My 1-Year Blogiversary, Second Dye-Free Halloween, And Feingold Diet Update
What a year it has been. On Halloween in 2011 I took a flying leap, armed with the new knowledge that food coloring made my kid turn into someone else – like Hermione Granger’s polyjuice potion. I was frustrated at the lack of information available about this troublesome additive. I decided to create a place for bewildered and weary parents to come and share their stories, find answers, and support one another.
The whole thing, as frustrating as it has been, is a complete blessing. The fact that my kid can exhibit exactly what is wrong with the crap in her “food” within mere minutes, and for a couple days after, turned out to be a good thing. Sort of a delayed gratification, like after a war ends, but you get my drift. It made me want to learn more. It challenged my own beliefs and upbringing. As it turns out, her body rejecting synthetic dyes, preservatives, and flavors should serve as a warning to all parents – this stuff isn’t good for anyone, even if they don’t turn into Crabbe and Goyle right before their parents’ eyes (most parents refer to the change as “Jeckyll and Hyde.”).
I could go on.
That first dye-free Halloween I was really flying by the seat of my pants, but it was exciting. I had somehow stumbled across a seemingly magical way to help my miserable daughter, and calm the daily storms. I had seen a glimpse of our true relationship, my real daughter whom I had not seen in a couple of years – and I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I also wanted to make her feel as normal as possible, so I kinda overdid the whole Halloween trade deal thing that first year. Okay, this year too.
This Halloween, even as the web was alight with recipes for booger cookies, brain dip, and black velvet cake, I was still seeing more and more news stories and blog posts about the negative effects of food coloring on children. My daily web searches were both hopeful and sad. There were the fun posts like a former food exec’s reworking of the “toil and trouble” poem to reflect his new view of Big Food’s gross-out additives, and the candy trading rules that poked fun at allergic kids for being the perfect trade partners. But there was also the story of a boy who fell ill from a Halloween version of a cookie which he normally ate without problems.
We avoided any food reactions by once again providing our daughter with a Trade Deal that she just couldn’t refuse. We took her trick or treating around some nearby neighborhoods, and then exchanged her haul for a load of natural candies, a DVD, some pajamas, and some stationery. She was very happy, and still asks for more of those Honey Acres natural chocolate mint patties. Too bad the rest of them went the way of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane…via my stomach.
Some folks (like our school nurse) use the Switch Witch story to whisk away their kids’ chemical stash in exchange for a toy or money. But my daughter opted for a combo of our Trade Deal followed by the Candy Buy-Back program, where a local dentist paid for candy and sent it to troops.
One of the most fun things we did together this year was making homemade candy corn. She told me she had an acute case of “C.C.C.” (candy corn cravings) because her teacher used an estimation jar full of the traditional petrol-dyed candy corn. I was so concerned about my ability to make this candy copycat that I procrastinated for two whole weeks. It was actually very enjoyable and way easier than I had imagined. The dough is soft and fun to work with, too. I used Lyle’s golden syrup (toasty, vanilla flavor), skipped the milk powders, added more powdered sugar, and used plant-based India Tree dyes. You can change up the colors, and customize shapes with tiny cookie cutters. Bonus: These dyes wash off your hands instantly with water, and won’t leave you looking like you may have the body of that one obnoxious 18-year old trick-or-treater stashed in your crawlspace.
The only difficult event to navigate during this week was our school’s Fall Festival. It was a carnival style shindig hosted by the fifth graders, which in itself I think is fantastic. But looking at the offerings through my non-FDA-trusting lens, it appeared to me as more of an obstacle course. My child was able to briefly go through two bounce houses (only one time each), have one round of Spray The Teacher, and play on the school playground (which was so packed it was making me nervous). The games had to be moved because several kids were stung by bees.
But the perturbed bees were not the only thing for the allergic child to fear that day, noooo. Everywhere we went, my daughter’s friends were playing candy related games, getting their hair spray-painted (being downwind of that just about made me choke), their faces painted with FD&C dyes, and tattoos placed on their arms – all while gobbling red blow pops and blue cotton candy. I actually saw kids jonesing for the stuff, yelling that they NEEDED it, like that jittery fella in “Reefer Madness”.
My daughter was one hell of a trooper, watching with concern as her BFFs filled their little growing bodies with petroleum. She tried to tell them it was bad for them. One child was in a particularly angry mood soon after ingesting all the junk. I had to gently advise my sweet girl that nothing she could say would change her friends’ minds – they were going to do what they wanted no matter how bad it was for them. Watching this kid’s transformation made me immediately grateful that I’d be going home with a calm and happy child. I always come prepared, and had brought some of our daughter’s safe Halloween candy with us. (My kid is never deprived, and I laugh at that notion because I can find dye-free replacements for almost anything she ate back in the old days. I do draw the line at giant gummy bears, though.)
A couple of other important events shaped this past week.
It was my one year blogiversary with “Die, Food Dye!”. I can’t believe I’m still here after a year. Partly because I wasn’t sure I could pull this off or if anyone would even be interested; And partly because I was kinda hoping synthetic food coloring would be a non-issue by now. The FDA’s failure continues to provide me with writing material. There have been numerous times when I felt like giving up. Old priorities have fallen by the wayside. My house has not been clean in a whole year. Okay that’s an understatement – I’m afraid of my house.
But being that all this effort doesn’t pay enough to get myself a house keeper (as in, doesn’t pay at all), and the fact that I’m single-parenting 90% of the time, my toilets will just have to remain haunted and hosting play dates shall be skillfully avoided for the time being. Because I can’t just give up.
I’ve met the most inspiring people through my blog this year. And I’m not just talking about the folks who have shared their personal stories as guest bloggers. I mean the random conversations I enjoy on my Facebook page. It feels good to see so many other families who can relate to exactly what we’re going through. We are learning from each other every day.
Speaking of meeting people and helping each other, I’ve reached another milestone with my daughter this week. We joined the Feingold Association a few months ago, but officially started our Stage 1 elimination (detox) phase about eight weeks ago. There were some trying detox moments. But finally this week, I tested back in tomatoes (high in salicylates) by giving my daughter ketchup and spaghetti sauce. I’m so happy to report that we saw no reactions to tomatoes. I’m thanking the cooking television gods because the bulk of the recipes that I can actually cook are either Italian or Mexican foods smothered in tomato-y, spicy goodness.
I won’t lie – it was quite a shopping and cooking adjustment when we first started the diet. And holy bird, starting the diet during Fall apple season is murder for those of us who could gladly win a Big Brother TV challenge by living on Pink Lady apples for a week. After replacing my apples with pears and my staples with safe researched brands, I slowly caught my stride in the kitchen. The parents in the Feingold Association discussion forums and private groups have really helped me to push my limits and confidently experiment with cooking. For instance, pear cider is just as good as apple cider to a 7-year-old.
It has been hit and miss (“Suck Soup” comes to mind), but I’m getting better at cooking from scratch. After a short bout of what I call “Feingold Fatigue”, I stopped feeling bad for myself, got out of a cooking rut, got creative, and pushed on through.
I’ve learned some new things about my daughter and myself as a result of trying the diet. I had recently begun to eliminate dairy before we started Feingold, because my daughter had been dangerously allergic to cow’s milk as a baby. I thought it might help with her attention and focus. I saw a difference in both of us. Now if I have any dairy, I feel hazy and useless for two whole days afterwards.
I also learned about the effects of corn syrup on children’s behavior, even though the diet does not eliminate corn syrups. After one horrid shopping trip with a snack of Fig Newmans, my daughter and I went from a giggly and affectionate duo to fighting like cats and dogs – within half an hour. I was in an inexplicable tense mood, and she was being uncharacteristically hyper in the store. So, bye-bye corn syrup for us.
And I had a disturbing reaction to a Sonic green tea drink during our summer road trip, which I attributed to the sodium benzoate. I found out that many other folks got rashes and hives after ingesting this stuff. Bye-bye sodium benzoate!
Some of the unexpected benefits? My daughter seems way more engaged since she’s been on the Feingold diet – anticipating my needs, cooperating more, considering others, offering to help without being asked, and managing her routines better. She’s not nearly as tender-headed as before – this was a source of ear-splitting drama every morning before the diet change. And her hair-pulling has disappeared. I’ve never heard the phrases “Mommy, you’re a GENIUS!” and “You’re the BEST mommy in the whole world!” so much in my life.
It’s not nearly as difficult to avoid all the baddies as some folks may think. Ask yourself – Would you eat what your great-grandmother used to cook? Can you follow a recipe? Read a label? Stop yourself from buying a giant 5-pound gummy bear? Then you can do this.
And food related knowledge isn’t all I’ve gained.
After the eliminations, we’ve wiped away any trace of uncontrollable meltdowns, and maybe uncovered some working issues. For the first time, amongst the calm, I was able to observe closely and consider that my Gifted daughter needed extra help from an occupational therapist (OT). It’s been hard for her at school, not only because of her food allergies, but also because her other needs were not known and definitely not understood. There have been awful incidents at school this past month that make a mother’s heart hurt. And there have been quite a few tears – for both of us.
But I’m reassured by an OT who understands everything my daughter is going through, and whose own daughter – who shares the same issues – grew up to be a straight-“A” student and an OT herself. So…another round of school paperwork it is. I swear I’m there so often that I half-jokingly say the administration probably has my mommy mug shot posted in the office, the same way that I enjoy imagining that the grocery stores do.
So, in a way, you can say that my world has really opened up in 2012. I see things very differently than even just a year ago when I started all this. Through all the adversity I’ve gained just a little tiny bit of confidence and have found my voice. I pray for the same for my daughter.
How about you? How was your Halloween?
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