You’ve made the decision to get started on the GFCF Diet for autism, ADHD, or just because you think it may help your child. But, you may not know exactly how to go about it.
In this post, I’ll give you 8 steps to help you get started on the GFCF Diet and you’ll be on the way to helping your kids feel better.
Not Sure About The GFCF Diet???
|This article is written for people who already understand what the GFCF diet is and how it might help their family.
IF you are still looking to learn about GFCF, I’d recommend you start with The GFCF Family Class which will teach you everything you need to know and more through step-by-step video instruction.
OR…. If you prefer to learn on your own, read my article “A Parent’s Guide To The GFCF Diet”.
8 Steps To Get Started On The GFCF Diet For Autism
The 8 Steps At A Glance
- Set Expectations
- Choose A Transition Strategy
- Talk With Your Family & Other Caregivers
- Evaluate Where Your Child Is Now
- Plan Your Meals
- Create A Shopping List
- Prep Your Home & Kitchen
- Go Shopping
Before we discuss the 8 steps to get started on the GFCF diet, there is an important step I highly recommend.
Find a qualified professional to help guide you through this journey. Often times other medical issues pop up like food sensitivities, nutritional deficits, chronic infections…etc.
I can show you how to do the diet and teach you more about food, but you want to find a professional to help guide you and identify any of these deeper medical issues.
- MAPS Doctors
- Integrative Medical Doctors
- Functional Medicine Practitioners
- Bioindividual Nutritionist
8 Steps To Get Started On The GFCF Diet For Autism
Step 1: Realistic Expectations
The very first thing I want you to do is to set reasonable expectations.
It is very important to maintain a positive mindset and expect to see improvements in your family once you begin improving their diet.
At the same time, those expectations should be realistic.
If your child has autism or maybe you are going GFCF for another type of chronic health issue, don’t expect the GFCF diet to “cure” your child or yourself after a couple weeks or even a couple months.
Healing Takes Time
Yes, you & your family should feel better and you should also start noticing improvements in certain aspects of your child.
Healing takes time and depending on the severity of your challenges, diet may just be the first step on your path to health and healing.
Expect to see progress, but don’t attach a strict timeline or strict expectations.
Unreasonable expectations and/or strict time frames might lead you to give up too soon if your family doesn’t meet those goals.
You may even derail any progress that was made if you give up too soon. Sometimes, progress happens in places we’re not looking.
For example, when we started for my son, we were looking for improvements in language, age appropriate play, and social interactions.
We missed the actual improvements in his sleep and the unexplained rashes that stopped randomly appearing. This is why you want to evaluate where you are starting from, but I’ll get to that in a few minutes.
Set small, attainable goals and reasonable expectations.
When you meet your goals, celebrate them. Pat yourself on the back, and enjoy the moment when you accomplish something. Then create new goals.
All the while remain flexible if and when you don’t hit certain targets within your timeframe.
How Long Should I Be GFCF
Personally, I think everyone can benefit from being at least gluten free for good. However, most nutritionists and doctors recommend at least 6 months on GFCF, and some go as far as saying you should give it a full year before giving up on it.
An important point to remember, is your “clock” doesn’t start until you’re 100% free of gluten and casein.
If you decide you’re going to try GFCF for 6 months, then don’t start keeping track of the days until every source of gluten, casein, (and soy too) have been removed from the diet.
If there is a cheat or an accidental exposure, you have to start that clock over again.
Step #2: Choose How To Transition To GFCF
In The GFCF Family Class, I discuss numerous strategies for transitioning to GFCF.
I’ll review them for you, but if you’d like more details on how to transition, you may want to check out the class.
Pre-GFCF: you begin to look for compliant food your family will eat while still serving your current food options.
Cold Turkey: you just go for it and remove gluten, casein, & soy all at once.
Slow & Steady: pick just one food group and eliminate that for 2 weeks at a time. (this gets you to GFCFSF in 6 weeks)
For example, if you decide to start by eliminating dairy, then you remove dairy for 2 weeks and then remove gluten for 2 weeks followed by soy.
One Meal At A Time: start with one compliant meal at a time, so for 2-3 weeks, all dinners are GFCFSF and then you move to GFCFSF lunches, and then breakfast after that. (or whatever meal you choose first)
All Natural: start by removing all unnatural or unhealthy foods (which I call the Harmful 6). These include low quality seed & vegetable oils, MSG, artificial ingredients, GMOs, and removing or limiting sugar and grains.
You may notice improvements in behavior, cognitive function, energy, sleep just by going all natural.
Remember, gluten, casein, & soy are still inflammatory, hard on the gut, and have a host of other potential health implications, so you still want to remove them even if you see improvements with going all natural.
You’ll likely see even more improvements after you also get started on the GFCF Diet.
Step 3: Talk To Your Family
Once you decide which approach you want to take to get to 100% GFCF compliance the next step is to talk with your family.
No matter how old your kids are. Even if they’re special needs and you’re not sure if they’re listening or how much they can understand, you still want to talk to them about this change.
Oftentimes, these kids are more aware than we realize. I’ve read numerous stories of kids with autism who were nonverbal and eventually gained speech.
These kids talk about understanding exactly what was going on and what was said to them even though it appeared to the parents that they were not even listening.
This is a good thing to keep in mind when you have nonverbal or “lower functioning” kids.
Always assume your children understand and talk to them accordingly. Not just about diet but about everything.
Let Them Know Why
Knowledge is power. You want to tell them WHY you are changing their diets and how it will help them.
People respond better when they know why, but also if you can point to a specific struggle they’re having, they’ll be much more open-minded.
This is especially true for your spouse and your older kids,
So many teenagers are suffering from anxiety, depression, acne or eczema. Let your teens know this diet has helped clear up these kinds of problems for many others. They’ll be much less likely to whine & complain if they have a better understanding of why.
If you have multiple kids and you’re only really doing the diet to benefit one child, let the other kids know that the whole family is doing this to support the other.
“That’s what family is for. We support each other.”
Talk To All Caregivers Too
While you are talking with your family, this is also a good time to start talking with other people who are in charge of your child’s care.
Teachers, therapists, grandparents, babysitters anyone who will be caring for your kids when you’re not around. Send out an email blast to everyone, post it on social media, and talk to the key people individually.
Give them a heads up before you get started on the GFCF diet. Let them know how it will affect them, and what they’ll need to do differently.
Don’t forget about non-food sources of gluten and dairy in the classroom. Talk to your teachers about avoiding exposures from things like paper mache, craft paste, and fingerpaints (all of which may contain gluten)
Offer to provide model magic in place of PlayDoh, and ask if they would keep GFCF treats in the classroom for when birthdays and other random school parties pop up without warning.
Step 4: Gather Materials And Evaluate
Before you get started on the GFCF diet, you have to know how to avoid all the hidden sources of gluten, casein, & soy.
There are hundreds of ingredients to watch out for, but there’s no need to memorize them all. I have several cheat sheets to help you with this.
Cheat Sheets Available For You
- List of ingredients derived from gluten, casein, & soy (free)
- List of ingredients potentially derived from GMO foods (for students)
- List of potential sources of MSG (for students)
- And a Master No List that combines all 3 of these lists in one alphabetical file. (for students)
- Yes List: Foods you can eat on GFCF. (free)
To get the two free cheat sheets, simply enter your email at the end of this post (or click here to subscribe to my newsletter), and I’ll email you a link to download them.
Don’t worry. You’re welcome to stay subscribed, but it’s not required to get the free cheat sheets.
The other cheat sheets are available for students of The GFCF Family Class.
Once you download your cheat sheets, print them out or save them to your phone or tablet, so you can have them once you go shopping.
Get Ready To Take Notes
Another thing you want to have is a binder, notebook or journal of some sort. This will serve as your food journal or diary. Keep it somewhere convenient where you won’t forget about it.
This way it will be handy when you record the foods, behaviors, and other key things you’re going to watch out for.
In addition to food, I like to keep track of mood, energy, behavior, sleep, physical symptoms like rashes, bloating, and most importantly bowel movements.
Some people get uncomfortable talking about bowels, but you’re only as healthy as your gut is. If you or your kids are not pooping at least once (preferably 2-3x), then they are not going enough and you need to address that in some way.
Try to notice if there are common foods that tend to trigger behaviors, or interfere with sleep, or slow the bowels down. This is a reliable and cheap way to determine other food sensitivities that may be present.
Finally, you want to find some way to objectively evaluate where you or your kids are before you start.
For kids with autism, you might want to use the ATEC (autism treatment evaluation checklist). This is produced by the Autism Research Institute.
You can also create your own quick form to help you be objective. This is what I did.
Either way, try and complete it every month or two to evaluate your family’s progress and remain objective.
I wouldn’t do it right after a hard week or a really good week because the recency bias may cause you not to be as objective as you’d like.
Why It’s Important To Evaluate Regularly
The reason you want to do this is because it might show you that things are getting better even when they don’t seem like it.
Earlier I mentioned we missed progress with our son. We were even ready to quit after 6 months because.
Then, we went to our son’s doctor’s appointment, and the doc went down a checklist of his own based on the challenges we had with my son.
- Are the tantrums getting better?
- Is he still getting sick all the time?
- Is he still getting up at 2am and not going back to sleep?
- Does he still get frequent rashes?
These all had gotten better, but we were looking for improvements in speech, eye contact, and he still wasn’t playing with toys like other kids.
I’m almost embarrassed to say we missed the signs that his health was actually improving, which was what really mattered.
Things were getting better. We just didn’t have an objective way to measure it.
Here’s yet another reason you should be working with a professional who can help guide you.
To recap step 4:
- Print out the cheat sheets or save them to your phone
- Get your food journal ready and have a good convenient place to keep it.
- Complete a questionnaire before you start AND retake it once every 1-2 months.
Step 5: Write A Quick Meal Plan
Before you head out to the store, it’s a good idea to jot down a quick meal plan. It doesn’t have to be a thorough plan, but it can be helpful to keep you from just wandering the store aimlessly.
When my wife and I first went shopping we didn’t have a plan and I think it’s definitely a big reason it felt so overwhelming.
As you’re writing your meal plan, make sure you look up some recipes so you know exactly what you need to buy.
Where To Find Meal & Snack Ideas
I’ve written several articles on GFCF snacks, school lunches, and more. I also have an article called GFCF Food List where you’ll find food ideas for every meal with specific brands. (those links are at the bottom of this page)
Also, check out my Pinterest page. I have a few GFCF boards on there where I’ve pinned tons of different recipes for you.
Make sure you add snacks and treats to your meal plan. I don’t know many kids that skip snacktime, so make sure you add a few snack options.
Snacks are a great time to work on getting your picky eaters to try new foods too, so maybe the snacks could include something you plan on serving for dinner later that day.
Why Write A Meal Plan
You’re writing a meal plan just to help you stay focused, keep that first grocery bill down, and help prevent you from being overwhelmed at the store.
The meal plan doesn’t even have to be for a full week. You can just plan for 2-3 days to you get started on the GFCF diet and get that first trip out of the way.
You can always change it on the fly too. If you see something at the store you didn’t know existed or if you find something on sale and don’t want to pass it up adjust accordingly.
The meal plan is there to serve as a guide for your first GFCF shopping trip.
Step 6: Make A Shopping List
From your meal plan, create a shopping list of the things you’re going to need.
It doesn’t have to be specific with brands, it can just say something like GF bread or dairy free yogurt. You can figure the brands out when you get there.
Don’t try and replace all of your kids favorite foods with GFCF substitutes because that can easily double or triple your usual grocery bill.
Instead, pick 3-4 of the things they can’t go without and look for replacements.
Do some Googling to find things that might work, and check my GFCF Food List. This way you’re looking for something specific instead of wandering the aisles.
You can also join a few relevant FB groups and ask other parents for their advice on replacements.
Add those replacement items to your shopping list. Even if you don’t have a specific replacement to look for. Add it to your list, so you don’t forget to check around.
Step 7: Prep Your Home
Before you head out to the store, prepare your home.
Hopefully, you’re taking my advice and having the entire family go GFCF, but if not make sure you have a safe place to put the noncompliant food.
Depending on the age of your kids, you may want to have these noncompliant items under lock and key.
You want to go through your fridge and pantry. Either move or get rid of non compliant foods to reduce the chance of an accidental diet infraction and possible regression.
Non Food Sources
Don’t forget about those non-food sources of gluten, casein, and soy. Remember, personal care products, cleaners, medicine can all be sources of gluten, casein, or soy.
Check your shampoos, soaps, lotions, makeup, toothpaste, vitamins & supplements,
Also check the kid’s art supplies. Get rid of the play doh, craft paste, and any other items that might have non compliant ingredients.
Find more information on non food sources here:
- Gluten in Medicine, Vitamins & Supplements
- 17 Surprising Sources of Gluten
- Unexpected Allergens in Non-Food Items
Step 8: Go Shopping
You are ready. Your family is ready, and your home is prepped. .
You have your shopping list, cheat sheets, and meal plan. Now, it’s almost time to go shopping.
First, you want to find a sitter for the kids.
If you’re like me, this first time shopping will take a while. You’re going to want your undivided attention on navigating new stores and finding items you’ve never bought before.
It is an enormous help to not have kids in tow while you’re doing this for the first time.
If you can’t find a sitter, then make sure you bring activities to keep them occupied. Favorite toys or fidgets, Maybe have a movie on your phone they can watch. Anything to help you stay focused.
Bring Moral Support
Another very good idea is to go shopping with a friend or family member preferably your spouse.
At least the first time you go shopping, you want to have someone there with you to help you and at the very least, moral support.
When you go shopping, use your shopping list and meal plan to help guide you through the store.
At the same time, start looking at what’s available to you now. Just because it’s not on your list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking around and becoming more familiar with things.
Your lists and meal plan are your anchor for this trip. If you start to feel overwhelmed with the higher cost of GFCF food or with all the new various options to choose from, just go back to your list.
Recapping The 8 Steps To Get Started On The GFCF Diet
Step 1 Set Your Expectations. Expect to see progress, but be reasonable with your expectations
Step 2 Pick you approach: Are you going cold turkey or are you picking to go with one of the slow and steady approaches
Step 3 Talk to your kids about what’s going to happen and why. Also take this time to talk with everyone that will be responsible for your child’s care: grandparents, teachers, therapists everyone
Step 4 Gather your materials: print out all the lists I’ve made for you. Have a food journal ready and evaluate where you are before you start.
Step 5 Prep Your Home: Go through your kitchen, bathroom and art supply cabinet to make sure you get rid of both food and non food sources of gluten casein and soy
Step 6-8 Make a quick meal plan: It can be for a full week or just a couple days. And you’ll use this list to make your shopping list.
Remember your shopping list will serve as a guide and anchor for you when you get to the final step which is to go shopping for gfcf food.
Are You Ready?
Share Your Progress
I’d LOVE to hear about your progress, so please let me know how your family is doing. I love sharing success stories, and your success might provide the inspiration needed for other families to experience improvements too.
Remember, it may be hard and overwhelming at first, but it gets easier as long as you keep going. Keep your ultimate goal in mind, stay positive, and you’ll find your footing.
Still Need More Guidance?
If you’re not feeling ready to get started on the GFCF diet, I recommend you sign up for The GFCF Family Class. I’ll walk you through everything you need to know.
In The GFCF Family Class, you’ll learn:
- What to eat and what not to eat
- How to transition from your current diet to GFCFSF (and why)
- Picky eating strategies
- Cost saving strategies
- And more
Don’t forget to share this post with others that might benefit!