By Corinne Stromsten —
Our adventures began many years ago when my children were just wee babes. My daughter Emily suffered from colic, eczema, and digestive issues. With the help of a naturopath the causes were pinpointed. She was found to have many food intolerances. I, too, was tested, and much to my surprise discovered I had more food sensitivities than my daughter. Wheat, dairy, gluten, corn, and sugar were just some of the foods we needed to avoid. This was the beginning of a huge change in the way we ate, how we cooked, and how we looked at food.
Just about everything in my kitchen contained these foods. We had to re-learn how to shop, how to cook using different flours, milks, and grains. Often recipes didn’t turn out well or were unpalatable and ended up in the garbage. Through perseverance and experimentation we slowly developed new recipes and began to adapt to our new way of eating.
Many of Emily’s health issues disappeared in a matter of weeks. The tummy troubles and skin cleared up. I felt better than I had in years. I was full of energy, my skin was clearer, and I was able to throw out my asthma inhalers. Health was something I would come to learn more about.
My second child was born two years later. Due to birth complications he spent some time in the neonatal unit. He had experienced a small brain bleed, seizures, and was thought to have meningitis. Little did I know this would set the scene for more challenges later in life.
After a two-week stay in hospital, Seth was released. His little body was in need of healing and rest. He required medication for seizures, which we were able to wean him off over the next year.
Within that first year we discovered that Seth, along with my husband Wade, had many food issues. Another trip to the naturopath confirmed that both of them had to avoid wheat, gluten, goat and cow dairy, pork, oranges, corn, and chocolate.
At this time we also embarked on another adventure. We took a leap of faith and moved our family to the Cariboo, to the small town of Horsefly. Here we settled in a small two-bedroom cabin with wood heat and, thankfully, running water. With extended family close by, new friends, and Wade’s new job, life began to normalize. Over the next six months we settled into a daily routine of cooking, keeping house, playing, building forts, taking long walks, sitting by the fire, and watching the children dance to the Irish Rovers waiting for Dad to come home. Winter brought spring, which allowed us to get our hands into the Earth. Our first garden, which consisted of two cold frames, turned out to be quite fruitful. This was the beginning or another passion we would come to rely on.
As the year progressed, a new house for us and a new job for Wade surfaced. We found ourselves situated right in the town of Horsefly. This enabled us to walk everywhere and opened up space for new friendships and social time. Around this time, new health concerns were beginning to emerge for Seth. His seizures had returned and he began exhibiting odd behaviours. He was fascinated by anything spongy or “Nerf.” He also was drawn to lights and was mesmerized by flashing toys. Seth had no fear of heights and would often be found climbing railings or trees, or hanging from the clothes line. His play was also very different from that of other children his age. I knew there was something not right.
Over the next few months and years we were to find out wasn’t right with Seth. After seeing many doctors, specialists, and clinicians; and, filling out checklists, tests, and papers; and, receiving numerous opinions, we were told Seth had a mixed seizure disorder and was diagnosed with PDDNos—Pervasive Development Disorder Not otherwise specified. This means he is on the autism spectrum—somewhere.
Diet became more important than ever. We needed to feed his gut and his brain with whole, nutritious foods. With our passion for gardening we were able to grow organic fruits and vegetables. Local farms and ranches were a source of healthy meats and eggs. Emily raised chickens, which were a supply of eggs.
In 2012, we embarked on the biggest adventure of all. After much research and continued health issues—low functioning thyroid, behaviour, and sleep problems—we implemented the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet.
The diet looks at the relationship between the gut and the brain and the importance of proper digestion. Many people on the autism spectrum have gut dysbiosis, which allows toxins, food particles, and others organisms to enter the brain as well as other parts of the body… causing havoc in the body.
We felt we had no other options besides diet or medication, so we took the plunge with adjusting his diet. The first few weeks were very challenging. Cooking became a huge learning curve again, using new flours and no sweeteners for the first phase. Eating out was difficult. But, a few months into the diet we started seeing huge changes in behaviour, and Seth’s ability to focus increased to the point that one day he sat down and decided to read a book, which he would never do before. We would say that he was “present” with us. We could have a regular conversation with him. People all around us could see changes as well. Wade, Emily, and I also saw changes within ourselves. We felt healthier and weren’t addicted to the sugars and carbs as before.
Looking back on everything we have been through I can say I wouldn’t have changed a thing because of the learning that has come through these experiences. I feel we are all smarter about our food and understand the connection between health and food. With the holidays fast approaching we will find new ways to create the holiday favorites. We use lots of nut flours, dried fruits, and exotic spices to bake with. Thankfully, many are on this path and technology allows us to share and support one another. My children and husband have become more involved in the kitchen and are part of the weekly cooking. Seth has become an avid reader of labels and questions, “Why is there wheat and corn in everything?” Seth still struggles with ongoing health issues…but is better off when he eats well…aren’t we all?
Corinne Stromsten is a mom, wife, dancer, early childhood educator, and a foodie. She is passionate about gardening, home cooked meals, and nature.