Mum steps into sons shoes for diet challenge

Emma and Theo Cawood
Emma and Theo Cawood
Have your say

FOR MOST children, mealtimes can be a voyage of discovery, trying new things and indulging in culinary treats that are off limits to waistline-conscious parents.

But for seven-year-old Theo Cawood, it is something quite different. A rare and severe condition, diagnosed when he was just two months old, means his diet is restricted to just eight different foods - chicken, rice, maize, sweet potato, carrot, pear, mango and cooked apple.

Next week, to raise money for the “exceptional” hospital where Theo receives specialist treatment, his mother Emma, 38, of Moortown in Leeds, will eat a diet the same as her son.

The family had “hit a brick wall” in treatment for Theo when they came across gastroenterologist Dr Mike Thomson and his team at The Children’s Hospital in Sheffield two years ago, who put Theo on an elimination diet to establish which foods he could eat.

“We’d excluded a lot of foods already, but just felt there was more to it, “ Mrs Cawood said. “As we understand it, the elimination diet will help heal Theo’s system and put him in a position where we could introduce new foods very slowly. Since trying just these foods - which are all safe for him - Theo has been as healthy as he’s ever been.

“Theo has been a patient at a number of hospitals in his short life, but The Children’s Hospital is by far the friendliest. Everybody you come across - be it physios, occupational therapists, or the gastroenterology team - just bends over backwards. The children never feel frightened, and even blood tests are done with a smile on their faces,”

Theo also drinks a formula supplement and takes medication to keep him healthy. Even the tiniest amount of unsafe food can make him severely unwell for months on end, with symptoms including vomiting, pain, reflux, bloating, diarrhoea, bleeding and night sweats.

Theo’s dad Phil, 46, said: “His resilience is amazing. He never grumbles, always has a beaming smile on his face and seems to accept the way things are. We’ve never hidden food from him and he loves to help in the kitchen. He’s even decided that he wants to be a chef when he grows up.”

During her ‘Eat Like Theo’ challenge, Mrs Cawood will try some of the more inventive culinary concoctions she has come up with for Theo.

“He loves this pasta sauce made of pureed chicken breast and sweet potato which he has with rice pasta, but I really don’t like the sound of that,” she said. “But Theo is so excited about me joining in this challenge, and showing me his favourite combinations. Occasionally we’ll eat out and after explaining, a restaurant will allow us to give Theo his food - but I doubt they’d be as understanding with the two of us, so I think there will be a lot of al fresco dining next week.”

Mrs Cawood has already raised more than £650 for The Children’s Hospital Charity. To support her, visit

THEO HAs non IgE mediated allergies - which means symptoms can take hours or even days to appear, making diagnosis difficult.

Sticking to such a rigid diet and introducing one food at a time, very slowly, is the best way to try to introduce new foods.

Mrs Cawood said: “Raising money for the Children’s Hospital Charity is our way of thanking them. I could have done a sponsored run but I felt by replicating his diet, I could try to see exactly what Theo goes through. We take it for granted that we can walk up to the fridge and eat anything inside. That’s something Theo has never been able to do.”