In 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.
Which 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**