My GAPS Journey

follow my quest to kiss goodbye to food intolerance forever!

Water Kefir: make your own supply of powerful natural probiotics What is kefir, and why is it so good for me?

Kefir are little live strains of gut-health promoting bacteria and yeast, and are exceptionally good for our bodies. The grains can be fermented in either water or milk, and makes a fermented drink which is one of the most powerful, and cost effective, natural sources of probiotics we have readily available to us. 

Whilst milk kefir is very potent, and could create a die off reaction while your gut bacteria is changing.

Water kefir (also known as tibicos) is much gentler on the gut and easier to introduce as a starting place. It’s still a great source of natural probiotics, and especially if you have issues with digesting dairy products, it could be the better option.

The cost saving is phenomenal

Water kefir grains are hardy, and once established can live forever providing you look after them. I started drinking one litre of water kefir daily about a year ago, and after three months I was able to stop taking probiotics supplements. Once established, a month’s supply of water kefir will cost around £2 in comparison to £30 for good quality supplementation.

When I first embarked on the GAPS Diet back in 2014, gut health was still considered a little bit woo. Nowadays it’s mainstream, and was recently discussed on the BBC program Trust Me I’m A Doctor, where home fermented foods came out winning.

You can buy a large portion of water kefir grains here for just £3.99, including UK postage.

 

How to REALLY Quit SugarIt comes as no big surprise to me when I read that so many of us are addicted to sugar, and I’ve been wondering how many people included quitting sugar in their new year’s resolutions. Although it sounds like it should be pretty straight forward, truly quitting sugar is a complex and tricky task. I know this first hand, because I’ve done it.

You probably won’t want to hear this, but truly quitting is not a quick thing!

Thanks to all the fad diets and books on the market, it’s now a rather grey area, and folk are under the illusion that it can be done in a matter of weeks. That you can simply stop eating sugary foods, replacing the odd craving with a home baked cake sweetened with something like stevia, and hey presto within a month or two you’ve quit.

My own sugar free journey has been eight years in the making, and began after being diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in 2007. When I was told by two different doctors that I’d need medical assistance to conceive, rather than just nod my head in agreement and accept my fate, I did a shed load of research into my new condition. Turns out that ladies with PCOS are also likely to be insulin resistant, which can cause all sorts of problems for us including infertility. It also puts us at huge risk of contracting type two diabetes in later life.

Taking control of my health

After learning how much damage sugars – especially refined ones – were doing to my body, I excluded them from my kitchen. This meant getting rid of almost all processed food, and cooking everything from scratch. I still had a grain heavy diet back then though, and as grains are complex carbohydrates that contain a lot of sugar by default, and have been through a very heavy refining process, I certainly wasn’t eating as optimally as I could have been.

Eliminating most refined sugar was just the start. In 2012 my husband and I went Paleo and cut out grains from our diet – I felt good, but I was still eating a lot of natural sugars in the form of fruit and home made treats. I very much had the mentality that I needed something sweet after a main meal. I also massively struggled with regulating my blood sugar levels in early pregnancy all three times.

Changing my mind set

In 2014 I started the gut healing dietGAPS the aim of which is to reset your auto-immune function and get it working better. At the start of the diet you remove almost all food, and the very first stage of GAPS sees you drinking home made soup morning, noon and night for a whole week.

After that you introduce foods one at a time – I didn’t have so much as a piece of fruit for four months. It was only after going through this that the penny dropped for me, not only could I go so long without eating a single sweet thing, but I no longer hankered after it.

Now, almost two years later, I am finally in a place where I can genuinely take or leave the treats. I can say no when I’m out, watch everyone else eat cake and not feel deprived. I can bake brownies with the kids and not be tempted by the raw batter; which was previously a weakness. I will have the odd home made desert (sweetened with raw honey or organic dates) when we’re entertaining, but my piece will be significantly smaller than the rest. If I find myself in a nice restaurant I might share a desert with my hubby, but day to day I have very little sugar in my diet. Natural or otherwise.

I’d like to share some wise words from a dear friend in remission for breast cancer

“I have read articles and listened to pod casts until I’m blue in the face about how sugar is a huge contributor to most disease. Yes most disease. My sugar avoiding game was motivated by breast cancer. My biochemist tells me “A diet high in refined carbohydrates has been to shown to increase the rate of breast cancer growth and to deplete the immune system.” 

I call it a game as its all about a dialogue with my little old self. I tried Paleo, Keto, and raw vegan diets which have all helped get me to a safer less sugary place. Now I eat moderately including meat and dried fruit, chocolate, honey and homemade desserts not too often, but the difference is I can feel my blood sugar rise and my stomach filling up. I even know when I’ve eaten too much brown rice and beans (apparently even protein turns to carbohydrate in the body if you eat too much!).

It’s fashionable now to feed the soul, don’t deprive and have a little of what you fancy, but in all honesty if I hadn’t cleared the sugar addiction first, a bit of what I fancied three years a go would have been an extremely unhealthy amount of sugar. Now a little sugar goes a very long way. Its like going to rehab and coming out a more balanced and aware person (only when it comes to food of course). Sugar is relative, just like salt – we can retrain our taste buds and then we don’t need to feel deprived, because we just won’t need it. 

There are countless articles, studies and research about the dangers of sugar and its hard to know where to start, so I thought I would quote Otto Warburg, Nobel Prize Laureate and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Cell Physiology, Berlin-Dahlem, Germany:

“The prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar. All normal body cells meet their energy needs by respiration of oxygen, whereas cancer cells meet their energy needs in great part by fermentation. Oxygen gas, the donor of energy in plants and animals is dethroned in the cancer cells and replaced by an energy yielding reaction of the lowest living forms, namely, a fermentation of glucose.” 

According to this, sugar feeds cancer. But instead of listing all the diseases associated with sugar, (which we are all bored with by now surely) I vote for enrolling on a body-mind awareness course, at least it would be a start to a conversation with yourself about how much sugar creeps into your life. Sugar is a sticking plaster for emotions (which admittedly is very handy sometimes) but when over used, it creates and feeds disease. And lets face it, there is way too much floating around of both in everyday lives.”

Polly GAPS IntroIn Spring 2014 I embarked on the all natural auto-immune healing diet GAPS, which is an acronym for Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

It consists of three stages, the first being a six step introduction diet; the second stage is Full GAPS – a Paleo-style grain free, refined sugar free, commercial dairy free diet; the third stage is introducing fermented grains and healthy starches such as sweet potatoes.

What causes gut and psychology syndrome?

According to Natasha Campbell-McBride, the doctor that created GAPS, all auto-immune disease (which encompasses everything from allergies to depression to thyroid dysfunction) starts in the gut, and is likely to be caused by leaky gut syndrome and/or a disproportionate amount of bad gut bacteria.

Leaky gut gets worse with each generation, and mine are a prime example of what Campbell-McBride calls a GAPS Family. My mother has an under active thyroid, urticaria and various other issues; I had severe reflux as a baby which led to stomach surgery aged five and have suffered all my life with food intolerance. My eldest daughter is very similar to me on the intolerance front; she also has the poorest immune system of our family (and most other kids that we know); and she is autistic.

Campbell-McBride says that until the gut is healed you can mask your symptoms but you’ll never be cured. Check out this awesome article for more info by the fabulous Dr. Josh Axe. 

I’d heard about GAPS from reading other blogger’s personal experiences such as this and this. Real people who cured their lifelong food allergies, and debilitating auto-immune diseases with the GAPS diet. There is also a  scary looking text book (that’s actually very easy to read) written by Dr. Natasha giving her theories on why some folks health is as bad as it is. Given that my third child was only eight weeks old, and I average reading only two or three books a year, I whizzed through it in two days. Her words sung to me, and I knew I would have to take action by giving this diet a go. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a huge undertaking!  

The most important part of the very first step of the intro diet – which most people do for around one week – is drinking a ton of home made meat stock (also known as bone broth). The quickest and easiest way to make it is by boiling a whole chicken with sea salt and water for a couple of hours. Your entire food consumption for that first step is drinking the stock and eating the boiled chicken meat. If you’re able to tolerate non-starchy veggies then you can add them to make yourself a bowl of soup. It’s delicious real soup, just like Grandma used to make. But that’s it.

No dairy, no sugar – natural or refined, no grains at all, no starch, no caffeine, no booze. The only extras are a cocktail of supplements, including probiotics, omega fish oils and digestive enzymes.

You are completely stripping your diet back to the very basics, giving it plenty of nourishment to sustain you while your body goes through a period of detoxification. The aim is then resetting your auto-immune function and getting it to work better. After that first step you introduce foods one by one, starting with egg yolks and home made sauerkraut.

It’s a big deal, and even though I was used to eating Paleo before starting GAPS, it still took me two attempts to get it right. I whizzed through the six steps too fast the first time, and also cheated by keeping a morning coffee. I paid the price by going back to the very beginning six weeks later.

Second time around I spent five days on each of the first three steps of intro, and hung out on step four for months. By then I could eat so many foods that I felt I was having a delicious and varied diet, and I didn’t feel deprived in the slightest. I guess once you’ve lived on chicken soup anything else feels like fine dining!

I won’t go into too much detail here as it’s already a long post, and I documented my entire journey from start to a year update on a separate blog, so check out Mummy Tries GAPS if you’re interested. 

GAPS worked for me. I have clarity of mind, clear skin and am not a walking wreck despite suffering from severe sleep deprivation. My depressive thoughts are largely kept at bay and ultimately I’ve never felt this good in my entire life. People often ask me how I’m able to function given my challenging life, and the answer is GAPS! 

When I started intro we put the kids on to Full GAPS, but we’ve never been super strict like I was with my own eating. We always let them have cocoa in home made cakes and natural snacks; we let them eat the odd sausage roll or something similar if we found ourselves at the farmers market at lunch time. We have always been strict with not letting them have refined sugar, but some days their natural sugar intake has left a lot to be desired.

It all has an effect, how any parent can say there is no link between diet and behaviour is beyond me.

stock makingWhich is why we are seriously considering putting Polly on GAPS Intro. Not because we think it will ‘cure her autism’ (anyone claiming this is being rather bold in my opinion), but if it took her even further up the high functioning end of the spectrum then that would be a bonus. We’re looking at doing it because I know first hand how damn good I felt on GAPS Intro, and I would love for her to feel that great!

I’m absolutely certain that once we got through the first week or two she would feel as amazing as I did. Plus, if we don’t do it, I’ll always have a little nagging feeling in the back of my mind wondering if things would have turned out differently if only we had given it a go. I’d do it with her too, so she only saw me eating the things that she was. It would be a huge challenge in the short term, but I am positive my entire family would reap the rewards in the long run. 

An action plan for now

It’s a rather controversial thing to do though. To essentially make a six year old child eat soup morning, noon, and night for a whole week. The way I see it, a week is a very short amount of time and passes really quickly, but it would be an exceptionally difficult week, and I’d never put her through it until I had done extensive research and found a suitable practitioner to help us.

As of this week we are being super strict with all the children eating a Full GAPS diet. Just to dispel a few common myths: no, it’s not really low carb or ketogenic. It is simply a natural way of eating that doesn’t allow grains, starchy veg, refined sugar or processed food. It’s varied and interesting, and unbelievably nutrient dense. Just by cutting back on sweet snacks (albeit natural ones) I’ve seen an improvement.     

There’s a huge part of me hoping that we don’t have to put her on GAPS Intro, but only time will tell.

Would you do it?   

**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor am I giving medical advice, I am simply sharing my own personal experience and views**

Part of the GAPS Diet is good quality supplements in the form mainly of probiotics and omegas. All my family take Bio-Kult, as well as eating home fermented foods which enhance our gut health. The girls also take fermented cod liver oil which is meant to be the best brain boost money can buy. Hubby and I take it’s poorer relation, red krill, which is still fantastic for you but only a fraction of the cost!

People often ask how I get the girls to take the oil, because it tastes pretty gross. When we first started the diet I sat them down and explained that our bellies were not as well as other people’s, and we would need to take our medicine each day to help them get better. Although they are only three and five, they fully understand this concept and we never have any trouble getting them to take their supplements each morning.  Here is my 5yo Polly taking her ‘medicine’ like a pro. 

mouths of babes