It was on a regular Saturday morning grocery shopping trip to Kroger when I lost my five-year old daughter Haylie in the health food section. She was obsessed with those kid-sized carts, banging one round and round the short aisles of the natural foods section, and I dropped a box of something into it each time she made a lap past me as I stood there meticulously reading the labels on everything, a new obsession of my own.
One of the first things I learned about treating Haylie’s brain injury was that nutrition was very important, and that I was going to have to clean up her diet. I had already come a long way from my college days, when I subsisted almost entirely on pretzels, diet coke, and camel lights. I had found all-natural peanut butter and organic baby food on my own. But now, the changes proposed necessary for her neurological rehabilitation were taking me to a whole new level in my understanding of food and what it does to the body and brain.
I learned that every bite of food your child takes is an opportunity to nourish and heal an injured brain. There was no room for error here. So, I scoured labels, looking for words like “sugar” and “milk” and any artificial preservatives, additives, or colors. I scoured the shelves of the health food aisles, hoping to find things that looked familiar enough and fun to eat.
This all made grocery shopping a much more involved process than before and more challenging to do with a hyperactive five year old kid in tow. Running laps with her mini cart kept her occupied for a while, though with crossed eyes and poor coordination, she was a threat to the ankles of other shoppers everywhere, not to mention the neatly stacked items throughout the adjoining produce department.
So, that’s when I realized that she was missing, when she didn’t whiz by to clip my ankle on schedule, and I popped my head around the end of my aisle to take a look at where she had gone.
Looking toward Meat and Seafood, no Haylie.
Around the other end, still no Haylie.
So then I walked out of the natural food section, heading up the main aisle toward the bakery, when I spotted, with a deep sense of relief, in the distance, my black-haired Tasmanian devil princess pushing her shopping cart toward me.
But wait! What is wrong with her face?
From where I stood, it looked like she has something blue all over the bottom part of her face, where her mouth is supposed to be. What is that?
“Haylie,” I commanded, “come here, please.”
She was coming toward me and, at the same time, I was walking toward her, confused, trying to discern why there was something blue on her face in the middle of Kroger on a Saturday morning and what in the world it could be.
At the moment that we met, I bent down to get eye to eye with her and to take a closer look at her sweet little cross-eyed face with…yep…that’s blue icing all over her top lip.
“Honey,” I began to ask, as I used a finger wet with mom spit to start cleaning her face, “what…”
And then, instinctively, I glanced left, looking straight into the clear doors of the donut display where, at the front of the shelf right at my bent-over eye level, was a big fat cake donut topped with bright blue - with a bite taken right out of it.
“Oh, Haylie,” I started, and she, too, looked over at the evidence in the case, and then looked back at me, eyes wide with wonder above that delicious blue smile.
At this point, there really weren’t any questions to be asked. Well, only one perhaps. As I grabbed a wax paper and opened the case to remove the bitten blue donut and place it into a bakery bag, Haylie asked me with a mix of enthusiasm and curiosity, “What are you going to do with it, Mommy?!”
“I’m going to buy it,” I replied with as straight a voice as I could muster, trying not to laugh. “You ate part of this donut and so we have to pay for it, right?”
She nodded in agreement. “Right.”
“And then what?” she persisted, “Mommy, what are you going to do with it?”
On the way to the checkout, we pondered this dilemma together. I proposed that it should probably be thrown away since we know now that eating sugar is not good and we need to do what is best for her health. She did throw out the counterargument that that would be a waste of both food and money. True enough.
She had another idea to give it to someone, but there was the whole issue of the bite she took and sharing germs, and I agreed that was a valid concern. So, in the end, after checkout, I bent down and took her soft little hand in mine near the exit. I looked her in the eyes as I held the contraband bag out to her and said, “OK, here you go. Enjoy it, because this is the last one you will ever have.”
She polished it off before we even reached the car.
Now, I wish I could say that I was true to my word and that the Kroger donut with blue icing was the last bite of sugar my daughter ever had. But, it turns out that, as committed as I was to doing whatever it would take to make her well, kicking the sugar addiction was not such an easy task at first.
And it was an addiction, for sure.
The first time I quit sugar, I had headaches in the middle of the night for three nights straight. I had almost unbearable cravings where I thought about it (sugar, eating sugar) all the time. I spent hours researching recipes that would make things similar to the sugary treats I loved but without the sugar (they were all terrible). I was really grumpy. I couldn’t focus. I smoked a lot. It wasn’t pretty. That was the first time.
Next came my denial phase, where I was actually eating sugar on a pretty regular basis, but I didn’t keep it at home. So, I no longer kept diet cokes in the house, but I went out to buy one from McDonald’s every morning before breakfast. Haylie and I would go to the YMCA each day to do her running program, and on the way home I would stop by the CVS to buy a single-sized serving of Oreos as a reward.
As you can imagine, this phase didn’t earn me any respect points with my maturing daughter who knew exactly the hypocrite I was being, but didn’t argue with me since she liked Oreos too. She did blab me out once on an Intensive Treatment Revisit Appointment though, telling the nutritional staff member that we only ever ate ice cream at the ice cream shop and that she preferred mint chip.
Funny, that didn’t make it onto our Diet History Sheet. Oops.
But, finally the day came when I got straight with myself about the compulsive nature of my relationship with sugar-containing foods and how this could be interfering with my ability to do a successful program of neurological organization to rehabilitate my daughter.
It was Dr. Phillip Maffetone’s book, In Fitness & In Health: The No-Nonsense Guide to Diet, Exercise, and Disease Prevention, that finally changed this for me. In that book, I learned that not only is sugar a problem, but that all the excess carbohydrates that turn to sugar in the bloodstream are a problem. Taking out the items with the refined sugar (the white stuff) was just the tip of the iceberg and, I realized, I had to get down to the root of the problem if I ever hoped to be healthy myself and to help my daughter to be healthy and free of her brain injury.
And, the root of that problem turned out to be my carbohydrate tolerance, or rather, intolerance.
That scientifically-backed understanding of the ideal human metabolism lead me to my first two-week carbohydrate test. Some things I did right. Some things I did wrong, but it eventually lead me to understanding the most crucial thing I needed to know to be able to help Haylie become seizure free without medications.
It's also the foundation of my Brains Basics Course, which teaches parents how to help their kids outgrow (rather than learn to live with) learning disabilities.
And a major piece of my Vibrant Woman Course, where I teach mamas how to care for themselves so they can care for others without burning out.
Watch my interview with Dr. Phil Maffetone here. We go deep into the sugar addiction issue and what it means for your family.
With much love,
I began this blog to share pieces of the book I'm writing about my daughter's courageous march down the path from brain injury to wellness. It's the story of how one little girl overcame the odds, a long list of labels, and limiting diagnoses. I hope it inspires other parents to dream bigger by knowing what is possible.