I Believe in Hope

When did hope lose its meaning? When did it go from hanging out with its support team of faith and love to being in the wrong crowd with fat chance and cold day in hell? When did people stop believing in hope?

As a child I was frequently told “don’t get your hopes up.” But I wasn’t the only one and it’s still happening today. As a society we are constantly told and sold the belief system of “muddling through” and “just getting by” from the pharmaceuticals that offer more side effects than relief from symptoms, without hope for a cure, to lottery tickets with impossible odds to the nightly news spewing crime and violence as headlines.

Hope needs an intervention. We need a conversation with hope to remind it and ourselves of its true nature. That real hope and belief in miracles is possible. Not the watered-down pie-in-the-sky hope of “good luck with that”, “let’s not get our hopes up,” because “there’s a slim chance” of a cure, or winning, or even survival. Are we so afraid of disappointment that we no longer believe in hope?

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.” ― Robert Fulghum

I left the highly supportive world of autism support groups in 2010 when our family moved to Minnesota. Finding that the local group in our new town had recently disbanded and that my son, with the healing power of real nourishing food, no longer needed an I.E.P. (ticket to special education) for autistic traits he no longer possessed, I felt no void, until recently.

The lead character in my children’s books is a marmot. The books are our stories ON (Moby’s First Day of Kindergarten is about autism acceptance and peer advocacy) and OFF (Moby’s First Day of Summer Vacation is about the healing power of food) the autism spectrum. So I reached out to see if I could set up a table at a local autism awareness event to share information about my books and my upcoming community education gut-healing cooking classes. Healing the digestive system is effective treatment for autism and other mental and physical illnesses and conditions. Real food is not snake oil hope, it works. Given real nourishing food, our bodies know how to heal. That’s real hope to get families out of the muddling through world of therapies and accommodations into freedom of possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, the work done by therapists, social workers, and support staff is necessary and helpful while the body heals. My first book is all about using the tools and tips from these helping professions.

At this autism awareness event under a local park pavilion, I was one of three informational tables all in a row – one table manned by a representative from the state autism society, another one by a local occupational therapist, and then my table. This first time event was well attended. Interestingly, many people gave my table a wide berth on the way to visit the other two tables. It’s not like I even brought my signature Avocado Chocolate Pudding (although maybe I should have), I was just standing there with my books, stuffed animals, and pamphlets. 11056554_10204988563614764_5701123969913562814_n A handful of hopeful people did approach my table interested in my knowledge and experience, but it wasn’t many, which got me thinking. I left the autism community and nothing has changed. “The Experts” upon diagnosis delivery still fail to mention effective dietary intervention to parents just like back in 2004 when we were told “there is no cure for autism” only a daily professionally directed and often medicated navigation through meltdowns and odd behaviors.

Toward the end of the event, I inquired with the very kind representative from the state autism organization on how I could submit a presentation proposal for the state autism convention. She gladly filled me in on the submission process, and then cautioned that I could not mention healing or cure. Funny how it’s acceptable to cruelly proclaim a lack of a cure, but not a cure. As a Certified GAPS™ Practitioner, I claim that gut-healing real nourishing food offers effective treatment for autism. The state autism representative agreed that the wording of “effective treatment” is acceptable. Consider this, treatment is okay because it doesn’t get people’s hopes up too high, but a cure for and healing of autism is irresponsible. We were given no hope for our son’s future. We proved them wrong, my son is no longer on the autism spectrum and his future IS FULL OF HOPE.

Since my discussion that day, I was hit with yet another hope deluding recommendation to limit my verbiage, which makes me dig in my hopeful heels even deeper. A fellow business group companion cautioned that I should not even use the words “effective treatment”, but rather “may alleviate symptoms” would be easier for people to swallow. But I like feeding people real nourishing spoonfuls of hope and will continue to do so. I believe in the power of hope.

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“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson

Truth of Self

The aftermath of somewhat standing my ground is familiar numbness, not triumph. On the timid verge of valuing my worth, my strength to bask in burning criticism is questionable. Hovering under the radar of backlash dulls my shine. Fear of disappointing others paralyzes my truth. Still, sunshine offers a simple appeal.

Numbness comes easy, too easy, like an empty brown paper bag. To fill with emotion would certainly cause its disintegration freeing me from its nothingness, while simultaneously causing widespread devastation and flooding. Rote juggling blocks my need for a muster seed of faith, giving me a dull sense of control despite the fatigue. Sage and social media wisdom screams for truth of self. How dare I not follow its advice? How dare I do?

My heart is heavy; its inherent luminosity is dim. Only love lifts, lightens, and liberates. The outdated fade-to-black, shutting down, survival mode no longer protects my heart from hurt. The weariness from this chronic suffering now surrenders to love, crumbling the façade, forcing my feelings to be felt, my life to be lived, my light to shine. My lungs allow a deep breath as my heart allows love.

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Symbiosis

I’ve been grappling with my new hypnotherapist profession and certification, not that I’m questioning my new endeavor, because I’m not. Hypnotherapy is my passion, my purpose. As a hypnotherapist, I guide others to connect with and experience peace, purpose, and positive change. How cool is that! It makes me feel alive.

Rather, the conflict resides in the duality of my enthusiasm. You see, I feel this same passion, purpose, and aliveness being a gut healing GAPS practitioner. In my mind, they seem so far apart; different enough to warrant two separate business cards!

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The explanation of my two different practices is often cumbersome, sending me back into the rink for more professional identity wrestling. But maybe I need to get out of the rink. Maybe my two loves are not at odds. Maybe they offer symbiotic healing. Certainly when someone is reclining in my fabulous hypnotherapy chair (courtesy of one of my practice clients!) reprogramming their hard drive to release weight or relieve depression, the thought of GAPS also improving his/her mental and physical wellbeing crosses my mind. Likewise, while teaching about GAPS and feeding people gut healing food, my mind considers how changing some of their long held erroneous diet beliefs at the subconscious level could catapult their healing.

GAPS heals the digestive system to successfully treat many mental and physical illnesses. When the mind and body are feeling great, access to the spiritual self seems more effortless and accessible, as depicted by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

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I’ve experienced this personally. After beginning to detoxify and getting my lymphatic drainage system moving again after 9 long blocked and tear free years, my spirit soared. Just as much as food and health are connected, so connected are the mind, body, and soul. GAPS is an outside-in approach to healing, bringing real nourishing food from the outside to improve the body’s functioning on the inside.

Hypnotherapy offers improvement from the inside-out, allowing for positive changes and guidance at the subconscious soulful level to help the mind and body function optimally, somewhat an inverse approach to the hierarchy of needs.

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Despite the directional approach of healing, both GAPS and hypnotherapy holistically enhance the quality of life – mind, body, and spirit.

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from out and in and in and out, and I’ve found wholeness and connection. I embrace this connection, this symbiosis, and from this point forward offer a clearer picture of my professional loves not as contrasting but rather as complimentary. I now grasp that even the dichotomy of my loud and boisterous voice and laughter as a GAPS practitioner/teacher contrasting sharply with my peaceful and encouraging voice as a hypnotherapist/teacher serves to join the yin and yang of me, bringing a collective wholeness to my holistic health practices of Nourishing Happiness and HYPNOurish.

Healing With Food Made Simple

Healing your gut the GAPS™ friendly way is easy with MEFAVE meals and FAVE snacks. Healing the digestive system with nourishing food, naturally treats many mental and physical illnesses.

MEat (Protein) + FAt + VEggie (Carb) = MEFAVE
FAt + VEggie (Carb) = FAVE

That’s it! Remember MEFAVE and FAVE every time you eat! No elaborate meal plan necessary! Need a bit more information? Keep reading!

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Luscious Lasagna and Butternut Squash Fire Fries

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Pumpkin Pie and Homemade Sour Cream

DO: Eat all the quality meats, fats, and veggies you want. Fats don’t make you fat. They make you happy, healthy, and full!
DON’T: Count calories or limit fats or eat factory fats like margarine, canola oil, corn oil, etc.

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(I consume anywhere from ½ -1 cup of fats each day with food, not hunkering down on a stick of butter like this meme jests.)

DO: Eat almond and coconut flour baked goods.
DON’T: Eat grains.

DO: Sweeten your life with raw honey.
DON’T: Eat sugar or artificial sweeteners.

DO: Eat 24 hour fermented dairy.
DON’T:  Eat unfermented dairy.

DO: Eat food as straight from the source as possible.
DON’T: Eat processed foods.

DO: Think of veggies first, followed by fruits and nuts, when you think of carbohydrates, instead of the iconic carbohydrates of bread and pasta, or other grain products. While VE of veggies works better than CA of carbohydrates in the MEFAVE acronym (MEFACA and FACA sound unappetizing to say the least), it also triggers the thought of preferred lower glycemic vegetables. Fruits and almond flour baked goods are higher glycemic occasional treats.
DON’T: Think it’s odd to lump nuts in with the carbohydrate category. Nuts contain all three macronutrients – proteins, fats, and carbs. They had to go somewhere and almond flour baked goods seem much more carb-like.

DO: Add fat to your fruit or almond/coconut flour baked good snack to slow the release of glucose into your bloodstream.
DON’T: Laugh like my kids do when my FAVE snacks are often a fruit (not a veggie) with homemade sour cream dolloped on top for the fat. Like FACA, FAFR seems awkward.

DO: Use MEFAVE acronym when dining out. My favorite restaurant MEFAVE meal is a burger without a bun.
Burger (MEat) + Guacamole (FAt) + Lettuce, Tomatoes, and Onions (VEggies) = MEFAVE
(Granted, the meat may not be grass fed and/or the establishment may not offer guacamole, but you can still eat out in a GAPS™ friendly way. I often carry butter (no refrigeration necessary) in my purse to use if guacamole is unavailable. Okay, I confess. I sometimes whip out the butter even when my burger is graciously guac topped!)
DON’T: Be afraid of socializing at eateries. MEFAVE and FAVE combinations offer infinite possibilities. For the occasional potluck or family gathering, you can take your own food.

DO: Read articles about the health benefits of diets high in saturated fats and low in starchy carbohydrates to be able to educate the often well-meaning skeptics and critics in your life. Here are a few good ones!
A Call for a Low-Carb Diet, New York Times
Butter Is Back, New York Times
The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease, Wall Street Journal
Time To End The War Against Saturated Fat? Los Angeles Times
These 11 Charts Show Everything That’s Wrong With The Modern Diet, Business Insider
Running a Marathon? Load Up on Fat, Washingtonian
DON’T: Be afraid of fats and cholesterol. Cholesterol is a healing agent!

DO: Watch the documentary, Fat Head, suitable for the entire family. Then watch the short Fat Head Followup.
DON’T: Wear socks with your sandals like the Guy from CSPI! Ever!

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DO: Infuse your diet with healing broths, fermented dairy, cultured veggies, and juicing!
DON’T: Be afraid. My videos show you how!

DO: Watch NPR’s The Invisible Universe Of The Human Microbiome animation to learn the importance of probiotic foods.
DON’T: Be too concerned if you can’t fathom that we are 10 times more the creatures that live in and on us than we are actually ourselves, because I can’t either.

DO: Be an advocate for your health. Given real nourishing food, your body knows how to heal! It’s simple! Remember MEFAVE and FAVE!
DON’T: Relinquish your health to anyone.

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Baked Chicken with BBQ Sauce (MEat) + Butter and Chicken Skin (FAt) + Asparagus (VEggie) = MEFAVE

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You matter! What you eat matters!

Wrong Information

Three suicides occurred within the past three weeks, a time period also shaken by the shocking suicide of beloved comedian/actor Robin Williams, in my small (about 30,000 in population) Minnesota town nestled between the beautiful bluffs and the meandering Mississippi River. If it weren’t for my monthly Bunko outing, two of these local tragedies would have remained unbeknownst to me.

These local lives passed with not much media mention. The first of the local suicides and the most publicized with a full newspaper article (not just an obituary or blurb as the other two received) even downplayed the death with the title, “Woman Dies After Falling From Winona Bridge.” Falling? So we are sweeping her suicide under the rug as an accidental slip of foot when she was on the river side of the safety guard?

The second of the three lost to suicide was a senior at the high school this year, bringing the total of high school suicides to 3 in the past 1 ½ years. The shroud of secrecy surrounding all five of these local deaths casts a shameful veil, like the person actually did something wrong. My heart goes out to the families and friends for their inconceivable losses of loved ones that seem more like victims to me. That’s right, victims. We all are. Victims of a misleading mental and physical health care system and wrong information.

1. Wrong is dichotomizing the treatment of health into two unconnected realms. Mental and physical health are not separate. My elevator spiel describing myself as a Certified GAPS™ Practitioner is “when you heal the gut/digestive system, you heal many mental and physical illnesses”… including depression. Both mental and physical health are connected. The purpose of digestion is to get nutrients out of food so the cells in our bodies can function properly, including our brain cells. Many people’s digestive systems are not working correctly, therefore nutrients cannot be extracted from food and the cells (including our brain cells) end up malnourished and malfunctioning. In addition, many people eat foods that are harmful to the digestive system, contain little or no nutritional value, and impose a negative toxin burden on the body.

2. Wrong are antidepressant medications having suicide as a side effect.  In 2004, the United States Food and Drug Administration required pharmaceutical companies to warn consumers about suicidal thoughts and behavior on antidepressant labels. This means that antidepressants may make a person depressed enough to kill himself/herself. Suicide is counterproductive to healing. I was unable to find out if any of the local victims of suicide or Robin Williams were taking antidepressants at the time of their deaths. This piece of information is often omitted when it comes to suicide (and school shooting) news reports. As much as we are not talking about suicide in Winona, MN, the conversation about the safety and effectiveness of antidepressant medications is similarly limited.  The 1 in 10 Americans currently on antidepressants could benefit from knowing the dangerous repercussions of psychotropic drugs.  

3. Wrong is the idea that mental illness is a lifelong burden to bear. I wrestled with the concepts of acceptance, compassion, and healing in my last blog post, Miss Compassionality. Let’s show acceptance and compassion to those struggling with depression. Let’s share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a toll-free number 1-800-273-TALK (8255). But, let’s also collectively move forward to healing and happiness. Given real, nourishing food our bodies (and brains) know how to heal.

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”― Howard Thurman

What makes people come alive is real nourishing food! You matter! What you eat matters!

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Miss Compassionality

Miss Idaho’s visible insulin pump undeniably promotes diabetes awareness and acceptance as illustrated in NPR’s article, “Hey, Miss Idaho, Is That An Insulin Pump On Your Bikini?” Good for Sierra Sandison (Miss Idaho) and the minds she will open and the others she will encourage by her act of courage to show her medical device, her difference in this world, her challenge to champion. We need awareness and acceptance because we belong to each other.

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“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa

My first children’s book, Moby’s First Day of Kindergarten, is about autism acceptance and awareness. Sharing a hand-flapping, headphone-wearing, eye-contact avoiding cute furry marmot named Moby with children and adults is easy. Awareness and acceptance is easily accepted and applauded.

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“When the first day of kindergarten was finished, Sunny said, “Goodbye, Moby.”
Moby quickly tucked his head down and did not say goodbye. Sunny knew nothing was wrong with Moby. She knew it was okay for him not to say goodbye. She knew he was a marmot just like her. She knew she had a treasured friend.” – Aileen Swenson, illustration by Christian Marie McGowan

I love the message of my first book inspired by the heartbreaking and isolating all-too-real events of being “kicked out” of a library storytime, a health food store, and a church and my son being severely bullied, all by unaware and unaccepting hearts and minds of people that did not understand autism.

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“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” – J.K. Rowling

My first book fulfills the first step criteria of understanding and acceptance. What’s the next step according to the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling? Recovery, or to use my preferred word, healing.

Healing autism through delicious nutrient dense broths, ferments, and juicing is the message of my second children’s book, Moby’s First Day of Summer Vacation, and the topics of my gut healing cooking classes.

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“That summer Moby’s mom prepared delicious meats and fats served with soups, yogurt, and cultured vegetables that Moby grew to enjoy. Moby loved happy shakes the most, because they made him feel better.” – Aileen Swenson, illustration by Cassandra Joy Swenson

I love even more the healing message of my second book that connects food with feelings and health, but I confess it is a bit more challenging to read. To encourage people to heal themselves with food counters the modern medicine mode of pharmaceutically managing (not healing) illness, not to mention it holds them accountable for their health. After all, what a sense of relief to go to the doctor and be told that diabetes type 1 (and autism) are genetic diseases. The genetic card is the “get off the hook” free card requiring no further responsibility than to diligently take the prescribed medications. While being diligent in your self-care and well-being is important, including taking necessary medications, I recommend that you consider what you eat as well.

Ten years ago when I started dietarily treating my son’s autism, I had a conversation with another mom of a child also with autism. She knew that food could not and would not help her son because she had the brain scans to prove that her son’s brain was and will always be genetically wired differently. She was “off the hook” for playing any nourishing role in her son’s recovery.

The NPR article clearly mentions that Miss Sandison has type 1 diabetes four times, maybe to make her appear blameless, because fault mostly seems to lie with people who allegedly eat their way to type 2 diabetes, one donut at a time. It seems we lose our compassion for people when we blame them for their illnesses. Even emphysema received, what seems to be, a public relations make-over by changing its name to COPD to distance itself from the emphysema/smoker blame game.

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“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Blaming others and blaming ourselves is counterproductive to healing. People with diabetes type 1 are not better people than those with diabetes type 2. In both types, the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin to lower blood sugar levels. Both types 1 and 2 should be value-free, judgment-free conditions, even though they are somewhat different. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, a GAPS™ (Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome) condition, that can be successfully treated with broths, ferments, and juicing along with a grain-free, sugar-free diet, just like Moby, the marmot, consumes to recover from autism in my second book. Type 2 diabetes, often attributed to lifestyle choices, likewise responds well to this protocol due to the removal of the major contributors of glucose – grains and sugar. Healing the gut leads to healing many mental and physical illnesses, which may lead to a reduction or discontinuation of medication as deemed appropriate by your physician.

My hope is that Miss Idaho continues to champion the diabetes awareness and acceptance cause and that sometime in the near future we have a pageant platform, or better yet a societal movement, that promotes what Hippocrates knew long ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

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Now that we have understanding and acceptance, let’s take the next step to recovery and healing and let’s do it with great compassion! You matter! What you eat matters!

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“Compassion is a verb.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

P.S. My oldest son, no longer on the autism spectrum, healed with the GAPS™ protocol, often encourages me to write a third children’s book in which Moby takes a field trip to Monsanto headquarters and hears the CEO of Monsanto say, “No, Moby, I am your father!” Ha!

Seek and Find

My 16-year-old son recently asked why I went rogue from mainstream medicine to successfully treat his autism, Asperger’s Syndrome specifically, with food instead of medications. Seeing his friends struggle with mainstream pharmaceuticals and behavioral treatments, his question wafted with a mix of survivor’s guilt and gratitude. It seems logical that my naked gardening self has a history of bucking the system.

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2014 Naked Gardening Day Celebration

Not true. Much of my life, I’ve cowered in fear of authority, blindly following directions. I spent my childhood and young adulthood irrationally afraid of parents, principals, employers, and other people in power. After my partial hysterectomy, medical professionals advised me to consume as much water as possible. Faithfully, I did. Unable to eliminate, trained hospital staff urged me to drink even more water. My blind faithfulness distended my bladder that required me to use a surgically inserted catheter for 62 days. This having-to-hide-my-pee-in-a-bag-under-long-skirts experience, while wrangling four young stair-step boys ranging in ages 1 to 4, happened less than a year before connecting the behavioral and symptomatic dots that led to an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis for my oldest son, the now quizzical 16-year-old.

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2003 Fourth of July Neighborhood Parade Preparation (with catheter)

Perhaps this incident gave me incentive to question the institution of modern medicine. Perhaps this incident opened my heart to the then (2004) prevalent drug alternative touted in online stories posted by parents who removed gluten and casein from the diets of their autistic children with miraculous results.

Within three days of eliminating gluten and casein, my oldest son, a month away from turning 6, colored in the lines for the first time in his life and many of his autistic behaviors disappeared or improved.

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Day Before Gluten and Casein Removal

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Three Days After Gluten and Casein Removal

It worked! Changing his diet worked! For a few months. Eventually his behaviors returned with a vengeance to the point that school authorities gave him six weeks to improve in mainstream classes or he would be sent to a specialized autism school. I grasped at music and horse therapies to no avail. While desperately seeking answers, a flash of intuition and inspiration incited me to revisit diet.

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“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Back online I went. I found that removing gluten and casein was not enough. A series of additional food eliminations eventually led us to “breaking the vicious cycle” by improving intestinal health with the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) until we later upped the gut healing ante with the GAPS™ (Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome) protocol. It worked! Not only for my oldest son, but also for myself and my other five kids! Changing our diet worked!

To answer the question posed by my 16-year-old, I pursued the healing food route over psychotropic pharmaceuticals because when I sought answers, dietary intervention found us. We were very fortunate that my oldest son showed initial improvements by going gluten and casein free, as some kids do. However, many kids do not. Removing only gluten and casein is not the answer because other offending foods get overlooked allowing gut function to remain impaired. My youngest son showed more severe autistic inklings than my oldest son. My youngest son experienced zero improvement at the removal of gluten and casein. When non-glutinous corn was removed from his diet at the age of two, he lost his autistic behaviors, avoiding a similar autism diagnosis as his oldest brother. If my fourth son was my first son, lack of tangible improvements from removing only gluten and casein may have prohibited any further dietary healing pursuits. Never before or since has refrigerator art invoked such gratitude. It worked! Answers always find the seeker.

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“What you seek is seeking you.” ― Rumi