By Dawn Dodge (bio below)
There I was for the tenth time that day, watching helplessly while my unclothed two-year old screamed and wept inconsolably on the bed. This time we couldn’t find the right pants. Actually, the right pants didn’t even exist – in our universe anyway. One pair would be painstakingly chosen and put on, only for her face to crumble in dismay, take them off crying, and choose another pair: and the whole process would start over again, never resolving. None of the pants were right.
It was during a moment like this that I told myself I was finally going to make the call. No more putting it off, we needed to find a doctor that could help. Something was not right here, and it wasn’t just the pants. Deep down, I somehow just knew that this wasn’t a simple case of “terrible twos.” This was something more, and I needed to know what it was.
We weren’t just dealing with the meltdowns every 15 minutes – those had only been happening for the last six months. The last year had been a frustrating struggle with our daughter’s handful of random health problems. In addition to extreme tantrums, my daughter, who I’ll refer to as “Critter,” would go for days eating nothing but a bite of pancake or banana and hadn’t gained any weight in an entire year. She had a chronic belly button infection that refused to heal in spite of antibiotics. Her teeth were severely decaying, even as they were still growing in – and some were so bad they had completely crumbled away. Getting her to sleep sometimes seemed impossible and now, now a mysterious, itchy red rash would come and go on various places on her body.
With each new symptom we’d visit our pediatrician or dentist, and after each visit we’d leave feeling confused and …deflated. His answer to all of our concerns was suspiciously the same:
“Picky eater? Some kids are like that. She’ll grow out of it.”
“Oozing belly button? Just a routine infection that sometimes happens and eventually the right antibiotic will clear it up.”
“Completely decayed teeth? It just happens sometimes. At least they are baby teeth!”
“Itchy red rash? Some kids get that, put Aquaphor on it.”
“Unmanageable tantrums? Just ignore them, it’s normal.”
I seriously thought that if I had to hear “it just happens” one more time I was going to barf, and then make a scene, and I am so not the type to make a scene. In my mind there was no way that my daughter had somehow been afflicted with – not one or two – but several chronic health issues for absolutely no reason.
I’d had enough, I wanted to get to the root of the problems and it was clear that we’d have to find a new doctor who genuinely cared and was willing to take the time to help us.
After a little hunting, I decided to go with a local naturopathic doctor that seemed to practice a reasonable balance of western and alternative medicine. I’m pretty middle of the road with this stuff, I have what I consider a healthy skepticism of some of the “out there” remedies, but also take straightforward western medicine with a few grains of salt, if you know what I mean.
Going Gluten Free
Well, our appointment with the new doctor was a dream: he spent an hour letting me talk about all of Critter’s symptoms, and included her in the conversation. For once, this doctor believed that her health issues were real, looked me in the eye with confidence, and told me what I could do that might help. The treatment he suggested? Eat gluten free for two weeks. He was almost certain we’d see improvement.
So, with my healthy dose of skepticism, we tried it. A week later, I was sold. We went from one tantrum after another to 2 or 3 a day, the belly button infection disappeared overnight, and our daughter’s language skills skyrocketed. Over the course of the next month, we saw an impressive increase in her appetite and joyful willingness to try new foods, resulting in a weight gain of 5 pounds in a few short months after going gluten free. At times it felt like a miracle cure and I was overjoyed that we had finally taken a step down the right path.
Going gluten free was easy. There were tons of gluten free options in even conventional grocery stores, and we loved the food. It was fun to try out the gluten free menus at restaurants and experiment with gluten free baking. I started reading a lot of articles and recipes online to expand our diet and at a certain point this pushed me to take the next step in our diet.
Removing ALL Grains
Critter was still getting the itchy red rash, which we now know was eczema, seemingly at random. It was so weird, her skin would be clear for one week, then out of nowhere the flaming eczema rash would appear in the creases of her elbows and on her lower back. At first I thought I was somehow giving her gluten by accident – anyone who has ever gone gluten free knows how many ways it can be hidden or accidentally consumed! But I was being scrupulous. I even bought a new set of pans that were never used with gluten containing products to avoid contamination.
And the dental problems were also getting more severe. We worried that Critter would end up with toothless gums before long. Educating myself about gluten sensitivity and celiac disease had brought my attention to Ramiel Nagel’s Cure Tooth Decay book, and in desperation over my daughter’s teeth I decided to read it. Among other alterations, the author suggests eliminating grains from one’s diet as a means to prevent and even heal cavities. I had taken the gluten free plunge before in spite of my doubts, so I decided to test the waters again and put my daughter on a grain free diet.
I’ll be honest and tell you that going grain free was worlds more difficult than going gluten free. All the gluten free options in the store? Most contain rice, oats or corn. So, it has been slow going, but we have really re-learned how to shop, cook, eat, and snack in our house. A year later, the results were in…going grain free stopped Critter’s teeth from decaying and her remaining large cavity had remineralized (to her dentist’s surprise!). The new teeth that have come in since eliminating grain are smooth, white, and flawless in comparison to the pitted yellow teeth that grew in before (she didn’t get her 2nd year molars until almost age 4).
In our case, the eczema was not linked to grains or gluten however. Through a continuing process of trial and error, which I assure you, we have quite a bit of experience in by now, we’ve figured out that our daughter’s eczema flares after she eats too many nuts or citrus fruits.
Last summer we welcomed our son into our family and in so many ways it felt good to not be in the dark this time around. I immediately was so in tune to how he was reacting through breastmilk to the foods I had been eating. It has enabled us to keep him happy and healthy and we plan to continue him on a grain free diet along with his sister. With our knowledge we hope and expect to prevent him from struggling with many of the same ailments.
I hate to think of all the people out there getting the casual, lazy answer of “sometimes this just happens” from a health practitioner. I urge anyone who feels like they are hearing this a little too often, to find a new doctor: there are good ones out there who have answers! For us the answer was so uncomplicated: food. It was food.
Bio: Dawn lives in the rocky mountain west with her partner and two delightful food sensitive children. Through the experiences of her family she has gained a wealth of knowledge about food allergies and elimination diets for adults and children. She is the author of Grain Free Child, a blog dedicated to grain free eating for children. Visit for advice and recipes.