In the third part of this four-part series, “Change Your Diet, Change Your Child – Autism Spectrum Disorder”, I will discuss what you may expect with the diet and the challenges you may face as you begin the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free diet. It’s only natural that people are hoping for quick changes and rapid results. However, it’s important to remember that your child is a unique individual and will process these dietary changes in their own way. I’ve spoken with enough followers of the GFCF Diet to know that we each have our own experience with this diet and the changes it can bring. The reality is that in order for this diet to be the most successful, you have to be willing to make the commitment to follow it 100%. I’ve tried this diet before, several years ago, and didn’t believe it really helped the first time because I did it only half-heartedly. Now that I’m pursuing the changes with conviction and passion, I’ve definitely reaped the benefits!
Prior to starting a GFCF Diet, you may wish to consider doing allergy testing; for more information on the ELISA test, read this. It is much easier and more accurate to do the testing before starting your GFCF journey. Be aware that many traditional pediatricians will disparage the effectiveness of this diet and may even try to discourage you from trying it. However, families have been using this diet for over 30 years and the majority of them have found it very helpful. It is critical to find a doctor that is supportive of the GFCF Diet and who knows how to help you get the appropriate testing. A good resource for finding such a doctor is this site.
The usual course for beginning the GFCF Diet is to first eliminate dairy. Eliminating dairy products is much easier than eliminating gluten because gluten is so prevalent in our food sources. Avoid replacing your dairy products with soy products because many children also have problems with soy allergies. Instead, look for products made with coconut (i.e., the So Delicious brand), almond milk (assuming your child is not allergic to nuts), or even hemp milk. If you are worried that your child won’t get enough calcium, consider giving him/her calcium supplements.
Second, work to eliminate all gluten from their diet. This is harder and you’ll probably have to carry around a list of alternate ingredient names with you until you get the hang of it. (I think it took me almost a month before I could feel really confident reading labels.) Try to avoid just simply swapping store-bought regular bread for the store-bought gluten-free bread because it’s expensive and you’ll see that even the “healthier” versions of things are still highly processed. Find some good recipes and look on the Internet for additional ideas so that you can learn to cook and bake much of your food. Yes, it does take more work, but I promise that you will feel better!
Each child’s results from eating a GFCF Diet will be different. Personally, my son started sleeping a lot better after we eliminated dairy. He was very addicted to cheese and we experienced some withdrawal symptoms when we took that away. Now, seven months into this journey, he occasionally says, “I wish I could have cheese,” but it’s not something he is demanding to eat at this point. Your child may also experience some weight loss (or even weight gain, if they are slim). Your child’s bowels will become more regulated, although you may need the biomedical doctor’s help to achieve this result. For more possible outcomes to expect from the diet, read this.
My personal experience is that the biggest problem people face in pursuing this dietary change is that they aren’t willing to commit to it 100%. I strongly recommend that you put the whole family on this diet because it will make food preparation so much easier and helps your child feel less “weird” about the whole thing. And, you may find (like I did) that you can really benefit from cutting gluten out of your diet; I no longer have migraines anymore because I avoid gluten. It is difficult to pursue this diet in our culture of “fast food”, but it can be done. If you are wondering how to handle social situations, please read this. Most of the time, we worry that other people will think we are strange for eating this way. However, if your child was an insulin-dependent diabetic, you’d be willing to make serious dietary changes, wouldn’t you? It can help to think of your child’s GFCF diet in a similar way – if they eat gluten or dairy, they have severe physical reactions, so they must avoid it just like a diabetic avoids sugars.
In the last part of this series, I’ll discuss where you can find support and ideas to follow this diet as well as recommend some books for further reading about the GFCF Diet. In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2 you can catch up.
Disclaimer – I am not a health professional, so please do not consider this post to be medical advice. I encourage you to seek out the counsel of your medical professional regarding this diet.
Rachel is the mother of a son with Autism. She and her family began eating a gluten-free, casein-free diet in November 2011. Not long after, she discovered that she too was intolerant of gluten and has happily enjoyed discovering new ways to find delicious ways to enjoy eating a gfcf diet. Please visit her blog to learn more.