Naturally Savvy: Gina, you have a very interesting story. You have two children with special needs and you live a lifestyle that helps your children thrive. How did you get started, what do you do, and what differences did you see in your children?
Gina Badalaty: My journey began as I tried to help my children, who both have disabilities. I have two daughters. My 12 year old, Amelia, has a rare form of Down syndrome called Mosaic Down syndrome, and my 9 year old, Zoe, was first diagnosed with sensory processing disorder at age 2, and with autism at age 3. Amelia was my easy baby. Super easy. She was sleeping through the night by about 4 or 5 weeks. She never cried; it was just a joy.
When Zoe came around, we struggled a lot because of the sensory issues she was born with. She cried all the time; she never got enough rest. She was always very upset and sad – and it broke my heart. We got the diagnosis, we tried conventional therapies, we did everything we could. Her spirit did improve with traditional therapy (like occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy), but by the time she was five, she was still not sleeping through the night. She slept in 4-hour shifts and would get up in the middle of the night and jump up and down on our beds wanting to play. It really affected all of us. Even my very even-tempered Amelia was upset and cranky all the time because her sister would disrupt her sleep. As a family, we were all frazzled and sleep-deprived. We tried all kinds of things for Zoe that are traditionally considered to help, but nothing helped, until a friend of mine suggested the autism diet. I was hesitant because a doctor told me once it doesn't do any good, but she reminded me that it wouldn't hurt to try. She was right.
We removed dairy from her diet, expecting to see signs of improvement within about 3 weeks. We did this as a family so that there would be no contamination or temptation. Within exactly 2 weeks, Zoe was sleeping through the night. In addition to this, Amelia, who had chronic allergies her whole life (she had a runny nose 7 days a week, 365 days a year), for whom prescription medications did not help, no longer suffered from allergies. All this just from removing dairy. AND her academics improved! I was completely shocked and thrilled. I couldn't have been converted faster to a more holistic lifestyle.
When Zoe went into first, grade I took out artificial colors, preservatives like BHT, all that kind of stuff. Before the change, she would parallel play at school, which means she began playing alongside her peers but not interacting with them. Once we took her off all of the chemical ingredients, she started to interact. We tried a couple of different options and protocols. We tried homeopathy and saw big improvements in her digestive health – a big concern for most kids with autism.
NS: Did you have any push-back from your daughters, or anyone else in their life, when it came to changing their diet?
GB: A lot of people don’t really understand and there is just no way around that. There are a lot people though, who will make the effort. It can be challenging because it is difficult to accommodate everyone. I think at this point everyone in our lives knows and accept it and do their best to help. Every now and then I will have somebody ask me questions about what’s healthy for their kids and that always me feel really good, proof I'm doing the right thing.
NS: What advice would you give to other parents who are in similar situations?
GB: I think first would be to address food issues, but to start slow. Just do one thing. Don’t get all hyper and carried away, because if you jump at everything at once you are just going to lose it! Track that one food you are removing and look for changes.
If you are in this already (doing any sort of treatment, be it foods, homeopathy, or something else) and you mess up (there is a food infraction or you forgot to give them their homeopathy, etc.), take a deep breath and remember that you can do it right tomorrow. That’s why that’s the name of my website is Embracing Imperfect. You can't always be perfect. You may meet people along the way who seem perfect at this, but you are going to meet a lot more that aren’t. I am pretty sure the "perfect" people have a lot of time, a lot of resources, and/or have been doing it for years. So forgive yourself when you don’t do it perfectly and just try to do it better the next time.
NS: Be gentle to yourself. That’s good advice.
GB: It's really important to not completely lose yourself. Take care of yourself too. I will tell you right now that it's easy to fall into the trap. I think about it and talk about it all the time, and I still fall into the trap. Every couple of days check on yourself. Am I doing ok? Am I taking care of what I am eating? Am I making sure I am getting enough rest?
Finally, be sure to follow your gut. If you are raising kids with disabilities, you are going to run into a lot of obstacles. But go with your gut, go with what you think is right, and forget the naysayers, forget the haters, forget the indifferent people. Do what you feel is best as a parent. I know this is easier said than done! But just take a little time to listen to experts and get your legs under you, and eventually it will come. Once you know a thing or two, stand up for your kids and how you want to raise them.
[Editor's Note: If you want help eliminating unhealthy ingredients and chemical additives from your diet for good, click here to sign up for a Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenge.]
Image: Barney Moss