What is the GAPS diet and why we are doing it…

My stack of reference books that always sit out on my counter!

Up until now most of my posts have been food related and there’s a reason for that, it’s because we are using food to heal!

I started the GAPS diet about 8 months ago and have seen tremendous improvement in myself and even though Blake only eats the GAPS way about 95% of the time we have still seen AMAZING results with him as well. We are going to ramp up and get him on the diet in full force starting in a few weeks when he is on spring break from school.

GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. In the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Cambpell-McBride, she outlines a diet that connects how poor gut function affects brain function.

Up until March 2011, I was having severe panic attacks, skin problems/ rashes, hormonal imbalances, I was  developing food allergies, I had seasonal and pet allergies and inflammation throughout my entire body that manifested as sore muscles and achy joints and migraines. I was a mess! You can read my story here.

And poor Blake couldn’t focus at school or home, could barely carry on a conversation, had severe anxiety, he was hyperventilating all the time, his skin was sensitive to the touch- all clothing irritated him, he had terrible mood swings and was very depressed and just all around miserable as well. I should mention that he is on the autism spectrum and was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can read his story is here.

We had been eating very healthy for almost 2 years before we started on the GAPS diet and it was helping. We were balancing our blood sugar by eating balanced meals of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. I had picked up a copy of Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions (which is still the most used cookbook/ reference book I own) and were eating more traditionally prepared foods. We were eating real butter, coconut oil, olive oil and avocados along with organic meats and veggies and I was learning about fermented foods and we ate sauerkraut here and there, we eliminated gluten from our diets, got more sleep, etc. etc. etc. All very healthy choices but still most of our problems still lingered, just to a lesser degree than the years prior.

Then, by chance (as if anything is ever by chance- I totally believe in divine intervention or whatever you want to call it!) I came across this fabulous website explaining a diet that heals your gut to, for lack of a better word, correct these problems. Since we had already experienced how food can heal because of the steps we were already taking, I just knew this was this missing piece of the puzzle!

There is a great video interview with Donna Gates (from The Body Ecology Diet) and Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride right on the front page, explaining the diet and how it works. When I watched it the first time I was blown away! You should seriously go watch it right now– there are 7 parts, watch them all and come back- I promise I will still be here! 😉

On the videos they talk about autism like no one else had before (that I had heard, anyway). Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride says that all autistic children have abnormal gut health and all autism can be healed with diet. She also says that the abnormal gut health is caused by the mothers abnormal gut health which was cause by use of oral contraceptives, lack of breast feeding, the modern diet of processed foods, etc.

This is when I began looking at my health history and it was pretty sad. Even though I breast fed Blake, I still used oral contraceptives at a young age and we ate the standard american processed foods and I had no concept of what good nutrition really was.

She breaks it down like this (I’m really summarizing here): mom has abnormal gut health, baby is born with abnormal gut health, vaccinations are given which the childs body can’t deal with in a predictable way and it deepens the damage in the gut, then becuase of this damage the child gets sick often and needs anitbiotics which wipe out all the good bacteria leading to further damage- also known as leaky gut, which causes nutritional deficiences and allows particles of food to pass the blood/ brain barrier which leads to toxicity= autism, ADD, depression, anxiety, food allergies, etc!

Whoa! So, you see why I was blown away. This makes so much sense, doesn’t it? I immediately bought the book off the website along with the Internal Bliss cookbook. I already had a copy of The Body Ecology Diet, which is also an amazing book and I refer to it all the time.

I printed out the food list and intro diet and started implementing some of the diet before the books even came in the mail! I was desparate and extremely hopeful.

The website is a great place to start but the GAPS book has so much more information, and I highly recomend picking up a copy if you are interested in this diet. It is very complex and there is a lot of science behind this diet, I will not even attempt to cover it all but I assure you it is explained very well in the book.

When I received my copy of the book I read it cover to cover it in just a few days! It is full of such great information and I am reading it again to refresh and absorb more!

Here is a brief explanation of the diet:

There are 2 phases of the diet: the intro and the full GAPS diet.

In the intro diet you start with only meat stock and slowly introduce certain healing foods, one at a time. The intro diet really focuses on sealing the gut lining and getting it prepared for digesting foods. After the intro diet, you move onto the full GAPS diet.

I never did the intro diet, even though it is recommended and is supposed to accelerate healing time, I just couldn’t work it into my lifestyle- working full time and all, so I went right into the full GAPS diet. I am going to have Blake do the intro diet starting in a couple weeks becuase he is now willing to commit to the diet 100%!! He is also seeing the results and feeling good and wants to continue- yay!! I think I will do the intro diet along with him at this time.

Back to the diet: the meat stock/ bone broth is the staple of the diet. From Gut and Psychology Syndrome:

Meat and fish stocks provide building blocks for the rapidly growing cells of the gut lining and they have a soothing effect on any areas of inflammation in the gut. That is why they aid in digestion and have been known for centuries as healing folk remedies for the digestive tract.

The reason for doing this is to make digestion easier and remove the foods that feed the pathogens that damage the gut so that it can heal. Foods also get prepared in ways that make them easier to digest.

For the rest of the diet you basically cut out all processed foods and avoid the following foods:

  • All grains and anything made out of them
  • All starchy vegetables
  • Sugar and anything that contains it
  • Starchy beans and peas
  • Lactose and anything that contains it

(refer to the food list for exact foods that are allowed and not allowed)

The diet is structured to be implemented in 3 parts:

  1. Intro diet
  2. The full GAPS diet (which is what we are currently doing)
  3. Coming off the GAPS diet (which can take 2 years or more before you are ready/ healed enough)
The nutritional program for Gut and Psycology Syndrome:
1. Diet
2. Supplementation
3. Detoxification and lifestyle changes

Along with diet, she also strongly advises adding in beneficial bacteria (probiotics) to help repopulate the gut. This is done with supplements as well as fermented foods. And she recommends cod liver oil for omega 3 essential fatty acids, cholesterol and vitamin A and D. Regular vitamins are not recomended while on the diet due to the malabsorbtion of the gut- they won’t do any good until the gut is healed.

Another important factor in healing is detoxification. We live in a polluted world and when our bodies are stressed our internal detoxification system works on overdrive. GAPS people are filled with toxins that have been stored in the body, sometimes for years. In order to heal, you need to “clean house” so to speak. One way is juicing- it’s a great way to get tons of vitamins and minerals in concentrated doses. You have to freshly press your own though, you cannot use pasteurized/full of sugar conventional juices. Another way is bathing with epsom salts and apple cider vinegar and other detoxifying additives.

We also need to lower our toxic load. Did you know that everything you eat, breathe, touch or put on our skin gets absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and puts more stress on your body? For proper gut healing, you will need to eliminate or limit the amount of exposure to chemicals and environmental toxins as much as possible. We switched to more natural based cleaners, eliminated all bath soaps and lotions with synthetic ingredients, we use fluoride free toothpaste, eliminted perfumes, etc.

Some may say this diet/ lifestyle change is very restrictive, and surely it’s not for everyone, but when we eat this way we feel nourished and healthy and most importantly we are healing. My skin problems are healing, my seasonal and pet allergies are GONE, I rarely get migraines (only one in the past year), no more sore/achy muscles anymore and my hormones are balancing! Blake can think clearly and carry on conversations, this year in school he has an A average, his sensory issues are almost completely gone, he no longer has mood swings (other than regular teenage ones!!) and the depression is gone. There is still a lot we are working on and we still have a long way to go. I still have food sensitivities and Blake still has a lot of OCD and anxiety but I believe that if we continue this diet and continue to nourish our body we will heal. I want this for me and I want it for my son.

If you are thinking about starting the GAPS diet you should plan on committing at least a year to it but more likely it will take two years and possibly more. Nature does not work fast. The damage wasn’t done overnight so you can’t expect your body to heal overnight.

This diet is hard and is not for everyone but it works and its worth every ounce of effort and I highly recomend it based on the results we have already seen.

There are some things that I have discovered that make it easier. One is to plan ahead and ALWAYS be prepared. Second is to realize you will always be cooking or fermenting something. Third is to make large batches of meals and freeze them (I, unfortunately, don’t do this enough!!).

I make a meal plan everyweek, not only are we doing the GAPS diet but we are also on a food rotation for the food allergies/ sensitivities, so it is essential for us to plan meals. There are a lot of good sites that offer meal plans for the GAPS diet if you dont have time to do your own. At the end of this post I will list some of my favorites blogs.

The only other thing I will say about this diet is that it is on the expensive side. You will be purchasing high quality foods and supplements which are crucial for healing. Scott and I don’t make a ton of money and we have had to make a lot of sacrifices to make this work. It’s important to us and we make this a priority and I am grateful that we are able to do this.

I used to worry about Blake’s future, thinking that he would be dependent on Scott and I for most of his adult life, but now, his future is bright. I know that he will be able to drive a car, go to college, get married and have a family, if he chooses to- that is. The point is that now he will be able to make that choice whereas even a year ago I wasn’t so sure. And just being able to have a  conversation with my son feels so good and it’s something I will never take for granted again.

Here are some of the sites/ blogs that have helped me along the way:

http://gaps.me/ the official GAPS website

http://www.gutandpsychologysyndrome.com/gaps-diet/ this is where I got started

www.cheeseslave.com I love Ann Marie, she has a great blog with lots of great recipes!  Not all are GAPS legal though. She does meal planning- I am pretty sure she makes everything adaptable for GAPS diet.

www.nourishingdays.com I love Shannon’s blog. She has great recipes and downloadable cookbooks. Most recipes on her  blog are GAPS legal.

www.ournourishingroots.com I love that Kendahl has a ton of great recipes and info about the GAPS diet. Currently she is doing a 30 gays GAPS challenge- which is awesome!!

www.realfoodforager.com Jill is a fantastic resource!! She has a ton of recipes and even videos that make it super easy to follow. I refer to her blog all the time!

http://gnowfglins.com/ Wardeh is amazing! She has a wealth of knowledge. She teaches classes, has meal plans, does free webinars and just knows ton of stuff. She doesn’t specifically cater to GAPS but she has great info on properly preparing food.

www.picklemetoo.com I love Melanie’s recipe’s. She always has such great fermented food recipes!

http://nourishedkitchen.com/recipes/?search_term=gaps&ui=147&d=1 Jenny has a great blog- lots of recipes and she has so much knowledge. She also does classes and meal plans to suit GAPS diet! This links you right to her GAPS page.

By the way I love every single one on these blogs! I am sure there are a ton that I am missing (so feel free to add any in the comments if you like), these are just the ones that I refer to on a regular basis.

Sorry this is long- this diet is intense- but well worth the effort!

I would love to hear if you have tried the GAPS diet and if so what your experiences were, or if you are interested in giving it a go and just need some support- I am here for ya!

This post is part of The Weekend Gourmet, Traditional Tuesdays , Real Food Wednesday, Health 2 day, Simple Lives Thursday,   Pennywise Platter, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Sugar Free Sunday, Monday Mania, Make Your Own Monday, Homestead Barn Hop, Melt in your mouth monday, Sunday School, Make your own monday, Fat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesdays

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13 Responses to What is the GAPS diet and why we are doing it…

  1. Thanks for the link love 🙂 I am so glad to be interconnected with so many wonderful GAPSters out here in the webspace.

  2. Such a great post and resource! People ask me about GAPS all the time — I’ll be sure to refer them here. Thank you for mentioning GNOWFGLINS. 🙂

  3. Pam says:

    We’re on the GAPS Diet right now! My husband and I decided we would do it as a family for our son who was diagnosed as autistic. Our toddler daughter is on it as well. We’re past 6 months on it, and like you, it was a year ago when we were trying to figure out how we would care for our son when he became an adult. We’re not worried about that now. It’s truly amazing. We hope to begin transitioning off GAPS at the end of this year, though if we’re not ready, that’s fine. I’m just thankful that we are healing!!

    Thanks so much for writing this post. You’ve done a great job capturing the many aspects of it. I’ll be forwarding it to my friends and family!

    • Linnae says:

      Pam!! Its so wonderful to hear that your son is healing! This diet truly is amazing and I just LOVE hearing other people’s stories of healing from it as well!! Thank you for sharing your story with me and helping to spread the word! Keep me updated if you guys decide to transition off and let me know how it goes. We are quite a ways away from transition off, but its good to know that someday there is an end in sight, isn’t it? 🙂

  4. Oh wow…the title to your post really caught my eye. I actually found your blog via the Homestead Barn Hop…and I am on the GAPS diet right now. I’m on Phase 4 for of the Intro Diet stage 🙂 🙂 It’s an amazing plan and it’s really getting me some good results. The short form is that I’m gluten/dairy intolerant…and I’ve never had the test for Celiac disease, but all the signs point that way..and I have ulcerative proctitis, an auto-immune condition (minor form of colitis) IN any case, my naturopathic physician is also a certified GAPS practitioner..She told me about this plan. we had a really good discussion about it and I decided this was something for me. It’s amazing 😉 🙂 I look forward to reading more of your posts on t his subject 😉 Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 😉

    • Linnae says:

      I am so happy that you found the GAPS diet and it is helping!! And, I am so glad to have you along for the ride!! My goal is to help spread the word about this amazing healing diet and create a support system for those of us on the diet! 😉 Hugs back to you from chilly MN!!!

  5. Our family has been doing the GAPS diet for a year now and I couldn’t agree more with your post! There are great resources available online (and a bunch on our website, too, including a breakdown of how to do intro and get your whole kitchen set up. You can start on our GAPS resources page), but I think it’s also really good for people to read the book.

    So many people look at the list of foods and think – I couldn’t do that because I don’t eat eggs, or nuts, or whatever. I know I did that! Turns out I can eat some those foods I thought I couldn’t eat, and that you can do the diet without many of them, too. When you begin to understand the whole point of the diet and how you are putting food and nutrition to work for you, it makes it easy to make choices about how you and your family do the diet. That way you can make it work for your individual situation.

    • Linnae says:

      Thanks Joy!! I totally agree with you! And even though this diet is hard, once you get the momentum going its really quite easy; and understanding why we eat what we eat helps a lot as well. Thanks for adding your page, your blog has a lot of great resources and I can’t believe I forgot to add you to my list because I do refer to it often. I think the hardest part for me is that before I started the diet I started developing food allergies (luckily my son doesn’t have any!!) and I cannot eat whey, eggs or nuts, but I am hopeful that after a couple years on the diet I may be able to introduce them into my diet again.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your story about GAPS. I’ve been doing GAPS for a little over 6 months now and I always love to hear about other people’s stories. It’s always encouraging and motivating. I’m trying to heal my food allergies and a few other health problems. I’m so glad your son’s future looks so bright!

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  9. Ambra says:

    Thank you for this post, it is very relevant to me. I’m reading everything I can find about Gaps and seriously considering it for arthritis and more. Thanks again for all the info.

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