Friday, December 6, 2013

Family Health and Wellness - Our journey into Paleo

I can't believe that I just had to google my own blog to find it - it's been that long since I wrote anything. Sad... But I am back :) Well, for the moment anyway!

So much has changed. We are all a little older, a little more awesome and better looking! Oh and Job is back home too :)

Lets see if I can find a current photo - this may take me another week....................

Camera battery is flat, I have no family photos on my phone - and then I remembered that we have some family photos from Lani and Chelseas' baptism two months ago.

So here we are on the 12th of October 2013:

Told you we were better looking ;)

So, I wanted to write a blog about following a Paleo diet and how is has been sucessful for us (with our various health issues) I was going to wait until we were experts and had been eating whole foods for a while. I wanted to be the 'poster paleo girl' but honestly, as long as there is chocolate around, that may never happen!!
We really have had some positive changes in our family and I wanted to record them in case I forget when I do reach expert status - plus by then I'll be way too old to rememember our beginnings to good health!
So what the heck is 'paleo???!' Many people call it a paleo diet. I'm not a fan of that term as it suggests 'deprivation' or 'calorie counting' - urghh, neither of which sit comfortably with me. I probably wouldn't do it justice to try and define it correctly but basically, it means eating as a hunter
and gatherer. Consuming foods that mankind did many years ago, before agriculture and modern food processing stuffed it all up. It includes foods that we could hunt or find - meats, fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables etc.

If it comes in a box with a long list of ingredients, its not paleo.
We have been eating this way now for around two months, actually, we probably started just after that photo (above) was taken. Our Healthy eating has been a gradual journey. I have refined the kids food over time to get to where we are now. Many people leave behind a SAD diet (Standard American Diet - or Standard Australian Diet as is our case) and jump right into Paleo. I applaud them, completely, but for us, it has occured slowly. Making the transition over time has been good not only for the kids, but for me who has to modify and learn new ways of cooking.
Many families are quite content with their childrens diets. They have no problem walking into the grocery store and picking up bread, cereal, biscuits etc. I understand completely as that was me too....and not very long ago. A couple of years ago, a standard breakfast for my kids was weetbix and toast. Biscuits for school snacks and a sandwhich for lunch. If nutrigrain or rice bubbles were on special, they went into the trolley too. I even bought the kids cocopops or fruit loops for special occasions like birthdays and Christmas - I cringe at that thought now.
My childrens little bodies have been screaming out in protest for a long time and while I have spent years trying to figure out the cause of their physical and often emotional stress, I have been feeding them all the wrong things. That is why I dont judge other families. I did the best with the knowledge I had at the time and as I have learned more, I have done better. Its very confusing for parents, mothers especially as they are usually the ones who shop and cook for their families. The TV and supermarket shelves are saturarated with misleading information. Cereal boxes with claims of calcium and fibre, muslie bars and even biscuits that are marketed as being 'perfect for lunch box snacks,' roll ups and yoghurt that contain 'real fruit.' The list goes on. Its nearly impossible to navigate your way around the grocery isles to find safe, healthy and nuritious food. The other fact that I have learned (the hard way) is that the health food isle is one of the worst!

So anyway, sorry, I have to get off my soap box....
 I only began questioning food when my eldest was 1 (he is now 11)
I thought I was feeding him a healthy diet but he devolped abdominal cramping. He would cry in pain on and off for a couple of days after consuming certain foods - it turned out to be grapes that upset his stomach. This sensitivity developed over time with more severe reactions of vomitting, body rashes, high temperatures and migraines. A paediatrician confirmed my suspicion of a fructose allergy. He had one serious reaction that landed him in hospital. It wasnt very common aparently. He also had repeated ear infections which lead to him having grommets. Her would get sick after eating lollies and chips with articificial colours and flavour enhancers. I felt sorry for him when he went to birthday parties and would let him eat some party food - only to have him pay for it for the next 48hrs and leave me feeling extremely guilty.
Then Benny came along and for all JJ sensitivities, Benny had more. He was diagnosed with anaphilaxis to nuts and animal hair - again, we found out the hard way. He has a cows milk and egg allergy and is intolerant to wheat.
Here's a quick summary of the others:
Lani - Intolerant to Apples, canola, yeast, chicken, wheat and developes adominal pain from nitrate consumption (found in deli meats)
Lisia: Intolerant to sugar (in large amounts) grapes, prunes, sultanas, commercial strawberries, jams and nitrates. She is allergic to penicillin and Elastoplast.
Teancum: Cows milk intolerance, egg allergy, not sure about wheat as I knew by then not go give it to him. He is allergic to panadol and nurofen - which sucks when he is sick!
I wont go through all the kids stories as it will take too long, but you get the picture. Their bodies could not cope with the food that was going into them. They reacted in a negative way whenever they consumed any of the above foods - and more....
So for years, I have tried to stay away from heavily processed foods, artificial colours and especially flavour enhancers, seriously, flavour enhancers shouldnt even be legal!
Then we were dealt with a serious blow last year when Lani (who was six at the time) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Food came much more into my focus and I had to learn how to count carbohydrates and be particualry vigilant about foods that would make her blood sugar level rise too high. For the first time, I learned about the Glycemic Index and the impact food has on blood sugar.
For the most part, I was careful about what the kids ate. I still let them eat junk for birthdays - always with some cost. I didnt want to be a burden at other peoples homes or social get togethers either so we would break healthy eating for those occasions too.
Then earlier this year, Job left. I was on my own with five kiddos. I still had to monitor Lanis blood sugar levels at least twice a night, feed tank who at that stage was feeding 2-3 times EVERY night plus I resettled him a handful of times too. Sisi only slept through every second or third night. Sometimes her nights were quite bad, she would throw herself on the floor and scream. I never knew why. I knew she must have eaten something but it was always hard to figure out what. Its also hard for other people to understand as the kids generally seemed happy during the day. I used to joke that my kids turned into pumpkins at night. I considered posting a short video here of what happens to Sisi during the night as I recorded a few seconds of one of her episodes a couple of nights ago. This sort of behaviour used to be common. Since eating well, it hasnt happened and I suspect this isolated incident was due to some dessert she had over the weekend (while we were out at a social get together) and maybe compounded by a piece of bacon she had the following morning (containing nitrates) I have decided not to include it as its a little distressing. It also may embarrass her. She's a beautiful little girl and I hate seeing her so upset. I took some footage so that I could talk to her about it the next day. As I suspected, she couldnt recall it. She didnt believe me when I told her how she screamed and rolled around the floor for ten minutes - until I showed her.
So anyway, I started to become exhausted. I wasnt getting enough sleep plus my diet was awful. I often grabbed something on the run - usually high in sugar to give me a hit of energy. Chocolate became the norm for me. I cooked well for the kids but I lived on sugar pretty much. I was tired most of the time and my body ached. I missed Jobs back rubs. But I kept positive and had great help from mum who visted us. One moment will stay in my mind - The kids asked me to jump on the trampoline with them. My body was wasted but I didnt want to let them down - especially as I was trying to fill both roles, playful dad wasnt around and I didn't want them missing out. I managed a couple of minutes on the trampoline before I had to send one of the kids inside to grab my asthma pump! It was a wake up call for me. From that moment I began reading - as much as I could about nutrition and good, healthy food. I wanted to re energise my body so that I could keep up with my kids. I didnt want to be the tired mum anymore. I couldnt do anything at that stage about my bad nights and lack of sleep, but I could at least try and nourish myself so that I could be more present and physically stronger during the day.
I learnt about organic food. I always assumed eating organic was only for the posh, rich or extremists. I read about the dangers of pesticides, herbisides and other chemicals used to preserve and treat food. I was introduced to the world of genetically modified ingredients. I learnt about the dangers of Soy - which Benny had been on up to that point. I read about raw dairy and grass fed organic meats.
It was a massive turning point for me. I realised I had been letting other people decide what my children should be eating. It goes against my basic nature to hand my childrens well being over to anyone else, so why was I doing it with food? I started shopping at the organic shop in town, fortnightly, then weekly. I started using high quality meats and dairy. I cut wheat consumption down for those still eating some wheat and introduced more beans and legumes. I waited for the massive feeling of wellness that I expected to accompany our good diet. I dropped 4kgs in two weeks watching what I was eating and trying to balance carbs and proteins. In the past, I was a massive carb eater, my entire diet was made up of carbohydrates. I had porridge or museli on the morning with milk, folllowed by toast (made from organic Kamut flour) Lunch was a salad sandwhich and dinner was meat and potatoes. I often left the meat - especially red meat. I filled any hungry gaps with something sweet - more carbs. So when I started eating better, I increased the protein and cut out the sugar. Like I said, I dropped weight, but I was still tired. Very tired and occasionally I felt weak. I didnt notice any change in the kids, but was happy that they were eating better quality food.
I really wasn't interested in eating healthy only to loose weight. Dropping some kilos would have been an added bonus but more than anything, I wanted to feel better and have more energy. I couldnt stand feeling like I was trudging through concrete every day. I ended up going back to my naughty sugar ways, but felt so much better for doing so. I still slumped in the afternoon and was tired most of the time but the sugar gave me small instant boosts.
I continued to read and stumbled across a blog that really helped me. This mother has five children like I do and she lives an amazingly healthy life. She provides nourishing food for her family every day and as a nutritionist helps clients reach their health goals and overcome disease. She was invited to be a guest speaker at wellness conference in America. After reading many of her articles and listening to her and other health experts, I began learning more about grains. I tuned in to the recent 'gluten summit' and listened to doctors, experts in their fields, talk about nutrition and the link between food and disease. I learned about wheat and grains and how they are not good for our body.
It is interesting to just quickly note at this point that obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer didnt exist before the agricultural revolution. I wont go on about grains because I dont want to get too preachy again (too late?!) but I decided that we would stop eating inflammatory foods (meaning foods that cause inflammation in our bodies - sometimes this can go undetected for years and then finally present as disease, or it can manifest quickly and cause adverse reactions to foods). This meant cutting the wheat, grains and dairy.
Its funny when I think back just a few months and remember how strange the paleo concept was to me. I heard of doctors being able to heal their patients from heart disease, arthritis and even cancer by cutting out grains and dairy. What's left to eat??! I thought, too extreme for my liking.
What would I feed my kids if they couldn't have cereal, toast and sandwhiches??! But once I understood how our body is effected in such a negative way by wheat and grain consumption, the choice was easy. I started educating the kids, in bits and pieces. They have been champions. Once they also understood what their food choices meant for them physically, they were happy to give them up.  There have been moments where they have struggled and missed some of their favourite foods (like two minute noodles) but as a whole, they have been really happy with the change.
So two months in and we are feeling great :) The positive results started happening quickly. Benny has dropped a significant amount of weight and has a lot more energy. He is enjoying running for the first time. Actually just yesterday he ran rings around the front garden, waving at me through the window saying "Look mum, look how fast I can run now!"
J.J is happy that he doesnt have to apply any cream at all to his eczema and dry skin - he was applying it each night before bed. He has no problem with fructose anymore.
Lani never complains of a stomach ache (which she used to do every second day) She can now eat as much chicken and apples as she likes without side effects. She lost just over a kilo but the best part is that her blood sugar levels are stabilsing. For the first time in a year, we no longer have to wake up and test her through the night. We still have the odd bad night - usually a hypo once a week, but in comparison to testing twice a night, its great! Her total daily dose of insulin has dropped by 50%. Since she is no longer eating foods that spike her blood sugar level, she doesnt need as much insulin to keep it down.
Sisi now sleeps through the night - every night - hip hip hooray!
After only three days without grains, Tank started going through the night without feeds. I still resettle him a couple of times, but it is fast now and only takes a couple of seconds.
Job started later than the rest of us. It took him a while to let go of his bread. He has been really supportive of me and the kids but he hasn't stopped eating all the bad stuff yet. I dont push him - especially since I haven't kicked my bad chocolate habit yet. He is slowly converting :) He eats all the same meals as us. He still loves to have his hot chocolate every night with milk and sugar. Just this last week he is noticing increased energy. Even when he hasnt had much sleep, he isnt exhausted like he used to be. He has now lost all desire to eat bread, and is happy for me to spend the extra shopping money on good nutrition.
For me, I think it was day 5 when I noticed my athsma and hayfever had disappeared. I always went to bed with my asthma pump and a toilet roll for my runny nose. Now I go to bed with nothing. My favourite part is the energy I had been so desperately craving. The afternoon slump has gone - no need for nana naps. I dont need as much sleep as before and I no longer wake up feeling like I got hit by a truck during the night. I wake up ready to go. I can run (a bit) with the kids and stay on the trampoline without having an asthma attack! I have lost a little weight too - not a lot but I think thats only because I have been naughty and indulging in chocolate. We dont have working scales anymore so I cant report how much but there is a difference, I can see it when I look at that family photo above. Here's a photo of Lani and I on that same day two months ago:
and here I am right now - sitting on the couch with Benny:

Job is laughing at my photo, he's saying "Look at mum Ben!" Then he says to me "You did something to your face to make it look bigger!" I assured him I didnt and showed him the rest of the photos from that day....same face. He keeps laughing, lol.
Here's Benny two months ago......and two days ago.

We are not on a diet, not at all. We have only cut out bad foods and replaced them with good ones. The kids are free to eat as much as they want at meals and snacks. The only food I sometimes restrict is fruit (only in excess.) My kids will eat 10 pieces a day if I let them. Fruit is full of lots of goodies like fibre, vitamins and minerals but it is also high in sugar.

There is no noticible change in the others - as far as weight goes. I can see some in the girls but that's because I am mum :) As I said before, this wasn't about loosing weight, but it happens naturally as a result of being healthy. Our health is so important to me - especially as we have autoimmune disease in our family. Athsma, Ezcema, Allergies, Anaphilaxis and Diabetes. The best protection I can give my kids is through nutition. I try to make sure that each meal is nutrient dense.

I still have so much to learn. There are many other aspects to being healthy - like exercise.  I will also start introducing fermented foods and drinks into our diet to give us healthy probiotics. I'm sure we also need more vitamin D and Omega 3s, so we'll supplement those soon. If the paleo police were to read this, I'm certain they could find many things I'm not doing correctly. Its ok though, I am not perfect - not even close. Sometimes I let my kids eat things they shouldn't. I often feel pressured by others (non intentionally) to let my kids eat what everyone else is eating. This is the part I find difficult. If others could see what my children have to suffer by eating bad food then they probably wouldn't encourage it. For the most part though, friends and family are supportive. I always talk about good food in a positive way with my kids because I truly believe it is good for them, I want them to be able to make good food choices. It is hard for them sometimes though. This morning Lani confessed that she hides whenever she has hard boiled eggs in her lunch box because the other kids tease her. Today Sisi came running out of kinder with a giant smile on her face becuase it was her turn to receive a candy cane from the Christmas Avent calendar. Look how excited she was:

I wasn't about to rip it out of her hands and march into kinder to growl at the teachers for giving her candy laced with sugar, artificial colours, flavours and goodness knows what else. She ate it happily and even shared some with Tank. I dont expect Sisi to be able to make good food choices yet as she is only 5. The bigger kids are finding it easier to say no to foods that make them feel less than good - especially Benny. I will take something off them though if I know for certain that it will cause a bad reaction. I'm not sure yet how to refuse bad food without offending someone. Kids parties are particularly hard and to be completely honest, I intentionally missed two that Sisi was invited to last month because I knew that she would end up sick if she went and ate the party food. The alternative was to take her and not let her eat anything, which would be too cruel. It's a tricky dilemma and I am still learning how to deal with those situations.

So here we are, Paleo babies really, learning and growing together in good health - not always perfect but doing the best we can. Eating lots of healthy food and enoying the positive benefits. I should include that following a paleo lifestyle isnt only for people like us with food intolerances, but for anyone looking to gain back vitality and strength. If you want to feel and look awesome, you should give it a try. I can't imagine ever going back to the way we were eating before. I have briefly covered the foods that we dont eat. In a future blog post, I will share all the delicious food we do eat. Good food tastes so much better. Except in the case of chocolate - that always tastes good!! I love a quote I saw on my brother in law's facebook page a while back:

'There is no such thing as junk food. There is food and there is junk.'

Oh and before I sign off - yes finally! For any of my LDS friends or family who may be wondering if cutting out wheat and grains contradicts the word of wisdom, I can explain to you that it doesn't. In fact eating good whole foods that God intended man to eat completely supports it. I wont go into detail here as this blog entry is long enough! But if you want to know, just ask me :)

Time for bed!