Why your child may not have food intolerances, after all.

UPDATE: While I wanted to believe that we weren't dealing with food allergies, this post is totally outdated for our family now, who definitely suffers with a whole very large list of food allergies. 

Or why I'm learning that everything I've thought was true may be wrong.

I want to start by saying that none of this detergent business will ever change my opinion that the only foods we were ever meant to consume are the ones straight from the earth and not chemically or genetically altered by man.  For me, that's a common sense issue.  Our bodies were created in an amazing way, and regardless of your beliefs, it's hard to deny that for all of time, we've been eating food, and then suddenly, in the last 5 decades or so, we've begun to eat food-like products.  Perhaps someday we'll evolve to eat these products without harm, because our bodies are amazing and adaptable.  But we know that evolution takes a long time, so as for me and my family, we're sticking with foods that we know our body recognizes as food.  We have far too many diet-related diseases these days to even attempt to make the argument that the Standard American Diet is good for anyone.  The only argument that seems legit is that it's worth it to continue to eat the Standard American Diet, regardless of side effects, because, like smoking, they often take a long time to manifest and it's hard as a species to discontinue pleasure now because of something we are at an increased chance of experiencing down the road.  Look at how long it took for smoking to became more uncommon (but it certainly still exists!).  Even I stop at McDonald's sometimes, get Starbucks when I'm out shopping, eat chocolate chip cookies. Because I find a way to convince myself that the side effects from the food-like products are worth the satisfaction of eating them (or the ease of preparing processed foods, or the decreased cost of buying them, etc., we all have our own justifications and only you know if it's truly worth it).

However, this detergent discovery has really changed my thoughts on food sensitivities.  A.J. Lumsdaine, the author of Solveevzema.org, said this in an article I read:
"Eczema in babies is often blamed on food allergy, but A.J. knew from her chemistry lab days how hard it is to wash chemical residue from glass or plastic containers. She suspected some of her son’s apparent allergies were actually a reaction to detergent.  When he first began eating solid foods, he seemed to be allergic to everything. For instance, he broke out in a rash after eating plain rice porridge A.J. had cooked herself. However, when she switched to soap-based dishwashing cleanser and washed away the detergent residue on the rice cooker, the baby began to eat her home-cooked porridge happily with no reaction.  Store-bought foods were also a problem for him. “Many processed foods, especially produce that has to be washed as part of the processing, seem to contain enough traces of detergents to give our son contact eczema,” A.J. says. “It’s interesting to note that many of the foods people think of as causing eczema are also ones likely to accumulate detergent residue from processing, such as eggs and some dairy."

Just a few weeks ago, I was lamenting the fact that Landon appears to be allergic to every food.  It's been a rare meal that I've sat him down to where he hasn't started violently scratching his face to the point of a blood-soaked bib.  Inside, I was frantic.  The idea of having a child who is allergic to almost every food rocked me to my core, and I was terrified.  It seemed as though each child was becoming more and more allergic than the one before.  Ben is allergic to peanuts (this is a true allergy which has been confirmed with IgE levels), Adalyn appeared to be allergic to all sorts of things though I hadn't been able to specifically pinpoint them and Landon?  Well, he was pretty much allergic to every food I'd tried.  Or so I thought.

Just two weeks ago we visited an allergist and were contemplating whether or not to run all the tests he had ordered for Adalyn (which we knew would set us back a couple thousand dollars and cause her quite a bit of pain and discomfort and the results of those tests are never accurate).

I've seen enough difference now in just a few short days that like I said yesterday, I'm pretty confident I can declare this a reaction to detergent.  And since washing our dishes in Dr. Bronner's diluted in water, Landon hasn't had one meal episode of intense face scratching.  He's been eating the foods I've given him without incident.  As has Adalyn, who also often appeared to turn red all around her mouth and began scratching after many meals.  Because of that, I'd declared her "sensitive" to citrus, tomatoes, dairy, melons, wheat, the list goes on.  That poor child was eating just a handful of foods because I was certain she was allergic to everything.

That's not to say there won't still be an element of food sensitivity to her or Landon's eczema.  But my theory is that eczema causes a weakened immune system (which is why my kids are ALWAYS sick), and a weakened immune system can contribute to the body's inability to process certain foods.  Totally my theory, but I'm so curious to see if once their skin clears up, they stop getting sick every single week and they begin to be able to tolerate any food I give them.

Truth be told, it would be much easier for my children to have a food intolerance than a detergent intolerance.  Much.  But if that's not the reality of the situation, it does me no good to keep on assuming it's a food intolerance when nothing I've eliminated has worked for them.  The health world is so inundated with claims that we are now allergic to everything that it's become ingrained in my psyche that my children must have food intolerances.  This detergent thing is rocking my world, though.

Could it be possible that what we have grown to believe is widespread increases in food intolerance (not allergies, which are testable) are actually a widespread reaction to chemicals (detergent)?  It's not that crazy a theory, right?  Maybe our gut issues are actually coming from detergents.  The majority of our immune system is in our gut.  It could of course all be coincidence, but for the first time since I can remember, Adalyn has had two days of zero digestion issues.  I won't elaborate further, but she has been plagued with tummy issues for as long as I can remember, which got much worse after her one round of antibiotics in December.  Last night I was talking with my husband about it, and was like, "There's no way it could be from the detergent," but he reminded me that our immune system is in our gut, and as A.J. noted above, this detergent is getting into the gut at each meal via the dishes we eat on and the washing of the equipment used during processing.  It could be just as likely that it's the detergent our bodies are reacting to as it is the food.  Detergent is naturally irritating to skin, albeit for some people, not enough to notice, so it doesn't seem too far-fetched to assume it is also irritating inside of our bodies.

Like I said above, it's easier to eliminate a food, or a food group, than it is to avoid detergents, which are everywhere.  And it breaks my heart, because what does this mean for my children...for our family?  My parents are coming this weekend, and we are going to great lengths to assure they don't bring their detergent with them.  We're buying scrubs that they can wear while they're in our home, which I will be superwashing before they get here.  They'll have to shower in Dr. Bronner's before coming over and will be using our toothpaste while here.  My mom has to wash her face and they have to leave their shoes in our garage.  Even their luggage can't come in.  How sad is that?

While it's easy to make a peanut-free bubble for Ben because there has been so much mainstream attention surrounding the peanut allergy epidemic, will I live to see a day when science recognizes that detergent is harmful to the health of everyone and it will be systematically removed?  Or will this just be something my kids deal with for life.  Will we have to refrain from having playdates at our house forever?  What does this mean for our family?  The questions are flooding in now, and I'm overwhelmed, but all the work in the world is nothing for my sweet babies.  As long as they are without pain, it's all worth it.


The Eczema Tale: Never Give Up

(Lost most of my pictures when I switched from WP to blogger. Slowly working on putting them back, but it's a massive undertaking so please forgive the broken image links!)

I can't stop talking about what's happened to our family in the last few days because I am just flooded with emotion.  It's been well documented here that my children suffer from eczema, and though I rarely post pictures of them here on my blog anymore, if you follow me on facebook or instagram, you may have seen pictures of them recently.

Truth be told, I stopped posting most pictures of Landon and Adalyn several months back, and if I did ever post, it was carefully selected and highly edited until about a week or two ago, when I decided my children were beautiful and nothing to be hidden!   But I stopped posting pictures awhile back because I just didn't want to hear it.  I know that comes off so crazy rude, but it's hard - draining - when you know what your child looks like, but everywhere you go, everyone has to remind you of how horrifying they look.  Everyone has an opinion.  It's not that opinions aren't desired, because obviously, if my kids are still suffering from eczema, we haven't found the solution.  It's just tiring.  When you get to the point where you feel like you really have tried it all, when someone suggests something, the first place my brain goes is to, "Yeah, right, like that'll work."

So it was with skepticism that I entered solveeczema.org on Friday. But in a place of desperation because my kids' skin has gotten so terrible, I read on.  Minutes into the slideshow on her front page, I began to cry.  I was totally overwhelmed because everything in my being said YES!  CHELSEA, THIS IS IT!!!!!!!!!!  The detergent in your home is making your kids sick.

It started with the description of the mom who had done it all over the course of about four years: elimination diets, naturopath, every cream and steroid, herbs, chinese medicine, you name it, she'd done it.  Then I read about the diaper-eczema correlation and immediately, light bulbs went off.  Ben and Adalyn were cloth diapered.  Ben had pretty bad eczema on his face and in his diaper area from about one year to a little before two.  Adalyn had no eczema anywhere but her diaper area (which I now know in hindsight, but I always thought it was just a bad diaper rash).  Shortly after Landon was born, I became overwhelmed with three children three and under, two in diapers and two of them 17 months apart, and I gave away our cloth diapers and decided we were going to turn to disposables.  Since then, Adalyn has had no diaper rashes or eczema in her diaper area.

The diaper protects skin from detergent, since the diaper is on almost all of the time and there is no detergent in disposable diapers.  But when my kiddos were in cloth, they had that same detergent in their diaper area as they have elsewhere.  Who would have thought that something I was doing to be more considerate to my children's skin and the environment was actually more harmful for them?  It blows my mind a little.

This was extremely compelling for me.  As was all the information presented on this site.  This is not a normal "mommy blog."  This is a very knowledgable, empowered mother with a science background who resolved to stop at nothing to solve her son's eczema, and thanks to lots of trial and error and reading a book by T. Brazelton, Touchpoints, she and her husband developed a theory that the introduction of detergent in the 50s correlated quite well with the rising of eczema occurrences.  As more products became detergent-based (almost every wash/body care product/"soap"/cleaning product today contains detergent), the incidence of eczema, allergies and asthma began to climb.  And as these three diseases are known as the allergy march or the atopic march, curing eczema is beneficial not just in the short-term, but in preventing our children from having to endure asthma in the future.

They tested this theory out by removing detergent from their home (not an easy or quick solution), and when they saw dramatic results, they began a dive into incredibly thorough research, talking to experts all over the world.  They've consulted biologists, chemists, doctors, dermatologist, etc.  I believe quite strongly that they have stumbled across the single factor creating the eczema/asthma/allergy epidemic we see today.  Perhaps that's short-sighted because it looks like it's proving to be our solution, but she has quite a following of mamas who have also healed their children from not only eczema, but asthma, too!

Friday night I went shopping for paper towels, Dr. Bronner's, new toothpaste, body soap, laundry soap, shampoo, hair gel, etc.  I came home and whipped up cleaning products using vinegar, water, baking soda and Dr. Bronner's.  Only soap can remove detergent residue so I knew it was important to start by cleaning all surfaces with Dr. Bronner's but then going over them with a water/vinegar solution to keep my whole house from being sticky: check out her recommended procedure here.

A friend came over Saturday morning and helped me scrub down my house.  I began the process of "superwashing" all clothes and linens in our house with Zum laundry soap (which contains no detergent) and cleaning all our dishes with Dr. Bronner's to remove the detergent residue.  Finally, we washed the kiddos and ourselves in Dr. Bronner's and lathered them up in coconut oil (I'm not big on Aquaphor because it's petroleum-based, but that's the "barrier moisture" she recommends).  I'm not anywhere close to being done cleaning out my house, but already we've seen drastic results.  It is nothing short of miraculous, and when I think about how I broke down to God on Thursday afternoon in the shower, desperate for relief for my miserable children, and I prayed that He would heal my children or help me heal them, and then on Friday I found a site I've never before stumbled across after years of research?  It's just...all Him.

I couldn't get this blog post up fast enough!  A lot of people stumble across my old post about Ben's facial rash, so I wanted to be able to update my blogaroo so that I can drive traffic to solveeczema.org.  The site is amazing, and I really, truly believe this is the answer for so many families who have been struggling unnecessarily for ages with eczema or asthma or quite frankly, even allergies.

It is A LOT of work.  There's no way to sugarcoat that.  But it's an all-or-nothing ordeal.  You can't halfway do it and expect to cure your kids.  Her take is that it has to be 100% removal or you might as well do nothing.  So we will be homebound for a month, attempting to heal their skin so that it becomes strong enough to resist short, infrequent exposures to detergent at places like church, friends houses, the store, etc.

Here are a few recent pictures of Landon and Adalyn:



And here they are a few days after beginning the process of elimination.


The picture on the left was taken a couple of days before we began eliminating detergent, and the one on the right was today:


The moral of the story is don't give up!  I have seen stories of so many moms who have resorted to things like steroids which carry pretty serious side effects and don't even rid the body of eczema (or asthma or allergies), but cut down on the outbreaks.  This mama's take, and mine for AGES, has always been that these things are our body's way of telling us something is wrong.  To mask the symptoms with steroid creams really doesn't solve anything.  In fact, it often times exacerbates the problem because you are weakening the immune system.  In a similar fashion, we have given one child antibiotics one time and it has irrevocably changed her gut.  There is a time and a place for medicine, and I will always utilize it when I feel it's severe enough, but this is the exact reason I tend to listen to my gut first and go with God's medicine before man's.  It always made sense to me that to mask the symptoms was doing nothing inside of their little bodies.  I was eager to give them relief, though, so I did try a lot of creams and oils and such.  But I couldn't shake how odd it felt to be slathering chemicals all over my children's severe, inflamed, red, burning, bleeding skin.  It was so incredibly counter-intuitive.

From her site:
The global problem of eczema has not been understood or solved by a long shot. In my opinion, taking the common perspective that eczema is the result of a defect inherent in the child is destructive, unwarranted, unscientific, and premature. This defect-perspective has led to virtually every treatment and approach: adding lotion to make up for the defect of dryness, suppressing the immune system to address a supposed malfunction, recommending random experimentation with different personal care products with the underlying assumption that the child's system has gone haywire and can't handle "normal" products. None of these approaches has resulted in a lasting, global solution. Perhaps the perspective is right; I personally don't see it that way. I think the perspective that the problem is a defect in the children leads naturally to these less-than-satisfactory approaches. At the least, until there are more definitive answers, we owe it to the children to keep an open mind.

My son would not have had eczema had we lived 80 years ago, because detergents didn't exist on the planet. When his skin is not exposed to detergents, it is normal and not unusually dry. For whatever reason, his system chooses to tell me that exposure to detergents is a problem, the same way my body chooses to tell me that banging my knee against the corner of the desk is a problem. From that perspective, the response is a normal warning mechanism, a smart way for the immune system to communicate with the conscious brain, the way the nervous system communicates through pain. I don't see that as a defect."

My gut says that if so many children are reacting to this, it can't be good for anyone.  I've used this analogy time and time again, but I can think of no better time for it than now: sensitive children are like canaries in a coal mine.  They're out warning that something is wrong.  Perhaps I'm off-base, but I believe it bears further studying.

Be your child's best advocate.  Fight for them despite the lack of knowledge in the medical community surrounding eczema.  Whatever your child's health problem is, do your own research.  Experiment in your own home.  Never give up!  Always go with your gut.

I'm not the only person seeing incredible results here.  This is the original blog I stumbled upon that pointed me to solveeczema.org and how I found it to begin with.


Seven days at the Hibbz kitchen table.

I recently promised to make a food journal for someone and keep track of what I was eating.  I admit I totally forgot on occasion (we'll go with Mommy Brain), but I backtracked the best I could.  We totally splurge on occasion.  I'm a believer that if you eat well 90% of the time, your body will be able to handle the 10% crap.  It'll be healthy enough to handle the preservatives and pesticides you throw at it.

I - GASP! - don't eat breakfast:

I don't eat breakfast much (except when I'm pregnant and crave it).  I spent a lot of my life feeling really terrible about this, but I recently read an article that dispelled the myth that we need to eat lots of small meals throughout the day.  Now I don't feel guilty when I skip meals.  I can't find it to link to, but the premise was that when you think back on traditional diets, when in the course of history do you think people had access to enough food to eat six, seven meals a day?  The myth that eating 1500 calories spread through the course of the day or 1500 calories spread through the course of a few hours being different is supposedly just that: a myth.  I'm going with it because it makes sense to me logically and I believe in listening to my body.  When I eat breakfast, I feel sick.  I've tried to adopt a policy of eating when I'm hungry, period.  So that's what I'm doing now and it's working for me.  HOWEVER, I'm going to write down what the kids eat for breakfast and other meals because someone asked me what I feed the kids.  It's boring, but they love it and it works with their strict diets (that we're slowly weaning them off of).  If the kids ate something different than me for a meal, I've typed up what they have vs. what I have. :)

Where our groceries come from:

Since I always seem to get a lot of questions about what kind of things I buy or where I buy them from, I included that info when I remembered.  Since learning about GMOs and their tie to the exponential rise in allergies (and because my kids are SO allergic), we have tried to cut out GMOs 100%.  This means 98% of the stuff we buy is organic, and we only buy non-organic when we have no other option.  So you can assume everything here is organic.  I don't want to come off as snobby, because I used to think it was super snobby when people quantified everything they ate with organic, but this is the world we live in now and I have to give my sickly kids the best shot in the world, so we shifted around things in our budget to increase the amount we can spend on groceries.  Once the farmer's market opens, I get most of my produce in that way rather than at Trader Joe's.

I run a tight snack ship:

My kids rarely finish their breakfast, so it goes into the fridge and that's the only option they get for a snack if they ask for one in the morning.  If they don't ask for a snack in the morning, I give them their leftover oatmeal in addition to whatever they're having for lunch.  And I do the same at lunch.  Whatever they don't eat goes in the fridge and becomes their afternoon snack.  This has seriously alleviated food battles.  I don't say a thing if they don't want to finish their meals.  They now know it goes in the fridge for later.  If they don't want to eat whatever it is for a snack, then they're out of luck.  No snack until the next meal.  If they're truly hungry, they'll eat it.  Otherwise they're just wanting a snack out of boredom.  My mom taught me this and it was night and day difference; we used to have terrible battles over food before starting this a year ago.

Phew, that was a lot of intro!  I'm so wordy, I annoy myself.

Day One:

  • Breakfast - Kids: Trader Joe's Oatmeal with homemade almond milk and a drizzle of pure maple syrup with cut up bananas (we think they may be intolerant of bananas so we're slowly re-introducing to test this theory out)

  • Lunch - Kids: Applegate Farms hot dog, strips of yellow peppers, broccoli with grassfed butter (we use either Kerrygold if we can make it to Costco or Kalona Supernatural if not - the Kalona Supernatural is from Whole Foods), organic frozen cherries (I set out on the counter about 30 minutes before lunch so they're only a little bit frozen) - from either TJs or WF

  • Me: Spinach, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives with balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil (everything is from Trader Joe's)

  • Dinner - Blackened fish (tilapia) with broccoli and quinoa.  We don't like fish but I LOVED this.  My mom was here and made the kids a version with oatmeal and almonds crushed up and then grilled it on the stove and they LOVED it.  The blackened fish is really spicy, FYI.  All from Trader Joe's.  Sense a theme?!

  • Snacks - Leftovers and grapes, almonds, raisins (TJs)

Day Two:

  • Breakfast - Kids: Trader Joe's Oatmeal with homemade almond milk and a drizzle of pure maple syrup with cut up bananas

  • Lunch - Kids: Applegate Farms hot dog, cantaloupe, broccoli with grassfed butter (everything but butter from TJs)

  • Me: Brown rice noodles with alfredo sauce (just cream, butter, a little flour and parmesan cheese), cantaloupe and broccoli

  • Dinner - Kids: Leftover oatmeal, broccoli and pears.  We did this so we could have an at-home date night once the kiddos were in bed.  So we had burgers and fries takeout from an awesome little restaurant here.

  • Snacks - Sweet potato chunks sprinkled with a little cinnamon (I buy a big bag of organic sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's at the beginning of the week and cook them all at one time, then dice them up and stick them in containers in the fridge.  My kids love sweet potatoes, Landon now loves sweet potatoes and they're really healthy for you, so we eat them almost every day).

Day Three:

  • Breakfast - Kids: Trader Joe's oatmeal with almond milk and a drizzle of pure maple syrup with a banana

  • Lunch - Turkey (Applegate Farms again), black olives, avocado slices, applesauce (everything but the applesauce is from Trader Joe's) and a green smoothie:  I buy a giant bag of organic spinach and organic fruit from Costco at the beginning of the month, then I make a really big batch of smoothies, freeze them in ice cube trays and put them in ziploc bags and store them in the freezer.  I either take out some cubes and stick them in cups the night before in the refrigerator, or I just stick a few cubes into the blender with some more coconut milk the day of.  This isn't the most nutritious way to make smoothies since you lose nutrients by freezing them, but it works.  I don't have the time/energy to make green smoothies from scratch every single day.

  • Dinner - Flank Steak marinated in a balsamic marinade and grilled in grassfed butter on the stovetop with a spinach, orange, kalamata olive, goat cheese salad (recipe from The Fresh 20 service which I subscribe to and LOVE), kids got some sweet potatoes, too - everything is from TJs except the butter, which is from Whole Foods

  • Snacks - Leftovers and almonds/raisins, slices of pear (all from, yep, TJs)

Day Four:

  • Breakfast - Kids: Trader Joe's oatmeal with almond milk and a drizzle of maple syrup with raisins and cinnamon

  • Me: leftovers - don't laugh, I do this!

  • Lunch - Eggs and bacon (eggs were local from a girl who raises backyard chickens and bacon was local from a farm here) and cantaloupe

  • Dinner - Quinoa with sauteed veggies (I sauteed everything leftover that needed to be used up, which in our case was zucchini, yellow squash and snap peas).  I added a little drizzle of honey, squeezed two lemons into the mixture and two cloves of garlic and cooked all of that for a few more minutes, then added a little mozzarella cheese on top of each bowl and let it melt.  I've adapted this recipe from the Farmer's Skillet at Iowa Girl Eats.  LOVE.  This is one of my husband's favorites, oddly enough.  Most ingredients from TJs, the honey from the Farmer's Market

  • Snacks - Leftovers, dried coconut chips (unsweetened, from the Whole Foods bulk bins), raisins and almond slivers

Day Five: 

  • Breakfast - Me and the kids: Trader Joe's oatmeal with almond milk and a drizzle of pure maple syrup

  • Lunch - Tinkyada brown rice noodles (I get mine from TJs) with a little celtic sea salt (call them crazy but this is one of my kids' favorite meals, boring as it is!), snow peas, carrots - All from TJs

  • Dinner - This ahhhhh-mazing Chicken Dijon dish from The Fresh 20 on mashed potatoes for Tim and I, brown rice noodles for the kids, with sweet potato casserole as dessert.  All ingredients from TJs.

  • Snacks - Just leftovers this day

Day Six:

  • Breakfast - Trader Joe's brand "cheerios" with sliced bananas and homemade almond milk for Adalyn/cow's milk for Ben.  I reeeeally dislike doing cereal for breakfast, but we were out of oatmeal and had no eggs, so this was really all I had to work with.  Sometimes you do what you've gotta do.  But honestly, I'm not just saying this, my kids whined for food all morning long after this!  At least it's Trader Joe's brand so it's not got GMOs in it, but I really do notice a difference when my kiddos eat processed foods, especially when it's carbs.

  • Lunch - Black beans (bulk from Whole Foods bins) seasoned with a little bit of garlic and cumin, avocado slices, sour cream (Whole Foods - Kalona Supernatural),  sweet potato chunks, green smoothies - everything not otherwise noted is from TJs

  • Dinner - Barbecue oven chicken with warm corn and brown rice salad and mashed potatoes (sweet potatoes for the kids).  Another one from Fresh 20 that was a HUGE hit.  Everything from TJs

  • Snacks - Diced up pears and leftovers

Day Seven: 

  • Breakfast - $20 if you can guess.  ;)  TJs oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins and a drizzle of maple syrup.

  • Lunch - Leftover brown rice noodles with a little celtic sea salt with cheese melted on top.  When I'm feeling adventurous, I make my own mac and cheese by eyeballing it: a little cream, a little cheese, a little butter and a little salt mixed in with some noodles on the stovetop until it all melts.  Add a little more cream and/or cheese until you get to your desired consistency and taste.  You really don't need a recipe for this.  It's hard to mess up!  Cheese and cream and butter?  Perfection no matter how you slice it.   Sweet potato chunks and pears, too

  • Dinner - Barbecue chicken pizzas (again, Fresh 20) - these are gluten-free and served on corn tortillas with yesterday's leftover barbecue chicken, shredded, with spinach, corn, cilantro and red onion slices.  It wasn't my favorite meal ever because I don't love barbecue sauce and my son doesn't love corn tortillas so he refused to eat it all together, but my husband loved it and my daughter gobbled hers up!

  • Snacks - Pears and leftovers

Our breakfast sitch:

Yeah, yeah, we boring breakfast peeps.  This started because we went gluten-free and this was the one thing my kids LOVED and would eat day in and day out, and since it's gluten-free, we stuck with it.  It's also so easy.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

Before the gluten-free days, I would make big batches of whole wheat pancakes and wafflesapplesauce bread and blueberry muffins at the beginning of the month and freeze them so that I could pop them out for quick breakfasts in the morning.  We also had yogurt every day.  My kids have been dairy-free for the past three months and we have slowly started reintroducing dairy back into Ben's diet.  Adalyn, we're not sure about yet.  I can't WAIT to add yogurt back in every day!  It's so, so healthy for you, so easy to make on your own and so yummy!

If you are gluten-free and are looking for more variety, here are a few tried and true recipes we've found and love: almond flour pancakes and almond flour blueberry muffins

Hope that was semi-helpful!  Our kids get water and water only to drink (aside from their morning milk).  They love it and I'm anti-juice.  Sorry, don't shoot the messenger!  I just think that as long as kids like it (and they like it if it's all they know), there's no reason to introduce other drinks like pop or juice into their diets.  Not only is it not good for them, but it costs money!  Water is essentially free.  I'm also a recovering juice addict (for. reals.) and I want to give my kids the best shot at not becoming like mama.

How much do we spend?

The last few weeks we've averaged about $150 per week on groceries.  I really believe this is due to The Fresh 20, because before that I was lucky to not go over $200 a week.  We're eating almost entirely organic and I'm not going to lie to you and tell you it's cheap.  But I will say there are ways to make it cheaper (like making a lot of food yourself rather than buying the convenience product instead), finding cheaper local sources for produce and meat and dairy.  Right now I pay top dollar for milk because I don't have a better option.  So we're spending $10 a gallon to get "okay" milk (low-temp pasteurized and not homogenized).  And we spend $7.00/lb for ground beef.  Etc.  Some friends who live in other parts of the country have much cheaper options than this.  When we visited Greenville, SC, they sold raw milk on the shelf at their farmer's market for $6/gallon!  If I had options like that, I would cut our budget down more.  We also eat a lot of meat right now because of the strict diet my kids have been on.  When you remove dairy and gluten and soy from a diet, you don't have a lot of options besides meat.  So another way to cut down would be to limit your meat, which I think is probably a good practice anyway.  Before putting my kids on this diet, we'd cut down to only 2 or 3 meals a week that were meat-based.  I am a HUGE believer in the quality of your meat being of utmost importance, so it makes much more sense to me to pay a farmer what he deserves for well-raised meat and to eat it less often than to buy crap meat and eat it two or three times a day.  I also believe that the healthier you eat, the healthier you'll be.  There are things that aren't preventable.  I don't have a crystal ball.  But I do feel that being a good steward to the Earth God gave us and treating my body well are the best ways to guarantee I live longer and live more enjoyably.  So yeah, I buy into the philosophy that you pay now to save later hook, line and sinker.  And not only do I believe I'll save money down the line in what would have been extensive medical bills, but I believe I'll just enjoy life more when I'm in good physical health into my 60s and 70s.  Who doesn't want to retire in good shape?!

Why I use The Fresh 20

The Fresh 20 has in NO WAY sponsored this post even though I have practically become a walking billboard.  I've tried almost every meal planning service over the years because I truly hate meal planning and making a grocery list every week.  It's a time-suck, and I'm terrible at it.  Like I said, I spend $800 and end up throwing way too much food out.  Their "20 ingredients or less" premise and the whole foods spin with gluten-free that doesn't include stuff like xantham gum and highly processed GF flours piqued my interest.  So a few weeks ago, I gave it a try.  And I must say, I am absolutely in love.  They truly are all about whole foods, but in a way that doesn't break the bank (they focus on being budget-friendly), and the meals are amazing.  Guys, I'm serious!  So far I've loved everything except one dish, which was still good, just not AMAZING like everything else.  The part that blows all the other services out of the water, though, is the 20 ingredients or less (meaning fast grocery trips the past two weeks!) and their meal prepping info.  Each week they lay out all the things you can and should prep beforehand.  So since I work a side job in the house now almost full-time plus care for the kiddos and keep the house, you know, functioning, I have very little time for actual cooking.  On Sunday, I prepped everything they told me to prep and it's made meal time a freakin' breeze!  I spent a few hours chopping, slicing, cooking rice and quinoa and getting everything organized for the week.  So come meal time, I literally just throw some things in a skillet and BAM.  Dinner.  I'm finally broadening my recipe horizons,  too!

Now go out and eat healthy, peeps!  :)


Blogland Syndrome

I'm in a unique position right now, designing blogs for people, in that I'm exposed to an awful lot of blogs.  Not just those I design.  You might say that scouring blogs has become an obsession.  It's how I get my creative juices flowing.  And I just love looking at pretty blogs.  So I do a lot of blog hopping.

Lately, this thing has been heavy on my heart.  I've seen it come up time and time again.  In blog after blog.  Even in emails that clients have written to me.  Today, I got one such email that said something along the lines of, "I hope having a pretty design will help me get traffic to my blog.  I'm stuck, I don't know how to get more traffic."  And it made my heart sad.

Sad because I've fallen victim to the same self-deprecation, so I understand.  It hurts.

Blogs are awesome and wonderful and obviously, since it is now my business, I'm not saying that blogs are inherently evil.  If blogs ceased to exist tomorrow, that would suck for me and Bella Lulu Ink.  So I'm not launching a war against them.  But I am saying let's stop the madness.  These tools like Bloglovin' and once upon a time some other service whose name has escaped me (that had something to do with posting some button on your blog and other people would come post and you would earn coins or some other stupid crap like that), these things exist because we're all seeking out blog success.  We all want to be the next Dooce.

Because...life would be better if we were famous?  If we had 500,000 visitors a month?  I mean, what are we seeking, really?  A few minutes ago, in my blog hopping, I ran across a post that a girl made that she later regretted.  She said something along the lines of, "I can't do this.  I'm done." and then the next day, "Just kidding, here I am, ready to try again."  In reading her posts at length, I learned that what she was done with and then ready to try again was making her blog successful.  Why does she only have 300 followers?  What's wrong with her?  She talked a lot about depression sinking in and self-deprecation hitting hard.  Because she only has 300 followers.

I think back to my mom's generation, and I wonder...was it nice to have less pressure?  Blogs and Pinterest and Facebook are all really great and valuable tools, but like I've talked about ad nauseum here, sometimes I can't help but think at what cost?  My husband left social media all together many months ago, and he nudges me on occasion to do it myself.  He's so much more present and so much less distracted.

This self-imposed rat race to have the next big blog is sort of ridiculous.  That it drives people to depression when they have 300 followers is sort of ridiculous.  That we've fostered this environment where the measure of success is how many people subscribe to your blog is sort of ridiculous.

Once upon a time, you grew up, endured high school and knew that once you made it out on the other side, the cliques would mostly dry up and life would be a little less...miserable.  These days, the high school cliques live on in Blogland.  Another post I read recently was all about the cliques at a blog conference.  The girl set off to the conference elated and giddy to meet some of these "famous" bloggers and left feeling deflated and unworthy.  It's why I have no intention of ever setting foot in one of these blogging conferences.  Thanks but no thanks.  Call me a party pooper but I know I have thin skin.   High school was hard enough.

And in a lame attempt to drum up blog followers, we've now resorted to button swapping, wherein we pimp out our blog and plaster blog buttons all over our own blogs, typically those we don't even read or care about.  Last month, I ran across yet another post that drove this point home.  The blogger said after much thought and deliberation, she was no longer offering paid ads or button swapping, but instead she would be posting the buttons of a handful of bloggers who she really read and cared about, and she wouldn't ask for money to do it or require that they post her own button (bravo, by the way!!!).  And that got my wheels turning, because it only hit me at that point that so many bloggers are selling out, posting buttons of blogs or companies they may not even care about - or worse, dislike - to make a buck or pimp their own blogs out.

I mean, it's sort of weird, isn't it?  This new environment is a breeding ground for self-loathing and insincerity.  Do we really even care about half the blogs we read and comment on, or do we do it so that we can get traffic to our own blogs?

I'm not perfect.  I can say with 100% honesty that I couldn't care less how many people read my blog, though.  All twelve of you are amazing, don't get me wrong, and I appreciate it.  But I write for me.  I write because I'm a terrible mom who hasn't filled out baby books and I hope that I can at least jot a few memories down to preserve.  I write because I'm a passionate person who is way too timid to share my opinions with people in person, so this ends up being the only way I get brave enough to get things off my chest.  I write because I'm a deluded person who believes I can change the world if I have enough passion and caffeine.  I'll totally rid the world of GMOs and the perception that soy is good for you and fat is bad and that liberal Christians are evil.  :)

There was a brief period of time in which I attempted to have a popular blog.  I fooled myself into believing that I could or that it mattered.  That my life would be better if people liked me.  Because isn't that what it all boils down to, really?  It's just the grown up version of high school, and we're all trying to be one of the cool kids.

Just...write for you.  Don't pay attention to your traffic or feel unworthy because nobody comments on your blog.  I can't help but wonder what the precipice will be here.  Maybe there never will be one, and this sort of drama will continue through the generations, but I sure hope not.  I don't want my daughter to feel like her worthiness is measured by her blog followers and that being a good mom means everyone loves you, you have a crazy instagram following and your blog is blowing up all over Pinterest.

And today, because I recognize my own weaknesses, my own thin skin, I'm going to unfollow every popular blogger I follow whose blog I don't actually care about at all.  Because the truth is that it's almost every one.  I was attracted to these blogs because everyone I know talks about them.  It was sheer curiosity with a dash of, "Could I be like her?" thrown in for good measure.  Do we follow these people on instagram and twitter and read their blogs because we care about what they have to say or because we have deluded ourselves into thinking we're one of the cool kids if we do?  If they reply to a comment, does it somehow fulfill some lost and empty part inside of you, created by the rejection you experienced by some group somewhere during the course of your life?  For me, it does.  And that's stupid and lame and in the end it just backfires.  And newsflash: it always will backfire.  I get on instagram these days and end up feeling like crap about myself.  I see all these "big" bloggers spreading the love back and forth between the handful of them, and I feel like I'm in tenth grade all over again, failing to measure up.

Enough is enough.  I want to teach my daughter to love herself, not loathe herself.  And what kind of example would I set if I continued down this path of wanting to fit in versus hating myself because I don't?  I may not talk about it out loud, but surely she can sense those feelings.  I know I am grumpier, my demeanor has to be different after a spell on instagram or google reader.

Some people have thicker skin, and this is so not even an issue for you.  If you're one of those people, you're awesome.  I wish my skin was thicker!  I wish I cared less what others thought of me and had more self-assurance, but I know myself.  I may have lied to myself for a few years, but now I'm getting real, and I'm recognizing what ends up making me feel lousy, and I'm taking steps to get that crap out of my life.  Because I want to be the best friend, mom, wife, daughter, granddaughter, etc., that I can be.  If I'm spending a whole bunch of time reading blogs I don't care about, following people on instagram I don't even know and beating myself up for not being cool enough, I'm wasting a lot of valuable time that I could be using to do other things that are actually beneficial to myself and those in my life.  Like, I don't know, reading the Bible.  Talking to God.  Praising my hubby.  Calling my friends.  Gals, let's stop the madness.

Phew, over and OUT.


Fake foods make you fat.

For real.  It's been a long time since I've touched Project Real Food, but I'm always learning and reading and soaking up everything I can.

Today was a big day for me.  I stepped on the scale for the first time in a week or two and realized I've hit my low weight.  My "low weight" basically just means that without starving myself or doing something really radical like a cleanse (which is always temporary and the second I start eating again, I put pounds on really quickly), this is the lowest weight I get to and seems to be what I function well at.  Maybe now that I'm in a healthy groove, I'll lose more without effort, but I feel good where I am right now.

This is the first time in my adult life since my weight first became a struggle (at around 19 years old) that I can honestly say I've done not one dang thing.  I haven't dieted, haven't counted a single calorie.  I haven't even worked out.  That's not something I'm proud of per se; I should be working out and I want to make exercise a daily part of my life.  BUT...all my weight has just naturally fallen off.

Not only did I stop counting calories, but after researching fat and reading Eat Fat, Lose Fat, I finally stopped paying attention to the fat in my diet.  As long as it's natural (and I define natural as found in nature, not altered in a lab, and coming from animals raised traditionally - so ONLY butter and cream and meat from grassfed/free range animals), I don't give it a thought.  If I want some butter on my green beans, I put butter on my green beans.  If I want to cook my steak in a big dollop of butter on the stove, I do it.  We drink the heck out of whole milk.

Ironically, it took all of this to make my weight struggles fix themselves.  It took doing everything "they" tell you not to do.  I feel like I'm my own little science experiment.  In the past, to get to this weight, I have had to bust my butt, spending hours upon hours counting every calorie that goes in my mouth and denying myself everything I was craving.  It doesn't require all of this!  It shouldn't require all of this!  When in the course of history has dieting been the norm?  I don't believe God intended for us to have to count our calories.  I believe He gave us the food we need to maintain our health.

The moment you add processed foods to your diet, you literally screw everything up.  Processed foods trick our brains to crave more and to eat more than we were ever intended to.  Stripping a food of its natural fats changes the way your body can absorb its nutrients and makes you hungrier.  And then we reach for more carbs to satisfy the hunger from the last carbs (because typically fat is replaced with sugar).  God, in His infinite wisdom, provided us with the natural, healthy fats and protein to take care of our needs.  We're the ones who screwed it up by creating new foods in the lab, always thinking we know better.  Hydrogenated oils, skim milk, fat free cheese (which, um, is pretty freaky if you ask me)?   These things are not healthy.  You only have to think about this on a very basic, very "common sense" level: at no time in the history of man have we ever consumed these fat free products before, and yet we are the fattest we have ever been.

Did I blow your mind?  It's so easy when you think of it like this.  It's not working.  What we're doing to our food system by "improving" it is destroying it.  And it's not weird, and it's not hippie, and it's not radical to think this way.  Just look around: so much disease (and so much of it brand new and so much of it related to weight and diet), so much obesity and so much "improvement."  This isn't rocket science.

As my friend Chelsea said on my instagram picture of my baby girl's terrible eczema: our bodies talk to us.  If only we would listen.

I finally stopped consuming "diet" products, counting calories, limiting my fats and I finally stopped struggling with my weight.  The only thing I had to quit was all the fake stuff that science has introduced into our food system.  And while I splurge on occasion, giving up those foods is actually incredibly easy.  Because after the inital withdrawal, once you fuel your body with healthy things, you just don't care that much for the crap.

It sounds so difficult, the idea of changing our food system.  But it really isn't.  Once enough consumer awareness existed regarding rBGH, big influencers like Walmart vowed not to buy milk containing rBGH, and all of a sudden most dairies quit using it.  That's all it takes.  Soon, we'll see the same thing happen with GMOs.  Mark my word.  Educate yourself, stop buying crap, and the crap will cease to exist.  And you'll be skinny!  :)

Edited to add a few things that I've been asked:

1. Literally, we keep almost ZERO processed foods in the house.  My husband has a cereal addiction (sorry babe, you know it's true) so he keeps cereal in the house and very rarely we will buy some almond Nut-Thins, almond milk (I try to make it, but time doesn't always allow), chocolate chips.  But mostly there are no processed foods here.  Even a little can derail you.  I hate to say that, but it's true.  We were forced into this lifestyle because of the drastic elimination diets my kids needed to be on and my health and weight has completely changed since doing this.  Don't allow it in the house and you can't be tempted.  I splurge when I'm out and about and I'm totally okay with that because I know that 95% of the time, I'm not splurging.

It doesn't require tons of time.  I don't have tons of time.  I'm now working at least 25-30 hours a week inside the home plus raising my kids and trying to keep up my home.  It can take a lot of time, but it doesn't have to at all.  For snacks, we do things like nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruit, carrots/pepper strips.  All just as easy as pouring goldfish in a cup.  For breakfast, we do oatmeal with a drizzle of maple syrup or yogurt I make (SUPER easy) with a banana or other piece of fruit.  On weekends I sometimes do eggs/bacon.  I PROMISE IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE HARD.  You just have to adjust to the new foods.  Sure, fresh fruit isn't as yummy as goldfish to a lot of kids, but if they don't have an option, they get used to it over time.  We used to only do cereal for breakfast.  It was a hard switch to oatmeal and yogurt/fruit, but now my kids literally LOVE oatmeal and ask for it at almost every meal.

2.  I'm going to keep a food journal for a week and share what I eat as someone asked me to.  :)

3.  Here is a VERY in-depth and great article on fat.  There are some missing holes, but overall it's a fantastic read.  In general I try not to link to the "Natural News" type of sites because even though I believe in their validity, a lot of people don't.  I want you guys to see that this is becoming MUCH more mainstream!

4.  Sugar and carbs are your enemy.  Sugar, sugar, sugar!  It's bad for your health.  I'm a sugar addict.  Processed foods are loaded with sugar.  It's SO addictive. I'm trying really hard to stop this vicious cycle.  We eat very few carbs now because of my kids allergies and intolerances, so I really do think this has contributed.  And I think just eliminating the processed foods almost entirely is what changed this for us.  Aside from the drizzle of maple syrup my kids get on their oatmeal or in their yogurt, they get no other sugar.  And I know this because they only eat whole foods.  When you're eating processed foods, unless you read the labels, you are probably in the dark on the massive amounts of sugar you're consuming.  Jami has given up sugar and is sharing great tips and info about her journey.  SO many things from energy levels to weight struggles to acne are affected by sugar.