Why write this blog?
This blog is taking me on a journey to share my knowledge of allergen free cooking, and living a lifestyle that caters to my allergic child. The little voice inside my head is saying, there are so many other people out there doing this, with their own books who are already established with a following and everything else. The little voice in my head says don’t do it, it’s a waste of time. Then, a much louder and stronger voice says, “Pshaw! That’s like not starting a rock band because there are too many other musicians out there. Why would you not do it?”
That is the difference.
Sure, there are a lot of other people out there who are writing their own blogs, books, and doling out advice about living allergy free. But, they’re not me, and they’re not my son. Besides, it’s a good thing that there are a bunch of people out there sharing their stories and their recipes.
Knowledge is power, and it’s so great to be able to find people you can relate to, whatever your situation is, to help you get through a world where being allergic to something is sometimes considered a nuisance to the “normal” people. My journey began not because I was allergic to something, but because my son is, and I’ve spent the last ten years learning how to give my son the most “normal” childhood I can.
Since birth my son has always had issues with food. Something in me told me to wait until he was about 4 months before trying any solid food, and then it was only a select few foods. He kept suffering from gas, bloating, indigestion, hunger and lack of sleep. The projectile vomit that came out of his little body would’ve made the girl from the Exorcist look like a novice. Sometimes he went through ten outfits in a day, he wasn’t sleeping, and neither was I. I was so concerned because he was still breastfeeding at six months, and I really wanted to continue longer, but I knew that something was not right. I read tons of articles, listened to advice from so many people – take this out of your diet, take that out of your diet, feed him at this time, give him this medicine, etc. By the time six months rolled around I was barely eating anything and nothing had changed.
Then his doctor said he must be allergic to my milk.
Allergic to my milk! How could that be?
That day was so sad for me. I cried and cried. I couldn’t understand how I could not feed my son since I ate mostly organic, vegetarian, and really healthy foods.
Isn’t my breast milk supposed to be the best for my baby?
After that diagnosis, I then put him on a hypoallergenic formula, but it was still a crap shoot as to whether or not he would keep it down. I slowly introduced foods to him, sometimes they stayed down, and sometimes they didn’t.
He also had very bad eczema on top of the food problems, and people would stare at him because he was so red and splotchy. I even heard another child say out loud, “What’s wrong with that baby? Is it an alien?” As a single mom I was very protective of him, and would just stare back at them, run away or cover him up. Who were they to judge my child? He was my baby! It didn’t matter what he looked like, he was still a little miracle!
Due to my son’s health issues, I was also suffering from lack of sleep and guilt. I was always thinking that I was doing something wrong, that I had eaten the wrong thing when I was pregnant, that I should have made my ex get rid of the cat that I was allergic to, that my pollution sensitivity to living in Los Angeles aggravated my immune system and caused my baby’s to mutate somehow in its development. I was always thinking it was my fault, and that guilt stuck with me for a long time before I let it go.
I had to wait until my son was one year old before being able to test him for food allergies. When the results came back, they were devastating.
Wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, legumes — very highly allergic. So high, they were off the chart. No wonder my poor little guy was always getting sick, was severely underweight, and constantly hungry!
At least I knew what he was allergic to now and could accommodate him. I started giving him foods that he was allegedly not allergic to with the hopes that he could eat more and gain weight.
I scheduled an appointment with his allergist because I was concerned that my son was still not able to keep his food down and continued to be hungry and lose weight. As I was explaining this to his allergist, I gave him some Cheerios to pacify his hunger. He threw up on her shoes. She then said, “He needs to see a GI doctor. I think he has Eosinophilic Esophagitis.” EO what?
We went and saw a GI doctor, and after an endoscopy, it was confirmed. My son has this condition, Eosinophilic Esophagitis, which causes inflammation in his esophagus, making it difficult for him to swallow food. Basically, his body sees food as an invader and floods his throat with white blood cells, called eosinophils. No wonder this poor child could not eat. His throat was so swollen barely anything got through. He was immediately put on a liquid diet.
For three years my son was on the special liquid only diet consisting of this nasty smelling medical food milk called EO 28 and ice chips.
While every other child his age was learning how to speak and use their tongue with food, my poor baby was still sucking on milk, and chewing his toys. When he was in daycare, while all of the other children were presented with food, he was given his milk box or sippie cup. Slowly he was isolated, and people feared to touch him since he broke out in hives if there was even a hint of an allergen present. I began to fear that my child would have to live in a bubble for the rest of his life and would never have the opportunity to have a normal diet.
I was given hope when we started food trials, first rice and apples. If there was no swelling, then he could stay eating that food.
Endoscopy. Failed (too many eosinophils and swollen esophagus).
We waited six months and he stayed on the EO 28 only. Then I added sweet potatoes and chicken to his diet for three months.
More liquid only diet for another nine months.
The last straw came when his GI doctor told me that after he failed his fourth endoscopy that he would NEVER be able to get off of the special milk and eat regular food. I was stunned. I couldn’t and wouldn’t believe that my precious son would NEVER be able to eat food. That was just unacceptable!
As I looked into my son’s eyes, I knew that there had to be some way for him to eat someday. I just would not accept that he would never eat any food that I prepared for him, we would never share in the simple pleasure of eating together, that we would never bake cookies together or go out for pizza. Every day my son was more and more isolated as the other children were getting treats, having social outings with food, and speaking normally. This affliction was hindering his social development. I had to do something!!
As luck would have it, I met a woman at a craft event who helped change the outcome of this sorrowful tale. She saw my son drinking the EO 28 and exclaimed that her two boys had the same condition. I told her about our experiences with his GI doctor, and it was uncanny that she had the same issues with that particular doctor. She was told her boys would never eat, either. She found a new GI doctor in a nearby city that she praised was helping her sons. I was so hopeful that this other doctor could help my son, so she gave me his information. I called him and set up an appointment with him. I was elated that I had found someone I could relate to, who understood what I was going through, and put all of my hope in this new doctor.
At that first appointment with him, I knew that things would be different. This doctor was adamant about getting his patients to eat normally. One of the first things he said was,“Give regular food to him. If he throws it up, don’t give it to him again.” His goal was to see my son eating normally and overcoming his EE, no matter how long it took. This was the approach that we so desperately needed, and it gave me strength and hope that I could sit at the table one day and eat a meal I prepared for the two of us.
Slowly I started introducing foods into my son’s diet until he was able to eat a variety of foods without any issues.
I thought that the battle was only half over, though.
For years I only brought homemade foods for him when I went out to eat. I was terrified of him accidentally getting a cross-contaminated food. There had to be some place out there that would cater to a child with food allergies, there are just too many children out there with them.
And there was.
I went to the Outback Steakhouse website and they claimed that they would completely cater to anyone with food allergies and cook the food separately. OMG.
Epi-Pen in hand, I made the decision. I would finally eat out with my son at a restaurant.
When we went to the restaurant, and I explained my son’s situation to our waiter and the manager. They said that they would accommodate him. All of his food was prepared separately and handled with the utmost care to prevent any cross-contamination, including cooking his steak on a piece of foil.
When the food was brought out I was so nervous I was shaking. My son took his first bite, then stated, “Mmmm, this is so good!” and continued to eat without any problems at all. As tears streamed down my face, the waiter and manager came over and both wanted to make sure everything was ok. What they gave me was priceless.
My son was seven and this was our first meal together out that I didn’t cook.
Today my son is progressing with overcoming his EE, but he is still highly allergic to wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and soy. This road we’re on is still winding around, but thankfully there are a lot of others out there like him, and definitely a lot more products on the shelves. Through the years, I’ve developed a knack for cooking allergy free being the foodie that I am. I also am an advocate for people with multiple food allergies.
I have been blessed with this beautiful child, who has shown me that what he CAN eat is more important than what he can’t eat. Just because he can’t eat what everyone else is eating, doesn’t mean that he can’t eat something similar, but just as good, and even healthier.
In other words, being different is sometimes a much better thing.
I hope that the recipes and advice that you find in this blog inspire you to be creative in the kitchen, to think outside our constructive norms of eating, and give you strength on your own journey.
Food allergies should not restrict you from eating a colorful palette of gastronomic symphonies.