Living in a World of Too Much Food

The trials and triumphs of an allergy family

Swallowing Our Emotions Won’t Make Them Easier to Accept

When food was hurting my child my ability to eat ground to a halt…

Within a year of discovering that my one-year-old son, Eden, had a shocking amount of life threatening food allergies, my teeth became so sensitive that biting down on anything harder than a slice of toast brought on painful tingles. So, although my dietary choices were already in flux from reinventing family meals around Eden’s allergies, I began eliminating more food groups: citrus fruits, green apples, piping hot tea, and anything with undue crunch.

How had this happened to my not-as-Chiclet-white-as-I-wanted but otherwise normal teeth? According to my dentist I was grinding my jaw in a variety of directions at night. Hard. So hard that my nightly mouth guard had grooves in it. Neither prescriptive toothpastes nor mouth rinses offered relief. I followed with a host of other suggestions from my dentist. Plus, I told myself (sternly!) to stop. But no, nothing seemed to help.

During the next few months confounding issues of Eden’s food allergies steamrollered over my quest for a mouth comfort. I was figuring out how to feed a growing toddler a balanced diet while strictly eliminating dairy, soy, nuts, fish, shellfish, seeds, legumes and few fruits from that diet. Another challenge was explaining his allergies to anyone (everyone?) let alone, a young child. Most parents will agree that toddlers can fixate on that which is unattainable. I didn’t know how to elaborate the reasons that the cereal boxes with round green stickers were “‘safe” but the ones with red stickers weren’t. And then there were the delicate issues surrounding his older sister. I wanted her to understand the import of her brother’s condition without giving her my fears. Eden will get sick from food. How sick? Die? The three had already learned to enjoy food fare such black bean chili, lasagna, cold cuts, grilled salmon and maybe a pizza delivery. Yet Eden’s plate was to be limited for a while to, say, soft meats, vegetables and home baked bread.

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Over time, I designed a rotating selection of gastronomic substitutes for our food and it began to feel less cruel to eat in front of Eden. I thought I was over my anger with the cruel interplay of genetics and random misfortune.

My teeth were telling a different story. My jaw ached and my gums tingled and when I could stand it no more I went to a hypnotist named Gerry. Gerry had a lovely Scottish lilt and did not swing a pendulum as I had imagined. As he laid me on a comfortable spa-table I told him, “I can’t stop grinding my teeth.” Then, just as he had described, deep breathing (mine) and slow waving of hands (his) followed. I was a sleep-deprived mother so falling into a near state of unconscious came easily. Just as got to the edge of oblivion, I heard Gerry softly intone “You’re trying to eat your pain and I think it is a child’s pain that you want make disappear deep inside you where no one can see it. But you can’t swallow. You keep chewing and chewing but you can’t swallow. The pain won’t disappear you have to let it go.” And thus Gerry repeated those last two sentences until his words lost meaning and sank into my deep slow breathing peaceful body where they streamed out in teardrops down my the sides of my face.

I know. Gerry may have guessed at that “child” bit, based on my wedding ring, my exhaustion. Or he could have been referring to the proverbial “inner child.” And Gerry may have repeated those words to any of my brethren tooth grinders. Nevertheless, my mouth paid attention. I had built new sorts of days around Eden’s needs yet at night I was still fighting. I chose to believe Gerry's words. And while I occasionally lapse back into my masticating habit, the clarity I gained then carried me though the rigors of writing a book—one where I share Eden’s story instead of trying to make it disappear.

Susan Weissman, M.Ed., is the author of the new memoir Feeding Eden and an expert in raising a family with food allergies.

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