BOUNTIFUL — Counting carb, fat, and protein intake isn’t typical of most teenagers, but it’s 13-year-old Elli Holzer’s daily routine.
She was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder when she was only 3 years old, changing her entire life.
Elli Holzer’s mother, Sally Holzer, said she started to notice something strange happening in the mornings before she fed her daughter as a baby.
Elli was having a seizure every morning. “She started having eye twitches and her head would bob a little bit,” Sally Holzer said.
After several tests, Elli's parents learned their daughter's brain was not processing sugar normally. They weighed their options and learned medications would not be enough to solve the problem. Instead, they turned to diet.
“For Elli’s condition, the only treatment is the Ketogenic diet,” Sally Holzer said.
Elli’s parents immediately started her on the keto diet — a high-fat, low carb lifestyle. Her mom said fat made up 92 percent of Elli's diet.
As a baby, Elli Holzer was fed meals like a tablespoon of yogurt mixed with a tablespoon of oil and a thin slice of apple.
Intermountain Healthcare’s Tara Finnerty, a registered dietician at Primary Children’s Hospital, explained how the diet works. “It forces your body to use fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates — or a simpler word is sugar,” she said.
Surprisingly, Finnerty suggests Elli Holzer eats heavy cream, butter and high-fat meats. “It’s kind of everything we’ve been told not to eat is actually allowed on this diet,” she said, "in addition to healthier fats like avocados and olives."
Although the diet demands much discipline and emotional endurance, Elli’s mom said the diet is worth it.
“Watching your child have seizures — you’re just willing to do anything,” Sally Holzer explained.
Elli Holzer has not had a seizure since she made the diet change at 3 years of age. Her parents noticed a dramatic improvement in her ability to learn once she started the diet.
“Her learning just skyrocketed,” her mom said. Now, Elli Holzer is a 4.0 student in school.
Today, Elli is on a modified version of the diet. “She gets the freedom to mentally calculate how many carbs are in the foods that she’s eating,” Sally Holzer described.
Elli Holzer said the diet is tough but pays off, especially since it lets her play her favorite game: soccer. “It’s something I can do that doesn’t make me remember my diet,” Elli Holzer said.
Finnerty warns against parents putting their kids on a ketogenic diet without consulting a doctor first. She explained doctors treat the diet like any other medical treatment or medication.
Through blood work, the ketogenic team at Primary Children’s Hospital monitors the child’s energy, cholesterol and blood sugar levels over time.
Visit Intermountain Healthcare to set-up an appointment with a registered dietician or call 801-662-1601.