As the parent of kids with disabilities, I have found that eliminating certain foods from my girls’ diets has brought them a wealth of behavioral, physical and developmental improvement. Special diets for autism and other disabilities can bring with it a lot of benefits for a child. However, if your child seems fairly even keel at present and you haven’t made great strides, it might be time for an autism diet break.
Disclaimer: This Post Is NOT For Everyone
Before I get started, not everyone can or should take their child off restricted foods. Here are the exceptions. Do NOT give your child break from his special diet if you fall into any of these categories:
Food Allergy Sufferers
I am NOT talking putting in foods that your child is allergic to back into a diet. If your child is allergic to a food, you simply cannot put it back in his or her diet no matter what. This is strictly about foods that may cause particular behaviors and it must be done properly.
Conditional or Severe Reactions
Additionally, if your child has any medical or behavioral condition that will be severely triggered, either on a level you can’t see or in a dramatic reaction, this post is also not for you. Finally, if you took your child off a food and it took months to clear up a reaction, I would avoid taking a special or autism diet break. It may take you months to get back to where you are now.
You have to honestly weigh if your child will have a reaction such as the return of ADHD, brain fog, intellectual setbacks, etc. I don’t want your child to suddenly fail an important test because he can’t think clearly after your diet break. You must do this with lots careful thought and soul searching, as well as a deep look into your calendar.
Your Child Has Recently Had A Dietary Cheat
If your child had one recently and you saw a reaction, don’t do this. However, if you didn’t see a reaction to a major cheat, I would avoid taking another cheat too. It might be too much too soon and he can have a more stressful reaction.
Your Gut Is Telling You “No”
You need to trust your gut instincts. Even if the tiniest little thing is telling you not do it, listen to that voice. It may be intuition, it may be a warning, it may just make you completely stressed and full of self-blame if your child reacts poorly.
The Downside of a Special Diet
To be honest, after years of dieting and after lots of dealing with infractions, we didn’t the downside of a weekend break would be all that bad. In fact, the break we did take made up for an event we missed several years ago and I thought it was worth it. As a family, we all wanted to go and we all knew that the particular family activities would involve either food cheats or lots of tears and bad attitude. I didn’t want that kind of stress.
And my choice was based on reducing stress. Special diets have their downsides. It’s not just the autism diet, but GAPS, SCD, Paleo, Keto, etc., that can be barriers to eating. Here are some of the more pressing issues:
Special Diets Make It Hard To Travel
Travel can be necessary or leisurely, but moving several categories of food out of a child’s diet when traveling on a short notice, such as disaster evacuation, or going to a particularly kid-friendly location. Travel can be necessary, but it’s also part of a stimulating exciting life that is healthy for your child’s brain. Staying inside your home 24/7 because of your child’s diet may be depriving her of opportunities where she can shine.
Additionally, special diets can make travel itself difficult. Will you need to stop an unknown places along the way? Are there travel limitations, like food that’s not allowed in certain places like theme parks or airplanes?
Special Diets Cause A Great Deal of Stress
Sometimes you need to kick back and take a few days – or even a week’s – break from the constant cooking of a special diet. It’s a struggle, especially if you hate to cook like I do! Just having a nice day away with the kids is something that can be challenging. For example, a holiday party is wonderful but if you are constantly running around removing their favorite foods from their clutches, you might just find it easier to stay home.
And that’s no fun for anyone. Keep in mind that it’s stressing your child out to see all her friends enjoying things she can’t be a part of. And you’ll be stressed with constant “no” to all his begging.
More importantly, you might need a break because you can’t deal with the stress of the diet yourself anymore. That’s legitimate too!
Autism Diet Break: How To Give Your Child a Break
Does your child need to miss out? No, she doesn’t but allowing your child to take a dietary break must be done thoughtfully. You want to create controlled food infractions and that requires planning and diligence.Here are a few tips to help you through any kind of special or autism diet break:
1. Choose your child’s “cheat” foods.
You can still avoid any foods that bring your child the most dramatic behavior changes or make a note to reduce them considerably. My daughter is reactive to soy. However, I noticed that on our recent break, where I allowed her to eat a bit of chocolate that had soy, she didn’t react negatively at all. Her body may have healed, or it may be that small amounts don’t affect her that much. Either way, this cheat worked out for us.
2. Don’t go off glutens.
I know of no other food that can take 3-6 months to process out of the body (if you do, please share with me). It’s not worth the effort, and most restaurants offer gluten free choices and even separate cooking spaces or tools. However, be aware of unexpected places for gluten, such as some licorice or other fruit-based candies. Continuing to keep this out of your diet is a good idea.
In fact, make sure that any foods you do put back in can be eliminated out of your child’s body in a relatively short period of time.
3. Keep the sugar / carbs low and nutrition high.
Even if a food is messing up her system, it’s important to try to maintain her gut health as much as possible. Do whatever you normally do as much as you can (giving her probiotics, making certain items like bone broth for travel, etc.) but limit her sugar intake as much as you can without stressing her out.
That said, keep making wise choices at meal time. Anywhere you can stick to the diet in a restaurant or eatery, go ahead, and then fill her plate with fruits, vegetables and solid choices for other items. If you can find an organic or health food eatery, go there but do be careful of glutens.
4. Keep a careful eye on your child.
This is also an opportunity to see which foods she can now tolerate (if you’ve been doing other non-dietary protocols) and which foods are causing an even more severe reaction. Keep observing, in fact, until you are back on your diet with a plan. Keep a sharp eye out for skin reactions, gut issues (constipation, diarrhea), behavior, changes in menstruation, dark circles under eyes, distended gut, etc.
5. Have a detox plan afterward.
Once you are back on your child’s special diet, you can also help process out the food cheats. Pay special attention to rebalancing her gut as well. You may want to consider supplements that process out things like dairy, or add a probiotic, if you haven’t before. If you feel she suffered yeast overgrowth as a result of this infraction, talk to a doctor practiced in biomed treatment about clearing out her system with an antifungal or other treatment. I also recommend Epsom salt baths for your child as well. Buy a brand that has NO other ingredients in it, just the salt. (Avoid bentonite clay, it can contain heavy metals.)
All these factors needed to be weighed when you want to go off a special diet. Always remember there might be a consequence you don’t see yet, as well, but also keep in mind that at one point, your child ate this kind of food all the time. Be careful and aware if you choose this route, but remember that everyone could use a break now and again.