How Does One Family go GAPS? – One Pot of Soup at a Time
By Ronit Feinglass Plank (bio below)
Well, it’s happened. I, a former vegan, have animal parts in my refrigerator. Seriously, there are all kinds in there: steaks, turkey breasts, lamb shanks, fish filets, sausage, ribs, I’m even thinking about getting a liver if it will help. I went from slow-cooking hearty soups brimming with legumes to slow-cooking the knuckles and joints of cattle for this new modified GAPS-Paleo-Auto-Immune type diet we are trying for my eczema and allergy-addled son.
Those of us who face chronic eczema know sometimes no cause can be found for the itching that keeps our children suffering and awake at night. After years of trying to get to the bottom of things with food elimination and scores of naturopathic visits, then three days a week light therapy with no measurable result except the faint charred smell of something burning every time my son got out of the UV booth, last fall my husband and I finally agreed to the dermatologist’s recommendation to put our son on immunosuppressive drugs.
These are strong. And not to be used for long periods of time because they can be dangerous. Yet for five months now my son has finally been able to sleep at night, and my husband and I learned for the first time since before our six year old was born what rested feels like.
But the whole time our son has been on the drugs, I’ve known we were only being granted a short respite from the relentlessness of his chronic condition. Like ducking under an awning during a downpour, I knew we’d eventually have to go back out into the storm.
So now, in anticipation of weaning him off these drugs, and after talking to other eczema moms, I have found this new way of eating—heavy on restorative animal fats, broth and collagen–to possibly be my last hope. In lieu of feeding my son gluten, sugar, grains, dairy products, eggs, legumes and soy, I’m to fill him up on nourishing meats and vegetables so his sensitive body can repair.
These days I’ve got all kinds of bones simmering and clinking around in pots; I feel like some kind of witch stirring my cauldron into the wee hours, scraping gelatin off of soup-softened joints and knuckles and harvesting marrow to blend up with fat so I can sneak into foods my son might eat. I’ve literally caught myself giggling while cutting up beef tallow, plotting how to slip chunks of it into his school lunches.
I am an all or nothing, a do it right or don’t do it at all kind of person and I’ve gone into hyper drive over my health challenged son. I really, really wish I could eliminate just a food or two and see results, but it’s not that simple for us. It never has been. For some kids with atopic dermatitis kids, there is not merely a trigger or two. As my (many) doctors have reiterated as they shake their heads over my son, he’s just unlucky. There is no magic bullet, no “one” thing that will put a stop to this, though for years I have been searching for it.
Maybe this new way of eating will make him better. I am pinning my hopes on it. It can’t hurt, right? Almost no processed food and actually cooking for my family, as in not ordering in, not buying take out or pre-made grocery meals. Tough for this New York girl, city of all night diners, home of the 7:00 delivered breakfast sandwich, the single cookie at midnight from the coffee shop on the corner because, really, it’s too hard to get off the couch. I’m talking the full on planning what to buy at the grocery store, then going to that store, buying it and—wait for it—cooking it.
My family eating it, now that’s another story.
- My homemade blueberry Jell-O was not a hit. The kids spit it out after one chew.
- My homemade almond milk: Rejected.
- Home-ground pumpkin seed flour and banana mini muffins: Rejected.
- 24-hour beef broth: Rejected.
- 24-hour chicken broth: Rejected.
- 2-hour chicken soup: Consumed. Progress at last!
When I got the okay from our naturopath to add a little white rice into our son’s diet I immediately cooked it up in the really good 24-hour chicken broth I had boiled. I added extra smears of chicken fat, schmaltz my people call it—my people being east coast Jews. I look at it richly: does it hold my salvation? How much can I disguise in my son’s food before he notices? Do my clothes reek of it? I was at the dentist’s office this week and swore I picked up the fatty mineral scent of boiled animal. Could it be trapped permanently in my nostrils? I smell bones everywhere.
Feeding your family the #GAPS diet. Read this tale of perseverance and success! @eczemacompany #eczema
The good news is a month into this I am still cooking up a storm. I research recipes and menu plan and shop and concoct all kinds of strange muffins from applesauce and seeds. And despite the late nights and greasy dishes, I feel calmer.
Doing all this makes me feel proactive. I can’t change my son’s genetics or take the pain on for him, so I latch on to the things I can do and I go like gangbusters.
I know from all these years of fighting the good fight that the end result may not be everything I ultimately had hoped for. But when you’re dealing with a disease that is relentless; that wears you out and crushes you for the pain it causes your kid, even a little improvement is worth it. Feeling like we are doing something to help make our children’s lives better is so much of what it is about.
Bio: Ronit is a writer and mother of two whose youngest has faced eczema, asthma and allergies since birth. She is well versed in both western and eastern treatment modalities, having tried most in her quest to treat her son. Her essay “I want to heal my son so badly” was featured on Salon.com
Her work has appeared in Brain,Child Magazine, Lilith, Niche, and The Iowa Review and is forthcoming in the anthology Best New Writing 2015. You can follow her and find links to her essays and fiction on Facebook.