Figuring out what foods your child should and shouldn’t eat is one of the most challenging and frustrating parts of their path to recovery. It can also be the most rewarding. Our kids are different. Simply making sure they are eating a healthy balanced diet low in sugar, processed foods and bad fats likely won’t be enough, although those changes will make a difference. They need more.
Our kids’ bodies and brains are out of balance, and their normal healing processes need additional support. Therapeutic dietary intervention is most often the foundation required to start the healing process in our children.
Here are five simple steps of the RAIRE Model I developed to help you choose the best therapeutic diet for your child. The RAIRE Model should be applied continuously and can be used to evaluate any therapeutic intervention for your child to minimize frustration, time and expense, and to get the best results as quickly as possible for your child.
- Dietary interventions can be confusing and complicated. A systematic approach will help you save time, money and frustration while maximizing results for you child.
- The RAIRE Model:
- Using the five-step methodology of the RAIRE Model, you can make the best decision about which diet can help your child, and how to best implement it.
- This model can be continuously applied and will help you accurately refine and use diet and other interventions in the most time- and cost-efficient manner, maximizing your results
Step 1: Record
The first step is to start documenting everything! This can feel overwhelming, but with access to the Birdhouse for Autism app, you can quickly, easily and accurately document.
Use the app to record everything your child eats and drinks, supplements they take, how much they slept, their moods, bowel habits, therapies and exercise. The more detailed and accurate the information, the easier it will be to determine what your next steps will be.
We will use all these details to discover what foods our children may be sensitive to, whether they are in need of digestive support and whether things like blood sugar management are of concern.
If you are just starting out, I recommend recording this information for at least two weeks before moving to the next step. Once you have implemented a new dietary plan, you will need to wait at least 30 to 60 days before making any major tweaks or changes to the diet to ensure you have given your child’s body enough time to adjust and respond.
Lastly, gather your child’s most recent functional testing results. Ideally, these will be current (less than a month old). When deciding on dietary choices, the two most important functional tests are a comprehensive stool analysis and a food sensitivity test (I prefer MRT testing). If possible, the organic acids test can also be very helpful, along with a current comprehensive blood panel. These tests give objective input to the decision-making process. Although they are not mandatory, they often can help take out the guess work and shorten the path to healing.
Step 2: Analyze
Once you have recorded enough details about your child over a period of time, you will need to ask yourself a number of qualifying questions. I’ve created a Food, Mood, Sleep and Poop Journal Review Checklist for for exactly this purpose. This is where you start making more observations and notes by looking at the bigger picture. You will now start seeing trends.
Birdhouse is extremely helpful in this process because it puts the information you have gathered into helpful charts and graphs. The visuals help you analyze, and ultimately interpret (step 3), this information.
While analyzing your child’s results, try to stick to the big picture. Look for trends and add notes as you go along, but try to stay objective without jumping to conclusions too quickly.
It is very easy to jump right into step 3, interpreting the results, but if you wait and summarize the bigger picture first (using the Birdhouse Report Feature and your own notes on the side), you will be able to present the information to your child’s practitioners to get an outside opinion about what the information may mean.
Step 3: Interpret
How does this all relate to choosing the right diet for your child? Well, the first two steps are essential. By recording and analyzing the details of your child’s diet and health habits, you can start to interpret what it all means for your child. You will begin to discover what their dietary needs may be and what healing diet would be most appropriate for them.
Interpretation is tricky without understanding what each of the signs and symptoms might indicate and how each of the diets work. There are many resources available to help you learn about the different therapeutic diet options available. If you are a parent just starting out and you find the choices too overwhelming, pass this information off to a practitioner to help you make that decision. No matter your level of experience, it is always a good idea to get an objective expert opinion to help guide you.
If you are already familiar with therapeutic diets and how to implement them with your child, then by all means, dig into the juicy data you have gathered and draw your own conclusions about what your next steps should be.
No matter your experience, you probably know more than you give yourself credit for. Even if you rely on a practitioner, you can absolutely begin to hone your skills in this area. It is essential that you build your knowledge base for the marathon ahead.
To help you interpret the data you have collected in the Birdhouse App, you can use a couple free tools I’ve developed: Food, Mood, Sleep and Poop Review Checklist and the Protocol and Therapy Review Worksheet.
As you walk through the data you have collected, ask yourself questions like:
- Digestion: What types of digestive symptoms is my child experiencing? Are these symptoms tied to a particular type of food or foods? For example, does my child get bloated after every meal or just certain meals? Are these meals high in FODMAPs?
- Cravings: Does your child only crave starchy and sugary foods? This would typically indicate dysbiosis and potential yeast overgrowth.
- Symptoms: Does your child get red cheeks and ears after eating certain foods? This could indicate phenol sensitivity.
Functional Testing Interpretation:
There are too many markers on the different testing panels to list them all here. Identification of gut dysbiosis, yeast, parasites, food sensitivities and nutritional markers through these test will help you make dietary decisions. For example, if all the signs symptoms and testing point to yeast being the primary challenge for your child, then you will want to consider a therapeutic diet such as Body Ecology Diet, GAPS or a custom Candida protocol to help rebalance the gut. Functional testing interpretation takes training and experience. If this isn’t your area of expertise, then ask the ordering practitioner what all the markers indicate and what the implications are for your child. Their interpretations will help guide your decisions.
When deciding which diet is best for your child, use my Top 10 Therapeutic Diets Cheat Sheet to help guide your choices.
Last, but certainly not least, when you are deciding on which diet to choose for you child, consider your resources and capacity for change. We are all different. For example, even though the GAPS (Gut & Psychology Syndrome) Diet may look like the best diet for your child on paper, you may not be ready to make such a major, time consuming lifestyle change. That’s okay. Only take on what you are ready to handle. You can start with an easier diet and go from there.
Resources to consider:
- Time to prepare food or source help to prepare food
- Financial resources to purchase supplement protocols and organic foods
- Buy-in from family members and caregivers to help effectively execute a therapeutic diet
Step 4: Revise
If you are starting a new diet for the first time, you will skip this step and jump right to step 5. After your child has been on the new diet for at least 30 days (ideally 45), you will start the RAIRE model all over again and eventually make revisions to the chosen diet to customize it for your child.
No one diet typically perfectly fits every child. For example, if you child is best suited to using the GAPS protocol but is sensitive to phenols, then you may need to adjust the diet while you work on healing and rebalancing the gut so they can begin to tolerate higher phenol foods normally included on this diet.
If this is not your first time implementing a diet, six to 12 weeks after implementation, you will go through the recordings, analyze them, interpret them, and make revisions if necessary.
This is why ongoing documentation is key. More often than not, we don’t get it 100% right the first go around. If you aren’t getting the results you expected then you will want to assess whether it is due to the diet itself, or the way the diet was implemented (no blame, just an honest assessment of what really occurred). Most often, you will make tweaks to your approach along the way.
Step 5: Execute
As parents who want to get right down to business and help our children, we often skip right to this step. We hear a success story or read about the merits of a particular diet and we jump right in because we want to help our children NOW!
Once we dive head first into a new diet, we often forget to document results or challenges we notice. This is where we go wrong. The details are key to your child’s success!
It is really important to continue with Step 1, recording all the time. As you execute the diet, the cycle continues. You will be recording, analyzing, interpreting, revising and then executing the adjusted plan over time.
Keep great records. This is where the gold is found! The day-to-day, meal-to-meal information you collect will help you decide if you are on the right track or if you need to make modifications.
Join Facebook groups with other parents who are on this diet journey with you. Implementation is the hard part. These groups are there to support and help guide you alongside your child’s practitioners.
Make sure before you start any diet that you have a clear understanding of WHY you are doing a particular diet, and what the key obstacles might be so you can plan ahead and create strategies to overcome obstacles before they arise. One of the main obstacles that many of us encounter when we start a new diet with our kids unfortunately are friends and family that just don’t understand why we are being so regimented with our children’s diets. They can’t understand why one little candy or cookie or even a slice of bread is such a big deal. You must have a clear understanding of why you have made you choice so you can explain it to others with clarity and conviction.
Knowing the why also helps you be able to make appropriate choices, and speeds up meal planning and preparation. Once you understand the reasons why certain foods are included or excluded in a particular diet then grocery shopping and packing lunches and going to friends and family for meals gets much easier. Strategy number one with every therapeutic diet is to understand the WHY and plan ahead when you are first starting out, otherwise you will have hungry children and an exhausted and overwhelmed parent.
When applied, using the RAIRE Model to choose and customize your child’s therapeutic diet will result in the most effective, efficient and typically least expensive way to get the best results for your child.
There is no single diet that works well for every child. Having a system for choosing, implementing, and monitoring the results of therapeutic diets is a recipe for success!
If you want to learn more about how to implement the RAIRE model or about different therapeutic interventions for your child please join me in the My Child Will Thrive Village Facebook Group.