I’ve interviewed many different people for this blog, and witnessed a lot of before-and-after stories. However, the majority of the time, the “after” is usually a physical transformation: weight loss, clear skin, the list goes on.
For all the mounting research on the gut and brain connection, I’ve never witnessed a story like the one I heard from Jaclyn of The Family That Heals Together. When she was first married, she couldn’t even make mac n’ cheese from a box. When her eldest started showing defiant behavior and ADHD, she had the entire family overhaul into a whole foods diet. Without the use of medication, she is healing (and teaching) her four boys the importance of the gut health and mental well being. Keep reading for how she did it.
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Let’s start at the beginning — what sparked your interest in a grain-free lifestyle?
It all started five years ago when my oldest son was very young. He became hyperactive early on, and by age three, a therapist encouraged us to put him on ADHD medication. I had started practicing yoga, working out, and eating better – meaning, no more Lucky Charms for dinner kind of better – which started my interested in holistic health. We [my husband and I] decided that rather than medication, we were going to do things naturally.
We changed our diet to help our son. We started with sprouting, soaking, and grinding our own grains to make bread at home. A family relative went grain-free, and I thought, “Well, that wouldn’t make a difference for my family, because I prepare our grains properly.”
Yet, I was still feeling miserable, and my son’s behavior was still terrible. I woke up feeling dizzy after being up with the baby all night, my body hurt, and I would just pray and ask, “If we’re supposed to grow and have families, why do moms feel this way?” Over the course of one year, I decided to try it.
Did your family go grain-free cold turkey, or did you follow a step-by-step process?
My first step was to commit to thirty days without refined sugar. We made a lot of homemade baked goods, so a month without sugar seemed impossible. Once I realized it was easier-than-anticipated to eliminate, I decided to eliminate grains for 30 days.
A month without sugar made me feel better, but it wasn’t life changing. Within 5 days of eliminating grains, I felt like a new person. The bloating I had with every meal disappeared. It was a huge wake-up call. I dropped five pounds, my son’s behavior improved, and the hyperactivity diminished. We never went back after seeing the results of those 30 days, and have been grain-free for 2.5 years.
Has your son ever received a formal diagnosis, beyond being hyperactive?
I’ve never taken my son for a diagnosis — I have no desire for that. When he started to walk, we knew he had severe ADHD. Over the past three years we have realized he has Operational Defiant Disorder. Essentially, he is unreasonably angry if something doesn’t work out the way he wants it to. We have been able to pinpoint the foods that bring it on: gluten, corn, and sugar.
If my son wants something a certain way, he will make it happen. Before Paleo, if his two-year-old brother has something he wanted, he would hit him in the face and take it. Sometimes, we will go a whole week and I’ll think, “Ok, the Operational Defiant Disorder is gone.” Then something will happen. In the past, he might go into his room and throw a fit, but he doesn’t do that anymore.
Do other moms ask your for tips, ask questions, or think the whole thing is crazy?
All of the above. The hardest thing for me is that, as a mom, people think I’m nuts. They cannot see how I could possibly believe corn could make my son aggressive and angry.
There are certainly people who try it for a short period of time, and it’s either too hard or they can’t make the commitment. When someone asks me a question, sometimes I worry I scare them off. Any opportunity I have to help another family, I want to take it.
There are people in our personal lives who don’t buy into what I have discovered. I used to be offended, but I know I’m doing the best I can for my family. My husband is incredibly supportive, and there are many husbands out there who are not. If that was my case, I may have given up years ago.
You mentioned differences in your own health when giving up grains. Has your family been battling other health issues as well?
Some people follow a Paleo diet, and that’s all they have to do. It’s working for us for the most part, but we still need to address some underlying issues.
I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism not long before I got pregnant with my first son. This spring, both my son and I had a lot of blood work done, and the results showed my diet changes had healed that! The joint pain I’ve had since I was a teenager is also gone. However, we still have issues we are trying to combat. He has mold, and I have all the symptoms of Lyme. I’ve had extreme fatigue since I was a teenager. I can remember being 17 and nodding off while driving, and this was at an age where you’re supposed to be young and energetic! The last thing is migraines — if I’m eating and sleeping well I can avoid them, but with four kids it’s hard to be “on” all the time.
My son and I are on supplements, and I had to take antibiotics for a month. During that month I felt better than I did as a teenager. When I came off them, I just went back to being tired. We just started the 21 Day Sugar Detox, and after we will start the GAPS diet.
I’m just thankful we found Paleo. Every week that goes by without a migraine is a small victory. If I do have Lyme, I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I were eating a Standard American Diet. My practitioner tells us all the time we are so much better off for eating the way we do.
Does that get really frustrating? When you’ve made all these changes and still don’t feel well?
I certainly have my low points, and I do get frustrated. Overall, I’m happy we found this lifestyle. When we have a tough behavior day I think, “Wow this is how every day used to be.” When I eat pizza or sugar on ‘date night’ I don’t feel great, but at least I’m not where I was.
We once did everything conventionally. When we got married, I couldn’t even cook out of a box. I literally messed up mac n’ cheese from a box! If I can do it, anyone can. I bought a few cookbooks to help me get started. Make it Paleo was my first cookbook.
What do you do for school lunches, or when you dine out?
We figured out pretty quickly that if we were going to do this diet perfectly, it wouldn’t be possible if the kids were away all day. A piece of candy can cause behavior drop-offs for my son for two weeks. We home-school our children, and for lunch I do Applegate turkey, avocado and fresh veggies, or grass-fed cheese.
We live in a small town, so only dine out on occasion or visit a health food café. Plus, my son is really reactive to corn, and we can’t control seed oils while we’re out.
This is the question I ask everyone: Do you ever cheat?
It depends what week you catch me on. We eat a primal diet most of the time. If the pressure gets to the point where there is no joy, I’ll say, “Ok let’s grab some gluten-free pizzas for the kids.” It’s so funny because they just think I’m the most fun mom ever if I buy gluten-free pizzas or, heaven forbid, gluten-free cookies.
If I want a date night, I’ll turn to my husband and say, “Lets go eat bad food,” and he responds, “Let’s do it!” I wish I could have him eat perfectly, but that’s not practical. He works a lot of hours, and doesn’t have the health issues I have. He still enjoys his beer, but if he’s not feeling great, I make him kick the gluten and sugar.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting Paleo?
You need to be practical. If you’re having a tough time from a detox or die off, you need to ask yourself, “How is this going?” Are you going to the bathroom? Are you feeling miserable? There are things you can do to help things along. Take enzymes to help transition to eating more fat, or a spoonful of honey to get through a craving. I was eating honey by the spoonful the first time I tried GAPs.
Secondly, just get through that first month. Get through that initial WEEK. Have some willpower, and stick it out. There are so some people who don’t want to try this lifestyle, and it breaks my heart a little.
For fellow Christians, I tell them to pray. Just pray those cravings will be gone. If I’m having a bad day, I take a detox bath, put on some music, have a good cry, and pray I’ll get through it. I think emotion is good.
Do you ever worry about your son? He’s home schooled now, but what happens when he goes to college?
In the past, I feared for his future. I want him to grow up into a man of integrity, who will provide for a family. I want to give him the foundation to grow into that. I just trust we will raise him to be a responsible young man.
He’s old enough to understand behavior, so we talk to him about brain food and how it affects his behavior. I’ve even explained leaky gut to him. In ten years, hopefully he’ll have a deep understanding of what nutrient-dense foods do for his body. Hopefully I’ll have his other brothers brainwashed too (haha). I hope he takes everything we teach him with him when he leaves this home.
You just started a blog – tell us about it!
It’s called, “The Family That Heals Together,” which is reflective of where we are now. We’re still in the midst of healing. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge the past five years. Sometimes removing one thing or adding one supplement is just the right solution. You just won’t know until you try it. I love writing because you never know when someone else might find it, and then find it works for them.
We have a section titled the Autism Sessions, and it is seriously inspirational to hear the stories of parents who have healed their families through food. My favorite recipe is my Blondie recipe, which is walnut based since I can’t have almond flour.
Is there anything else you want to leave people with?
Just that I’m not anyone special. I’m not some super-committed person, I’m not a professionally trained chef, but I can make things work. Sometimes I say to my husband, “If I could just get this person to try Paleo for 30 days, I know they would be hooked.” My heart and goal is to see families changed through us. That’s why I started my website. My husband and I grew up on SAD, and that’s how we started our family. I’m so happy we came across this information, and I want to pay it forward and help families change for the better.
Thank you so much for sharing your story Jaclyn!
Now, for kid-friendly recipe, enjoy pizza night with your family with this AIP “Pizzette” recipe from The Family That Heals Together!