How to be successful with clean eating: 3 easy steps

He is crying. I am crying. His tears and my tears spill over on his bedroom floor. His door slammed before he threw his blanket, pillow, and stuffed animals onto the floor. For 24 to 48 hours, my four-year-old son is raging with angry screams and big crocodile tears running down his face, not able to look me in the eye, and could not receive comfort when I am holding him.  I feel helpless. I am at a loss to answer the questions my extended family asks me about why he is emotionally falling apart. For his 2nd birthday, he is feeling so overwhelmed that he asks to go to his bedroom by himself during the last 15 minutes of his birthday while his friends are still at our house. I had no idea that clean eating is the key to leaving behind these angry rages and over-stimulated meltdowns for good.

This picture still brings back that happy day, but sad time.

When I was growing up, vegetables were not my favorite food group. I remember sitting at the glass dining room table and staring at my soggy brussel sprouts for hours, gagging just thinking about trying to eat them. Instead my favorite food group was sugary breakfast cereals like Captain Crunch, Cookie Crisp, or Lucky Charms. But I have learned how to cook, steam, and bake vegetables in a way that makes me want to eat them more. I now crave kale, spinach, broccoli, and crispy brussel sprouts. Kale is one of my favorite vegetables. We eat kale at least once a week at our house. I like kale in salads, in an italian chicken sausage white bean soup, and crispy kale made in the oven, which is the way my boys prefer to eat it. I know. I am so strange for actually wanting to eat vegetables, but this journey of clean eating has changed what I crave.

Our 10-year journey with Clean Eating began when my college roommate clued me in that my oldest son’s eczema could be related to a food allergy when my son was three years old. Through our holistic integrative pediatrician’s office and blood testing for IGG and IgE allergies, we confirmed that my son had an egg allergy. We started the overwhelming journey of cooking without eggs and using egg replacements in baking. I was referred from our pediatrician’s office to Laura Kopec, who is a functional genetic specialist, a nutritionist, and a naturopath. Laura Kopec showed me that the test results revealed my son was allergic to egg whites, but not the egg yolk. She then taught me how to cook with just the egg yolks. She mentioned we should consider avoiding gluten and processed sugar since my son already had a food allergy. You can be sensitive to more than one thing. I learned from Laura Kopec how to eat clean by avoiding gluten and processed sugar which became the first piece of the puzzle to help improve my son’s ADHD brain function.

Wondering if your child has food sensitivities? Wanting to connect with the nutritionist and naturopath who helped my son?

I honestly didn’t know where to start. I started my journey to avoid gluten by asking if eating wheat bread instead of white bread was okay. I had been hearing since I was a child that wheat bread was healthier than white bread, so that seemed like a good question to start with. I learned that there is gluten-free bread, not containing wheat, that actually taste decent and can be good for those with food allergies. Since that first introduction into a gluten-free and non-processed sugar eating plan, we have learned so much in the last ten years of feeding my three boys. When we started feeding my son only gluten-free foods, I realized that his 24 to 48-hour periods of inability to look me in the eye, lack of emotional connection to calm him down even when holding him, and tearing apart his room were completely gone. He could actually look me in the eye and comprehend the correction that I needed to provide for him. This was huge! 

A few years later, my other son had a dairy allergy that was not found on the IGG and IgE blood testing. But through trial and error, I realized that the small red bumps on his cheeks and arms (called Keratosis Pilaris or “KP”) went away when we took him off of cow dairy. During this time, my college roommate said with enthusiasm that she had met another child with energy “just like our son.” About this time, we took cow dairy out of our home for both of our boys. It was easier to keep everyone eating the same. My ADHD son stopped jumping from couch to couch in our living room. He was an active energetic boy, but wasn’t hyperactive and bouncing off the walls anymore.

Our third son was born the same week that my oldest started kindergarten. The youngest had reactions to gluten and dairy as well. During this time we were getting ready for a family vacation to Disney World. Disney World had gluten-free bun options, but the buns contained eggs. We had our three sons go through an allergy desensitization and elimination program. This program Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET) helped add egg whites back into my oldest son’s diet after eight to ten treatments just in time to make a family trip to Disney World. After cooking for our growing family with food allergies for three years at this point, I had learned three tips that saved my sanity.

Step 1 Everyone in the house eats the same food.

Everyone in the house eats basically the same food as the one that is avoiding a certain food. I make one dinner for everyone. I take out a dinner portion of ground hamburger out of the skillet first for a child that can not have something or prefers not to eat foods mixed together, then add an ingredient at the end of cooking, like spaghetti sauce, for the other members of the family. But if there are snacks that one child can’t have, then it goes in a special cabinet in the kitchen that is just for mom or dad. But generally, if one child can’t have something it has just been easier to not have any of my boys have it, unless it is a special occasion.

Step 2 Cook only for your immediate family.

Cook only for your family tree

I don’t cook for other families that have a new baby. Instead I pick up a prepared meal at Whole Foods, a meal from a favorite mexican restaurant, or give them a gift card to a local take out restaurant. I don’t cook for teachers at school, even the infamous holiday cookie exchange. I don’t cook for school birthday celebrations, even for my own kids, which most schools only allow store bought treats now anyway. But you get the picture. I realized that I only had enough energy to cook for our own family. I do cook and host for extended family gatherings, but have learned even then to make the main meal or the dessert but not both. 

By maintaining gluten-free and dairy-free and starting a vitamin and supplement routine recommended by a brain doctor, we found my son surviving school, but just barely. He had gotten identified with dyslexia and ADHD with executive function struggles, at the end of 1st grade. In 3rd grade, we realized that we were still missing a piece of his puzzle for his brain to work efficiently. He was working so hard and was just struggling to focus. He would be rollerblading around the kitchen while I worked with him on his spelling words and math homework. Good thing we had a big kitchen with an island in the middle to rollerblade around.

At the end of 3rd grade, I started hearing about a “better fuel for your brain” eating plan called the Feingold diet. I wondered if Feingold could be the missing piece to the puzzle that my son needed. I was worried that after being gluten free and dairy free that at some point my boys might start to revolt and be frustrated that they couldn’t eat hardly anything anymore. I was worried that I didn’t think that I had the energy to make one more change. Through a conference to support and inspire kids with dyslexia, I had heard a success story from a new adult friend whose mom had raised her on the Feingold diet.

We had changed from a public school to a charter school after a difficult teacher in 3rd grade. The 3rd grade teacher was providing my son with some accommodations for dyslexia, but not all that he needed in the classroom. She had been taking away my son’s recess for to retake quizzes and in-class assignments two or three times a week for several weeks without notifying me. At the new charter school, I had met a new mom who had started Feingold with her son and was seeing positive change and success. I know it seems like I might roll with new change after all that had happened with our family’s food allergies, but I struggled to know how to approach such another big change. I struggled to know how to start with even a baby step. It felt so overwhelming to do one more change. 

Read more success stories from several Feingold moms.

Step 3 Start changing just one food a week.

I changed from apples to pears week one. Then, from almonds to cashews and pecans the next week. As I was attempting this new better fuel for your brain eating plan, I listened to the audiobook All Natural Mom’s Guide to the Feingold Diet: A Natural Approach to ADHD and Other Related Disorders by Sheri Davis, who had a happy well adjusted teenage son that had success with the Feingold eating plan when her son was in preschool. Sheri created a Feingold refridgerator magnet that makes the eating plan easy.

This was a success story that I could hold onto as I took my baby steps. After six months of week by week changing one food a week, we had implemented the full better fuel for your brain Feingold eating plan. We had a few mishaps along the way like realizing that oranges are the not good fuel plan and that bananas caused brain fog because of the gas that is used to ripen all bananas, even organic bananas.

Around six months into this better fuel for your brain-eating plan, my son came to me and said, “Mom, it doesn’t hurt my brain to read anymore! Mom, I can remember things better.” I was shocked. I had started to notice that I didn’t have to call him five times to get his backpack anymore. I used to get exasperated saying “Please get your backpack,” “Could you get your backpack,” and on the fifth time just say “Backpack?!!!” But not anymore because my son would come to me now with his shoes and backpack on saying “I think I am ready for school.” I wish you could have been in the kitchen to see my jaw drop open in surprise. The Feingold Diet and ADHD natural medicine like magnesium glycinate have been the next major pieces of the puzzle to improve my son’s brain focus and attention span. Consult a nutritionist, naturopath, or integrative holistic doctor before giving yourself or your child any supplements that you may see in this post.

He was still dyslexic. He was in his dyslexia class 5 days a week for 45 minutes per class at the charter school. He was still going to struggle with reading a word wrong, like all dyslexics. But he actually checked out a chapter book from the school library, other than Diary of the Wimpy Kid that had mostly picture interest, and started reading it. He picked a book called Warriors into The Wild by Erin Hunter that was in a six-book series. He read all the books in the series on his own. We encourage audiobooks for school book club books, history books, and autobiographies because dyslexic reading even on the Feingold eating plan means that you can read, just at a slower pace. But this reading just for fun was a sign that his brain really had cleared up.

Book Cover Photo by Erin Hunter

Managing our food allergies and ADHD food sensitivities (in our house called “not the best fuel for the brain”) is possible by taking time to plan ahead for the school parties, birthday parties, and eating most meals from home. For the occasional meal out, we normally choose a restaurant serving gluten-free hamburgers, gluten-free pancakes, Mexican, or Indian.

Your desire to eat clean is possible by following the 3 easy steps that were the success of our journey.

1 Everyone in the house eats the same food.

2 Cook only for your immediate family.

3 Change one food per week.

Your clean eating journey can be made simple and yummy by checking out my most requested gluten-free vanilla cake recipe that people can not believe is actually gluten-free.


The Gluten-Free
Cake Recipe
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