Five years ago, I would've denounced myself as "the crazy food lady." A litigator by training and the daughter of an engineer & a chemist, I'm a big believer in facts, NIH-backed research - and following the prescriptions of my family doctor.
Then Kaido happened.
Kaido is the beautiful, brilliant and extremely food-complicated little boy that my family had the tremendous good fortune to adopt. Kaido was born to bright and resourceful parents in America's rural south who were already raising a large family on food stamps for the 1st half of the month - and on whatever they could find in the church food pantry once the food stamps ran out. Theirs was a town so rich in poverty that even the grass had ceased to grow, and each 5 mile drive to the grocery store began with finding cash to put gas in their well-worn family mini-van. With dirt roads blending into dirt yards, 'food deserts' seemed an apt term indeed.
It was a far cry, across a void of time, history, place & culture, from the lush green New York City suburb that little Kaido would come to call home.
Adoption has a well-deserved reputation for being "hard" - but we soon realized that our journey was just beginning. Within days of his birth, our little one got very, very sick, holding himself so stiffly that he actually stood on his own two feet at a mere four days old. I knew there had to be something wrong.
Getting him home to New York, a frustrating struggle to find a diagnosis led us to Montefiore Children's Hospital in the Bronx. There, we were told that he had the classic signs of food allergies and food intolerances. Because I was nursing him (yes, you can do that in adoption), I was told to eliminate the most likely allergens from my diet: dairy, gluten, egg, soy, nuts, peanuts, shellfish, fish and in his case, corn and chocolate. Chocolate was obviously the hardest.
Within a few weeks, he got healthy - and then I did, too. Over the next nine months, I lost 25 pounds, along with narcolepsy, asthma and other medical conditions that no one could ever explain about me. You can read more of our personal story here.
I'd always been a "healthy" eater, but what I know now is that these were just symptoms of food intolerances, both to gluten
and to the histamine
occurring naturally in my (organic, healthy and nutritious) food, that had gone undiagnosed since I was a teen. Here I was nursing a newborn - yet I had more energy than I had had since high school.
Others pitied my new diet. I thought I'd won the lottery.
Once my little one was weaned, we came to better understand the extent of his food-triggered medical reactions, which we now believe are caused by a sensitive mast cell activation disorder. Stripping his diet down further to a mere 15 foods that he can tolerate well, on the direction of our immunologist, he jumped from the 4th percentile in weight to the 29th in a mere nine months. It was a dramatic transformation.
Applying the knowledge I had gained quarterbacking his medical conditions and my own, I was able to figure out that the chronic stomach pains, low growth, depression and even cognitive impacts that my older son had started to show were actually caused by his (inherited) histamine intolerance as well - a condition that's even been tied to schizophrenia in adults. You can find out more about histamine intolerance, getting started on a low histamine diet & recipes to help you manage the condition here.
This was the kind of experience that gets a mom's attention. In the weeks and months that followed, one mom in my neighborhood after another told me they thought the transformations I had worked for both of my kids and myself were remarkable and might help their own families - "but it's just too hard."
Perhaps it's my background as a litigator, but when I hear "it's too hard," I go to work.
And yet, they were right: following my custom diet was
hard. For years I'd battled asthma, sinusitis and my son's intransigent stomach pains before I'd even heard of the idea that you could have an "intolerance" to a food you weren't
allergic to - let alone that it could produce more than just a stomach ache. And it wasn't like there was a blood test that could reliably tell me what I was dealing with - histamine intolerance
was the 3rd or 4th elimination diet we'd tried before we started to see meaningful results.
We soon realized that diagnosis was just the beginning. Going to the grocery store - long a favored creative outlet - became a three hour ordeal with enough fine print to make your eyes cross. And I had to start from scratch to teach myself to cook without any of the building blocks I'd grown up with.
And yet, I was convinced that it didn't have to be this
hard - that much of what made my new daily routines so challenging was that I was constantly sifting, sorting and organizing information when all my body wanted to do was eat. How much easier it would be, I realized, if there were a community based on the needs of folks like me, for sharing recipes and the hard-earned nuggets of things that work - but one that can do all that sorting and analyzing for me.
How many more families could unlock their own health mysteries if we made it just a little bit easier to find the information you need to explore whether they were being triggered by what you eat? Could we make a difference - or even a noticeable dent - in health epidemics like asthma, obescity and others of the many health epidemics gripping America in the process? But most of all, how can we make sure that this difference is felt not just by families like mine but by the one my little guy was born to?
That was almost five years ago. Today, my family is still constantly learning about our diet needs but I also have a new way to occupy my time: raising my third "baby" - a technology one this time, called freedible.com
. It's a food and lifestyle platform for people with dietary restrictions that I created to honor my son and the family that gave us the extraordinary gift of the opportunity to raise him. On freedible, you can find diet, health and lifestyle tips
from almost 250 specialty food bloggers and 70 food brands, connect with others who eat like you do and search our community-wide cookbook
by over 50 diet restrictions to find recipes that actually work for you.
People often ask me how I can find the energy to build freedible, between having two young children and cooking the three separate dinners it takes to manage our various food restrictions every night.
But the reality is that for me, looking head-on at the miracle of our little boy finding his way to our family, with all that he needed from us and all that we needed from him, is kind of like looking at the sun. And starting a business is easier than looking at the sun.
Sometimes the universe brings us just what we need - if we only know to look for it.