Margaret Evans R.N., B.Sc.N., C.P.C.C. is a registered nurse and life coach who has a passion for helping parents maximize the potential of their children. The wisdom she has acquired is hard fought as she struggled, years ago, to address the issues of her own children at a time when information on food sensitivities was not readily available. Once she identified the trigger foods that were the cause of her children’s symptoms, she worked tirelessly to make the necessary diet changes manageable in the midst of her busy family life as her children grew up. She developed strategies, ways of coping, and loads of hints and recipes to make it work which she shares in her book entitled, Could It Really Be Something They Ate? – The Life Changing Impact of Addressing Food Sensitivities in Children.
Margaret has now compiled all the wisdom and experience she has developed in over 30 years of working with clients into a new assessment tool. The Evans Food Sensitivity Assessment Tool (EFSAT) allows parents, caregivers, and professionals to quickly determine whether or not food is a potential cause of a child’s health, behaviour, and learning symptoms. The EFSAT then provides an easy to answer section that will determine what food is responsible for their challenges. The final sections in the assessment tool support parents and professionals to successfully remove this trigger food from the child’s diet and produce long-standing, sustainable changes in their health. The EFSAT is easy to use, practical, and follows a simple, workbook like format. It helps busy families and professionals get the answers they need quickly and accurately without expensive, unpleasant, or often inaccurate tests.
Margaret is a highly regarded professional who is sought out often by families struggling with difficult symptoms for which they are unable to find answers. Over the last 30 years Margaret has worked with hundreds of families to help them address the health, behaviour, and learning challenges in their children and she has many wonderful testimonials that speak to the life changing impact of her work. She also gives workshops and seminars to a wide range of groups in her desire to spread the information about the impact of food sensitivities on the life and health of children and adults.
Margaret has also now developed an assessment tool for adults that helps them identify their food sensitivities and successfully implement diet changes. Because many adults with chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases have food intolerances that began in infancy, using the adult version of the EFSAT to address these issues can result in a dramatic improvement in many of their symptoms. For more information on this aspect of Margaret’s work, please check out her adult website at www.dynamicchoices.ca
Margaret lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband of 42 years and enjoys life with her 4 adult children, two daughter in-laws, one son in-law and 6 grandchildren.
My Journey of Hope
“Hope is the anchor of the soul.”
It’s been said that finding gifts in the adversities of our lives and using them to make a difference in the lives of others offers healing. My own story is a testament to that wisdom.
It has been a privilege to use the knowledge I have gained through my own health challenges and those of my family to support hundreds of other families to transform their lives as well. There are no words to describe the joy I feel when a child with a challenging health problem or behaviour feels better and is able to participate more fully in life. I know, firsthand, the difference it will make in their long term potential and happiness as adults.
I share my story in the hope it will inspire others to consider altering their diet to regain their health. May it be a spark of hope for you and offer something new to try in what is very often a difficult and frustrating situation.
My health problems began in infancy, just as those of many of my clients. I was adopted as a baby, and the history that was available from my birth mother was sketchy at best. I was bottle fed as an infant and, although I thrived, this was possibly the origin of the bowel inflammation that caused my symptoms years later. The intolerances for certain foods that we inherit at birth play a significant role in determining our future health. Many children are intolerant to cow’s milk and this is the primary cause of many childhood illnesses.
I was a healthy, happy baby and toddler, and in my early school years was an active, bright little girl who was filled with a zest for life. However, I did have my tonsils out at four, which I now know can be an early indication of food sensitivities.
In about grade three or four, I began to have stomachaches. They primarily woke me up at night and usually appeared when I was nervous, excited, or anxious. The doctor decided that it was likely a “nervous” stomach and no treatment was offered. I shudder now, as I recall never having been asked directly if I was “nervous” about anything in particular. If someone had asked, I would have shared with them that yes, I was nervous and anxious because my dad had a drinking problem. It was one of those hidden secrets that few people knew and I learned early on not to share the story except with a few close friends. I wish someone had spoken to me alone as I would have shared with them that yes, I was nervous and anxious because of the conflict that I was dealing with at home. How I wish someone had seen past my bright and sunny exterior and actually spent time with me alone to ask how I really was.
My digestive symptoms continued to worsen as life at home became more stressful. I was sent to a gastroenterologist to search for some answers. Despite suffering the indignity of colonoscopies and drinking chocolate flavored barium for x-rays, the doctors were unable to find a cause for my symptoms.
Despite my monthly stomachaches, my life was otherwise wonderful. My dad courageously stopped drinking and became the wonderful man I now remember. How grateful I was that the stress I had experienced years before had disappeared. Both he and my mom were amazing and provided a constant source of support and encouragement to both my brother and me as we participated in music, sports, and social activities of all kinds. I lived in a neighborhood full of kids and we played kick the can and swam in our pool every summer evening. My life was full of people who loved me and who supported my entire family.
Despite my mom’s commitment to feeding us only healthy food, I continued to be bothered by stomachaches. They would appear unannounced at unwelcome times like first dates or during exams. It is only now that I understand the reason. Food intolerances are connected to the circumstances of life. Unlike true allergies in which a reaction usually occurs immediately, food intolerances appear in a variety at different times and forms, depending on our life experiences. If you imagine a barrel full of water, there is that last drop that sends the water flooding over the edge. My yet-to-be-discovered food sensitivities resulted in living with the level of water in my barrel close to the very top. Any small food challenge or difficult life circumstance caused my barrel to overflow and my symptoms increased. Perhaps I got yet another stomachache, perhaps I developed a cough that wouldn’t go away or perhaps my acne would flare up. I was totally frustrated, as were my parents, and none of the many doctors that I visited could offer any answers.
When I went to university to get my nursing degree, my health seemed to stabilize. I lived at home for the first two years and then moved to an apartment for the final three. I ate quite well considering I was often cooking for myself, and my symptoms didn’t get any worse. I did discover, however, that beer made my stomachaches return in full force so drinking was something I rarely did. I now know that the reason for this was that beer contains a large amount of gluten. Years later I would discover that I was gluten intolerant. Despite the hard work of nursing school, my life was fun and interesting and I thrived in the environment.
In 1975 I married my husband, a medical student, and we began our life together. His very favorite food was white bread with cheese so we often had this as a late night snack. It was all he often felt like eating when he came home after several days on call and was so exhausted he could barely keep his eyes open. I now know that this fatigue can also be a symptom of food sensitivity.
An inherited predisposition for gluten and dairy sensitivities coupled with a runaway lifestyle set us both up for trouble tolerating these foods. When they are not completely digested, dairy and gluten foods produce by-products related to the narcotic family (like morphine). This explains the craving for these particular foods I saw in my husband and that I see frequently in my clients. Sadly, however, I did not yet have the wisdom to understand what was going on. The extra bread and cheese in my diet created a resurgence of my stomachaches and I found that I was more tired than I ever remembered being. I chalked it up to being newly married.
As married life continued and my husband and I worked opposite shifts and schedules, we began to think about having children. Our first son was born in 1978. He was a beautiful robust little boy who screamed from the minute he arrived. No amount of nursing would quiet him and I was beyond exhaustion. I was a pediatric nurse who had worked in the intensive care nursery. Shouldn’t I be able to care for my own healthy baby as my doctor assured me he was? I still remember going to the pediatrician when our son was three months old and, in between sobs, telling him I was going to die caring for this baby. He screamed day and night and slept for no more than about 20 minutes at a time. I walked, drove, rocked, paced, cuddled, and everything else I could think of, but nothing seemed to help. I felt powerless, hopeless, and completely inadequate as a mother.
The pediatrician’s response to my struggle was the beginning of my journey of healing. He casually mentioned an article he had read that encouraged nursing mothers to stop eating dairy products if they had colicky babies. Upon this advice, I immediately stopped all the dairy products I was eating and a miracle occurred. Our son stopped crying and began to laugh. He slept and as a result, so did I.
My own stomachaches also seemed to disappear although it was a few more years before I made the true connection for myself. Although I was feeling better and our son was thriving, I had to face other people’s doubts and criticisms about my decision to stop consuming dairy products myself and to avoid giving them to our son. Many were sure that our son would grow up with crumbling bones and poor nutrition. Staying strong in my commitment to do what our son needed wasn’t always easy but I was committed to him having the best start in life and, besides, I needed the sleep!
When our daughter was born 18 months after our son, she did not seem to have any of his food issues. She was quiet, calm, full of smiles, and a joy to nurse. However, at the age of two, after her first dose of antibiotics for a sore throat, her behavior became difficult, and she had tantrums over the smallest request. She was often too tired to walk even a block and suffered from tummy aches and bladder pains much of the time. Where did my sunny little girl go? Why had all the things I had learned with our first son not made a difference for her? I kept her off dairy products but the symptoms did not seem to improve. It would be another year and a half before I figured it out.
In the midst of caring for these two young children, I had a gall bladder attack that resulted in surgery to remove it. Because my gall bladder was filled with stones, the doctors reassured me that this was the reason for my years of stomachaches. Finally, an answer! Unfortunately, about six months after removing my gall bladder, my symptoms reappeared and I was again subjected to a number of unpleasant tests. Yet again, no answers were found. I was put on a medication to try and improve my digestion and told that I could not have any more children because this medication could cause birth defects. I eventually stopped the medication as it was not relieving my symptoms and we were hoping to have more children.
This doctor also took my husband aside in the hallway of the hospital and told him that he thought my symptoms were related to the stress I was under due to his hours of work and my busy life at home. I was upset that a professional, once again, had decided I was stressed without discussing it with me directly. I believe that patients need to be treated with respect and that all professionals need to take the time to ask patients about all aspects of their life. It is one of the many reasons I am now a life coach and this respectful listening is something I am committed to offering to all of my clients.
Our next son was born three years later and I was on the lookout for food issues with him because, like his older brother, he hiccupped in utero. I was often awakened in the middle of the night by his violent hiccups that made my entire abdomen bounce. I nursed him at birth and again removed dairy products from my diet. Despite my best efforts, he developed repeated ear infections and ended up with tubes in his ears at six months of age. After we brought him home after surgery we discovered his hearing had been compromised when he was captivated by the ticking grandfather clock in our living room having never heard it before.
What did I miss? Why did removing dairy products from my own diet and his not have the same impact it had on his brother? Despite switching him to soya formula, his health continued to deteriorate and soon gastro intestinal symptoms appeared. To make matters worse, once I weaned him and returned to drinking milk and eating cheese myself, all my own digestive symptoms returned. I went to an allergist convinced I had finally found my answer. It appeared that I had been bothered my dairy products for a very long time and that they were the cause of my childhood stomachaches. I left his office inspired that perhaps I had found an answer to my years and years of stomachaches.
Four months later we moved to Toronto so that my husband could complete his final year of surgery training. I left Vancouver with much sadness as I was leaving behind all my friends and family whose support I counted on. Nonetheless, as we drove all across the country with our three very small children, I was committed to having a wonderful trip. The kids approached the trip with a wide-eyed sense of adventure. They explored each new campground as we went and still look back on the trip with fond memories. Our second son, however, began to have more gastro intestinal symptoms and was suffering from severe diarrhea by the time we reached Toronto. He was investigated by the pediatrician and subjected to unpleasant tests but no answer was found. Symptoms began to increase in our other two children and I was more overwhelmed than ever. I had one son struggling with recurrent ear infections, a daughter now suffering from tummy aches, fatigue, confusion, and irritability, and another son with profuse diarrhea and hyperactivity that kept him up every night from 2:00 A.M. until 5:00 A.M.
I can still remember sitting on the beds of our sleeping children and asking God what on earth had happened to my life. I had always longed to be a mom but this was not how I imagined it would be. Was He really there and did He care that I was sinking?
As result of the lack of sleep, stress, and lack of support, I became very ill. My eyes became swollen and I had stomachaches again. I sought the help of an allergist in Toronto and learned in a phone call from him that I some unusual illness with no definitive treatment. More questions with no answers.
Because we had very little money and no local family support, I had only a two-hour window each week for a break. The babysitter arrived and I was free for two glorious hours. I usually went to a bookstore and treated myself to a book and then sat and read it over a peaceful lunch. At the end of my rope one afternoon, I walked into a bookstore and, as always, God’s hand was on my shoulder. As I scoured the shelves for just the right book, I noticed one glowing on the shelf high in one corner of the store. Was I hallucinating? Perhaps all the stress and fatigue had finally got to me? I hesitantly reached for the book and was immediately captivated by the topic: food sensitivities and the impact on children’s health and behaviour.
I bought it and, in my short lunch break, scanned my way through the entire book. I felt as though someone had written a book specifically about our own children. I raced home, made an appointment with the pediatrician and insisted on a referral to an allergist.
I took our daughter first, as her symptoms were the most complicated but was horrified by what took place. The doctor poked her with over 20 needles while she cried, “Why are you letting them do this to me, Mommy?” She was three and a half years old. Tears were running down my cheeks as I did what I thought was required in order to help her get well. At the end of the testing, the doctor announced that the results were only 50% accurate for food and that he wanted to place her on a multiple food elimination diet. How I wish he had told me this before I subjected my little girl to this unpleasant experience? I now know better. Scratch tests certainly have their place to determine environmental allergens but only a very few ever need to be done. True food allergies are very rare and most food reactions are, in fact, food intolerances. The distinction is important because intolerances are the result of inflamed bowel walls and an imbalance in bowel bacteria and can’t be diagnosed by traditional allergy skin testing.
I returned home from the allergist committed to finding the answer to the struggles and challenges of our children. I went to the library, checked out several books and read voraciously as soon as the kids went to bed. I found some of the answers in those pages and changed their diets the following morning. I removed milk from everyone’s diet and also removed eggs from our daughter’s diet and wheat from the diet of our youngest son. Within two weeks, the changes were nothing short of miraculous. No more diarrhea. No more tummy aches. No more ear infections. No more fatigue and confusion. Our daughter became an inquisitive sponge and learned more in two weeks than I would ever have believed was possible. Our children were now healthy, happy, and bright. Finally, they were well.
I completely removed dairy products from the house and it made a big different in how I felt as well. My stomach aches all but disappeared and I felt better than I had in years. We eventually returned to Vancouver, excited to be home. My husband began medical practice and we bought our first house. I took the risk of getting pregnant again certain that I now knew exactly how to care for our baby and myself in order to avoid all the pitfalls I had experienced before. I turned out to be right.
Our gorgeous little girl arrived in this world having had no hiccups in utero as I avoided milk and wheat during the entire pregnancy. I monitored what I ate as I nursed her and she never got sick. No ear or throat infections. No screaming. No tummy aches. She was a delightful, happy baby who continues to have this disposition to this day. She was a reward for all that I have learned and a gift to show me what is possible if food sensitivity issues are addressed early in life.
As our children’s health improved, I was ecstatic. Some days I was run off my feet with the busy pace of all their activities but they were well and I loved it all. I was totally unprepared for what came next. Without warning, when our youngest daughter was only four months old, I began to experience profuse bloody diarrhea and I was terrified. I had a four month old, a four-year old, a seven year old and an eight year old – what if I had bowel cancer? What if I had Crohn’s Disease? I was nursing my baby – what if she got sick? I went to hospital afraid of what I might find out.
The doctor discovered that I had an overwhelming E.coli infection from something I had eaten. I was bleeding, in extreme pain, engorged with milk as I couldn’t feed my baby and felt totally miserable. After two weeks in hospital on isolation, I finally went home. I was drinking only dilute pineapple juice and afraid to eat solid food but I was desperate to see my family. It was difficult to get better because of the busy pace of my life and so, ten months later, I took a much needed vacation to stay with a friend in Toronto. I needed some sleep and a break.
As the months went on, I learned very quickly that certain foods created symptoms and my diet became more and more restricted. I developed red spots on my thighs that corresponded with pains in my joints and no medical professional could find the answer. My story was minimized and dismissed, and no one could offer any solutions. Most physicians refused to believe my observation that altering my diet had an impact on my symptoms. I was frustrated and discouraged. This time it was my health that was the problem and again I had no answers.
Finally, after almost 20 years of medical appointments with 17 specialists and dozens of tests, I have a diagnosis for my problem. I have an autoimmune disease that is the result of that Ecoli infection I had 24 years ago. A new doctor appeared in my life through a number of what I view as divinely inspired coincidences and she has offered me her listening ear and her medical wisdom. She suggested I take an immune suppressant drug, which makes a huge difference in my symptoms. I took it, although reluctantly because of the long-term side effects, but was committed to finding healthier ways of addressing my symptoms. I have slowed the pace of my life down to one that makes room for daily contemplative prayer, time with friends and family and plenty of room for healthy food and exercise. Through my own research and staying abreast of the new advances related to autoimmune disease, I am happy to now be medication free. I discovered I had the gene for celiac disease as well as a genetic inability to process the vitamin D that I consumed. By addressing these two issues and consciously adjusting my diet and lifestyle, I am delighted to now be feeling very well.
I am also blessed to have friends and family who care and who offer safe places for me to share my frustrations. I have learned a lot because of my experience with my children and have adapted my diet to maximize my health. If it were not for the wisdom I acquired in my effort to help them, I would not have the health I have today. God’s guidance that day in the bookstore has impacted both my life and the life of my family ever since. I will be forever grateful.
The support I have received along this journey from my husband made such a positive difference. He embraced all the new foods that appeared on our dinner table and ate them without complaint. He, too, loved watching our kids get well and was the strength and support that I leaned on when I was lost or confused about what to do. He whole-heartedly supported our decision for me to be home and has worked long hours to make it all possible. Our marriage is a blessing we both treasure and when we hit another roadblock, together we looked for creative answers and search for the next path to try. Our commitment to each other and to our family has been the fuel that has kept us going.
The infection that created my challenge occurred 30 years ago. The baby I was nursing is now 30. Our children are bright, athletic, and healthy. The change in their diet that I made over 30 years ago has been worth every minute of extra baking and creative meal planning. I know without a doubt that their health challenges would have continued to worsen and many of the opportunities they have had would not have been possible. I am grateful every day for God’s intervention and care. It has been my pleasure and privilege for over 25 years to share the story of our children and to encourage other parents to take the risk and try it. The gifts that are possible for their children might just be beyond their wildest expectations. The healing I found for myself and my autoimmune disease has also offered me the privilege of working with adults facing similar challenges. Again, the improvement in symptoms that is possible can be nothing short of a miracle.
I have a purpose in sharing this story. The issue of food sensitivities is a common one and there are thousands of children and adults whose health is impacted every day. As a nurse and certified professional life coach, I have offered my support and encouragement to others as they attempt to overcome the hurdles I once faced. Whether their adversity is related to diet or the challenges of a chronic illness, it is my privilege to help them reconnect to their own resilience and strength. It is my privilege to support them to find their dreams and to believe anything is possible. My business card reads, Hope is the Anchor of the Soul, and I believe this to be true. This phrase guides my own life, my coaching, and my words in my book entitled COULD IT REALLY BE SOMETHING THEY ATE? The Life Changing Impact of Addressing Food Sensitivities in Children.
One of the best ways to heal a long and difficult story is to find meaning in it. I have found meaning by offering my experiences to others with the goal that they will find hope. It is clear to me that God has been walking along beside me through this entire journey. He has offered me books, supportive people, opportunities, and much more just when I have needed it most. Some days I wish I had found the solutions sooner and some days I wish I had more healing for my own health but, most days, I am grateful for where I am. As I watch our adult children use what I have learned to maximize the health of our grandchildren, I know it has all been worth it. Our grandchildren are bright, fun loving, and healthy little kids who are thriving on a healthy diet free of their individual trigger foods. I admire their mom’s courage and perseverance in carefully adjusting their diets during pregnancy and nursing to offer their children the very best chance at a healthy start in life. As a result, our grandchildren eat a wide variety of healthy foods and are the picture of health.
The joy I feel as I watch our children and grandchildren thrive is a priceless blessing. They have helped me find much healing in my own story. My gratitude to them, to my husband, to my friends, and to the countless clients and families I’ve had the privilege of working with is boundless. I’m deeply thankful for their presence in my life.