The GAPS Diet and How I’m Healing

About a year ago, I was browsing Facebook and a dear friend, whose opinion I hold in high regard, posted an article about a book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD.  Another friend, whose opinion I also respect, commented about how much she wanted to start this diet because of her many allergies.

I was intrigued because I had just discovered that I had several food allergies.  My health has not been good since college when I caught Epstein Barr virus, which manifested as Mononucleosis and evolved into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

After this, my immune system was never the same.

Every winter I caught several colds and had chronic sinus infections which, I mistakenly thought, required round after round of antibiotics.  Little did I know I was continuing to ruin my immune system and just got sicker and sicker.

To make a long story short, I left the traditional medical community for a more natural approach and eventually saw a naturopath who suggested food allergy testing.  After the test, I took all the foods I was allergic to out of my diet, but still didn’t really notice much difference.  It was at this time when my friend posted the GAPS article.

After reading the article, I was sold and immediately purchased the book.  I had been searching and praying for my health for many years.  This just had to work!  When the book arrived, I devoured it.

This is what I learned:

The GAPS diet is a temporary healing protocol that heals the gut lining and populates it with beneficial bacteria thereby restoring proper digestion.  There are two diets involved:  intro and full.  The intro diet is rather strict at the beginning, but improves as you move through the steps and introduce new foods, one at a time, back into your diet.  Eventually, you transition into the full GAPS diet and stay on this diet until you have had normal digestion for at least 6 months to be certain that your gut lining is completely healed.  Some people start with full GAPS to get used to cooking and eating this way before starting the more restrictive intro diet.

The lining of the digestive tract is covered with all kinds of bacteria.  In fact, we have about one to two pounds of bacteria in our digestive tract alone.  These bacteria are categorized into three categories: beneficial (good), opportunistic (bad) and transitional (usually neutral).

In a healthy gut, the beneficial bacteria keep the opportunistic and transitional bacteria in check.  If there aren’t enough beneficial bacteria lining the gut, the opportunistic and transitional bacteria take over and can cause chaos because of the imbalance.

Beneficial bacteria also neutralize all the bad bugs that we consume.  Again, if their supply is not strong enough, those toxins take over, and we get sick.

We also have cells called enterocytes in our small intestines.  I like to call them rock stars because they have hair that stands on end like a rock star.  There are enzymes distributed throughout their hair that work with the beneficial bacteria to continue the digestion process and absorb nutrients for the blood system.  Like I said, they rock!

Lining the gut are these finger-like structures called villi.  The rock stars are born at the base of the villi and mature as they travel up the sides until they reach the top and fly away to rock star heaven.  If the rock stars travel too slowly or die too quickly, the villi degenerate leading to disease.

If you are more interested in how this works or if you are at all like me and need a visual, check out this explanation on about.com.

Healing With GAPS

I decided to start with the full GAPS diet for a few reasons.  First, I wanted to get used to the diet before doing intro.  Second, I was concerned it might be too difficult to handle the intro diet while I was working.  Third, my current naturopath, a GAPS practitioner, suggested it.

One of the first things I did was sign up for cooking classes, which helped tremendously.  Because processed foods are not allowed on this diet, I had to learn how to cook with clean food from scratch.  In order to minimize consuming toxins, I found meat that was pasture-raised on organic grass, wild-caught seafood, eggs from pastured, soy-free chickens and organic vegetables.

Through the cooking class, Reversing Food Allergies, I learned how to make my own yogurt, broth, beet kvass, sauerkraut, milk kefir, kombucha, and much more.  I also purchased the book Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (Love that title!) by Sally Fallon and learned more about eating, preparing and cooking in a traditional fashion and why this is good for us.

A month or two after I started, my health began to improve.  Eventually, my immune system showed signs of strengthening: I only caught one minor cold in the fall and none in the winter. My sinuses cleared for the first time in years, and blood tests came back proving that the diet was working.   But I was still experiencing this overall pain, especially after a hard day of work.  I was concerned that maybe I had Rheumatoid Arthritis or Fibromyalgia.

A visit to a rheumatologist confirmed that it was Fibromyalgia.  I was very discouraged because I thought this diet was supposed to help with Fibromyalgia.  After more praying and researching, it hit me.  I was healing, just not as fast as I wanted.   I also recalled reading somewhere that some people who follow the GAPS diet do not experience full healing for two or three years.  I had still a long way to go and needed to be patient.

I continued to read about Fibromyalgia and discovered one of the key ways of coping with the pain was to lower my stress level.  Unfortunately, my job was extremely stressful, but because I was working to pay our daughter’s college bill, I could not quit until spring when she graduated.

As soon as I could, I gave my notice and came home to heal.  And heal I did!  Quitting my job was just the ticket, and now I have a lot more energy: energy to garden, buy and care for chickens, start this blog and prepare nutritious meals for my family.

I can run up the stairs without knee pain or feeling winded and no longer have to rest after each cleaning or cooking task.  I can stand in my kitchen for several hours without having to sit down and still have energy at the end of the day to clean up after dinner.  The vertigo, headaches, intermittent diarrhea, hemorrhoids, fatigue, weakness, rib pain and a myriad of other symptoms are gone. I literally feel 10 years younger!

One delightful side benefit that I did not expect was weight loss.  I didn’t even think about it until one day I noticed my pants were getting loose and immediately weighed myself.  I had lost 10 pounds without even trying.  Altogether, I lost 25 pounds and went from a size 16 to size 12!

The overall body pain is almost gone.  I’m only taking two natural pain killers instead of four, Saventaro Cat’s Claw and Nettle/Quercetin (Nettle for the Epstein Barr virus and Quercetin for pain).  I sometimes still wake up stiff and in a bit of pain, but when I get out of bed and walk around it goes away.

What’s Next?

Because I am not completely healed I’m going to do the GAPS Intro diet to see if it gives me another healing boost. If you would like to follow my progress, I will be blogging about it, so please sign up in the column to the right for email updates (I don’t sell or share email addresses) or follow me on Facebook.

Are you interested in finding out more about the GAPS diet?  Here are a few resources to help get you started or give support:

  • Of course you need a copy of the GAPS Book.
  • GAPSdiet.com and GAPS.me are both excellent resources for learning about the diet and for support.
  • Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS has started a GAPS series.  Many different subjects on the GAPS diet are covered including a guest post by yours truly about taking “Baby Steps to GAPS.”  I share how it took me several months to implement the Full GAPS diet into my life without stress.

When I do the intro diet I will be using “What Can I Eat Now?” an ebook by Cara at Health, Home and Happiness and the GAPS Guide (Simple Steps to Heal Bowels, Body and Brain) by Baden Lashkov.

Do you have health issues?  Does the GAPS diet intrigue you?  If you are on the GAPS diet, what health problems did you have?  I’d love to hear from you!

This post is shared on Fat Tuesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Monday Mania and Healthy 2Day Wednesday.

This was a featured post on Sunday Snippets.

 

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  • Dr.G

     
    When you decided to work with a naturopath instead of within traditional western medicine limitations would you say the approach was more holistic? I think that people may have some bias towards the word natural approach as being less powerful than medication or surgery, etc. Holistic describes the care of naturopaths, acupuncturists, Chiropractors, etc. since the perspective for treatment is from looking at a person and the body as a whole in order to address all aspects of a problem instead of narrowing in on symptoms and just one part of the problem. Love that you are sharing your success and positive experience! 

    • TheUrbanHearth

      Hi Dr. G!  Good point!  Yes, the term holistic would be a better word to use than natural.  Thank you for your response.

  • http://thischickcooks.net/ Katie

    Your story is inspiring! There are so many who could be helped immensely by a traditional foods diet. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    • Leola

      You’re welcome, and thank you for your kind comments, Katie! Traditional foods are sooooo healing! I want to try to do my part to get the word out. There is much work to do!

    • TheUrbanHearth

       Thank you, Katie, for your kind words.  Traditional foods are soooo healing!  I look forward to helping spread the word.  There is much work to do!

  • Deborah

    I found out about GAPS from a friend, too. I began it in March. I have several forms of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and Hashimoto’s disease. It’s been three months and I’ve lost 23 lbs, cut my medications by a third, and not needed allergy medication. My husband was somewhat doubtful at the start, especially about the cost of eating real foods, but he’s now my staunchest support and will go shopping for pastured chickens without me even asking him. I can’t recommend GAPS  enough!

    • TheUrbanHearth

       Hi Deborah!  That is fantastic news!!!  Thanks for sharing, and that is so great to hear about your husband, too!  I would like to find a way to share GAPS with the autoimmune community.  When I received the news about my fibro, I read some books that basically discussed coping with the pain.  There was not a peep said about healing from the disorder.  I’m hoping to get the word out that there is hope for healing!!!  Thank you, again, for sharing!

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  • Lea

    I learned about the GAPS Diet earlier this year and prior to that I had been good at staying off sugar and wheat for health reasons. I was so excited by what I learned that I went straight for the Intro Diet (from the ebook from Cara) even though I did full gaps for a few days before jumping in. Little did I know how slow I’m need to relearn some lessons I’ve learned since starting my healthy journey five years ago. For me the restrictiveness of the diet got me back to feeling deprivated as I never have a weight problems just health problems I want to heal with food. I found it extremely hard to reintroduce the foods in a few tablespoons called for in the intro. What made matters worse for me  was I became frustrated by the small amounts of food being introduced and for my issues, I have lost my motivation to continue due to eating so much more of the foods that I can’t. I hope to get pass this and be able to go slowly. You did the right thing for doing full gaps slowly before doing the intro. I just have a problem of eating too much that makes it extremely hard not to add in a tiny amount and watch for reaction.

    • Leola

      Hi Lea, Thanks for your response. I’m sorry to hear you had difficulty with intro. Another reason I want to try it is so I can know what others are going through and try to give them some help. I think it is key to go slowly, though, like you said. It’s difficult to do because those of us who have been ill for so long are seeking immediate relief. I hope you are able to do what is right for your body and situation.

    • TheUrbanHearth

      Hi Lea!  I’m sorry to hear of your difficulties with GAPS intro.  That is one reason I want to try it for myself.  Then maybe I can help others get through it easier.  If you need support, I would suggest the Yahoo group I linked up to in my article.  There are some extremely helpful people there that might give you some answers.  Blessings!

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  • Roberta

    I have MS and my acupuncturist/clinical nutritionist says that most people with MS also have gut problems.  I’m also plagued with sinus problems.  Do you think the GAPS diet might help me?
    Roberta

    • TheUrbanHearth

      Hi Roberta!  I’m sorry to hear of your diagnosis.  Personally, I think everyone could be helped by the GAPS diet, but I am not a doctor.  I used to work at a gastroenterology office and took the GAPS book to one of the practitioners.  I was given the nod that it had merit.

      I would highly suggest you take a copy of the book to your practitioner(s) and see what they say.  It would make sense to me that they would consider it because of their belief that MS patients have gut issues.

      Blessings,
      Leola

    • http://www.facebook.com/stacey.m.gonzalez.5 Stacey Manahan Gonzalez

      Roberta, Dr. McBride talks a lot about MS in her book! :)

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  • Natalie Kimble

    This is really interesting to me and I appreciate your post.  I have had chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia for 19 years and it is quite severe.  I have only heard of one person with CFS getting much better on GAPS and others struggled with it.  

    The hardest thing by far for me is somehow making all the food when I am not well enough to do so.  I have not started it, but did go grain-free for 9 mos. so have an idea of parts of it.  I didn’t feel any better grain-free, but I did not know then to add all the probiotic foods and supplements in.  I wish I had because my motivation has waned to almost nonexistence, now.  I will be eagerly following your progress to see if it makes all the difference for you.  I am so glad to hear  you are really doing better!  I know I have a longer way to go than most, so I would probably need a few years and I don’t have much support mentally for this, and the physical energy thing is so difficult.

    • TheUrbanHearth

      Oh, Natalie, my heart breaks for you!  I remember feeling overwhelmed, too, by all the work involved.  It took at least two months of preparation before I could say I was on the full GAPS diet.  I made one or two changes a week because I couldn’t do all the work either.  I did have a lot of help from my husband, though.  He often did the dishes for me, which was great.  I’m so sorry to hear of your low motivation and low physical/mental support.

      Have you heard of oxaltes?  I think it is critical for fibro patients to learn about.  Here is a website if you want more info:  http://www.lowoxalate.info/

      I just learned about it a few weeks ago and eliminated carrots from the broth I was drinking twice a day.  Amazingly, I had relief within a day or two so there might be something behind the belief that oxalates become lodged in joints and muscles and cause fibro pain.  I plan on writing a post about oxalates in the near future and how important it is to not only heal the gut, but also to slowly eliminate high oxalate food from the diet.

      Again, I am sorry to hear of your condition. Natalie, and hope you are able to find encouragement or help soon.  I thoroughly appreciate your response and will keep you in my prayers.

      Blessings,
      Leola

      • Natalie Kimble

        Hi Leola – I SO appreciate your reply and caring.  It helps so much to “talk” to someone who gets it!  I think if I KNEW it would all make a difference, I could do it, it is just feeling like I have tried everything and nothing helps for years and years and I just get worse that has really dragged me down!  I am so very glad to hear you have a husband that is a help for you!  

        I actually have heard of oxalates just recently and became a member of the yahoo group.  I have only added in a couple supplements I have learned about, because there again, limiting foods, when it is so hard for me to find something to eat as it is, is so daunting for me!  I do think it has validity and am trying to get the umph up to do that and or GAPS if I can at some point.  Thank you so, so much for the encouragement and understanding, and prayers.  I pray for the very best for you, including healing as well.  I will watch your blog for updates on both the GAPS and oxalates.

        • TheUrbanHearth

          Thank you, Natalie!  I’m glad to find out you are learning about oxalates, too.

        • http://www.facebook.com/stacey.m.gonzalez.5 Stacey Manahan Gonzalez

          Natalie, in my GAPS research I have read in a couple of places that it can help with Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue (I think she talks about them in the book) but there is a LOT of deep healing that needs to take place so it can take a long time. It seems daunting without dealing with the extreme fatigue, etc., but knowing that it might at least make it a little better might make it a little easier. Good luck!

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  • Kristopher

    Hello i too have cfs and fms and have started gaps intro best i can…how long before you noticed a difference? Thinking bout this long term is depressing but guess i have to heal.

    • TheUrbanHearth

      Hi Kristopher! Everyone is different and will have different results. I am sorry not to give you a better answer. Since I started on the Full GAPS diet, I was already experiencing healing. It was slow progress, which is why I did the Intro. I would like to encourage you to think about how good you will feel when it is all over. Keep that in the forefront of your mind as you go about your day. It will happen, but may take hard work and some time. Live one moment at a time and be encouraged by every small step forward. I pray you will experience healing very soon.