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.

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

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.

Gut Health and Fermented Foods Course: 31st March 2019 #ad

**Disclaimer: I am co-hosting this gut health and fermented foods course, which is why I am declaring it an ad. For my full disclosure policy, click here.**

Do you have a plan to keep healthy, especially over the colder months? If the answer is no, and you know deep down your diet could do with a bit of a kick up the bum, then I think you need my top three tips.

gut health and fermented foods

Eat mostly real food

Real foods are ingredients in their natural state – fruit, veggies, meat, fish, eggs, unprocessed dairy and plenty of probiotic rich fermented food and drink (more on that in point three). A real food diet essentially means making your own meals from scratch. I understand how daunting this sounds to many, but if you want to eat your way to better health, it’s absolutely non-negotiable.

Mark Sisson, author of the Primal Blueprint and phenomenally successful website Mark’s Daily Apple, advocates eating like a saint for 80% of the time and allowing ourselves 20% leeway. I started coming away from processed food and refined sugar in 2007, went paleo in 2012, and followed the gut healing GAPS diet in 2014. Nowadays I run at around 90% awesome diet, 10% leeway. As I’m insulin resistant, because of my PCOS, this works really well for my body. Everyone is different of course, and for many people 80/20 is optimum.

Be honest about your relationship with sugar

gut health and fermented foods

I don’t have all the answers, just my own personal experience. It took me going through the GAPS Intro Diet to properly ditch my sugar cravings, and I can now go an entire week without having anything sweet. No fruit, no chocolate, no naturally sweetened puddings, nothing. If we’re entertaining, or going to friends for lunch, I’ll make dessert (such as these brownies, or this caramel slice), but I don’t feel the need to eat sweet things every day like I did prior to 2014.

None of us are able to, or are going to want to, eat perfectly, which is fine, because none of us are perfect. We do, however, have a massive problem with the way society views food in the main. We were duped, and sold the idea that fat was bad. We were told for many years that we should be eating low fat foods because they were healthy. In actual fact, they are full of sugar and sweeteners, because when you remove the fat from food you also take away most of the flavour.

Of course, now we know that sugar consumption contributes to a whole host of health problems, but largely society is addicted to the stuff. So what is the solution?

Bombard your gut with fermented foods to help the good bacteria flourish 

The only way to know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies, is by getting in the kitchen and making our own food. There is no quick fix, but the good news is we can wholeheartedly reverse the damage caused by a poor diet with a great one. The way to make it enjoyable is to get into the right frame of mind.

gut health and fermented foods

Even when we are as time poor as most of us are, there are plenty of ways to incorporate healthy food into our busy schedules. They don’t get better than home made probiotics in the form of fermented veggies, kefir and kombucha.

In her fascinating book Cultured Food for Health, Donna Schwenk talks about the incredible health benefits to be gained by adding these three fermented food and drinks to our daily diets. Working in harmony with each other, they create billions of beneficial bacteria, and help with a multitude of ailments. These include: constipation, diarrhoea, acne, acid reflux, sleep issues, liver cleansing, adrenal support, candida, inflammation and food intolerance.

Knowing where to start when it comes to gut health and fermented foods can be overwhelming. Which is why myself and my very good friend Trish have created our comprehensive one day course. By the end of the day with us you’ll have learnt how to make kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, sour cream and a sourdough bread starter. We’ll feed you a nourishing, home cooked lunch, and there will even be the chance to sample home made cider from foraged apples.

Check out the flyer below for all the info, and email us to secure your place on the course. Spaces are limited and getting booked up fast! 

gut health and fermented foods

How to Lower Your High Cortisol Levels #ad

high cortisol levels**Disclaimer: this article about high cortisol levels is a collaborative piece between myself, and PrecisionBiotics (manufacturer of Zenflore). For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid steroid hormone, produced in humans by the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration. In other words, too much stress can lead to too much cortisol being produced. This can trigger a whole host of problems, including depression, weight gain and reduced libido.

Regular readers will know that I had a very unstable, dysfunctional childhood. There was so much change, and so much threat, that I spent it in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Unsurprisingly this caused an imbalance in my cortisol levels. Now that chronic stress provides the backdrop to my family life, I do everything in my power to lower them. I hope you find this piece useful.

Consider natural supplementation to help lower your high cortisol levels

I could write all day long about the importance of gut health, and the link between the gut and brain. If your gut has a disproportionate amount of bad bacteria to good, your mental health will absolutely suffer. Ever since doing the gut healing GAPS Diet in 2014, I have been a massive advocate for probiotics, which naturally boost the good bacteria. I make my own kefir, kombucha, goat milk yogurt and fermented veggies, which I eat and drink every single day. In addition I take good quality natural supplements in the form of 5-HTP (for boosting serotonin) and evening primrose oil (to help take the edge off PMT). Last month I started taking Zenflore, which is known as a physcobiotic. Which not only aims to increase good gut bacteria, but also helps to reduce high cortisol levels.

Zenflore contains 1714-Serenitas, a bacterial culture which increases the activity in the areas of the brain associated with emotions, learning and memory. The 1714-Serenitas culture in Zenflore is also involved in regulating the immune system which is vital for our health and wellbeing. Zenflore’s unique live culture and specially selected B vitamins work in harmony to support the mind and body during busy and demanding times. Check out the video below, for a more detailed explanation of the link between the gut and brain.

My experience of Zenflore

I eat a very natural diet of real food, and run a non-toxic household. Day to day we eat Paleo, which means no refined sugar, no starchy carbs and nothing processed (check out my YouTube channel for lots of tasty recipes). We simply do not do chemicals here – I even make my own deodorant. I truly believe, because of this, I’m very in tune with my body.

During the first few days of taking Zenflore I had mild diarrhoea and the start of a cold. This is quite a common reaction as the body adjusts to the influx of a new bacterial strain. By day five my stools were solid and I had no sign of the cold. I felt good within myself and healthy.

I have trialed many supplements over the years, and if they are going to have the desired effect (lots of them don’t!) then I feel it pretty quickly. After about ten days, I filmed a set of Instagram stories, which have been saved as a highlight on my profile marked Zenflore. I was in the midst of yet another super stressful time, as I’d had two weekends away a fortnight apart, and the kids were not happy with me. It was a pleasant surprise for me to not feel like they were pushing all my buttons and tipping me over the edge. Obviously it could have just been a coincidence, but I’m convinced it was the Zenflore working it’s magic.

high cortisol levelsSleep in my house has massively nose dived in the last few months, and my youngest is once again in the marital bed every night. He’s become a terrible bed sharer, and often wakes me up by kicking me in the head, laying diagonally across the pillows or pulling my hair. I also average one super early wake up a week – where I get up for the day anything between 3:30-4:30am, so I can write.

Although I’ve felt shattered, through tiredness, I can honestly say I haven’t been as stressed out as I have been previously. Which is absolutely huge for me. When you’re home educating three children – one of whom is autistic – you cannot underestimate the effect of trying to hold it all together while chronically stressed.

I would be lying if I said my sleep has improved ten fold and I’m as zen as I would be after a pilates retreat, every day. BUT I do feel like Zenflore has given me a much needed happiness boost, and that’s all I can ask for from a supplement.

Other lifestyle changes which help to lower high cortisol levels

Exercise. This gets bandied around a lot, because it really does make a difference. I don’t have spare time for long workouts or to go to the gym, but I manage to fit in what my husband calls “yoga snacks” throughout the day. They are my teeny tiny chunks of calm. For example, standing in tree pose while brushing my teeth, or sitting in the lotus position when I’m on the floor playing with the kids.

I go through cycles when it comes to more vigorous exercise. Sometimes I love it and sometimes it actually makes me feel worse. Truth is, when your cortisol levels are sky high, hardcore exercise puts additional stress onto the body. Earlier in the year I was doing twenty minute HIIT routines and feeling hideous afterwards, so took a break. Over the last few months I’ve been doing five or six minute standing abs workouts, a few times a week. This gives me a nice little adrenaline dump, without feeling like I’ve over exerted myself.

high cortisol levelsSleep. Even in the midst of severe child induced sleep deprivation, there is plenty we can do to help ourselves. A few years ago I stopped taking my phone up to bed, and noticed a dramatic improvement in my sleep quality. I rarely stay up later than 11pm, and have at least an hour, usually two, free of small screens before going upstairs. It doesn’t stop Freddy kicking me in the head half the night, but it makes all the difference to the broken sleep I do get.

Eating well. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of eating good quality nutrient dense food. Since eating my own way to better health, I don’t think there is a better head start we can give our children than a clean diet. Among a multitude of other things, nourishing ourselves appropriately will boost our brains, clear the mental fog and ensure our blood sugars aren’t riding on a rollercoaster all day long.

Get in tune with your cycle, ladies. It won’t actively lower your cortisol levels, but there is much to be said for knowing our bodies inside and out. It’s a tough pill to swallow at first, but I have long just accepted that I’m going to be ruled by my hormones for anything between 24 and 72 hours per menstrual cycle. Yes it sucks, but it’s part and parcel of being a woman. I never make plans around that time, and am super gentle with myself. I have zero expectations, and if anything asides from the bare minimum gets done, I consider it a bonus.

My overall verdict of Zenflore

I’m going to be brutally honest, as I always am. Zenflore hasn’t changed my life – because I am already massively ahead of the gut health game, compared to most. However, I can absolutely see that it would be a game changer for a person who has never taken probiotics before.

I’ve definitely noticed a nice boost, and given the high stress levels inside this house, it goes a long way. In fact I’m so confident that it’s helping me that I’ve started the kids on half a capsule each. Zenflore is perfectly safe for children over the age of three, but do head over to the Zenflore website for all the official info.

To keep up to date with all the news on this wonderful supplement, follow Zenflore across social media:

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

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)
100g coconut flour
120ml coconut oil
250ml cool brewed Earl Grey tea
4 large free range eggs
tbsp vanilla

non-alcoholic paleo christmas cakeMethod
– 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

Check 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**  

Water Kefir: Make Your Own Supply of Powerful Natural Probiotics

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.

 

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