The GAPS Diet: Is the Controversial Gut Healing Protocol Right for You?

**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or scientist, and this is not medical advice.**

Five years ago, shortly after my little man and 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).  

GAPS

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 the concept of 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, and healing 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.  

GAPS

Check out this page for the full list of GAPS legal foods. 

GAPS 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 is 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.  

GAPS

My biggest tips for those embarking on The GAPS Diet

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.

Very best of luck! 

Non-Alcoholic Paleo Christmas Cake #FreeFromChristmas

Non-Alcoholic Paleo Christmas Cake

I’ve once again teamed up with a fabulous bunch of free from bloggers, to bring you a wonderful selection of free from Christmas food this year. Please check out the links at the bottom of this post for more details.

My family has been eating the paleo way for almost six years now. We aren’t perfect eaters, and subscribe to the 80/20 principle, which gives our life a healthy balance. By and large however, this means that we do not eat any grains (of which gluten is just one, but the most publicised one), or refined sugar. We do eat a little dairy in the way of raw milk, cheese, and home fermented goat milk yoghurt and sour cream, but steer clear as best we can of commercial dairy.

Between eating like this, and my recent leap into teetotalism, I wanted to create a non-alcoholic paleo Christmas cake. One that we could all enjoy and doesn’t have the excess sugar, unnecessary ingredients and alcohol you would usually find in a traditional version.

Sugar is sugar people!

Unrefined or not, dried fruit is exceptionally sweet, and the icing alone on most Christmas cakes (especially shop bought) amounts to diabetes on a plate. Apart from anything else, my Hubby is not a fan at all, so I had to put my thinking cap on, and get creative.

non-alcoholic paleo christmas cakeDid you know that the purpose of soaking the dried fruit (and nuts if you’re using them like I am) in alcohol is to make them super moist? Feeding the cake with booze is partly for preservation purposes, but also for flavour. Nothing more, nothing less.

Tea which has been brewed and cooled down works just as well to soak the fruit and nuts overnight. Not using booze also means that you don’t have to make the cake too far in advance, and can leave it until the week of Christmas. Also it’s best to use organic dried fruit, because it will be sulphite free which is always a good thing!

I have used Earl Grey tea, because it gives the cake and wonderful smell and flavour. For some reason, bergamot reminds of the beach, and elicits happy memories of far flung holidays and adventures. Not exactly Christmassy, but it makes me smile so I’ll call that a win.

If you really want a boozey cake, then you can substitute the tea for alcohol of your choice, make it a month in advance and feed with 1-2 tablespoons each week.

Non-Alcoholic Paleo Christmas Cake that is free from all Grains (including Gluten), Dairy and Refined Sugar

Ingredients for a very large cake, approx 20 servings  
250g grated carrot
200g chopped dried dates
200g sultanas
200g cashew nuts
100g chopped dried apricots
100g ground nuts (almonds or pecans work great)
non-alcoholic paleo christmas cake100g coconut flour
120ml coconut oil
250ml cool brewed Earl Grey tea
4 large free range eggs
tbsp vanilla

Method
– Get a large bowl and add the dried fruit, cashews and carrot
– Give it a good mix, then pour over the cold tea
– Cover the bowl and leave the mixture to soak overnight
– In the morning preheat your oven to 150C and prepare a large cake tin by greasing it well and lining with baking paper
– When you’re ready to start cooking add the ground nuts and coconut flour to your bowl of soaked loveliness
– Give it a big mix
– In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, vanilla and coconut oil together
– Pour the wet mixture all over the bowl of other ingredients and give it a good stir
– Pour the batter into your tin and brush with a tbsp of coconut oil
– Bake for an hour, ensuring that the cake is completely covered in baking paper
– Take out of the oven and allow to cool completely
– Store in an airtight cake tin and decorate as you please on the big day

non-alcoholic paleo christmas cakeCheck out the other #FreeFromChristmas posts from these fabulous bloggers

Dairy Free Kids

Easy Peasy Foodie

Free From Fairy

Free From Farmhouse

Glutarama

Gluten Free Alchemist

Intolerant Gourmand

Le Coin de Mel

The Peachick’s Bakery

**I created this recipe for non-alcoholic paleo Christmas cake myself, but would like to say a huge thanks to the wonderful people at Unsplash for the gorgeous photos**  

I’ve Been in a Dark Place, but the Fog is Finally Clearing  

Cards on the table: I have been in a seriously dark place for most of this year

I kind of broke, which sounds ridiculous, but I’m not allowed to fully break am I? Not with three kids at home. I came closer than I ever imagined I would though, and it terrified the life out of me.

Having experienced mental breakdown twice already, I’m no stranger to the dark place. I know the warning signs. Sometimes they are helpful, and other times they just make me feel worse.

A toxic, negative rut

My biggest problem was that the toxic thoughts inside my head became all consuming. I found it impossible to count my blessings and focus on the good. I was deeply engrossed in a cycle of negativity, and could only see disaster everywhere I looked.

I became bleak about the direction my family was going in, and what the future held. I was catastrophising and couldn’t snap out of it. I started fantasising about running away, and not just for a weekend.

dark placeHow did things get so bad?

Back in March, as we headed into Spring, I was full of optimistic hope. We’d decided that school wasn’t for Clara, and were happy with the idea of home educating her. It felt like we were making massive progress with Polly. Freddy was going through a particularly wonderful phase.

Then a series of unfortunate events occurred, and every time I picked my little family up, something else would happen to knock us back down.

It started with Polly smashing up her front (adult) teeth on a slide at the park, then three months followed where it was literally one thing after another. Including the shock, not to mention heartbreak, of being ghosted by a person I considered to be one of my very best friends.

I was done for

I had no motivation for anything over and above the bare essentials. Or as the infamous lyric in Amy Winehouse’s Rehab goes:

“I just think you’re depressed.”

Another couple of months passed, and I found myself drinking far too much. Reaching for the wine or gin bottle multiple times a week, to drown my sorrows. This led to comedown type hangovers, leaving me feeling totally despondent, drinking endless cups of coffee to try and perk me the next day.

I did not like what I saw in the mirror. As I’ve already said, I’ve been here before. It wasn’t pretty then, and it was even uglier this time around. For the first time since becoming a mum, I questioned whether I was capable of doing this job.

There was only one thing for it: GAPS!

Call it a detox, call it a cleanse. I like to call it the ultimate reset, and it worked a treat. Check out my other blog if you’re interested in the full details.

Suffice it to say that I’m now feeling much better, and I can’t tell you how great it is to be able to say this.

After hitting rock bottom, and turning my life around in 2006/07, I honestly thought the dark place was behind me. This year has proved that it can happen to any of us, at any point.

So for the stressed out mama’s and papa’s among us, make sure you look after you. If you sense the grey clouds looming, and the dark place coming, do anything and everything in your power to stop them in their tracks.

Take every opportunity you can grab for self care. Eat well, and nourish your body and mind. Do more of the things that make your heart sing. Feed your creative soul. Do not feel guilty about having time away from the kids. If you don’t put your oxygen mask on first, and save yourself, you don’t stand a chance of helping anyone else.

The deeper you fall, the harder it is to pull yourself out of the hole.

**Huge thanks to Unsplash for the gorgeous photots.**

Gluten, Dairy & Refined Sugar Free Blueberry Cheesecake

Following my article detailing my journey to being truly sugar free, I’ve decided to share a lot more recipes here on the blog. What better to kick start the new feature than my ultimate free from cheesecake? 

Over the last few years I have created some awesome (if I do say so myself) sugar free deserts, which also happen to be grain (not just gluten!) and dairy free too. The best feedback I get is that you would never know they are ‘free from’. I take this as a huge compliment, and am chuffed to know that some of my most sugar addicted friends are the biggest fans of my work. Not to mention my hubby, who has a very sweet tooth. 

blueberry cheesecakeThis cheesecake is a seriously tasty piece of pie – exceptionally rich and decadent, yet devoid of all the ingredients that cause so many of us such horrible digestive problems. The only spanner in the works would be if you have to avoid nuts, because two of the three layers are made from them.

Although it’s what I call a show stopping desert, it is unbelievably easy to make, providing you have a powerful blender or food processor. I have a Vitamix (lucky me) which makes light work of grinding up nuts and dried fruit.

This recipe is free from: gluten, grains, dairy and refined sugar

Ingredients
(crust) 200g macadamia nuts
50g dates
15g desiccated coconut
(filling) 220g cashew nuts
120ml lemon juice
120ml coconut oil
2-4 tbsp honey
tsp lemon oil
(topping) 250g blueberries

Method
blueberry cheesecake– I have used a traditional 26cm flan dish, which I’d highly recommend as it makes the perfectly sized end result which you can cut into thin slices. As I said before, it’s a very rich desert and a little goes a long way

– to make the crust, put the macadamias and dates into your blender or food processor and whiz until they come together to form a sticky dough

– scatter the desiccated coconut onto the bottom of the dish which helps the crust not to stick, then press the dough down firmly 

– now make your filling by adding the cashews, lemon juice and oil, coconut oil and honey to your blender or food processor. Then whiz until you have the consistency of a very very thick milkshake (as pictured). I find that two tbsp of honey is more than enough for my palate, but sweeten yours according to taste

– pour the filling evenly on top of the crust, cover with cling film and place in the freezer for 30 mins

– to make the topping simply place your blueberries into a saucepan over a high heat. You can use fresh or frozen, they both work just as well. When you hear sizzling after 30 seconds or so turn the heat low and simmer for 10-15 mins

– once the blueberries are cooked and have cooled down, take the cheesecake out of the freezer and pour them over the top. Then re-wrap in cling film and place back in the freezer for at least three hours until you’re ready to serve

– remove from the freezer 30 mins before you want to serve and allow to defrost a little before slicing and serving

This really is the most AMAZING free from cheesecake you’ll ever taste. Trust me, I’m fussy with my treats 😉

Why My Autistic Daughter and I Are on the GAPS Diet

Why My Autistic Daughter and I Are on the GAPS DietIn Spring 2014, shortly after my third child was born, I read a book which changed my life. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, written by doctor and mother Natasha Campbell McBride, details how central our gut bacteria is to our overall health, and outlines a gut healing diet. 

For more information on gut health check out this fascinating lecture by Professor Simon Carding at UEA’s Medical School.

The book touched on much of my own medical history, and the premise of gut and psychology syndrome (also known as GAPS) made complete sense to me. I knew instantly that I wanted to try the diet. 

Dr. Campbell McBride claims that you can reverse autism by following the GAPS diet, because an unhealthy gut can be a factor. I am hugely sceptical about this, and personally feel that it’s a fools errand to try and ‘cure’ autism. I do however, strongly believe, that eating the right foods can help alleviate symptoms that present challenging behaviour. Not just in an autistic child, but in any child.   

What is the GAPS Diet?

Eating the GAPS way means removing all processed food, starches, refined sugar, grains (not just gluten) and commercial dairy. There is plenty you can eat, provided that you make it yourself. 

The GAPS Diet has two parts. First comes a six stage introduction plan which sees you stripping away all food, then slowly, and systematically, reintroducing it. How long it takes to work through the six stages completely depends on individual symptoms. 

GAPS-bookAfter working through all six stages, you transition over to what is known as the Full GAPS Diet. This comprises of a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.  

My main motivation for trying GAPS in 2014 was food intolerance which wasn’t getting better through standard exclusion diets. I was also perpetually exhausted, but put that down to having three kids, one with a sleep problem.

When I went onto GAPS first time around, I had already been mostly refined sugar free for seven years, and Paleo for two. I say mostly, because none of us are saints are we? Trying to eat ‘perfectly’ 24/7/365 will probably do you more harm than good, as it would be so stressful.

Although GAPS was a massive challenge initially, I adapted quickly to my new way of life and was astounded by the results. After just a few weeks on GAPS, I was full of energy and felt properly clear headed for the first time in years. Gone was the brain fog, and wading through treacle. To top it off, my usually problematic skin was beautifully radiant. I looked and felt amazing! 

I documented the entire journey from the first day, to a one year update on this blog: Mummy Tries GAPS.

GAPS worked for me, but I didn’t stick to it for long enough. 

I tried to, of course I did, but life got in the way. 2015 was a ridiculously stressful year what with going back to work, and dealing with awful childcare challenges. Worse still, Polly was floundering at school, and absolutely miserable at home. This is where we faced up to the writing on the wall, and were led to her high functioning autism diagnosis

My redundancy was fortuitously timed, although career suicide in terms of going back to the City. At the end of the summer holidays I sent Polly into year two with a very heavy heart. By the October half term we had made the decision to home educate her.

This all took its toll on my well-being. Although I was still adhering mostly to a Full GAPS Diet, I was drinking far too much alcohol. This carried on into 2016, and I spent large chunks of it feeling depressed and incapable of meeting the varying needs of my children. Home education was a roller coaster I wasn’t mentally prepared for, and remains the steepest learning curve of my entire life.

The divide between my girls got bigger, to the point where they could hardly stand being in the same room together. Freddy’s sleep went from bad to horrendous. My husband and I were bickering far more than what I consider to be normal. The going got tough, so I took solace in my friends, which almost always involved excessive drinking. It was lots of fun at the time, but would come with a hefty price afterwards.

By the end of last year, I was at tipping point and knew that things needed to change. 

GAPS dietI was playing a dangerous game, which is ironic given the book I wrote a couple of years ago. Just goes to show that none of us are exempt from the dark clouds. What is more ironic, is that GAPS is wholeheartedly recommended for those who are suffering from depression. The last thing you want to hear when you’re feeling low is that your lifestyle is contributing to your mental health issues, but it’s often true. 

GAPS worked for me last time, and I am desperate to feel that good again. Yes it’s boring, in comparison to going out and getting smashed. Yes it’s hard work, in comparison to buying food ready to eat. There is no doubt that the first few weeks are super hard going, but starting anything is always hard. 

I wrote a post a few months back, about how sad Polly often is. How tough it is to watch her be so miserable. How helpless I’ve felt, when she’s taking her frustrations out on Clara and Freddy. It went way past standard sibling in-fighting long ago, and morphed into full-on bullying.

But I am done feeling helpless, because we always have options. We sometimes just need to open our eyes, take a big deep breath and put a little faith in ourselves and our abilities.

My view is this. If you and your children are healthy, don’t catch every bug going and are generally happy, then chances are all is hunky dory with your gut. You would never need to even entertain the idea of doing GAPS, or anything similar. Due to being in such optimum health, I’d hazard a guess that you’re also able to exercise the everything in moderation rule.

If you aren’t blessed with a spick and span immune system, because of whatever reason, you need to think outside the box a little.

Which is why myself and Polly are currently working our way through the GAPS Intro Diet.

GAPS diet - cashew and courgette pancakes

our breakfast this morning, delicious pancakes

I talked about GAPS a lot in the run up to new year, and Polly was adamant that she wouldn’t be joining me (even though I hoped she would). Then the day before I was due to begin, she told me she wanted to do it as well.

“I want to give it a go mama. Maybe it will stop me from being so mean to Clara and Freddy.”

I was seriously taken aback by her maturity, and have continued to be every single day. Polly is learning to listen to how food makes her feel, both physically and emotionally, which is the first step to self-regulation, and a lesson we could all use. She’s also eating tons of new food that she was previously refusing. 

Today was day ten, and the improvements in my girl so far have been immense. She is consistently calmer, kinder and happier than I’ve seen her since she was a toddler. We’ve had one full on difficult day, compared with one decent day out of ten, which had become our norm. I’m incredibly proud of how well she’s doing.

As for me, I’m getting back to myself again. I’m no longer engulfed with negative thoughts, and am not filled with doom about the future. I feel in control of what’s going on, and am not in a state of despair. No longer am I feeling the need to reach for the bottle in the evening, to ‘treat myself’ after yet another hard day. For the first time in over a year I feel like I can kick life’s butt, instead of it constantly kicking mine!

A few friends have voiced their concerns

They are worried that GAPS is too restrictive, and that it’s too much extra work for me. These comments come from a kind hearted place, but ultimately these people are looking at my situation through their own eyes. They know that GAPS would push them over the edge, and be a major cause of stress, so it’s not an option for their family.

I look at it completely differently though. I adore being in the kitchen, inventing recipes and making awesome food out of unlikely ingredients. It’s been my forte for a decade, and I don’t see it as a chore. It doesn’t cause me stress at all, but watching my kids tear each other apart, and all of us being miserable day in day out, most certainly does.

As for GAPS being too restrictive, no-one would bat an eyelid if we were following a strict exclusion diet because of allergies, or decided to become vegetarians would they? Cutting out the crap and eating natural food is never going to be a bad thing for any of us. 

We aren’t doing GAPS because we’re hoping it’ll ‘cure’ Polly’s autism. We’re doing it so she has a better chance to be a happy, healthy little girl. Surely that’s all any parent wants for their kids?

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