Sugar-Free Stomach

Quick Note: This might get TMI for some of you. So read on if you’re interested in a dissection of my boy’s gut from birth to present.

For as long as I can remember, literally since he was born, E has struggled with lactose. They call it lactose intolerance, though he’s never been properly diagnosed. His father is lactose intolerant, so when problems quickly arose after E’s birth, I assumed it was from the copious amounts of milk I was drinking. I would drink a glass or two a day. I probably drank skim milk back then, and not the whole milk we drink now, but that is another part of the story. This is the story of my theory on what was really going on in E’s body.

I breastfed E for a whole year. I loved milk. It quickly became a problem. Growing up I was forced to drink milk every night for dinner. In general, I loved it. I never have broken a bone, and dairy products are among my favorite consumable products in the world. After E was born, he immediately had stomach problems. After eating, he would cry and cry, have tons of gas, smile, and then would be fine until the next time he ate, which for a newborn is almost incessantly. He also had a hard time pooing out meconium out after birth. This caused him not to want to eat (because he was full up), and he ended up sleeping all the time and losing a lot of weight immediately after birth. All of this took place within the first week of his life, which was pretty intense for an 18-year-old mom. My parents were on top of it though, and with the help of a pediatrician, who basically squeezed all that junk out of him, thus restarting his bowels, E survived. I quit all dairy for a whole year, supplemented for a while with soy-formula (we tried regular and it was bad news), and got him back up to his birth weight and beyond. He still had gas pains now and then, but seemed better for the most part.

When he was old enough to drink milk, he drank soy milk, which he lovingly referred to as soil milk until he was about three. At that time, to help him with the flavor because I didn’t love the taste of soy milk, I bought him the very vanilla flavored soy milk. It was quite delicious and more like a melted ice cream than milk. We trucked along with soy milk at the helm of our false-dairy life for a number of years. Then I introduced almond milk, and E was quite taken with it as well. We typically bought E his own soy cheese, almond milk, and even tried soy yogurt, which he didn’t like, in order to help him get through not being able to have diary. Yet his stomach problems didn’t really cease.

You see, pizza is a delicious and amazing food, and as a young boy, E loves it with most of his heart. It’s up there with late night movies and popcorn on a Friday and sweets for breakfast. Pizza is king, or at least prince, of all the amazing kid foods. It also happens to be Tyler’s favorite food as well, so we make them/buy them/order them/consume them quite often. As much as we tried to keep E away from dairy, it always snuck back in. He would have something here or there. He never fully gave up ice cream because who can truly do that forever when you have the determination and discipline of a 7-year-old or when you are a 7-year-old? And sometimes he had problems, but sometimes he didn’t. It was hit or miss. I couldn’t pin my finger on it, but there was still a stomach problem.

Even on days when he didn’t have dairy, E would complain of a stomach ache and take 20 minutes to go to the bathroom. This went on for quite a while. Maybe 2-3 years. Here is the part where I probably should have taken him to the doctor but didn’t because I figured it was just some residual dairy from the day before or that he was merely trying to get out of eating his vegetables or doing math work. My mother suggested it could be from nerves or being stressed (which I think could have also been affecting him). This could all partially be true, but there seemed to be other digestive problems to go along with whatever else was troubling him. He didn’t have hives or any other allergic problems, so I figured it wasn’t life threatening, and we didn’t go to the doctor.

Enter our sugar-free diet (fructose-free). Almost without me realizing it, all of E’s complaining stopped. I didn’t even realize it until we were talking about how the sugar-free diet had affected our lives. He said, “My stomach doesn’t hurt anymore.” It doesn’t? No. It doesn’t. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t hurt, and he doesn’t have the same problems he used to face. And while I don’t want to just target sugar, it was the only thing it could be. You see, during our sugar detox, the boy had started drinking whole milk and consuming a little bit of cheese daily. DAILY!

He was eating more whole-fat dairy (no fat taken out/no sugar added in), and complaining less about his stomach hurting.

This is a mini-miracle in my book. Something he had lived with for almost 10 years suddenly diminished because he stopped eating sugar. I’m not saying lactose intolerance doesn’t exist. I’m not saying he may have some trouble with it from time to time, but it seems as though the real culprit in E’s situation is sugar. It could be that he did in fact struggle with lactose problems/cow protein problems as an infant, but his body has now figured things out and his true sensitivity is sugar. This would explain why all of the days he didn’t have dairy he still complained about his stomach. Truly, lactose is a sugar, so this should be noted. In our diet, we’re specifically targeting fructose, which is a sugar we were designed to consume minimal amounts of daily. So his problems have been with sugar the whole time, just different types. Or maybe it was always fructose, but I consumed skim milk and ate low-fat cheese, where fat has been taken out and sugar added in.

He now faces a crossroads every time he wants to have a sweet. We’re not having them at home (often), but when we go places he has to decide if he wants an ice cream cone, a piece of cake, or something else. Sometimes he has it, especially if he’s with a bunch of friends, but he knows the risk associated with having a lot of sugar. He is less likely to consume it and never asks for any at home any more.

Our goals for him in doing a no-sugar diet were to see how well he focused on school work sans-sugar and mostly to curb the obsessive tendencies about sugar we were seeing in him. He wanted dessert after every meal, he ate only what he needed to eat in order to “earn” dessert, and he believed he inherently deserved a piece of cake or whatever. I see many of these qualities in myself and want to save him from a life-long struggle and love-hate relationship with food and sugar.

Thus far it has been mostly successful, though he pouts every now and then when I deny him something amazing, like samples at Trader Joe’s. The clean diet has done more than give him a longer attention span, a mind-set free from dessert, or discipline. It has given him the ability to consume dairy, and with the right ingredients, amazing, cheesy, chewy (his adjectives) pizza. Our sugar-free journey has been full of surprises thus far. I am excited to see how they unfold even further.