How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Candy – Guest Post By Heather Burt
Today is a special day for DFD! I get to introduce all of you to my muse, friend of nearly two decades, and DFD’s most enthusiastic supporter. Heather is the Yoda to my Luke, the Dumbledore to my Harry, the Willie Wonka to my Charlie Bucket. When my family was in the thick of our hardest challenge this summer, “my friend Heather” (get used to hearing that) suggested that we try ditching the dyes.
I know you’ll enjoy the sense of humor that Heather injects into an otherwise maddening situation. Heather’s dye-sensitive son, Connor, will be sharing his own perspectives with DFD soon too, so stay tuned!
Heather currently lives outside of Austin, TX with her husband, 3 kids, 2 cats, Daisy the Dog, a guinea pig and an undead zombie beta fish. She’s highly skilled in the domestic arts and believes that “housewife” is an honorable occupation.
I’m Heather, mom to dye-sensitive 16 year old Connor. Last summer, when Rebecca started sharing some of the behavior issues she was having with her Monkey, I started having mommy flashbacks! I was transported back to the world of screaming fits, chronic ill moods and sleepless nights spent wondering if my precious little angel was possessed by the devil. I wish that I had had access to a resource like DFD years ago and I’m honored that Rebecca has given me the opportunity to share our story.
From the time Connor was born, he was plagued with constant ear infections, seasonal allergies and sinus problems. He had sensitive skin which meant he could only wear fancy diapers and his clothes had to be washed in unscented laundry soap. He was high maintenance. By the time he was four we had been through all of the antibiotics, allergy and sinus medications known to man and nothing ever worked; he still had itchy skin, a snotty nose and infected ears. We were on Pink Allergy Medicine #42 when my husband and I noticed something: Almost immediately after he got a dose, Connor would go bat-guano crazy. I mean crazy! *@&#*!)(!&*@ CRAZY!!! Screaming, stomping, hitting, kicking, crying, rolling around on the floor (not laughing), eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head, capital C crazy. Like any good mommy, I took him to the doctor before I called the exorcist.
Our regular doctor couldn’t get us in, so we saw another physician in the same pediatric practice. That was the first time I heard about dye sensitivity. This new doctor happened to be married to a psychiatrist who specialized in children’s behavioral problems. At the time I thought, “Lucky us! Maybe we can get a discount on therapy!” But first, she wanted us to try something different and surprisingly simple: Modify his diet. She wrote us a new prescription for the world’s nastiest medicine (with no dyes or flavors) and sent us home with information about the Feingold program.
That was the first time I ever really read food labels. So much for simple! I couldn’t believe the amount of food I was going to have to get rid of! What were we going to eat? Almost everything in my pantry had some sort of synthetic color, flavor or preservative. Why is there yellow in pickles!? But I was determined, so we did it. I started cooking more from scratch and finding substitutions. I made frozen juice pops instead of popsicles. We ate fruit for snacks. I called my favorite veggie burger manufacturer and complained because I was really put out that I couldn’t eat their delicious veggie burgers. It’s a veggie burger for goodness sake, I don’t need it to be red! I know it’s not meat!
The results were almost immediate and unbelievable. My child was transformed. The first change I noticed was at bedtime. What had been a two-hour crying battle of wills became a comfortable ritual. Brush teeth, read a book, snuggle up, go to bed. Then he stayed in bed and went to sleep! Oh the beauty of a well-rested child! Over the course of the next few weeks, I noticed Connor had more patience and was less prone to frustration. He didn’t get upset over every little stinking thing and could easily be redirected when things didn’t go his way. We found dye-free allergy medicine and his nose quit running. I was sold.
Then he went to school. There was the challenge of school lunch, snacks brought in by other parents, and the dreaded birthday party. Just let me say that no one’s poop should ever be blue. I wanted him to be social, to fit in, to be normal. I eased off of the dietary restrictions. He was doing so well! I’d like to say that we kept a clean diet, but we didn’t. I fell into the “just this time” and “just one won’t hurt” mindset.
Oh, I had my excuses. It’s hard to find stuff in this small town. It wasn’t, we had a natural foods co-op and a freakin’ Publix. It’s expensive. It isn’t, it’s just a lot more convenient to buy pre-packaged goodies. Plus, I’m a partially reformed couponer. They don’t make coupons for fruit. He’s outgrown it. He hasn’t. I had added two more kids to the mix and I was busy/lazy. I gave in too many times and the colors, dyes and preservatives crept their way back into my pantry.
Occasionally throughout elementary school, Connor would have a bad day and my husband would say, “What did you have to eat today?” Being one to take it personally, I would feel like the World’s Worst Mom because I sent him off to school on a bowl of that fruit-inspired ring-shaped cereal. (It was on sale. I had a coupon.) Then, one day when he was in middle school, in the full flush of puberty, Connor had a panic attack. He told us that he couldn’t catch his breath and his heart was beating too fast. He was scared and thought he was going to die. We were pretty scared, too. So, health insurance or not (not), off to the cardiologist for EKG’s we went! So you know – if you don’t have health insurance, hospitals give you a discount. A 72% discount. I have feelings about the health care system, too.
It’s weird to say that we were pleased when the doctor told us Connor has an anxiety disorder. Maybe I should say that we were pleased to find out he doesn’t have a heart problem. Our doctor recommended cognitive behavioral therapy and happened to be married to a counselor. Not kidding. Different doctor and everything! (If you were curious, you don’t get a discount.) In our first session we did a detailed medical history and the subject of Connor’s ears, snot, allergies and early food sensitivities came up. Feingold pamphlet in hand, I went home feeling like I was going to need a goodly amount of therapy myself to get over my Bad Mom Guilt Disorder.
Guess what? I didn’t do the elimination diet the second time. Nope. I cleaned out the pantry and went back to what I should have been doing all along. I buy whole, minimally processed food. I cook. I read labels. I eat Sunny Bears instead of gummy bears. I get a CSA box full of awesome pesticide-free, organic, locally grown veggies every week. It’s cheap, it’s easy and now the whole family is in on it. I’m doing a better job with my girls explaining why we eat what we do and why we don’t eat some things. I quit worrying about my kids being shunned for taking their weird homemade granola bars to school. They don’t care! They like my crazy leftover clean-out-the-pantry granola bars better than the ones from the store.
I wish I could say that the dietary changes have cured Connor of all his problems. It hasn’t. It does help him better manage his anxiety when he eats a clean diet. He’s learning that he will have to be prepared to deal with the consequences of eating frooty-ring cereal bars for lunch at school. I’ve started talking to him more about what it means to be a clean-eating kid and I’m letting him make his own choices. I’m including him in meal planning and sometimes, he even cooks! He will still text me from school sometimes, “Having a bad day, come get me.” I ask, “What did you eat today?”
Heather’s Pantry Raid Cereal Bars
Tips and tricks: This is a very flexible, highly adaptable guideline for making cereal bars. I usually collect all of the leftover bits of cereal into one large plastic storage container, when it gets full, I make cereal bars! They’re different every time and I’ve never had an “off” batch even with all the assorted bits and parts. I used to bake them, but I don’t now and they come out just as well. If your cereal is a little stale, you can spread it on a baking pan and toast it briefly before you get started.
6 cups of assorted things you’ve found in your pantry
-old granola (beat it with a hammer to break it up if needed)
-a handful of oats
-chocolate chips (don’t add these till the very end!)
A big scoop of nut butter of your choice (about 1/2 a cup)
About 1/2 a cup of honey, maple syrup, or whatever sticky sweet goodness you have on hand. I personally don’t like agave, but if that’s your thing, go for it.
Marshmallows if you have them (read the label!) They make your bars more like rice crispy treats.
- Spray a large baking pan/jelly roll pan with cooking spray. The size of your pan will determine the thickness of your bars. If you want thick bars, use a smaller pan.
- Mix together all of your assorted dry ingredients into a large bowl. This will get sticky, so you might want to spray your bowl and spatula with that cooking spray while you’re at it.
- On the stove, melt together your nut butter, honey and any extra marshmallow you have laying around. Just get it heated through and mix well.
- Pour the stick mixture over the dry mixture. Use your muscles and mix it all together.
- If you have chocolate chips, add them at the very end or they will melt. Melted chocolate chips are also okay and make a chocolate-y bar.
- Press your gooey cereal mess into your prepared pan and wait for it to cool. Alternately, you can stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to hurry the process along.
- Cut the bars into the size you like. We like long skinny rectangles like the ones you can buy at the store because they look more “normal”. The shape of the bar does not affect it’s deliciousness.
Thanks again to Heather for sharing her experience, and her recipe! I like the way she teaches her kids why their food choices are important. Please leave Heather your questions in a comment below. For more information about the Feingold Diet, check out their web site at www.feingold.org – They offer support, resources, product recommendations, and links to scientific studies.