Claire McDonnell Liu: Real food – a patient perspective
Claire McDonnell Liu is the mother of two children, Rudy and Leafy, who have suffered from chronic health conditions as young children and have now improved remarkably since starting a low carb, real food lifestyle. Together with her husband, Justin, Claire runs a non-profit organisation (Leafie.org) which delivers talks and projects to help individuals, schools, organisations and communities make healthy, real food a part of their lives. This talk was given at the Public Health Collaboration conference 2018 at the Royal College of General Practitioners in London.
Claire begins by describing the collection of skin conditions that her son, Rudy, has suffered from. These were diagnosed as a collection of autoimmune conditions and doctors prescribed Rudy steroid creams to treat them. However, Claire was wary that this would only be treating the symptoms, not the underlying causes, of Rudy’s issues. Further down the line, Claire and Justin tried putting Rudy on a low carb, ‘gut health’ diet that included grass-fed butter, high quality meats and bone broth, and this worked very well for calming down Rudy’s condition and allowing his skin to recover.
It was not just Rudy who suffered from health issues though. Claire’s daughter, Leafy, had what was diagnosed as a febrile seizure (as a result of infection) when she was 6 months old. The family had hoped that this would be a one-off case, but unfortunately Leafy continued to suffer from seizures every few weeks, being hospitalised each time. These seizures also got worse and more frequent as time went on. After eventually suffering a non-febrile seizure just before her second birthday, Leafy was diagnosed with generalised epilepsy.
Claire and Justin eventually found the ketogenic diet through internet research and realised that not only was it an NHS-supported approach, but there was also a ketogenic clinic in their own hospital. Claire says the consensus opinion from her healthcare team and her friends was that the ketogenic diet is extreme, unsustainable and should only be used as a last resort after drugs. After comparing the potential benefits and side effects of the ketogenic diet vs. anti-epileptic drugs, the family decided that the ketogenic diet seemed like the more appropriate option. After Leafy’s diagnosis before her second birthday, Claire and Justin started her on a modified ketogenic diet containing 10g carbs per day and emphasising real food with high nutrient density.
Claire discusses Leafy’s diet and the foods it contains between 20:33 and 25:02 in the video for those who are interested.
There are a number of challenges in getting children sticking to a low carb, real food lifestyle, Claire explains. Firstly, there is a lot to learn in the beginning – foods need to be measured out, packaging needs to be checked and different kinds of foods need to be considered for different occasions, for example when travelling (though these things later become second nature). Secondly, Claire says it can be hard to ensure your child doesn’t accidentally eat some sugar at a social occasion and, of course, it can be hard to eat so differently to other families to begin with. These challenges though, Claire says, are much easier than having to deal with the effects of seizures. Claire notes that filling the home with low carb, real foods and eating the same meals together with the family creates a healthy, happy environment that allows for compliance.
In terms of Leafy’s results on her new diet, Claire says she is consistently in a state of ketosis, which is the aim of a ketogenic diet. She no longer suffers from myoclonic seizures, where at one point before starting the diet she was having 60 per day. Her tonic-clonic seizures, which were her main type of seizure, have reduced dramatically since starting the diet, becoming much less frequent (reducing from twice weekly to months apart) and less prolonged (reducing from 20-30 minutes to 2 minutes). Leafy’s seizures are also self-resolving so no recovery medication is needed. As well as improved seizure control, Leafy now has better sleep, better co-ordination and is on-track developmentally (which was a worry for the family given the potential effects of seziures). Claire says that Leafy is very proud of her diet and speaks about it confidently.
To sum up, Claire says that her family has managed two chronic health conditions by using diet, with the commonalities being good fats, low carbs and real food. Through their non-profit organisation and website, Claire and Justin now seek to share their story and provide the public with information on real food and healthy diet.