More tricks, less treats

Skeletons. Witches. The zombie apocalypse. And sugar. They’re all a part of Halloween, and they’re all equally scary.

“Halloween is scary because it is so food-focused,” Becky Basalone says in an article on And she’s right—costumes might be the center of Halloween, but the point of donning a creepy mask is usually to get bucket loads of candy.

Logan, three Halloweens ago


For Basalone, this is frightening because her son lives with multiple, life-threatening food allergies that show up in a large portion of Halloween candy. So she started what became the Teal Pumpkin Project, which encourages people to offer non-food items as tricks instead of only candy as treats (houses that do so mark themselves by painting a Jack-o-lantern teal.)

My family is lucky that we don’t have to worry about Logan dying from his Halloween candy. But we are trying to stick to a strict GAPS Intro diet, and any dusting of sugar (along with milk, grains and a host of other items) is off-limits. Lots of families try GAPS for different reasons – Celiac’s Disease, candida, eczema, depression. We’re following it in an attempt to alleviate Logan’s autism symptoms, mainly aggression and emotional regulation. (The stories and theories behind GAPS, if you don’t know what it is, are far beyond the scope of this post – read about them here.)

But even though we’re not dealing with a life-threatening situation, we do want to avoid infractions to the diet at all costs. First, an infraction causes an emergence of more aggression and less focus, and second, if, at the end of our GAPS marathon, Logan’s leaky gut isn’t healed, I don’t want to wonder if it didn’t work because we cheated too much. And I definitely do not want to start over and try it again from the beginning. While the diet is still a struggle, on Stage 3 at least we’ve gotten to a point where it’s manageable and Logan accepts it. I can only imagine the meltdown we’d see if we told him we were again taking away the few dietary pleasures he has, like mineral water with a few drops of stevia and eggs scrambled in ghee.


Logan, practicing for this Halloween

 The trouble isn’t always the diet. It’s the way our culture is so food-obsessed, and trying to fit the diet into American culture is at times like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. When we have holidays that are completely focused on food—and worse, sugar—children with dietary limitations feel left out and can suffer blows to their confidence and self-esteem, says Basalone. I think she’s right. I’m always worried Logan is feeling left out because he can’t participate in so many food-based activities at daycare and preschool. I do my best to send a substitute, but even 4-year-olds notice when someone in the crowd is different.

There was cooking gingerbread cookies last holiday season that Logan got to help cook but not eat (I sent SnapPea Crips instead.) There was the ice cream and pretzels at the End of Summer Bash at daycare (I sent organic, plain popcorn.) Then there was the field trip to the apple orchard, where all the kids got to pick their owns apples (Jason and I determined ahead of time we would allow an infraction this time and just deal with any setbacks—because yes, even the sugar in fruit is not allowed in the early stages of GAPS.)

For Halloween alone, Americans spend $2 billion on candy, according to The Atlantic. Perhaps the most frightful fact I found, from the California Milk Processors Board, is that the average trick-or-treater’s bucket will hold 250 pieces of candy. That equals about 3 pounds of sugar.

3 pounds of sugar in one night. Sometimes you just want to say, WTF, America.


It wasn’t always this way. Trick-or-treating began in the 1930s and 1940s, when kids would dress in costumes and receive a variety of treats, from coins to toys to fruit, says folklorist Jack Santino. After World War II, when sugar rations were lifted and the economy began to prosper, the sugar industry waged its own war to make sure candy became the only acceptable treat on Oct. 31st.

Urban legends (all untrue!) that bad people poison Halloween treats so parents should only let their kids eat unopened, store-bought candy fueled the trend to hand out fun-sized junk instead of homemade (and healthier) treats. By the 1970s, the candy trend had become an unquestioned tradition.

And that scares me—our culture’s fear of tainted food has ironically lead us to eating worse. Kudos to Basalone for starting the Teal Pumpkin Project and giving us all a reason to get back to more tricks, less treats for Halloween!

Feeling: Spooky


Happy Halloween!


Starting a Sea of Supplements

Drops of blood spurted out as I sliced my finger with the knife. Red drops dotted the bottom of the stainless steel sink and the bright orange carrot I’d been trying to cut in mid-air.

I sighed. How long is this going to take to clean up, I muttered. I tried wrapping my finger in a paper towel to stop the bleeding, but a puddle of red seeped through. I cursed; I was going to have to take the time to run upstairs, clean the cut and find a Band-Aid.

Logan’s favorite breakfast, pumpkin pancakes

It was already 5:35 a.m., and I still had to mix Logan’s pumpkin pancakes, cook them, and get the roast in the crock pot for supper that night. I still had to spoon his CocoYo yogurt into a thermos to bring as a snack. And, of course, I hadn’t packed a lunch for myself yet.

This was Monday morning. The rest of the week went much the same–without the finger slicing but with the addition of Logan and Sadie standing in the kitchen, wanting to play, from about 5:40 on. Both cases mean less time to put together lunch, breakfast, two snacks for Logan and a lunch for myself for the day.

But other than crazy mornings, we’ve been plugging along steadily with GAPS. We’ve gotten to add some delicious new foods, like fermented vegetables and pumpkin pancakes, which we told Logan are special Halloween pancakes. We’ve also started making our own coconut milk.

I barely stomach dry, boiled chicken anymore, but with boiled carrots and fermented red cabbage, it’s suddenly delicious.

The pancakes have lead to a little more wiggle room with breakfasts, though snacks are still pretty boring. We have two options: the CocoYo yogurt (that I’m not entirely sure is legal in this stage) and the Peppermint Gummies I wrote about last time.

Results are also back from Logan’s blood and urine analysis tests, and we met with his MAPS doctor to discuss any abnormalities. Little surprise, there are quite a few.

“His thiamine levels are low, and his B-vitamin levels are low, and he has a high need for glutathione.” The doctor dived right in. “His need for a few B-vitamins is a potential indication of some methylation needs.”

I’ve been reading about nutritional supplements, the methylation process and other biomedical treatments for autism for the past year — basically nonstop, in fact. I have piles of articles and studies I’ve printed out with highlights and summary notes, where I’ve translated the scientific jargon into my own words. I thought I understood it all fairly well. Yet, sitting in that insanely hot exam room, I felt like I was drowning in it all. Magnesium glycinate what? Orthomolecular intestinal huh?

11 supplements (some twice a day) ... is this too much of an overload?

11 supplements (some twice a day) … is this too much of an overload?

When it was all over, the doctor had given us recommendations to begin seven new supplements — on top of the four Logan already takes – and had ordered four additional tests. On my drive home, I couldn’t help but think about all the other articles I’d read, the ones on gullible parents spending a fortune on worthless “cures” for autism when of course everyone knows there isn’t one.

But isn’t there? I then think about Joanna, the woman I met from White Bear Lake, whose two sons are no longer on the spectrum due to dietary changes and supplements. And all the stories, like Quinn’s and Darren’s, from Talking About Curing Autism Now, that offer evidence some children do recover from autism from diet and therapy.

Even as I flip-flop between feeling gullible and progressive, Logan’s new pills now pile on our kitchen counter, and looking at them, I’m filled with either dread or hope, depending on my mood. We’ve separated them into a pill box to keep a week’s worth all organized. But still. Not only are they expensive – yet another recurring cost each month, this one about $200 – there’s just so many of them. I can’t fathom having to swallow that many pills every day for the rest of my life. Right now, Logan’s really excited about them – Jason’s been telling him the’re super pills. Will the novelty wear off once Logan realizes these are for the long haul?

At least the diet has an end date. We’re still lingering in Stage 3, but soon we’ll move into Stage 4. We simply have to. I admit I’m filled with dread more often than hope lately, and that part of me that wants to quit seems to grow bigger every day. This diet is hard. The supplements seem insurmountable. And my chest feels gripped by a tight fist that’s making it harder and harder to breath. Some days, I simply can’t tell if this a better alternative to junk food and meltdowns.

Feeling: Clueless

The one good thing from this week is we discovered Logan LOVES Halloween pancakes!

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 can of purred pumpkin
  • Dash of cinnamon

Blend ingredients (Jason uses a blender; I just use a fork). Grease skillet with coconut fat (we save the fat that solidifies when we make coconut milk to use). Drop small dollops of batter onto a hot skillet and cook — like regular pancakes, little air bubbles pop up in the center when they’re ready to be flipped.

Starting Stage 3

I cheated.

Somehow, Stage 2 felt harder than Stage 1–the monotony began wearing and wearing on me. So when my husband and I went out to dinner for our date night (which we’d planned months ago, way before we’d decided to start GAPS), I decided a special dinner was worth it.

And oh my god, it was. Mushroom bruschetta! And wine! And pumpkin creme brulee! 

Of course, it made going back even harder.  All week, in fact, I then struggled to get myself back to truly sticking to it. I’d cheated, and it was all too easy now to say, oh, well, some peanut butter on celery sticks or a slice of cheese won’t hurt… My problem was I was hungry, and I had slipped too far from my mantra of more stock or broth to get by.

Worse, I was slipping a little with Logan, too. I didn’t push the broth as hard as I should have this past week, knowing it’d only be a battle I just didn’t feel like fighting every night. His daycare class learned how to make applesauce one day this week, so I let him have some, too (Jason and I premade special fermented applesauce–no sugar–that he took to substitute, but still, he’s not supposed to have apples yet.) Then yesterday he ate almost a whole bag of raw carrots.

Excuse me for whining again, but having a child on a special diet is just so damn hard. We had a five-hour trip on Saturday, and carrots were was pretty much the only thing I could have given him to eat on the road. Fast food is of course out, so I tried packing lunches for everyone. But what? We can’t do sandwiches or lunch meat or baked goods. Anything hot that I could have made ahead of time would have been cold by lunchtime. The only solution I could come up with was peanut butter on celery sticks, carrots and the rest of our fermented applesauce.

And–apologies for more whining–it sucks not being able to just give in every once in awhile. We went to a pumpkin patch on Sunday, and though it was a blast, I hadn’t planned for it to be an all-day event. But suddenly, I realized that breakfast had been three hours ago, and by the time we got home, even if we left right that second, we wouldn’t be home until 2:00, and the kids would be crazy starving. The best Jason and I could come up with was ordering hot dogs sans buns from the orchard’s cafe (it was either that, nachos, Doritos, pie or ice cream) and once again letting Logan have an apple. He’s now had more apples these past two weeks then our whole family’s had in the past year.

(Side note: Does it strike anyone else as ironic that on our trip to the pumpkin patch — whose whole reason for being is to grow a hearty vegetable — we struggled to find healthful food?)

At the pumpkin patch

At the pumpkin patch

But what could we do?  Our lives revolve around food. And in a culture where food is used for decoration and chemicals now pile on our plates, the best we can do is admit we faltered and try to pick up the pieces again. For Logan, daycare has been fairly good this week, and in general, it feels as though the diet is helping us move in the right direction of healing Logan’s gut in hopes of alleviating his emotional meltdowns and assisting him with more focus and interest in others. But clearly, doing our best will always be a struggle. 

We at least had a very successful trip to a Halloween party. The mounds of Skittles, Goldfish crackers and chocolate cookies didn’t even faze Logan. He simply asked for his gelatin treats and fizzy water and was perfectly content. (By the way, a huge thank you to Erin for turning us onto gelatin and the recipe below, and double thanks to my mom for making them for us since I’ve been too busy! Made with plain gelatin, strongly brewed peppermint tea and a drop of honey, the kids and I think they’re delicious–and they’ve saved snack time. Of course, my taste is clearly altered–I tried sharing them with two friends at the Halloween party, and I thought one of them was going to retch in the sink.  Sorry, Lesley and Trisha.)

Feeling: Bland

Peppermint Gummies
(modified from Cara at Home Health Happiness)

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk, full fat or light
  • 1/2 cup strongly brewed peppermint tea (decaf)
  • 6 tablespoons gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, stir until all lumps are gone BEFORE heating. Heat over medium-low to medium heat for 5 minutes or until all the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture is completely liquid. Pour hot mixture in to an ungreased glass, ceramic, or metal 8×8″ pan or dish. Allow to cool for 10 minutes on the countertop, so you don’t shock it by sticking it right in the freezer. Once it’s no longer super hot, transfer to a level place in the freezer to set up for half an hour, or until firm.

The Stage 2 Slump

GAPS 2 isn’t much better than GAPS 1.

We spent four days in Stage 1, sticking to broth, boiled meats and boiled vegetables. Everyone was getting more and more sick of the same three meals repeated; so, even though I couldn’t really tell based on behavior or physical evidence that Logan’s body was healing (i.e., stools), we moved into Stage 2.

“A junk food egg!” Logan exclaimed, seeing his eggs cooked in ghee rather than poached in stock.  He was beside himself with glee.

But other than ghee, there really wasn’t much difference between the stages. Fresh herbs could be added, but I’m such a bad cook that those don’t help me much; I don’t know what to do with them. I think our only other Stage 2 addition was fish, instead of just boiled beef and chicken, and Logan ate about five fillets of tilapia in one sitting.

Still, he and I were both losing weight. Logan’s lunch and snack boxes came back from daycare and school completely full–he wasn’t even taking a bite of food. We could coax him into eating at home, but only with enormous patience, threats of no books before bed, and promises of “root beer” (fizzy mineral water with two stevia drops) if he cleaned his plate.  Then we added yogurt. Finally, something kids define as a “snack,” and something he would eat at daycare.

But despite additions in our diet–or maybe because the additions were so few–GAPS suddenly became harder.  I felt tired and sick of food.  The thought of chicken made me reel.  I was more tempted than ever before to cheat; the pride I felt from sticking to a spartan meal plan began to wane.  

Logan seemed to echo these thoughts.  His behavior at daycare changed sharply, with more aggression each day and more screaming outbursts.  Picking him up each afternoon became more and more draining each day–listening to Miss Amy recap his day seemed to just zap what little energy I had left. 

And his eyes were so baggy.  Even though he slept fine — in fact, it could be argued he is sleeping better on GAPS because now he falls asleep right away rather than lying awake for two hours — he acted tired.  I decided to give him another apple, thinking he might just need the extra sugar, but it didn’t seem to affect anything.  And on top of his sluggishness, the little scratch that had been under his nose seemed to be growing into a net of red bumps circling his mouth.

Thank you to everyone who supported our walk for autism! Together, we raised $1,500!

Logan at our fundraising walk for autism. We are so grateful to everyone who supported us! Together, we raised $1,500 for charity!

The GAPS book makes it seem like anyone can try to reintroduce dairy, our MAPS doctor told us, but in her experience, she’s seen very few be successful with it. The rash, the aggression, the lack of energy–Logan was going to have to give up dairy (again).  So much for our one snack.

Like ending Stage 1, we might just have to rush out of Stage 2 simply because we can’t take it anymore.  So, onto Stage 3.  With a sigh.

Feeling: Lethargic

Our best Stage 2 meal:

Zucchini casserole from Cara at Health Home Happy (this website was a lifesaver for us in Stage 1!).

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 4 zucchinis
  • Sea salt
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

Cube the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Slice the zucchini into 1/2 inch rounds. Place chicken and stock into the bottom of a loaf pan, sprinkle with salt, and top with zucchini.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and zucchini is soft.

Surprisingly, even though it involved touching raw chicken (I’m slowly getting over that), this was incredibly easy to make.  And Logan actually ate every bite!  

Getting By … (With a Little Help From Our Friends)

A goofy grin spreads across Logan’s face, and his eyes crinkle up in delight. “Hoo hoo,” he giggles. “I get to eat peanut butter!”

“That’s right, sweetie,” I say, “as long as we keep drinking broth and eating lots of meat and veggies this week, on Saturday, we get to have peanut butter!” 

Stage 2 of GAPS allowed us to add ghee, and a few other things, but for the most part, it’s not much different than Stage 1. And after eight days of basically nothing but boiled chicken, broccoli, cauliflower, squash and carrots, both Logan and I are awaiting this Saturday’s reintroduction of peanut butter as if it were the second coming of the Messiah.

Overall, we are getting through. We couldn’t be doing it without help, though! I owe deep gratitude toward my husband, who is helping us cook our way through this diet (even if he isn’t following it himself) and my mother, who has saved the day more than once by bringing us quarts of broth. We went through about 12 quarts of broth last week, and I can’t imagine how anyone, even stay-at-home moms, could cook this much.

I also don’t know how I’d be getting through without my friend Erin, whose family has gone through GAPS and dramatically improved the health of her daughter. She’s been a wonderful motivational coach!

Most of all, I am indebted to Logan’s teachers, especially Ms. Amy at his daycare. Every day she’s come up with a new strategy for coaxing Logan to drink a little of his broth and eat his veggies and seems as invested in his health as his family is. She’s even declared she’s going on a diet, too, so she can bring special food to lunch and talk to Logan about the types of foods we eat.  

Without Ms. Amy and the rest of our support, I wonder where we’d be, and I’m so thankful for Logan’s little community. That’s why I am so strongly looking forward to the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraiser, which is this weekend in Minnesota. Last year I realized how large of a community there is of people with autism and people who love people with autism, and how amazing it is to be a part of this group.

I know some people have strong feelings about Autism Speaks as an organization, and I considered not walking this year. But ultimately I decided that the Walk for me is about community and feeling like we’re not alone. The other purposes of the Walk are important, too–research for autism is needed, and the awareness the Walk brings is, I think, vital. Despite the fact that 1 in 68 children today are diagnosed with autism, so many people remain unaware. I worry about bullies when Logan gets to elementary school, and I hope by the time that happens, parents will be able to teach their children to be tolerant of differences.

So we will join our community and walk proudly this weekend! If you would like to donate to our cause, you have my heartfelt thanks!

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