This is a story about autoimmune issues in children, elimination diets, troubleshooting and beyond.
Once upon a time, I was terrified of hand, foot, mouth. And then it came to my house. And it wasn’t so bad.
Really, it wasn’t.
But then it never left.
The largest patches of sores were on the inside of V’s elbows and they just never went away.
We tried creams, we tried immune support, we tried waiting it out. Two months later, my mom finally mentioned her arms looked kind of like she had developed eczema. And then we looked at the other patches in various spots of her body and they all looked like eczema.
We talked to her chiropractor and she agreed, looks like eczema.
So I dove into research. All the research. So many blogs and Pinterest rabbit holes about autoimmune issues in children. Hours and hours and hours until finally I decided to pull out the big guns.
We were going AIP.
If you aren’t familiar with the Autoimmune Protocol diet, it’s a super strict elimination diet with eventual reintroductions that people suffering from a wide range of autoimmune diseases seem to benefit from. It basically eliminates all foods that are known to be irritating or inflammatory and adds in tons of veggies and healing foods like gelatin and bone broth in an effort to give your body time to heal. Then you slowly try reintroducing foods to figure out your particular triggers.
Realistically, it’s not a quick or temporary fix. It’s a lifestyle change. But my daughter had developed an autoimmune disease on my watch and I would do anything to heal her, and all the experts seemed to point to this as being the best diet for autoimmune issues in children.
So we slowly cut out all dairy and gluten and gluten-free grains. We cut out all nuts and seeds, nightshades, peas and beans and other legumes. I got up extra early on a Saturday to beat the crowds at the local market so I could stock up on local in-season veggies and paired them with our grass fed meat from ButcherBox.
I spent hours researching recipes for things my 3.5 year old was begging for. Things like muffins and cookies and bread.
I started tracking our meals on Facebook. I ordered tons of new baking supplies from Amazon and blew our grocery budget for the month, all within the first week.
It was a rough time. Looking back now, I should have taken the time to come up with a plan instead of just trying to do everything.
What did I do right?
The one thing I think I did right was not trying to convert to full AIP cold turkey. I’m sure that’s a good choice for some people, especially those suffering from the more disabling autoimmune conditions. But because I didn’t know what sort of detoxing to expect and because she’s 3.5, I did not want to do it all at once. I started doing the “use it up and don’t buy again” method and it took us about two weeks to be full AIP.
We also talked about it. A lot. Like every time we went to the store or ate or put lotion on her spots, we talked about the link between her gut and her skin. We talked about how sometimes our bodies develop allergies and need some time to heal.
We talked about how she hadn’t done anything wrong and that this would only be temporary.
While she did/does sometimes struggle with wanting things from the store she can’t have, or when we are visiting someone and she can’t have half of the meal, she is such a trooper and is doing well. I think it also helped that I did full AIP with her so even if Daddy was eating some corn, V and Mommy couldn’t have it. I also put Baby A on AIP since he had eczema when he was born and realistically that diet doesn’t cut much out anyway since he mostly eats produce and meat.
Did it help?
The first thing that happened was all the poop. We put her on a new stronger probiotic supplement while we were transitioning to full AIP so I’m not sure if it was one or the other or a combination but we ended up cutting way back on her probiotic dosage and slowly increasing. She was up to a full dose without any noticeable side effects after about two weeks.
The first real sign I saw that this diet was working was the eczema patches and dark circles under her eyes cleared up. After more than two months of constantly looking exhausted, she finally looked like her old self again. Then we started noticing there were no new patches of eczema. The itching started to lessen, and some other symptoms subsided. After about three weeks, her eczema was no longer bumpy and no longer pink. I wholeheartedly believe the dietary changes and supplements helped and we all felt really great that we were able to do something to help the poor kid, and that all the time and effort and sacrifice (on all our parts, but especially on hers) was paying off.
Why did we stop?
As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, we are no longer doing full AIP. To be honest, we didn’t quite make it to the six week minimum that was my goal. A couple days shy of four weeks, I started reintroductions in a very non-organized, poorly planned fashion.
So the first thing that had me thinking maybe we needed to stop was my extreme fatigue and burnout. I was cooking a minimum of three meals a day plus baking something for snacks, in addition to working outside the home full time. Husband was working opposite shifts and I was constantly either working, cooking, cleaning dishes or researching. After almost two months of that (counting our transition stages before we were full AIP), my body was telling me I needed to simplify.
And I was having several symptoms of a coconut allergy. And histamine intolerance. And SIBO and leaky gut and FODMAP sensitivity. And you can’t address all those issues at once or you won’t be eating anything. While V’s eczema was improving drastically, my health was deteriorating in a variety of ways.
Then we started noticing V was bruising really easily. Then we noticed I was bruising really easily.
We decided to begin the reintroduction stage early, even though her eczema wasn’t completely cleared up yet.
What are we doing now?
We started with dairy, mostly because we happened to have fermented dairy and I felt that would be a safe place to start.
It wasn’t. The next day she was itchier and within three days of only fermented dairy her eczema patches were more red and bumpier. So dairy was/is officially off the table for the forseeable future.
It was the same with gluten and when I tried to reintroduce it myself I felt like I had the flu for three days.
We’re currently following a gluten and dairy free diet and reintroducing one non-gluten grain (rice, quinoa, etc.) a week. Rice is next. We’ll see how that goes.
We had to kind of halt reintroductions to give our bodies time to chill back out after the gluten and dairy. I’ve been reading some really interesting research about the effects of gluten and how even just one serving can continue to effect your body for six weeks after! I’m not sure how sensitive either of us are but it is something we plan to avoid for a very long time, if not forever.
I’m still not sure what caused the bruising problems. I’ve read in a few places that increasing your Omega-3s intake can lead to increased bruising. We did start V on this supplement when we began transitioning to AIP but I haven’t changed my intake (other than an increase in fish). However, it has been almost to weeks since we began transitioning off AIP and both of us have no new bruises. It’s something we’re curious to see if it is indicated at all by our testing.
The bigger “next step” is testing. We’ve decided since V and I both have symptoms of something deeper going on, we’re going to get some testing. This is the test I’ve seen recommended the most to check for things like candida overgrowth, SIBO, and other parasites. I’m excited to get to the bottom of all this so we can do some deep (and guided!) healing.
For now, we’re focused on sticking as close to AIP as possible while not being quite as strict on the eliminations, so a sort of Paleo-ish without focusing on hard and fast rules. We’re still avoiding gluten, dairy, legumes, corn, and nightshades (and coconut for me). These are foods we had already noticed cause digestive issues with us so they’re kind of no-brainers. We try to stick with high quality meat and lots of vegetables and reserve fruit for snacks and treats. But I’m also not stressing about it quite as much.
And I never did end up giving up coffee completely.