every day, and otherwise keep his skin well hydrated with all-natural oils and creams.
For now, I experience a small triumph every time I eat something or give Cedar something new, and there is no reaction. Yay- chicken is okay for Cedar! Yay- shrimp, beans, collards, and ginger are okay for me! The main thing I’ve been craving is CHEESE, in all its luscious forms, and by extension of this, also PIZZA. First, I’ll need to test that tomato paste though, and then we’ll have to make it at home of course since I can’t have garlic or soy oil which could be in many crusts.
Yes, it’s a constant challenge and game to see what I can get away with. And, it’s a constant return to feelings of remorse and weariness when I discover what I can’t. But never once throughout this process has it occurred to me to give up breastfeeding. I love breastfeeding, the bond it creates between me and my baby. And, I know that Cedar is getting so many essential nutrients and antibodies through my breastmilk that I could never fully replicate with even the best combination of formula and solid foods. So I celebrate the fact that amidst these trials, my milk supply has stayed healthy and strong, and so has Cedar’s immune system. It’s kind of amazing that neither he nor I have barely had one cold during this entire first year of his life. I can’t say for sure that it’s from the breastmilk (or fish oil, prenatals, probiotics and healthy-ass diet), but it doesn’t hurt anyone for me to take some credit here. No one else has been tracking our progress as closely as I have, so I might as well bask in this moment of satisfaction.