**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or scientist, and this is not medical advice. If you are considering GAPS stage one, you might want to consult with an official GAPS practicioner.**
Five years ago, shortly after my third child was born, I stumbled upon the GAPS Diet. Having never heard the concept of Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) before, once it was on my radar, it seemed to be everywhere. Like when you start getting really broody and suddenly all you see are pregnant ladies.
I embarked on the GAPS Diet with my eyes wide open. First reading Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s brilliant book, then doing independent research into gut health and probiotics. If you’re seriously thinking about GAPS, and haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend you read Dr. Natasha’s book. You can buy it here via Amazon (affiliated link).
Why would anyone want to do the GAPS Diet?
No-one approaches GAPS because they think it’ll be a laugh. Many end up here because they have very poor health. Often debilitating autoimmune conditions they are desperate to reverse.
For me it was miserable food intolerance. I was on a merry-go-round of exclusion diets. I would finish one, only to have to start another five minutes later. At my worst I was breaking out in urticaria rashes after eating anything. I knew I needed to do something drastic, and GAPS spoke to me at a time when I was ready to listen. I’m a big believer in doing things when we are absolutely ready.
GAPS is not for the weak willed or feint hearted
GAPS is a gut healing diet rich in probiotic food and drink, comprising of a two stage protocol. Stage one is known as the GAPS Intro Diet, and is split into six steps. Stage two is known as the Full GAPS Diet and is very similar to eating the paleo way, which I’ve been doing since 2012. Among other things, it eliminates all grains, commercial dairy and refined sugar.
The first step of GAPS Intro involves making a big pot of stock / bone broth, and drinking at least two litres of it a day. Along with the boiled meat from your broth, non starchy boiled veggies and tea made from fresh mint and/or ginger.
And that’s it. Nothing else. Zilch. Zip. Nada.
Intro is all about giving the digestive tract a break, which is healing for the gut. Over time this will help to put symptoms of autoimmune disease into remission. These vital things are very unlikely to happen while you are eating, even if the food you eat is considered healthy.
Check out this page for the full list of GAPS legal foods.
The GAPS protocol is not a short term fix
GAPS relies heavily on being in tune with your own body and having the ability to be honest with yourself. You progress through the six steps of Intro based on how you are feeling. If you are feeling good on step one, and are certain you’re ready to move onto step two (by adding several foods) then you have a small amount of food and see if it adversely affects your body. If it doesn’t try another food a couple of days later. Rinse and repeat until you are ready to move onto Full GAPS.
I’m not going to dish out medical advice, because I’m not qualified to do so. If you are considering the diet, then please read the book.
How long you will need to follow GAPS will depend entirely on the state of your health when you start it. This is not a short term fix. Chances are it took years for your body to get into the state it has and will likely take years to reverse. There is no deviating from Intro, at all. If you cheat it’s best to go all the way back to the beginning and start again. Which is what I had to do in 2014, you can read about it by clicking here. (This is my second blog, and contains detailed posts which I wrote throughout the entire process.)
GAPS Stage One is hardcore, and not for everyone
A good friend of mine tried GAPS, but wasn’t able to progress because she lost too much weight. She struggled with dizziness, low energy and generally feeling rubbish. Another lady I was chatting to on Instagram claims that she did GAPS for eighteen months and it didn’t make the slightest difference at all. I’ve also read horror stories of people claiming to be stuck on Intro because they’re unable to successfully reintroduce more food.
I can’t tell you the intricacies of why GAPS didn’t work for them, because I’m not them. All I can tell you is that it did work for me (but it wouldn’t be fair to write this without mentioning it doesn’t work for everyone).
I’m sure this goes without saying, but if you’re grossed out by the idea of drinking 2L of stock per day, or would rather die than give up booze/coffee/chocolate, GAPS almost definitely isn’t for you.
If GAPS is for you, prepare to feel incredible!
I know first hand how hard the idea of GAPS seems, but I also know first hand how amazing it made me feel from day one. Once I’d put my half-arse first attempt behind me, and was fully committed, I was flying. Quite literally! My skin was clearer than ever, I had ridiculous amounts of energy and overall felt like a million quid. Considering I was also breastfeeding a new baby and contending with a two and four year old, it was quite astounding.
You cannot argue with wellness, it’s as simple as that.
Here are my main pieces of advice for someone embarking on GAPS Stage One:
Mindset is everything. If you approach GAPS thinking it’s going to make you miserable, you’re depriving your body and can’t wait for it be over already, you will fail. Most people are on the Intro diet for 3-6 months, and Full GAPS for another year or two. I’ll say it again: it’s not a quick fix.
Preparation is the key to success. Before GAPS I used to make my own stock every now and then. The idea of making a huge pot of it every couple of days was frankly mind-blowing, but once I figured out how to incorporate it into my every day life, it became second nature. Now I make stock in the same way I make a cup of coffee. On autopilot, taking minutes. Once you’re in a good routine, it will get easier and easier.
Good suppliers. I highly recommend finding a supplier of great quality bones to make cost effective stock, otherwise you might find it prohibitively expensive. I suggest scouring farmers markets, local farms and speaking to your local butchers about bones. During the earliest days of GAPS, it’s best to make stock from a whole chicken, but that gets very expensive very quickly. I buy organic carcasses at my farmers market for £1 each, and use two in a batch of 5L stock. Compared with £10+ for an organic whole chicken, it’s a no brainier.
There are no shortcuts. Embrace the wellness and positive changes, and don’t give too much thought to all the things you’re not eating and drinking. Good health is the most important thing any of us can have. Remember that. Cheating is basically lying to yourself, what’s the point? The short term pleasure of eating or drinking things you should be excluding will quickly be replaced by a truck load of guilt. You’ll feel beyond ridiculous for throwing away all your hard work and having to go back to the start.
Tune out to the haters. GAPS is still seen as drastic, and done half-arsed could potentially be dangerous. Prepare yourself for everyone to have an opinion, but you’ll learn to ignore them. Your newfound health will soon be the envy of your family and friends. Before you know it they’ll be coming to you for advice.