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Is it something he ate? How to do an elimination diet with a child

If your child is suffering from behavioral outburst, chronic infections, reflux, chronic colds, or skin issues such as eczema, you likely need to examine his or her diet. The first person I think of in any of these situations is Kelly Dorfman, author of Cure Your Child with Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments, and an amazing food detective.

She says that foods can become problems in two ways: “either something is missing from the diet or something in the diet is aggravating the body.”

First, real food

The first step is to get your child eating real food, says Dorfman. This means whole foods, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and maybe some additional supplemental sources for essential fatty acids (which really are essential–to developing brains, to preventing depression, to absorbing vitamins–My favourite source is from cod liver oil) and vitamins.

Beware of sure-fire food traps, like crackers: “They are like toddler crack,” she warns. Crackers, cookies, cheesy fish are empty calories. They fill kids up but without giving them anything they need to thrive, and if a child knows they are an option his little will to get them probably surpasses your will to withstand his tantrum.

“Picky eating,” she says, is not normal, and it is something parents can influence. Picky eating is also one sign that things aren’t right in the child’s diet. Zinc deficiency is one of the first things to think about in very picky eaters. The other is whether pick eating has become a control issue. (She reminds parents that it is easier and better to begin to tackle this while kids are young, rather than wait until they are teens!)

Next, elimination

The second step to becoming a food detective is elimination.

The first things to try eliminating from a diet include

  • any food that a parent suspects is problematic,
  • obvious junk foods,
  • food additives such as nitrates, food coloring, MSG, non-nutritive sugars (like NutraSweet, etc.)
  • and/or the major allergens such as dairy, sugar, gluten, wheat, soy, and corn. (and sometimes eggs) Eliminate the possible irritant for four to six weeks (but don’t replace with any of the other possible irritating foods), coaches Dorfman. Keep a log. If the child get’s better, but not totally, try eliminating the next thing on the list as well and/or consider whether he may be missing an important food from his diet.

I have done a number of food tests with my children, ranging from a blood test for gluten sensitivity (which came back as negative, which often it does, because gluten sensitivities are hard to test), bio-meridian testing, VEGA-test, and applied kinesiology.  I have liked some better than others, but none of these are perfect in my experience. Dr. Andrew Weil says the same thing. What he recommends as the  gold standard of food sensitivity testing is an elimination diet followed by a challenge. He describes it as such: “This can be an avoidance diet of patient-defined triggers, a “hypoallergenic” diet for four to six weeks, or a rotation diet, in which new foods are introduced sequentially. Once symptoms have been associated with a food or food group, the intolerance can be confirmed with a “challenge” in which the patient is given the suspect food and then watched to see if symptoms develop.”

Here’s a great article I found from another mom explaining what she went through with her baby and elimination diets. Her story is very similar to a number of Green Mama clients and friends and thus I am sharing it.


Third, understand the difference between food allergy and sensitivity

Even doctors often are really confused about food allergies versus sensitivities. And few get any help or training on this in medical school, despite the growing prevalence of both. Indeed, Kelly Dorfman says that the average client she sees has been to four specialists before they come to her and often the “fix” is something very simple (like eliminating a food item or adding in something like zinc).

Read this blog post to help understand food allergies versus sensitivities.


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