A Pizza Mystery

I’ve had a looooong day.  Okay, a looooong few weeks.  With the road trip and then jumping into back to school season, I’m mentally and physically burned out.  This post will be a little shorter, and on a more personal level.  In fact, much of my future blogs will be on the shorter side from now on.  More on that below…

Let me just start with the fact that I allowed my girl some “real” cheese pizza this weekend, after many weeks without cow’s milk products.  And I say “real” loosely, because truly, I have no idea what Mo’s puts in their pizza.  Mistake.  More on that below, too.

I recently learned from some readers that kids who have dye-sensitivity can react to unlabeled petrol-based preservatives in dairy products too (the preservatives were present to keep the “added vitamins” from going bad).  The same readers told me that many of these kids used to have a serious dairy allergy as babies, but the symptoms had now evolved into something less physical and more behavioral – like spacing out, defiance, aggression, hyperactivity, and not listening.  

I found this intriguing.  My daughter had a true dairy allergy as a baby – she used to experience full-on anaphylactic symptoms with cow’s milk and cheeses.  Within five short minutes, her body would be covered in welts, she would projectile vomit repeatedly, her eyes got itchy, she’d start wheezing, and her throat would close up.

So, feeling skeptical and a little worried, I eliminated dairy from our diet for many weeks.  I found vegan shredded “cheese” and shelf-stable packs of Rice Dream rice milk “classic” (which has no added vitamins).  I noticed that my own skin looked better – the adult acne was slightly better and the painful dry lips healed up smoothly for the first time in three years.  And I’m sure that we were consuming way less fat than before…bonus.

Also a few months ago, another reader told me about reactions to a natural food colorant called “annatto”.  Some folks apparently process annatto in their bodies the same way they do Red 40 food dye.  At the time, I didn’t think it was a problem for us, and kept on buying lots of “all natural” crackers, cheeses, and snacky stuff colored with annatto. Well, you may have read that I soon discovered that both my daughter and I seriously react to annatto (see Hindsight, Regret, and This Dye-Free Parent’s Learning Curve).  For her, it was pulling out eyelashes and body hair.  For me, it was an inexplicable moody anger, similar to my reaction to synthetic Red 40 food coloring.

So I stopped buying all the annatto-colored stuff at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and other health food stores.  This was NO easy task.  Annatto is in a LOT of “all natural” products – even in white cheddar crackers.  We did great without it for a long, long time.  But occasionally we’d eat out and my daughter would start showing her old symptoms again.  For instance, during and just after our summer road trip, my daughter was yanking out eyelashes compulsively for days and days. Then it stopped.  

Then when school started, I cooked eggs every morning for her first week…and she pretty much pulled out both eyebrows, almost completely.  I thought it was back to school nerves or even anxiety over the bully who was making her life hell.  I reminded myself that egg yolks were made more vivid with annatto in chicken feed.  I had mistakenly bought the wrong eggs.  So I switched to pasture-raised eggs instead of grain-fed chicken eggs.  The problem went away again…

This past weekend, we were super busy with other events, out in the sun all day, and I was dead tired at dinnertime.  So we ordered pizza – with “real” cheese, not the usual Daiya vegan stuff I’d been using.  Since then, she’s had clearly recognizable problems with impulse control, general bounciness, spacing out, seemingly ignoring me, emotional sensitivity, and lack of attention.

But the worst, WORST part is that she came home from school today missing a whole. bunch. of. hair. Like she had a for-real baby bald spot.  Right up front and center. As if she took an electric razor to her hairline.  It was my Wonder Woman doll haircut in the 70s all over again (thank goodness kids’ hair doesn’t sprout from one spot at the top of their head in a font of plasticky waves).  *sigh*

Now I’ve always taught her that looks aren’t so important (hence my Wonder Woman mohawk experiment as a kid), but seeing my beautiful little child with a little hunk of that gorgeous wavy golden hair ripped out of her precious scalp brought me to tears.  She had promised she would stop, but clearly, she couldn’t seem to control this.  She apologized, BEGGED me not to take her to the doctor, and kept promising to stop doing it.  She even threw the whole “it doesn’t matter what I look like!” thing back at me.  

I felt terrible for her.  

And yet I heard myself saying in a gently roundabout way….yes it kinda does matter, when you are bald, sweetie.  The things we never thought we’d say, before we had kids.  I told her that there are many ways to respect herself like eating healthy, bathing, brushing teeth and taking good care of her hair, etc.  

I didn’t want to make her feel bad, but she could tell from my awful poker face that I was at a total loss.  I asked her about all the usual sources of stress and anxiety…schoolwork, the kid who had been bullying her since last year, friendships, etc.  She didn’t seem bothered by anything (except for yet another bossy kid who is now bothering her – my sweet-natured and kind-hearted kid seems to have a target on her back).  But while she was a little upset about this new kid problem, she seemed confident in herself, and she acted out her plan for standing up to the bossy kid.

So, why did she do it?

She said she just wanted to see what the hair roots look like.  *sigh*  How to deal with THAT?  I mean, I almost think I can handle any other reason besides THAT.  I encourage scientific inquiry in everyday life, but come ON.

It pained me to tell her that if she doesn’t stop pulling hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows out, she may not be able to take a school picture and be in the yearbook.  It’s killing me to tell her that.  The unconditionally loving mom in me wants to let her go wave her freak flag like Ramona Quimby, and perhaps have something to laugh about with her own kids in her later life.  The proud part of me wants to carefully write her name, age, and grade on the back of ten thousand weirdly-sized copies of her picture to frame and mail off to relatives – eyebrows intact.

But we also talked about a reward for keeping her hands off her hair until Picture Day (at least).  I told her that not only could she have her picture done and be in the yearbook, but I’d also take her to get a super special surprise that day.  Hell, I’m ready to hand over my savings account just to get her to stop.

I’ve looked into some kind of fidget jewelry, but I can’t find anything that is a) Strong enough to withstand her chewing/bending, b) Free of petrol-based colors or dyed fabrics, or c) Free of lead and other baddies.

But treating the symptom is just one thing.  I know I need to be more vigilant about what goes into her body.  Here I was thinking that I fed my daughter healthy stuff – I avoid dyes, preservatives, and flavorings – and yet every few months I’m learning something new.  

Most of what I was learning seemed to be coming from the same group of “Feingold diet” parents.  I’m told by many Feingold parents that you really have to do it 100% “by the book”.  So I think I have to dip more than one toe into the hardcore Feingold elimination now, just to see if there’s anything else we missed.  

We hadn’t jumped in all the way because Gary was an early “target” in the 70s (that’s what you call your kid who is affected by certain food additives).  It was only a mild attempt back then, but to this day he still talks about some kind of pumpernickel bread (?).  Luckily, things have changed A LOT since those early days.  Feingold kids eat well, and enjoy all kinds of treats.

So now he’s on board and ready to try this for our girl.  I think the visual of seeing your gorgeous little daddy’s girl with something just a little “off”, like missing eyebrows, is enough to convince any proud papa.  

Who knows, maybe we won’t learn anything from the Feingold elimination.  Maybe my kid is just…quirky.

But I’ve already learned a lot from the Feingold parents on their web site and their Facebook group.  I have the membership, the food guide, the Feingold website discussion forums, and the restaurant guide.  I may even buy the cookbooks…

It won’t be a breeze – we’ll need to avoid salicylates (found in some veggies and fruits, like my girl’s favorite Pink Lady apples, and incidentally – in annatto), dyes, flavorings, and preservatives.  This means that we’ll have to stay away from our favorite and easy go-to meal of pizza for a few weeks just to start.  (But to be honest, there aren’t that many places that serve phenomenal pizza).  It sounds hard but there are supposedly tomato-free pizza and spaghetti sauce recipes available out there.

All I need now is the guts.  This may get a little hairy.

Please bear with me in the mean time.  My daughter needs me so much more lately, at the very least, to do more home cooking!  I may not be around here quite as much, but my passion for this subject is no less fiery, and I’m sure you will understand that my time is being well spent.  For the Greater Good.

Do you have any personal stories to share with me about diet-related trichotillomania (hair pulling)? Please share in a comment below.

Keep an eye out for my updates on our progress, fun seasonal posts, and guest blogger stories.  Please be sure to subscribe by e-mail or RSS feed so that you won’t miss a thing!


14 Responses to “A Pizza Mystery”
  1. ENS.FraGo says:

    Reading this made me think of last week for us. My 25 months old is allergic to gluten (he gets behavioral reactions; frequent tantrums, unconsolable crying, irritability, etc) and dairy (we aren’t sure what it does if given directly to him, since the still reacts to it if I consume it with GI symptoms as well as dark circles under the eyes, a red ring around his anus, and sometimes a dermatitis like rash; he still BF). We closed on a house last Thursday, and so from a few days before it’s been madness with running around getting different inspections, and trying to get things taken care of (bats, bees, and now fleas…ugh, I almost regret getting this house..end of vent). Last Monday I bought him grilled nuggets and a fruit cup from chic-fila. We don’t buy him food from there very often, but it was “one of those days”. Sure enough, despite taking his enzyme to help digest any possible cross-contamination of gluten, by that evening he was affected. My husband always seems to be a bit skeptical, and this time it was because the reaction was “too soon”. But I knew, and for days it went on. Usually the reactions last 2-3 days…not this time. It finally went away on Sunday. I felt very upset about it. It seems like every time he is exposed the reaction is worse (not in intensity, but in the duration of the symptoms). I’m hopping to get some answers tomorrow. He has an appointment at our local autism center. He is not on the spectrum, but they address gut issues food allergies. They instruct on elimination diets (Feingold, etc). I am hopeful that we will get to the bottom of his constant GI disturbances (bounces back between diarrhea and constipation). But like you, and other moms of kids with food allergies, the home-cooked meals are a must. And for “those days” that the madness of life gets to me, we’ll just have to make sure to have fruit and snacks on hand. Good luck with the trichotillomania; hopefully it will pass soon. And thank you again for your blog! I though of it the other day when I met one of our knew neighbors and she told me how her son’s ADHD was finally under control when they figured out (using the feingold diet) that food dyes were the culprit.

  2. I’m sorry that avoiding dye and annatto hasn’t been enough for you guys. I don’t have advice about the hair pulling, but I do understand about her wanting to stop a behavior and not being able to. That’s how my son is. We avoid dye, preservatives, artificial flavor, artificial sweeteners, and MSG. We haven’t had to go as far as salicylates yet, and I hope we don’t have to. We’ve had a huge positive change just from avoiding those additives.

    If I can offer any encouragement, it’s that meals and food can look totally different and that’s ok. You don’t have to find a feingold substitute for all your old standbys. I still feel like I’m in the learning curve after about 8 months, but I completely removed all expectations on myself to make meals that look like meals. My first standard is additive free, my second standard is trying to get a variety of foods, and that is it. If dinner is a boiled egg, raw veggies, and toast with sesame butter on it, then it is what it is. I don’t give myself a hard time about meals not ‘looking right’. It has made it much easier for me and I hope that it will make it feel more doable for you, too.

    Best of luck to you. I will keep following your blog. It made such a difference for me at the beginning of our journey to know that there were other mothers out there doing this for their kids, too.

    • Indie Mama says:

      Robin that is good advice about dinner not having to look a certain way to be nutritious. Takes a lot of pressure off of parents. Avoiding annatto, diary, and artificials is enough for us, it’s just that eating restaurant food is the problem. So many synthetic petroleum-based junk in restaurant foods. The hair pulling only seems to come around when we eat out or order stuff in. Perhaps it was TBHQ in the pan spray or oils. Or annatto in the pizza cheese (that’s what I suspected) or a dough mix or something. That’s why I need to make pizza at home or use the Feingold restaurant guide, because they have already researched by asking the companies specific questions about exactly what is used to make their foods. Their food list makes my shopping a lot easier. I hope this works for us!

      • I’m not organized enough to do this, nor do we have any freezer space, but I hear great things about cooking or prepping meals in advance, then freezing, so you don’t ever feel like you HAVE to go out because you don’t have time to cook.
        And you can get some great segmented bento-type lunchboxes and bring your own meals to parties and get-togethers. That way you don’t get there and discover there’s nothing safe for you so you starve, or you have to play Russian roulette and hope the foods are safe! I pack my daughter’s snack daily now, even though the teachers say they will check labels. Mostly because my daughter LIKES having her own “special” snack. But just bringing your own food allows you to still enjoy the event, worry-free!

        I like EasyLunchboxes (easylunchboxes.com, or on Amazon) since they are a great price ($14/4,) stack easily in the fridge for made-ahead-meals, are microwave and freezer safe, dishwasher-safe, free from all those things that you don’t want in your plastic dishes, and DURABLE! Unlike the Ziploc segmented containers, these last more than 2 dishwasher cycles or one microwave session! I have an affiliate code, so I make a small % of the sale if you use it to buy on Amazon, but no worries if you choose not to use it. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004UIRUJ2?ie=UTF8&tag=bitin-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B004UIRUJ2 (Note: They are temporarily out of stock. Should be back by 9/24ish)

  3. Jen says:

    One of the worst reactions my son has ever had was due to our local pizza joint. It was an immediate reaction that just consumed him… So it took me almost a full year to ever have pizza from a pizza place again!!! What I FINALLY ended up doing was calling the pizza place and asking if they used anything artificial. Their response “no, we make it all here”. Then I said, well what about the oil you use? Is it 100% oil?” they checked the bottle and he said “oh our oil does have artificial ingredients in it”. He didn’t tell me what specifically but that was enough for me. I called 6 local pizza places searching for an acceptable one. Sure enough even if they made everything in house, the oil was often not 100%. The one acceptable pizza place, 20 minutes away, doesn’t use oil!!! And they make their own sauce and dough. Worth the trip for us!!! I also make our own pizza most of the time , since that’s what I had to do for so long anyway!

    Sorry about your daughter. Since she started school maybe it has to do with something environmental there like soap or cleaners??? Hang in there!

    • Indie Mama says:

      Hey Jen! I’m going to send a little squeeze bottle of soap for her to take to school, yeah. She told me their soap is clear in their school bathrooms, but clear could mean faintly blue like hand sanitizers with Blue #1 dye, ya know what I mean? And what is the name of that good pizza place you use now? I told a friend recently that I need to ask our local pizza joint about their oil preservatives next time I go there…it’s one of those things you never think about! And I wanted to ask you what ingredients you put on your homemade pizza? Do you make your crust or buy them ready-made? What brands of stuff do you like? We miss regular cheeses but she likes Daiya, etc.

  4. Indie Mama says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspectives. It does help to know you’re not alone in this. Jen that is a great point about the oil – it could be loaded with petroleum-derived preservatives like TBHQ, etc. Uggggh! All the crap they put into “food” now, makes me wish there were a whole family of Feingold restaurants across the nation. At least we have the Whole Foods hot bar near our house on “those days” (thankfully there is an ingredient label above each item), but most people aren’t near a Whole Foods. And I’m thinking we’ll start Feingold in mid-September. I had just purchased a boatload of those squishy applesauce pouches and tons of dried cinnamon apples from a co-op. *sigh*

  5. Indie Mama says:

    And to be honest, I’ve felt different since consuming the dairy again this weekend. My lips peeled more, I was fatigued, and felt more emotional than before without anything really to base it on.

  6. Indie Mama says:

    Hey Abby, thanks for the welcome. Our girl has dealt with a really tough year. She’s been bullied by the same girl since early last school year, and it continued through last week. We changed her diet to eliminate synthetic dyes back in July 2011. Her cat died of cancer a few months back, and she tells me all the time that the cat was her sister. 🙁 One of her grandparents is gravely ill right now so that’s probably bringing back up the sickness/death concerns from the cat’s passing. Her dad works a lot of long hours. She’s a super sensitive, big-hearted person who is easily affected by things…But otherwise she’s a happy kid, as far as what is evident to me. I’ve asked her several times if there is anything she’d like to talk about or if anything is bothering her, but honestly, she may not consciously know if anything is bothering her intensely enough to make her want to pull hair out. The way that this trichotillomania would come and go during certain times that corresponded with eating outside of our home, etc., and our previous *awful* experiences with annatto, cause me to believe it’s a buildup type of sensitivity.

  7. Jane Hersey says:

    I’m so glad you will be giving the Feingold Diet a really good try. Back when I first started, I began by “dabbling” in it. I didn’t see any improvement so I figured it would not help us, but when I did it right….wow! We saw fast, dramatic changes! Once you get into the swing I think you will find, as I did, that you don’t have to do much cooking if you don’t want to. One of our favorite dinners is Fettuccini Alfredo with shrimp and broccoli (or you can use chicken). It only takes 20 minutes and all you have to wash are one pot and a collander!

    Regarding the reaction to cheese; allergists have told me that if a child has a milk allergy as a child it is not likely to disappear in a few years. There are some good alternatives in your Feingold Foodlist.

    And that reaction to the food from Chick fil A? They use mountains of MSG in their food, so that could be the culprit!

    As for the hair pulling, as you know, it is an obsessive behavior that could be related to the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Food additives (i.e., eating petrochemicals) play havoc with serotonin, so it’s anyone’s guess how it will manifest.

    • Indie Mama says:

      Hi Jane and thanks! I did find some terrific non-dairy Ricotta cheese, sour cream and cream cheeses in the Feingold food list. It’s a relief to know I can make some of my old favorites in a non-dairy, FG-safe way.
      I do like the idea of one-pot meals for sure. I will be checking the Feingold discussion board recipes.
      We stopped eating Chick-FIL-A a few months back when I found out they’re use tons of MSG, as I’m super sensitive to it.
      About the serotonin…what I find fascinating, is that as you know – when there’s a food-sensitive kid in the family, you can usually point to a food-sensitive parent…well…I had serotonin problems for a few years…now at age 40 I see clearly that I’ve probably always had food sensitivities but just never knew it. Living additive free has helped me control anxiety without medication. Funny how we cannot see what’s right in front of us sometimes.

  8. Indie Mama says:

    Oh and check out the link I put in the post from The Food Intolerance Network about the link between trichotillomania and annatto – it’s worse for some kids than synthetic dyes! http://fedup.com.au/stories/2011/1075-annatto-160b-headbanging-rage-trichotillomania-hair-eyelash-eyebrow-pulling-december-2011

  9. I have a friend whose son is allergic to everything in the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes. She doesn’t blog, but I can ask her for recommendations. I personally prefer olive oil-brushed pizza over the tomato sauce, but pesto is good with some toppings!

    When I hit puberty, I liked pulling my “new” hairs out and loved seeing the root and follicle. Since my new puberty hairs were few and far between, I quickly moved up to the face. I didn’t like how I looked with clumps of eyebrows missing, but I went for my eyelashes big-time! And then my fingers being up in there gave me sties, so I’d pull the new eyelashes out of those to gently pop them, and it was a vicious cycle. My mom ended up paying me $50 to not pluck any eyelashes for a month, and it worked!

    Her emotional sensitivities sound a lot like mine. I can’t watch nature shows because I either cry for the bunny that the bear caught, or cry for the baby bears who have no food because the bunny escaped. News clips I was unable to avoid still haunt me. So no news shows for me either! And I’m always thinking up horrible circumstances and worrying about them in my head.
    I got “Raising Your Highly Spirited Child” and “The Highly Sensitive Child” books based on a recommendation from a friend who said our issues with my now-4-yo sounded a lot like hers with her child (always needing to be held, resisting weaning, needing to co-sleep, lights are too bright, temperature too hot or too cold, tags too scratchy, etc.) And reading them made me realize they were also describing ME as a child!

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