It all started when she was a toddler. My once-happy baby started having extreme emotional outbursts, moodiness, and gut problems. She developed deep purple under-eye circles, causing people to ask if she wasn’t sleeping. These alarming signs, along with her dad’s history of food intolerances, made me suspect something in her diet was causing the problems. I took her off dairy and gluten (two of her dad’s biggest triggers) and immediately began to see an improvement, but she still suffered from bouts of unexplained teariness and still had those under-eye circles.
I’d heard from health providers and friends that under-eye circles and moodiness are common signs of hidden allergies. Some may think that emotional outbursts are just normal behavior for preschoolers but I knew it wasn’t normal for my daughter. For one thing, there was never any cause for her meltdowns and normal childhood tantrums usually have a trigger. So I worried it could be an ordinary food that was making her feel unwell.
I first took my daughter to her pediatrician but the doctor said he didn’t believe in using blood tests for food allergies, as they have a high rate of false positives — plus their repeated tries to draw blood in the past were incredibly painful for my daughter. Then I decided to go to a chiropractor I trusted that offered an IgG allergy test. Even though it’s a controversial test [Editor’s note: The Food Allergy Research and Education council categorizes IgG/IgG4 tests as “unproven and not recommended”], I decided that it would still give me a decent idea of what was hurting my daughter.
If I’m not there, I can’t verify that what she eats will be okay.
The test itself was simple; the chiropractor pricked her finger and then wiped small swatches of her blood on a coded card. The results, on the other hand, were not so simple. When I saw the list of things her body was reacting to, I was shocked. Dairy, eggs, and gluten were the three foods that ranked “highest” on the allergy test, and bananas and raspberries are snack-time staples! No wonder she’d been having such a tough time.
The chiropractor explained that a lot of these probably had to do with “leaky gut syndrome,” and to heal that condition and detox from these allergens, she needed to do a candida cleanse. That meant, for two months, she couldn’t have any sugars or processed foods. Instead, she drank a special probiotic supplement and ate lots of whole fruits and vegetables (the ones she wasn’t allergic to). It was really tough. She was an emotional wreck for a solid week, but eventually she settled into it. By the end, it was like night and day — even her teachers at preschool commented how much calmer and happier she behaved.
This was all the proof I needed to be convinced that it wasn’t just ‘a stage’ she was going through — it was a food allergy, no matter what the pediatrician thought. The improvement was enough to convince both me that her specialized diet was incredibly important to her health and emotional well-being. Once she was done with the cleanse, I allowed her to start having the occasional sweet treat, but I decided to stick with her strict anti-allergen diet.
And it’s been totally worth it, no matter what sacrifices we had to make. At home, I’ve gotten really good about making meals that she both enjoys and fit within her diet. For instance, she loves eating quinoa and broccoli, two foods that most children won’t touch.
Eating out is an entirely different story. For school, I always make her lunches and when kids bring in birthday treats she knows she just has to skip them or ask her teacher for something I send for those occasions. And even though her teachers are fully on board, they sometimes forget, like the day they made ‘healthy’ banana smoothies as a class activity. They apologized afterwards, so I at least knew why my daughter had been so emotional, but the damage had been done. At church, people automatically assume kids can have treats, but my daughter has gotten good at saying, “I can’t have food unless my mom gives it to me or says okay.” As for restaurants? We just don’t eat out much, honestly. When we do go, I have to pre-screen the menus and often it’s just a few side dishes, like broccoli and rice, that she can have.
Birthdays and family events are especially tricky. Even though my family is pretty understanding, I don’t expect other people to cook according to her needs. I make sure to ask what I can make in advance, like a gluten- and dairy-free cupcake for dessert, so she won’t feel left out.
But I know I can’t always be around to help her, and as she gets older she’s become very responsible for her own diet. I got her an ID bracelet that lists the foods she can’t have so instead of trying to memorize the list, she can just show it to babysitters, other moms on playdates, or whomever. In fact, she was so proud of it, she showed it to everyone she came into contact with for a month. She’s very good about her diet because she now recognizes that when she doesn’t eat well, she doesn’t feel well.
Still, even with these precautions, I feel like I’m risking her emotional well-being every time I let her eat outside of the home — if I’m not there, I can’t verify that what she eats will be okay. And when I am with her, it’s not much easier. When she asks “Mom, can I eat this?”, I almost always have to tell her no, which is really hard as a mom. I don’t want her to miss out on the joys of childhood, and so many of those joys are food-related. This makes it harder for me to be a “fun mom.” But I still try to find ways where she can still get excited about food and have those fun experiences, like making mug cupcakes at home together.
I know that sometimes people side-eye my diet choices for my daughter, but it’s been 100 percent worth it to have her be emotionally stable and healthy. All of this has made her more aware of nutrition at a very young age, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. She sees how food can heal or harm, something many adults are still trying to figure out. And at the end of the day she’s a happy kid — isn’t that what we, as parents, are all trying to accomplish?