Monday, September 5, 2011

The Autism Diet and Bento

The GFCF Diet
The Autism Diet is used for people who have autism, ADD, Asperger's, or for those who have sensitivities. The diet is gluten-free, casein-free, soy-free, and artificial-free. Some children on this diet also cannot have eggs or yeast. If the person also has a salicylate or phenol sensitivity then they must avoid certain fruits and vegetables (for example, my son cannot eat apples or he bangs his head on the wall). Most people also try and avoid citrus fruits, but it doesn't bother all.

The basic principle behind the diet is that the gut in affected individuals is damaged and so half-way broken down proteins can enter the bloodstream. Also that the body does not produce the correct enzymes to break down the gluten and casein proteins properly. This results in a partially broken down protein called gliadorphin and casomorphin, which then enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. In the brain, these improperly digested proteins act like opium.

In effect, people affected by this metabolic and digestive syndrome are drugged. They crave gluten and casein: it makes them 'feel good' while keeping them in a drugged state. They're addicted.

Be aware that switching to this diet can lead to intense withdrawals in the person. Anything from fever, vomiting and diarrhea to intense sadness and headaches can be observed. It is almost always better to switch gradually off of gluten--one meal a day, then two meals a day, then all three over a period of a month. Casein does not create withdrawals as much, and they are not usually intense.

Removing these proteins can cause small changes in behavior to complete turnarounds. It can take a day to notice changes or an entire year. This is what makes the diet a commitment: you must commit to doing the diet for a year no matter what the results are in that year to actually know if it is working. If you find out that your favorite food is actually glutinous a few months into it, then start the count over. You must try it for an entire year to truly know what kind of effect it will have on the person.

The casein protein is sometimes tolerated in small amounts in these individuals, but for the first year avoid it altogether. Gluten is sometimes never tolerated, even in small amounts, during the person's entire lifetime. This person may describe themselves as a celiac to others in order to make it easier to assimilate socially.

Soy acts much like the casein protein, so some people must avoid this as well. Some people say you should avoid soy for the entire first year. I tend to agree with this because it is becoming clearer and clearer that those who used to strictly do GFCF must now do SF as well. To get the full scope of benefits, avoid it.

Eggs sometimes bother individuals, you'll have to do a trial period of no eggs to see if this bothers you or your child.

Bento and Autism
The Autism Diet often leaves parents wondering what to feed their child for school lunch. Lunch is what this blog is all about--what to send for lunch to school. I have recently explored making a special type of lunch called bento. When most people think of bento, they are actually thinking of charaben. I am not good at charaben, so it will be sparsely sprinkled around but not the main focus.

My main focus is nutritional food that is varied and colorful that autistic children will eat.

Picky and Resistant Eaters
Many children on the spectrum have eating difficulties that prevent them from eating certain foods. Parents often don't know how to handle this. Here are a few pointers that I have learned over the past year of feeding therapy:

  • never force your child to eat something
  • do not bribe them to eat something
  • serve a little dessert with each meal, and make it part of the meal instead of something they get as a reward for good eating
  • eat together at the table as often as possible
  • encourage your child to play with their food as much as possible: make mashed potato forts with broccoli turrets, or a waffle house, or simply enjoy smashing grapes with a fork
  • encourage your child to observe food: how does it feel? is it cold? what happens when we squish it? is it crunchy? sweet? salty? with non-verbal children, this is a great way to encourage more speech.
  • try to use transitions from foods they like towards foods they resist. for example, start with peach puree, then slowly add more solid pieces to their puree until they are eating chunks of peaches. this can be an agonizingly slow process--be patient!
  • if your child doesn't eat anything, you can still make bento and still have them participate in meals. provide them with a small plate and have them play with it during mealtime--providing a toy as well to keep stress down--and encourage any effort on their part to interact with the food.
  • some children do not like it if you make a big deal out of them playing with or eating foods they hate. they may also dislike it if you sit there and watch them. if you have a child like this, just sit and catch up on a book or eat your own food without making much of a fuss about your child's eating. this may help.
If your child is a severely resistant eater, make sure that every meal has a majority of what they WANT to eat, and only a small bit of what they DON'T. Do not 'starve' them as motivation to eat unwanted foods.

I was advised to spend about 15 minutes per day allowing my child to play with foods he does not like simply for the purpose of having fun: which is where the mashed potatoes comes in. He will not eat mashed potatoes, but he tolerates them being on his plate very well because of this special food play time. Make sure this play time is NOT during a mealtime: it is not for eating. Of course, if they happen to eat, then good for them!

Bentos are fun because the containers are cute, and can have pictures of their favorite perseverance on them. Some children might like to put stickers all over their bento boxes. They are visually stimulating, and very non-threatening at mealtime. Your autistic child might actually begin to get EXCITED about their lunch!

Don't be daunted if the only thing your child eats is french fries and chicken nuggets: the GFCF version of those two popular dishes are very cheap and easy to make and are very bento friendly! In fact, I use both quite a bit in my own son's bento.

Who Can Make Bento?
Anyone can make bento. You do not have to a homemaker, an artist, a chef, or even creative. Once you have some reusable decorations and a bento stash in the freezer it can take literally FIVE MINUTES A DAY OR LESS to put together a good nutritious bento. Some can take up to 15 minutes, but you do it while making dinner the night before so it takes up no 'extra' time. 

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