Thursday, October 13, 2011

One family's experience on the GAPS diet

For those of you reading Wooly Moss Roots for awhile, you've heard me mention the GAPS diet (the digestive healing diet that our family is following.) I've found it really helpful on our journey, to connect with others also on the diet. One of my favorite places of support is Sarah's blog, Nourished and Nurtured. Not only is it a great source for inspiring recipes and resources, but Sarah has so thoughtfully answered many questions I've had about the diet.
Sarah lives in New Mexico with her husband, Ryan, and two children, Alina and Ian. (They're pictured above during their annual trip to the mountains nearby to pick cherries.) They have been following the GAPS diet for over a year. I asked her to share her experience with all of you.
Here's what I asked:

What sparked your interest in nutrition and what has your food journey looked like so far?

My interest in nutrition began in 2005 when I learned about the benefits of raw milk (my husband is lactose-intolerant but can drink raw milk with no problems).  I was amazed at what great benefits had been lost with modern production/preparation methods, and this really made me wonder what else was wrong with mainstream nutrition guidelines. Once I got the Nourishing Traditions book and learned about Weston A. Price, there was no looking back.  I've been a voracious reader of nutrition information ever since.

How did you find out about the GAPS diet?

I found out about the GAPS diet through the Wise Traditions magazine (which is the quarterly publication of the Weston A. Price Foundation).  At first, I didn't pay much attention to the diet as we were already eating a nutrient-dense diet. Over time, though, I realized that the GAPS diet was something that could really help my family.

In your words, what is the GAPS diet?

The GAPS diet is a temporary diet used to establish normal gut flora and repair any leaks in the gut walls.  Having the wrong balance of gut flora and leaks in the gut walls can lead to a whole range of autoimmune reactions and diseases, from mild ones like eczema and allergies to serious problems such as lupus, autism, and rheumatoid arthritis.  And since the immune system resides primarily in the gut, resistance to illness can also be compromised by gut problems.

The GAPS diet is very nourishing and allows the gut walls to heal by allowing no complex food molecules (which cannot be properly digested by a compromised gut). The diet allows no processed foods (such as white flour and sugar), as well as no starches (such as potatoes and corn), grains (such as wheat and oats), or complex sugars (which are present in sucanat and maple syrup, among others).  Instead, the diet focuses on lots of healthy fats (like coconut oil and animal fats), along with meats, fruits, vegetables, bone broths, and fermented foods (which provide good bacteria to the gut). 

What motivated your family to start the GAPS diet?

We decided to try the GAPS diet to address different problems for each member of our family.  My husband has always had sinus problems (including many courses of antibiotics during his adult years and two sinus surgeries back when we still trusted mainstream medicine).  My husband also had some persistent eczema on his forearms (nothing major, but enough to be annoying). I was experiencing quite a bit of joint pain, especially in one shoulder, that made it hard to pick up the baby, push kids on the swings, and exercise.  My daughter (who was 3.5 years old when we started GAPS) had always had a depressed immune system and poor weight gain.

What changes in your family's health have you noticed since starting it?

The results of the GAPS diet have been amazing for us.  Within the first month, my husband's sinuses and eczema greatly improved, and my joint pain was completely gone! We've now been on GAPS for over a year. My daughter's weight gain improved dramatically, and her immune system is the much better as well.   My husband and I do still have occasional recurrences (usually when we've been trying to introduce non-GAPS foods back into our diet), but overall things are much better.

What are your favorite GAPS recipes?

I love lots of nourishing soups and stews. I really like using squash in place of noodles for spaghetti and skillet lasagna (I tried a taste of rice pasta and couldn't believe how bland and blah it was).  My family absolutely adores bunless burgers (with homemade mayonnaise, pickles, and ketchup) as well as roasted chicken with caramelized onions.  We also love clafoutis (which is a cross between a custard and a cake).

What would a typical day or week of meals look like in your house?

This week, our menu looks like this:

  • Breakfasts are a combination of the following (usually cooked during the weekend in big batches)
    • pesto and dried tomato egg muffins
    • apple cinnamon muffins (made with coconut flour)
    • nitrate-free bacon [I only allow one 8-oz package per week for our family, since bacon is allowed once per week on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (which was the basis for the GAPS diet)]
    • cooked veggies with butter
  • Lunches
    • homemade soups that have been frozen in single-serving containers
    • cold lunch of boiled eggs, homemade pickles, cheese, and dried fruit
    • liver and butter saute with buttered broccoli
  • Dinners
    • pork and white bean soup with green chile, tomatoes, and garlic (garnished with avocado, shredded cheese, and sour cream)
    • bunless burgers with homemade ketchup, mayonnaise, and pickles
    • marinara sauce with elk meat, served over spaghetti squash
    • leftovers!
  • Snacks
    • fruit with cheese
    • homemade yogurt with berries
    • applesauce with a little sour cream mixed in
    • veggie sticks and homemade ranch dressing
    • pork rinds with sour cream
  • Drinks
    • milk kefir
    • homemade kombucha
    • water kefir soda
    • water with lemon or apple cider vinegar
What advice would you share for those starting the diet, to make the transition easier?

Start with the Full GAPS Diet for a few weeks (or months) before doing the intro diet.  I think starting with the intro diet right away would be totally overwhelming, plus the die-off symptoms would be much more pronounced.

Plan to spend several weeks transitioning to the Full GAPS Diet, rather than trying to start all at once.

Take advantage of leftovers! Make double-batches so you don't have to cook so often.

Give away or throw away non-GAPS foods.  No one needs to be constantly testing their willpower by looking at yummy foods they cannot eat.

What have been your stumbling blocks while on GAPS?

We initially ate way too many nuts on GAPS, but over time have learned better things to eat.  We've learned that nuts are pretty hard to digest, so we use them sparingly now.

Living without raw milk was very difficult for my daughter. She abstained for about 4 months, and then we went through the full dairy progression outlined by Natasha Campbell McBride.  We very slowly introduced raw milk back into our diets, with no ill effects.  This has been wonderful for my husband and daughter; I got so used to drinking raw milk kefir that I prefer it to milk now.

Each time we have tried to reintroduce a few non-GAPS foods into our diets (like potatoes), it has been very hard to acknowledge that we are not ready and to re-commit ourselves to strict GAPS. 

After about 5 months on the GAPS Diet, I started to experience bouts of extreme tiredness and lethargy.  Neither my husband or daughter had the same experience, so I think this has something to do with being a breastfeeding mother.  I found that the best way to keep this at bay is to make a concerted effort to eat more carbohydrates (in the form of fruit, winter squash, honey, and fermented dairy products).

Who would you recommend the GAPS diet for?

The GAPS Diet will heal any autoimmune problems, such as eczema, allergies, joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and even autism.  It is a wonderful way to take control of your health.

How long are you planning on being on the diet?

It is hard to say, but we'll stay on the diet for at least 6 more months.  We periodically try to introduce a few foods back, and keep learning that there is more healing to be done.

What kind of diet would you like to eat after GAPS? Or will it stay similar?

We won't ever go back to such a grain-filled diet, but we would like to occasionally have potatoes, corn and pinto beans (we live in the land of delicious Mexican food), oatmeal, and sourdough bread. I don't think we'll consume these items on a daily basis, but rather as treats (maybe one per week or so).

Thanks so much Sarah!
I really enjoyed reading about your experience. Once I discovered the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, I've been hooked too. I share your passion for learning about nutrition and eating nutrient dense food!

Readers, have any of you had experiences with the GAPS diet?
I'd love to hear about it!

If you're interested in more information, here are some GAPS links I came across recently.
GAPS Resouces on Nourished Kitchen Blog
Interview with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride on Dr. Mercola's website 
(titled how a physician cured her son's autism.)

1 comment:

The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

Thanks so much for this wonderful post! I have the GAPS book and have been hesitating to start with seemed so overwhelming to even think about it. My son has gluten and dary intolerance and continues to bloat/have diarrhea so it's hard to pinpoint exactly what he's reacting to...but of course, with damage to the gut lining, he's likely reacting to everything. My little girl sounds much like Sarah's daughter: tiny, slow weight gain, and if anyone in the house gets sick, it's her. This has given me hope...thank you so much.