Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cool Yiddishe Maidel

I want to dedicate this post to my daughter, "cool yiddishe maidel". [To keep her identity private, I use this as her "nom de web".] CYM is six years old in kindergarten at a local Jewish day school (but not the one I work at). CYM is also the inspiration for our exploration into "special diets".

Unlike other young families, we have not followed the SAD (Standard American Diet) for a long time. For as long as I can remember, we have used whole grain products. (I even increased my consumption after my father died of colon cancer. In researching gluten intolerance, I have since learned the possibility that my father may have had gluten issues that were left untreated.) Three years ago, my husband returned from a physical with higher than normal cholesterol numbers (he was 29 at the time). His doctor suggested making some dietary changes and a re-test in six months or he would need medication. (Did I mention that he was 29 and unlike me, a bit on the thin side?)

Taking what I know about "alternative" treatments (as opposed to "pharmaceutical" cures), we increased our omega-3 consumption (fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds are all good sources) and cut out trans fats (this was 3 years ago around the start of the "trans fat" buzz). At first, he was resistant, claiming that eggs were doing it. After all, conventional wisdom says that since egg yolks are mostly cholesterol, they were the cause. We kept the eggs (but gave up the packaged treats made with hydrogenated vegetable shortening) and added more fish to the menu. Needless to say, at his six month follow-up, his numbers were "normal". My only concession has been to buy him Joe's-Joe's Sandwich Cookies at Trader Joe's at a "treat" in his lunch.

[Side note: Two years ago, my 6 year old niece was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and as a result, my sister has made her entire house diabetic-friendly, realizing that my niece gets more bang for her carb buck by eating brown rice instead of white.]

Meanwhile, CYM has just about always had a problem with incontinence (both daytime and nighttime). We would have short spans of dryness but that was only when my husband and I (as well as teachers at school) stood over her like a hawk and monitored her bathroom habits, something that could not continue forever. (She also had negative reactions to sugar such as mood swings, decreased impulse control, and increased difficulty staying dry.)

In October when the wetting accidents had increased to several times a day, the doctor found a blockage of stool in her colon and put her on a stool softener. Adding this to watered-down cranberry juice sweetened with stevia (my own mixture, not available in stores) to alleviate any possible bladder infections started to make a difference.

With no desire to allow my daughter to remain dependent on stool softener, I started to research other causes for the problem. My search for a solution led me to a book about using diet to achieve nighttime dryness. [To be honest, nighttime dryness has not been, and is still not, a concern of mine as research has proven bedwetting to be a physiological problem and in most cases, it will correct itself without intervention.]

The diet (found in the book Try for Dry) suggests eliminating all refined sugar, citrus (a medical industry friend later told me how citrus can aggravate bladder issues), caffeine, artificial colors and flavors, and dairy. The book said to cut dairy after noon to help with nighttime dryness, but I decided to cut out all dairy milk and still allow yogurt, kefir, and cheese (as these are lactose-free but not casein-free). The school was resistant, even though they went nut-free after several parents complained, to accommodating my child without a doctor's note. I offered that I would provide enriched rice milk for her to drink but apparently, the state inspectors want to ensure that milk is served to all children everyday (unless there is a proven allergy). I outlined the diet to the doctor and asked her to sign off, explaining what I was doing, and she did it.

It would interest parents who are paying top dollar for drugs to "fix" their "ADD" children that within a couple weeks, what I had thought were just "personality quirks" in CYM were reduced (her mood swings, irritability, etc) to almost non-existent. We set out to take care of the wetting (which we considered a social impediment as children can be very cruel to each other) and ended up fixing another problem. I would also like to add that putting her on the "special" diet also empowered us to seek the OT help she needed for her sensory integration issues. [After three months, she has more than caught up to her developmental age in that area as well.]

What is our "proof" that this diet works? We can tell when there has been a "relapse". While her dietary needs are clearly posted in her classroom at school (and I have provided a stash of acceptable food), she has a teacher who has expressed to outside parties that I am a "nut" and has "forgotten" the restrictions a few times. This has been followed by her having accidents and moodiness for two or three days afterwards. We know that there can be slip-ups in a child’s life when it is filled with birthday parties (in school and out), well-intending teachers who wish to reward their students with candy, and “candy men” strategically planted throughout a Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) morning worship service.

We still have unintentional saboteurs who do not seem to understand the “harm” a “little” bit of sugar can do to someone. They have pled to allow CYM to eat these sweets when she has been “so good”. Although my daughter will not get very sick from eating too much sugar (unlike my diabetic niece or what could happen when a nut allergic child inadvertently eats an almond), it still causes harm (especially when all those “quirks” return).

The best advice I ever got on how to navigate the minefield of this “legalized cocaine” came from my sister raising the diabetic child. Desperate to make my niece’s life as “normal” as possible after the diagnosis, she raced out to buy anything and everything with a “sugar-free” label. After a while, she calmed down and chose to consider these alternatives as “treats” just as one should when giving sweets to their children.

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