In February of this year, my three year old and I took a life changing step…we started the GAPS Diet. Based on the book “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, the GAPS Diet is the “mother of all healing diets.” Dr. Natasha is a neurologist and a nutritionist who healed her own child from autism with this program.
We are doing the diet to heal a multitude of issues related to leaky gut syndrome as diagnosed by our integrative physician: multiple food allergies, other digestive problems, environmental allergies, chronic croup, pneumonia and sinus infections, autoimmune thyroid issues, skin issues, and more. Our doctor is aware of what we are doing, and gave me a big “thumbs up” when I first discussed it with him.
Dr. Natasha basically notes that all disease begins in the gut. As 80% of our lymph node/immune system is located in the intestines, this is certainly reasonable. If our insides are compromised, we are unable to “use” the nutrients in food appropriately and we develop nutritional deficiencies that lead to numerous health issues. Our bodies become unable to clear out the bad stuff, and toxins store in our bodies.
Our intestines should, in a perfect world, be host to billions of beneficial bacteria. When our gut flora is out of balance, this opens the door for chronic mental and physical disease, including autism, ADHD, depression, allergies, asthma, IBS, Crohn’s Disease, etc. The stage is often set in childhood for these disease through lack of breastfeeding, use of vaccines, antibiotics, other medications, heavily refined and processed foods, and compromised gut flora in one or both parents. Dr. Natasha gives a great analysis of how this happens in the book. Dr. Natasha notes that the toxic load that the child is born with affects the severity of GAPS conditions. Things like mercury from amalgam fillings in the mother, toxins from food and environmental toxins affect the child. According to Dr. Natasha, “A baby with a high toxic load will start it’s life at a disadvantage, being more vulnerable to various environmental influences: vaccinations, infections, food, drugs, etc.” She goes on to advise that pregnant women should be extremely careful about what they put in their mouths and on their skin, and for good reason.
While we are not personally dealing with autism in our house, it is my understanding from the book that because of underlying gut issues, the child is unable to detox the body and brain, and get rid of heavy metals like mercury and aluminum, and other toxins. The symptoms of autism mirror mercury poisoning. Through the healing of the diet, the body becomes able to rid of these toxins and the person is progressively able to regain functioning. On that note, I’m going to share my favorite videos related to GAPS healing. This is absolutely miraculous!
And here is the same child later on…
Pretty amazing, huh?????
The diet heals the body and brain from the inside out. The most critical part of the diet is the Introduction Diet. It is basically the mother of all elimination diets, and provides the most immediate healing. The individual starts with the most basic of foods: nourishing homemade meat stocks full of healing gelatin and many nutrients, gut healing natural fats and easily digestible veggies like squash, broccoli, and cauliflower. If your kids hate broccoli and cauliflower…have no fear. It took our daughter an hour to eat three bites the first few days…and then the taste buds change…the body starts to be nourished and crave GOOD foods…and then it gets much easier. I can just about guarantee that your child will eat well sooner than later!!! Processed foods are not allowed on the diet. Grains, starches and sugars are “illegal” foods as they are difficult to digest for GAPS people and also feed bad bacteria in the gut like candida that can cause a lot of health problems. Dr. Natasha gives a guide, in stages, in which to introduce new foods after the basic meats, veggies and broths, and how to spot reactions to foods you may not be ready for yet. Refer to the GAPS Diet website for further information. Some people are able to introduce new foods quickly, others not so much. Personally, we went through Intro quickly (about three weeks) due to child care issues. I am seriously thinking about doing another brief “run through” before Fall to alleviate a couple of stubborn issues that my daughter is dealing with. In all, most people need to adhere to the diet for roughly two years. When looking at a lifetime of dealing with Celiac’s Disease or some other chronic disease versus two years of being on a healing diet…it seems like a no-brainer to me! Particularly when you’re dealing with a child who has the rest of their life ahead of them!
The diet is supplemented by use of probiotics, cod liver oil and digestive enzymes to assist in stimulating stomach acids. People who have digestive problems, even those with reflux, typically have very low levels of stomach acid which makes digestion very difficult. Other vitamin supplements are discouraged, especially at first, as they are typically very hard to digest and can end up hindering healing because of that. Many supplements may also have ingredients that are “illegal” in the diet, so it is important to be mindful of this as well. Juicing of fresh fruits and veggies is an important part of the diet, as it is a good, immediately bioavailable source of many nutrients.
People have asked why we would do this, and I have often heard “I could never do that.” While I will admit that the Diet can be a lot of work, it is much harder to be chronically ill and/or have chronically ill children. It is tough on families to miss alot of work, to have the expense of continual doctoring, to not have enough energy for your family, to see your kids suffering, and to have a reduced quality of life in general. Our society has gotten so used to illness, that we accept it as it is. We take pills and go through procedures as a matter of norm, and these things have their own side effects. Symptoms have causes, and for us, it was time to get to the bottom of it all. Besides, don’t we all want to do our best we can for our kids?????
The other downfall is admittedly cost. Your food budget will never be the same. Ever. I freely admit that we are not perfect in this diet because of that reason. I cannot afford to have every cut of meat that enters the house be organic and grass fed to feed five people. Not that I wouldn’t love to, and not that I don’t see the importance because I do. Most definitely. But I have other bills to pay too. Organic foods are strongly emphasized and rightly so. I have to pick and choose – again because of cost – but also because I live in an area that makes it a little tough to access those things frequently. The nearest Whole Foods Market is about three hours away. I buy organics as much as I can, particularly for the foods that are most toxic such as strawberries, apples, greens, etc. We have done our best and we have still seen tremendous healing in spite of not being “perfect” at it. Anyhow, if you are interested but think you can’t afford it, it may become time to buckle down and decide what is important. Is a super-cool ringtone on the latest piece of technology/phone critical, or is it more important that you have good, nourishing food for your child? I’m sure most of us can spot many excesses in our lives if we really look, decide what is really important to us…and can find a little extra room in your budget for what this will take. Besides, my guess is that anyone who would consider GAPS has already been paying the doctor or specialist quite frequently, and you might as well pay your farmer or grocer instead.
Over the past five months, this diet has definitely presented us with challenges. I won’t lie. Some days I come home from work, and I’m tired, and WISH I could throw a frozen pizza in the oven. Just once. And more than once, I have wanted to quit. Visible progress keeps me going, even when things get tough. I can’t imagine going back to the way things were. Truthfully, over time, this has become habit and is just “what you do.” There is much less stress associated with food prep, the dishes, etc., now. I have found a wonderful community of other families doing GAPS on Facebook which has been invaluable. I have discovered many bloggers who give inspiration for meals, and support in the sense that you know that someone out there is doing what you are doing and believes that something better is definitely achievable. Planning ahead makes it work – frankly, I planned for months before even starting the diet (partly just to wrap my brain around it all) just so we would be successful. It gets easier. And it really feels great to feel good. More than I ever knew was possible. And it feels truly amazing to watch your child flourish when they never really did before.
I can’t encourage you enough to read the book if you or your children suffer with any of the issues I have talked about. You won’t be sorry. Healing is within reach!!!