The wheat intolerance

A couple of years ago, my younger son started saying he didn’t want to eat spaghetti bolognese any more, because it made him feel ill. I thought he was just being fussy, so I carried on making it for him. When he moaned more, I cut it down to once a fortnight rather than once a week (to the disgust of my other kids who love spag bol).

Then one day he described himself out of the blue as ‘the second most wheat intolerant person in the house’. (I have a wheat intolerance myself, although it is a lot better now after years of eating fairly minimal wheat.)

So I started making him wheat-free pasta. And he continued snacking on bread and biscuits (teenage boys in my experience need A LOT of bread and biscuits.)

But I started to worry about him. He spent a lot of time in the toilet, especially after meals. And he was, and is, very thin. (You wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at him, as he is a big build.) I felt that he was too thin for the amount of food he eats.

I asked him if he was OK, but he said he was. My younger son is the most secretive of my kids. While his brother thinks nothing of wandering around in his pants, my younger son keeps himself to himself. I suspect even his own dad doesn’t realise how thin he is.

I said he must tell me if there was a problem and we could take him to the doctor. He took the decision to cut wheat out of his breakfast, but another year or so passed and nothing changed.

Then one day he said he needed to go to the doctor. Because my son is quite secretive, I knew that things must have got bad if he’d asked to see the doctor. Looking back, we think wheat had been a problem for him for a very long time. I can remember a number of occasions when he was about 6 or 7 when he had suddenly felt very ill at pizza restaurants.

The doctor said that, because of his age, she wanted to check for coeliac disease. If he was coeliac, he would have to stop eating gluten altogether, as it would actually do damage. If he was ‘just’ wheat intolerant, he should cut out wheat and then he could gradually build it back up, until he found a balance he was happy with. The wheat wouldn’t do him any damage and it was personal choice as to what level of stomach discomfort he could cope with (this is how I live my own life).

The test for coeliac disease is initially a blood test, then if this shows the antibodies which are usually in the bloodstream of people with coeliac, it needs to be followed up by a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. While testing is going on, the person has to keep eating foods containing gluten, otherwise the results won’t be valid. My son’s doctor said he needed to keep eating the equivalent of two slices of bread a day.

My son had his blood test, then we had a long wait for results. During this time, he became utterly convinced that he had coeliac. My husband was utterly convinced he didn’t because ‘he’s not that ill’. But, as I told my husband, we didn’t really know how ill he was, because he’s  good at hiding these things.

While waiting for the results, my son became increasingly desperate to give up wheat. He’s always loved pizza, but practically begged me not to buy it for him any more. Luckily I found him a gluten free version, which was fine as he was still eating his two slices of bread a day.

The good news is that my son isn’t coeliac, so his eating wheat hasn’t done him any damage and it won’t do him any damage in the future.

He is now eating wheat free pasta, wheat free pizza and gluten free biscuits. He also snacks on rice cakes. Gluten free bread is notoriously dry, as well as being very expensive, so he hasn’t cut bread out completely. But he feels a lot better in himself. He knows that if he doesn’t feel great, he can just cut out a bit more wheat out. And he even quite likes spaghetti bolognese again!

Now we just have to work out how he’s going to cope with his rugby tour

Wheat, Wheat intolerance, son, parenting

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Glad he’s got answers and hopefully he’ll be able to manage it. We’ve started a diary for N for when he says he has tummy ache before bed. I’m never sure whether it’s because he’s eaten too much or not enough, or just the wrong things in combination, or some other reason. It’s not that frequent, but at his age I don’t know whether he’s just moaning or is actually in pain so good to rule out anything. N’s so skinny as well (he’s not put on any weight or height in a year), despite eating so much compared to some others his age. But then I look at his tennis friend who’s mum packs him so much food to have as a snack after school before tennis, and I think maybe N doesn’t eat as much. I might have to start looking into additional shakes etc, but I’d be worried having something like that between meals would mean he wouldn’t eat a decent meal at those. Hard to know what to do.

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    • It’s very hard to know! All kids seem to need different amounts of food, but it does seem surprising that N hasn’t grown at all in a year. My daughter used to get tummy aches before bed and would sometimes even be sick and we didn’t know what it was. It turns out the poor kid had chronic constipation. Good luck with working it out!

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      • allergies/intolerance’s are difficult to work out. my son was ok with ready made Ribena but could not tolerate the one you dilute yourself – the preservative was different. As Emma says sometimes they can tolerate two different foods separate but put them together and they cause issues.

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        • That’s amazing how something so small as ready made or concentrated Ribena can affect a person. It’s no wonder that they are hard to work out. I’m hoping that we have got my son sussed for now, though.

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  2. Sarah,

    It must be quite a relief that your son’s problem isn’t a food allergy, or coeliac disease. From what you say, he should be able to keep the problem under control, and still enjoy small amounts of food containing wheat, plus wheat-free pasta and pizza.
    I do wonder about the way that food allergies and intolerances have become so widespread in recent decades. When I first heard that there was such a thing as peanut allergy, I rather suspected that it was all a wind-up — how wrong can you be? And other conditions, such as type 1 diabetes in childhood, are much more common nowadays. Something very strange has been going on…

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    • It was a real relief that it is only an intolerance and he already seems to have found a good balance, from avoiding pasta, pizza and biscuits containing wheat. It is very strange how allergies and intolerances have grown in recent years. My other son has a peanut allergy, but luckily he has managed to avoid any exposure to peanuts since he was diagnosed. It is always a concern when he eats in restaurants though, especially when he goes abroad.

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  3. What a worry. That’s great news that your son isn’t coeliac. It sounds like he is being sensible cutting the wheat out. It must be very hard, especially being a teenager. I know my two would struggle. They like bread too much too x

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    • Thanks very much. It is such a relief that it’s not coeliac! He did always eat a lot of bread and biscuits, as they’re just the easiest things for teenagers to snack on. We’ve got some wheat free biscuits now and he’s started eating a lot of rice cakes, so he has managed to find himself a good balance. x

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  4. thats the worst thing about these tests is making the person suffer for more weeks to get the right result. Glad he does not have it.
    Have to say wheat free spaghetti is actually quite tolerable, the bread is ok toasted but not as a bread.

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    • It was really hard to see him suffering while we waited for the test results. He was so desperate to give wheat up. It’s a relief that he doesn’t have coeliac and can now get the right balance that works for him. I’ve been eating wheat free pasta for years and I don’t notice much different from normal pasta. He is happy with that too. He hasn’t wanted to try the bread yet though.

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  5. That is such a worry. My husband didn’t go through with the tests since he’d have to eat it again and it’s not worth it. If you ever need advice on gluten free products or recipes we are old hands at it. My husband has been gluten free for 10 years now xx

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  6. I imagine that was a relief for all of you. Just knowing that it’s nothing serious will probably make him feel better. Hope that things continue going in the right direction for him.

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    • Thanks very much, it is a huge relief. He is getting better at managing his own wheat consumption, so he should be able to find a balance that works for him.

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