Friday, January 20, 2012

Months later, the coconut trial goes down in flames

So, here's what happened.

Here's what we know. Ellie can't digest fats well. She's on two supplement - digestive enzymes and bile salts - that help her body digest fats and even with that she cannot tolerate some foods high in saturated fat, like beef, ghee and coconut. No doctor has ever been able to tell us why this is so, but it is what it is and we work with it.

Knowing all that, and feeling really confident that Ellie had come a long way, we decided to trial coconut in November. I wrote that post, saying that coconut had gone amazing, on Nov. 22. Two days later my grandma had a stroke and two days after that we relocated up to my aunt's house to spend a week with my grandma in Hospice. Our live went into major upheaval mode and the next month included a funeral, family holiday parties, Christmas and a week-long vacation. And over the course of that time Ellie's health fell apart. Suddenly she wasn't sleeping through the night anymore. She was waking up screaming, having terrible reflux, crying and unable to tell me what was wrong, except that she had a tummy ache.

For many months we had been giving Ellie an apple cider vinegar drink to help increase her stomach acidity and aide her digestion. The drink was also a great help when she had tummy aches and she knows to ask for one when her tummy hurts. When we introduced coconut she hadn't had an AC in months because she was doing so well, and suddenly she was asking for them all the time. I couldn't figure out what was going on.

I didn't question the coconut because I had given it a week when I was very careful about making sure that was the only new food, and everything had been great.

But here's where I made my mistake (Isn't hindsight the best?). I was STILL coming from an allergy mindset, even though we know that Ellie is not allergic to these foods she has trouble with, which is what we thought for so long. When you're concerned about introducing a food your kid might have an allergic reaction to, you introduce it carefully, making sure nothing else is new, and watch for symptoms to arise. But for Ellie it has always been about whether her digestive system can handle the food. She was able to digest small amounts of homemade coconut milk just fine. But when my grandma got sick and I started taking shortcuts, like using canned coconut milk which is much fattier than homemade, Ellie went downhill. It was such a subtle shift I couldn't even see it happening in front of my own eyes.

After Christmas and our vacation Ellie was doing so poorly that I felt like she was reacting to everything. I knew this was not possible. She had been doing so well on the diet just months before. What had changed... I wondered. What had we added in the past couple of months? Really the only new foods we added since November were coconut and quinoa flakes, so I pulled both of them. Ellie didn't get better. This was very confusing and I started to panic. Ellie was eating a diet I was 100% sure was OK for her and she was still waking up with these awful tummy aches and by now refusing to go to bed at night because she know she'd get reflux and hurt when she laid down. I sent many a panicked email to our nutritionist and nobody really knew what to do. And then  - one day - excatly a week after I took Ellie off coconut - she was better.

I could tell right away because instead of fussing and clinging while I made her morning smoothie she was exuberantly running around the house. What is this? Could she be better? That day she had a fabulous nap and went to bed peacefully. She slept. through. the. night. Amen.

Since then we've reintroduced the quinoa flakes and they've been fine. It was the coconut. Dammit. I don't know why, but it took a week for her body to recover from it.

It's really hard taking a food away from a 2.5-year-old. One of the confusing things is that sometimes kids (and adults!) get really attached to foods that make them feel like crap. I'm not sure what that is, but imagine taking a bowl of macaroni and cheese away from most young kids and you can get a feeling for how powerfully we can love foods that aren't so great for us. And so it was with coconut. Ellie had fallen in love with her coconut treats, especially that pumpkin cheesecake we tried back in November. Ellie's been off coconut for weeks now and she still asks for that pumpkin cheesecake on a regular basis.

This is a hard age to be taking a food away and I wish it didn't have to happen. Ellie is just really starting to form an understanding that she doesn't eat like everybody else and I don't like that she sees she can't have something she used to have. Sometimes I apologize to her, and others I just tell her we're not eating that right now, but we will again soon. She has a funny mixed up thing she likes to say about foods she doesn't eat: "When I used to be a BIG BIG girl, I used to eat pumpkin cheesecake, but I don't eat it right now."

It's also challenging for me because now that Ellie is weaned I can eat some foods she can't. I try to eat those things while she's down for a nap or asleep for the night, but of course there are times where I eat something she can't have in front of her and that's hard for me to do. We talk a lot lately about how different foods make different people healthy.

Now that this whole episode is over, I vacillate between wanting to give coconut another go in the future, keeping it to small amounts of homemade coconut milk, and wanting to just give it up for another six months or more and focus on moving in another direction. That's one of the hardest things about parenting - nobody has the answers but you.


  1. Mama, I am so with you right now. The backslides make me kick myself and hang my head in guilt. I had it! She was getting better and then...old habits kick in. I'm currently looking into liver support and just came across the research and trials of large amounts of vitamin C for healing. I'm crossing my fingers that it's a great help and will help with liver support. and cut out all foods that don't promote that while keeping on track with the new things I've learned since starting GAPS. We need to start up a 'reset' session, so everyone who is straying and no longer healing can get back to the basics of what works best for each of us. Keep your chin up. We're so much further than we were a year ago. :)

    1. Thanks for the reminder - we ARE so much further than we were a year ago!