Neuroplasticity and the human brain in action

Posts tagged ‘Neurology and Nutrition’

Nutrition Burnout and Recovery, Days 5-11

I knew it would be tough to completely change our eating habits. It was clear from Day 1 (see earlier post) that we are dealing with lifelong, deep-seated stuff here. Every time I’ve sat down to blog about this last week, I’ve been blocked. It was hard to feel anything but discouragement as I looked back at the end of the day, and saw only what looked like failure to me. I’m glad I waited to write it all down, because I think what we were seeing was probably the normal stress that comes when you undertake this kind of major dietary shift.  I’m thinking a bit more clearly now, after having seen good progress in making the transition. The only question remains, how to construct the narrative, without too much negativity, while at the same time describing a reality-based picture of our experiences this week. I will go with unadulterated honesty first, and try to work in the hopeful elements where possible.

One of the conditions that had to exist for our family to be able to dive into an intense program like this was that my mental health had to be at a place where I could stay present for the kids, and carry out the demands of home programming without going into full retreat and isolation mode. Since the day I became pregnant with our first child (Dash), depression has been a part of my life. For as long as I was either breastfeeding a child, or expecting one, my brain chemistry would be out of whack. This means that for the first 10-12 years of our marriage, I was an emotional mess. When our youngest turned three, I began to feel like myself again. It is a touch disturbing to acknowledge that my good husband has seen the whacked-out “me” much more often in our life together, than he has the real me. Thankfully he stuck around anyway, reaching out to my alternating selves, with unfailing love and patient devotion.

Here is a picture of me when I was a small girl. I don’t remember the year, but it is in the mid-to-late 70’s. I’ve always loved this photo, perhaps sensing when I view it, that this represents the real Rebecca. She is a very happy girl, insatiably curious, and a bundle of intense energy. I’ve had to re-introduce myself to her from time to time, but she never fails to make me smile, inspiring me with grateful remembrance. That girl can do anything she puts her mind to, and guess what? It’s still true, 30+ years later. Often when I look into the sweet faces of my own five babies, I see a little bit of that cute Becca. In Big B’s case, I see a lot of her.

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Me, at approximately age 4.

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(Courtesy Angela Marie Photography, 2012)

Left to Right: Sparkle(8), Freckles(10), Big B(5), Daddy, Mommy, Baby Blues(3), Dash(12)

Brain Balance requires all of their clients to commit to eating a very specific diet, which for the average American, means a big change. In short, we now eat no gluten, no dairy, no soy, no refined flours or sugars, no MSG, artificial dyes, additives, nitrates, and only occasional raw sweeteners in very small amounts, limited to: honey, stevia, 100% unrefined maple syrup, agave, organic coconut sugar, or molasses. It’s not as restrictive as say, the Paleo Diet, but Paleo fits within the scope of what we can eat. So I refer to their resources quite a bit. One such excellent blog is authored by a family friend, and could be helpful to anyone who is serious about Paleo. We decided at the outset that any diet and exercise changes that Dash and Big B had to adopt, the rest of the family would also sign on to it. I had a few dishes planned, but no snacks for in-between meals. I figured yeah, they know how to eat carrots, apples and almond butter. But wow, I was SO off. They rifled endlessly through the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator, wondering what they could possibly eat that they were familiar with. The compulsive rifling persisted throughout the week, almost as if they believed the next time they checked, their old foods might have found their way back to them.  They did know how to eat carrots or broccoli, yes, but only last week it had always been dipped in Ranch dressing! Where was the Ranch? It was no more! And of course I couldn’t send them to friends to play in this state, they’d only find our OLD Ranch bottle in THEIR fridge, and then complete melt down would be assured.

paleo pyramid

So here we found ourselves, on Day 5. We had by this time made a trip to the farmer’s market and to a local grocery store to purchase a variety of new staple supplies, like coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut flour, almond butter, GF/DF/sugar-free pancake mixes, Easy Life chocolate chips, more produce, almond milk, rice milk, and cage free eggs. We got ourselves through the weekend alright, thanks to Dad’s skills at making a mean Curry Chicken over Rice, which the kids have eaten and loved for years. But by Monday Dad was back at work, and Mom was up. I had laid out a menu plan which I thought would work fine. And it did work fine for me. I love my Brazilian Beans and Rice, and could eat it every day, no problem. But my kids were tired of it. We’d eaten it at least a couple of times since Day 1. On this Day 5, Sparkle was visibly wilting, having NOT found anything she could bear to consume. Admittedly, I saw this coming with her, but did not prepare well enough. She is a stubborn girl, and can dig her heels in for days if she wants, depending on the issue of conflict. She was pale, and kept filling up her water bottle with her tried and true lemon juice, honey, and ice water, to get her through the hours. Absolutely nothing was left in the kitchen that she liked. And honestly we did throw out 99% of her diet with this change. What saved her from complete starvation here was a tuna sandwich on GF/DF/SF bread from Eleanor’s Bakery.

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Sparkle, Age 4

As I was saying, my mental health had to be in a decent place before we could benefit from a Brain Balance program. I felt when we started that we were in the right place and time to move forward. But this last week, I seriously questioned whether I could really do it. I lost sight of Becca, the real me, the do everything girl. Depression for me has always been greatly aggravated by low blood sugar levels. The first impulse is always to sequester myself in my room, and put the kids in front of some screen. (Oh, and did I mention that the BB program also requests you limit your kids to no more than 30 minutes of screen time per day? That doesn’t seem unreasonable, until you as the mom are spiraling down into retreat, and you need a buffer to keep the kids out of trouble. And yes, neurobehaviors of an atypical child left to his own devices will inevitably lead to trouble!) When we filled up and delivered those four boxes of dry goods and two bags of dairy products to our neighbor, we said goodbye to foods that represented perhaps 60-70% of our habitual diet. So things got BAD, and FAST. Not helpful was the fact that this week at my husband’s workplace was especially demanding on him. They’d flown in a whole contingent of analysts from a market research firm which looks to be merging with his company here soon. He was not able to come home before 9pm on virtually every night of this week.

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(Not my Photo)

As Day 5 passed in utter hellish frustration, we moved through the subsequent days of this week as if we were “walking in molasses” to borrow a phrase from a local author. We were all hungry, as Plan A menus became Plan Bs, only to be rejected. And I had no Plan C. My Plans A or B, only a week prior to this, had been jumping in the car and running to Little Caesar’s or Iceberg. So yes, we had many a mile to go, and it seemed as if we only moved forward by inches. This post isn’t dedicated to how we are doing on the home exercises. But our performance there (indeed, our performance in virtually ALL other essentials) was invariably influenced by our limping along nutritionally. We managed to fit in two exercise sessions per day on all of these days but Day 8, which I will mention later. During this time, what we did eat was 98% in compliance with the parameters outlined by Brain Balance South Jordan. The only problem is that it wasn’t enough. We languished. Day 6 was a little better food-wise, but in terms of meltdowns from Big B, he was just getting started. I was told that setbacks and reversals in behavior were to be expected, as we move through the program and make the necessary adjustments. But I seriously wondered if what I was seeing could possibly be in the norm. Have I given you enough of reality yet? I’ll move on now to some of the good things that happened this last week, shall I?

Day 7 started out very badly. Freckles and Sparkle had come down with bad head and chest colds, and all the kids were dying to get out of the house. So we packed us up, and headed to the zoo as quick as we could get there. Unfortunately by the time we’d made the 30-minute journey, Sparkle had gotten worse. We sat on a bench inside the zoo for 45 minutes, while Dash, Freckles and Big B walked around some of the nearby exhibits. At this point I was so desperate to get my daughter to eat a clementine, I bought a rice crispy treat from the nearby bistro to help coax her along. I also bought water and a big veggie cup that had Ranch dressing in it. She seemed almost to the point of nausea, and I felt that it was most likely because she simply wasn’t eating. I made a deal with her that for each bite of clementine (a fruit she’d heretofore rarely eaten, despite countless opportunities) that she took and swallowed, I would give her a bite of the rice crispy treat. This she attempted, with an appearance of true illness (and a touch of martyr), but unsuccessfully. She managed to swallow one wedge, but then threw up the second one. I thought maybe she should eat the veggies first, to get her tummy to a better place before attempting the oranges again. So I just gave it to her, Ranch and all, with an order that she eat as much as possible. Post-veggie consumption, she still could not manage the clementine, so I gave up at that point, gave her the rice crispy treat, and told her to eat it so she wouldn’t faint on the way back to the van.

Oh, but I was going to move on to the good stuff, sorry!! Did I mention that we just harvested two of our peach trees , one of the big ones and one of the baby ones? They are beautiful, and we are benefitting from the fresh fruit daily. Our garden is producing endless zucchini in all sizes, gorgeous tomatos, tomatillos, cucumbers, peas, eggplant and beans. Our pear tree is nearing harvest time, I think. The color is looking rosier, and I think pears don’t soften on the tree. So we will bring some of those in soon and watch. For this fresh and free organic food, I am daily grateful. Sparkle has yet to avail herself of this resource, but I have hope for her. Sooner or later, she will pick something up and take a bite. I recently read in a book called French Kids Eat Everything that it takes a minimum of 7-10 introductions to a new food for a child to decide they will like/eat it (great book, I highly recommend it!).

The night of Day 7, we went to the Summer Party for my husband’s company. It is always lots of fun, and they always have good food. Michael asked the organizer if there would be any food there that would be compatible with our new dietary regime, and was informed that there would be. So our dinner consisted of cut up fresh fruits, green salad with a vinaigrette dressing, corn on the cob with no butter, and grilled roast beef. The kids didn’t stay long at the picnic table, because there was a huge inflated water slide that had been set up for all the children of employees. Miraculously, Sparkle and Freckles recovered long enough to enjoy the water play for the residue of the event ;). And an extra tender mercy from God, I met one of his co-workers from New Jersey, who has two kids with Autism/Aspergers. I talked his ear off for at least 20 minutes, and discovered that his family is going through a similar experience to ours.  They are enrolled in a program out of Princeton University, which also includes intense home programming every day. That helped to lift my flagging spirits. Also on this day, or perhaps the next, I don’t remember, a friend from my neighborhood called me out of the blue, who happened to have just gone through the process of taking her family off of gluten. She had some good recipe ideas for me, and checked in again Sunday (Day 11) to see  how it was going. More tender mercies from God.

I did not expect to see much in the way of sickness next day, but such was not to be. Since I’m moving on from the negative here, I’ll just say briefly that their symptoms got worse as the week progressed, and other family members caught the germ as well. On Day 8, I had contracted a full-blown version of it, and decided to take the day off from exercises. At this point we threw the media limitation out the window, because I seriously couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed for a sizeable chunk of the day. So they got some Netflix and Minecraft time. Bright spot for the kids, no?

On Day 9, Daddy came home a little bit earlier. It was Friday by now, and we managed to get in two sets of home programming exercises. Unfortunately, Daddy had also caught the bug, and would require the rest of the weekend to rest and recuperate. However on the bright side, I was able to re-up our Costco membership, and purchased a good amount of ingredients I’d been lacking previously, to avail myself of some excellent recipes. I found two great recipe books online for my Kindle App. Both were written by fabulous moms, who had spent the time experimenting until they found what worked well for their families. My friend Heidi wrote one of them, and I can attest that her GF/DF/SF brownie recipe is really tasty. By Day 10, I was starting to feel better, and knew that the worst was behind me. Sparkle still struggles to find foods she wants to eat. But we are slowly finding things that she will choose to eat. With more tools and supplies at my disposal, we will be able to eat a broader variety of foods. With some great recipes on hand (can’t wait to try the substitute Ranch dressing recipe in the Brain Balance binder!), we won’t have to struggle so much to get our kids eating what we prepare.

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My friend Heidi’s Gluten Free Cookbook

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Another great cook book

I am feeling stronger, and the healthier foods seem to be clearing up some of my brain fog. I’ve lost about five pounds, and it seems to be a trend. Big B looks trimmer to me. Still chubby, but uniformly trimmer than before. The frequent home exercises for strengthening the back and spine and core muscles have helped me a lot. I’ve always had a lower back that is prone to fatigue and aching. But no more, thanks to the home program. I can do sit ups again, which I hadn’t done in I don’t know how long! I can do push-ups better than before, and I am seeing our kids making similar improvements. Big B initially had a hard time even forming himself into the right shapes for the daily exercises, but he now can do most of them without help. Freckles went from not being able to do even one sit-up on his own, to doing 75 sit-ups in three sets last night. Dash has mastered the exercise routine very quickly, and seems happier. Last night when I was  helping Big B change his shorts, he actually stood up and balanced on one leg. This has never happened before. He has always leaned heavily with his body on Daddy or me, when he had to change clothing. So we are seeing small improvements day by day. Thanks, if you read all the way to the end!! I expect the next post will be a bit more positive. I suppose to enjoy the great things, we must also acknowledge and appreciate the not-so-great.  Please share if you feel someone else could benefit from my experience.

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