When Should You Consider A Therapeutic Diet
When should you consider a therapeutic diet for your child? In my last post we discussed how sensitive kids are to triggers of inflammation and how chronic inflammation can present itself. If your child has any of the conditions described in that post or if you are at all suspicious that inflammation is looming its ugly head, then it's time to consider a therapeutic diet.
I’ve used the following diets with good success in kids with Autism, ADHD, Developmental Delay, Behavioral Challenges, Chronic Digestive Complaints, Allergies, Skin Rashes, and Ear Infections. In addition, there are some general signs of food sensitivities, such as chronic congestion, black circles under the eyes, or getting sick often. The goal is to flood the body with nutrients while removing foods that could be causing irritation and inflammation. This allows the inflammation to subside and healing to occur, thus producing an improvement in symptoms.
Let's take a look at the actual steps for moving through a therapeutic diet.
Step 1: Apply an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The first step, if it’s not already in place, is to bring in more of the good foods. The foods which will nourish and heal the body while lowering inflammation and irritation; an anti-inflammatory diet. Use some of the tricks outlined here to help your child be more accepting of these new foods.
Step 2: Remove Possible Suspects
The next step is to remove potential offenders. This can be tricky, of course, because basically any food could be causing a problem. Usually foods eaten on a daily basis are the most likely or unfortunately the foods your child craves the most. And of course processed foods are generally problematic. Avoiding added sugar, artificial colors, and preservatives is a good place to start. Here are some of the eliminations I’ve had the most success with.
- Gluten, Casein, Soy Free Diet
- Gluten, Casein, Soy, Corn, Egg, Peanut Free Diet
- Paleo Diet - free of all grains, legumes (including soy & peanuts), and dairy
- Glutamate Free Diet - I’ve had some success with this diet for children with autism (usually in addition to the Paleo Diet)
- Low Phenol Diet - I sometimes have to bring this one in for kids with ADHD
The natural question is how do you know which one to try? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Only after a thorough interview with the family can I determine where I think we should start. Any of them would be worth exploring though. Start with the one that either feels the most doable or trust your gut and go with the one your intuition is telling you to do.
Step 3: Test & Track
The elimination phase of the diet goes for 2-4 weeks and then you gradually bring back one food at a time. I follow a similar re-introduction as what I outlined here. The most important thing is to track any changes or reactions. If you’re not actively trying to measure your results it gets difficult to tell which foods are problematic and which are not.
I suggest scaling each of your child’s symptoms between 0 to 5 before you start the diet. Then during the elimination phase re-scale each symptom at the end of each week to see if anything is starting to shift. Sometimes it does but sometimes it doesn’t until you start bringing foods back in.
During the testing phase re-scale each symptom at the end of each day. Keep in mind that the elimination is only providing you with a window as to what foods are problematic. If a food is making the symptom(s) worse it will likely have to be taken out of the diet for 6 or more months before you see a full resolution and healing of the symptoms.
The most reassuring piece to all of this is that kids change quickly. And it doesn’t mean that your child will always be sensitive to that food, unless of course it’s a true allergy. I always suggest re-testing any problem foods every 6-12 months to see if it still causes symptoms or not.
Step 4: Added Nutritional Support
During the healing phase supplements can prove quite helpful. In general, digestive supporting (ie. probiotics, enzymes) and anti-inflammatory supplements (ie. fish oil) are the ones that I turn to first. In Autism and ADHD it can also be helpful to bring in certain vitamins and minerals. Completing labwork for a general nutrition panel can be helpful to make sure there aren’t specific deficiencies that should be supplemented, such as iron, vitamin D, zinc, etc.
Take Home Message
The bottom line is that an Anti-Inflammatory Diet really is an optimal diet for the whole family. Whether you’re dealing with hard-to-treat health challenges or simply want to prevent those conditions, it really is the best approach.
This means that the whole family can follow the same diet. This is especially important for kids who have to take out certain foods because of sensitivities. Ideally the whole family would follow the same diet so your child doesn’t feel separate or different. You will likely see better compliance if you follow this recommendation.
If your child is dealing with any of the above conditions or even if you suspect that there might be some food sensitivities, it’s worth working through a therapeutic diet. If this is what you’ve been looking for, then please reach out to me. I would be happy to speak with you further and determine if it would be beneficial for us to work together.