My gluten-free family

Cheryl Stevens spent 10 years trying to find out what was making her son ill. From the age of five he'd suffered from a constant runny nose, persistent headaches, and a severe postnasal drip. When she finally discovered food allergies were the culprit, she began what turned out to be a life-changing journey.
'Oliver felt awful but nothing we tried helped,' Cheryl said. 'He had skin prick tests for allergies, which all came up negative. The doctors then tried blood tests. After those came up negative for a range of allergies we tried homeopathy. Oliver was given remedies so strong he would fall into deep fevers the doctor hoped would 'burn out' what was making him sick.'  When Oliver's symptoms still weren't relieved, Cheryl took him to an ear, nose and throat specialist who X-rayed him to make sure nothing was physically wrong with him. Luckily there wasn't, but his symptoms persisted and he was prescribed a number of treatments, including cortisone sprays. Around this time Cheryl found an integrative health practitioner who diagnosed illnesses based on an evaluation of acupuncture points on the hands and feet. Oliver was found to be sensitive to gluten, the casein in milk, soya, peanuts, and the preservative sulphur dioxide. 'If I wanted to help Oliver get better I would have to completely change his diet. There was gluten in the sandwiches he ate at school every day. We all ate dairy as a family. There are traces of peanuts in so many foods, and sulphur dioxide is a very common preservative. 'I was at my wits' end by this stage, though, and willing to try anything. So I began unpacking my kitchen cupboards, getting rid of everything that Oliver couldn't eat, and learning how to prepare food all over again.' She found that though she had always considered herself a very healthy eater, when she examined her diet closely there was much room for change. When reading food labels, she noticed how many foods had unnecessary ' and unhealthy ' additives.  Within a month of changing her pantry and taking Oliver off his 'bad list' foods, his health started turning around. His sinus, headaches, and postnasal drip cleared up. His vision improved, too, which was unexpected, and he was even more focused at school. 'Making the changes that gave Oliver his health back wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done. Ultimately, though, it's made the whole family healthier,' says Cheryl, 'and it's been one of the best things I've ever done.' She advises parents not to try and replace old foods with similar alternatives as that's not easily done. 'The trick is to rather rethink the way you eat.  Breakfast doesn't have to be a bowl of cereal. Depending on what your child's individual issues are, breakfast could be an omelette, a bowl of soup, or a smoothie. Smoothies and juices are lifesavers in my house, I couldn't live without my Vitamix.' Cheryl believes flexibility is important. 'I follow the '90/10' rule and encourage Oliver to follow it too. If 90% of what we're eating is clean, healthy, natural, food, we're doing well. 'It's unrealistic to aim for a diet that's completely free of the occasional bit of junk food. Oliver is a teenager and burgers and pizzas are part and parcel of being a 15-year-old boy. It's up to him to make the right choices ' at least most of the time. He knows when he eats the wrong foods he doesn't feel well. 'But that's really the same for everyone trying to live well.' Nobody really feels amazing after eating a huge plate of processed food. did you know? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, kamut, spelt, and barley. It's often used to help foods keep their shape.  OLIVER'S SIDE OF THE STORY As you can imagine, a gluten-free diet isn't the easiest thing for a 15-year-old boy to follow. Oliver has had to work very hard to feel 'normal'. In fact, before changing his diet, he didn't know what his 'normal' was. He's taken to his new eating plan with energy and commitment and he is 100% dedicated to sticking to it so that he can feel healthy, says Cheryl. He does have difficult days and when he has to motivate himself not to have that toasted cheese from the tuck shop at school he remembers how bad he feels when he eats the wrong food. 'I am very proud of Oliver because as much as I do to cook all the right food, he is the one who has to commit to eating the right food ' every day!'

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