I have been asked the last year by various people to share my experience on the GAPS diet, short though it was. I decided to do better then that. I am dedicating this week to the GAPS diet. I will be sharing my story and some thoughts here, and then I have a panel set up for others who have used the GAPS diet for a longer length of time. They will be sharing their stories with you too. Finally, I wanted to share some tips and recipes for the intro diet as well as a list of recipes that are GAPS friendly. We have a busy week ahead of us!
First, what is the GAPS diet? A short explanation is that it is a diet that uses the healing power of homemade bone broths and lacto-fermented foods to heal the digestive system. A very important part of the diet is completely eliminating foods that break down into disaccharides such as potatoes, yams and all grains. The combination of removing digestive stress and using homemade broth to heal, and probiotic foods and supplements is used to restore the digestive system and rebuild healthy flora. You can read more about the diet here.
I have read some of the most amazing stories of people healing through this diet. This includes autistic children dramatically improving. But that is a post for another day. All to say, this diet has had life changing effects for many, many people. I know that many of my readers here at The Nourishing Gourmet are on the GAPS diet, and that is one of the reasons I love to share GAPS friendly recipe.
The question I wanted to pose today is this, does the GAPS diet work well for everyone long term?
With that question in mind let me share my story in short.
When my daughter was younger, she went through a time period of having digestive issues. They got worse when I weaned Elena, and then continued to get worse as she got older. We finally felt we needed to take action and the GAPS diet was where we turned. However, since I had some digestive issues in the past, we thought it would be helpful for me to do the diet with her. I was also determined that I was not going to ask my little daughter to do a diet I myself was not willing to do.
So we went full throttle into the diet. The first week was great. Sure, we had some adjustments to do, but I felt good and it seemed to helping my daughter already. But after that first week passed, I started losing energy and getting more and more hungry. I felt like I could eat soups, and meat, and vegetables until they came out of my ears, but still not get my blood sugar up. I was constantly, and I mean constantly making food for the two of us. Another week went by and I got even more lethargic. In the end, my husband seeing me going downhill, started encouraging me that it was okay to stop the diet. I was determined to stick it through, so I made it another couple of weeks. Then finally one day I was trying to do our laundry.
I stood at the bottom of my flight of stairs and stared upwards. In the 4 weeks I had been on the diet, I had gained weight (although I felt like I was starving all of the time and had been at my perfect weight before the diet), lost energy, and it seemed like the diet was stressful on my adrenals and thyroid. Despite all of the protein I consumed, I often suffered from low blood sugar on the diet. But not all was negative. It felt like it was helping both my digestive system as well as my daughters. But as I stared up those stairs, I realized I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t walk up those stairs. I didn’t feel tired in the sense of wanting to go to sleep, but the type of tired that made you feel life was blah.
I made the only decision I could; I was going to break the diet. After starting to eat starches again, I improved, but my body was so tired by that point, I couldn’t keep the diet going for my daughter, who really was the one who needed the diet. I am forever grateful that the Lord brought healing to her most pressing digestive issues through other natural means. My adrenal function improved also as we continued working with a naturopath. I was puzzled about our GAPS experience, as I have many friends who experience the opposite! Their energy increases dramatically while on the GAPS diet.
However, I did noticed that stories of similar situations started cropping up, especially after being on the GAPS diet for a period of time. I noticed that the Wise Traditions journal started receiving letters from those on the GAPS diet who had experiences similar to me.
For example, in the last journal this letter was posted.
Regarding the article “Why We Crave” (Spring 2011), my experience has been that people can get cravings not only with a diet of too many carbs, but also too few of them. I don’t believe we are all the same metabolically, but rather that some of us need more protein and fat and some need more carbs.
I did the GAPS diet (very high fat, protein, lots of veggies and no rice, potatoes or grains of any kind) for six months last year and felt horrible for the first week. Then I had good energy and felt well for three or four months. But after that initial improvement, I started to get more tired, with lower energy and generally slid backwards.
I went off the diet and added back some healthy carbs like sprouted millet, quinoa, corn, brown rice, potatoes and yams. I notice that if my meal contains one of those along with my fat and protein, I don’t crave anything sweet. But, if I eat a meal that has none of those good carbohydrates, I will be starving soon after the meal and will be having cravings for sugar and other sweet stuff. I think we all really need to experiment to find what is right for our bodies.
Leslie Manookian Bradshaw
And even more interesting, in a past journal the ND, Tom Cowan, who writes for Wise Traditions, shared that while he uses the diet for cancer patients, he feels that some need to add grains back into their diets after a while. At the end of a long article discussing why he generally didn’t think grains were good for health he shared,
I had a patient who had many health problems and the GAPS diet helped her recover from them. But after recovery she continued on the GAPS diet and she started to go downhill—not with the old symptoms, but she just got more and more tired. I advised her to add more grains to her diet—soaked oatmeal and sourdough bread—and she immediately snapped out of it. So there is a time to go off grains and a time to reintroduce them! A Holistic Approach to Cancer
Further information is found in this letter.
THE GRAIN CONUNDRUM
I have celiac disease and have been on a gluten-free and traditional diet for more than five years. Most of the terrible symptoms went away on the gluten-free diet but I still often suffered from bloating and gas. Last year I heard about the GAPS diet, which eliminates complex carbs like potatoes as well as grains, and went on it for almost a year. During that time, I began to feel more and more exhausted and my whole body began to be in pain. My muscles just hurt all the time.
I wrote Dr. Campbell-McBride about it and she said to go back to the intro diet again—I had already done the intro diet twice. She said I was just still toxic, which made me feel weak and exhausted. So I followed that advice, but I only seemed to get weaker. I had been a dance teacher and now I was having trouble just walking up the stairs.
I went to the doctor and got all kinds of tests. After many visits to different physicians and lots of money spent, they all said I was as healthy as I could be. Nothing was wrong, they said. I have always been relatively healthy, except for the gastrointestinal problems.
I then decided to call Dr. Thomas Cowan and do a phone consult. I knew he knew about the GAPS diet and could hopefully help me. After the first ten minutes on the phone with him, he told me I should start eating grains again and that my muscle pain and weakness were due to being on the GAPS diet. I was shocked. He said that many people have come to him with the same problem due to the diet and that he himself had felt this way after going on the diet for a short time. He agreed that it is, in theory, a perfect diet, but that for some reason many people cannot do it.
I have gone back on gluten-free grains such as millet, rice and quinoa, and am slowly starting to feel better. I have had such a hard year due to this and it has taken a toll on my whole family. I already feel much better having put grains back into my diet. I have lost considerable muscle mass but am hoping that I will be able to make a full recovery. By the way, I am still taking the recommended probiotics—I do not feel that this problem was caused by the probiotics.
I think the GAPS diet does heal the gut, but as Dr. Cowan told me, many people cannot live without some type of grain or starchy tuber like potatoes or sweet potatoes. Another WAPFsavvy physician has told me the same thing, and I have heard from two other WAPF members who have had similar symptoms until they put grains back into their diets. Living without these food can deprive us of any drive or happiness, which is not a good trade off, if you ask me.
Priscilla Smith, Chapter Leader
It seems I am hardly alone in not feeling my best on the GAPS diet!
But why is that? Could it be lack of carbohydrates? The GAPS diet is not low in carbohydrates if you make sure you eat plenty of carrots and squash and later you can add fruits and honey. It just limits the type of carbohydrates. However, it would be easy to be very low carbohydrate accidentally and that could lead to low energy for some. It could be some unknown mineral or amino acid deficiency causing low energy that grains naturally contain. It could be that some of us are just not well suited physically for a grain free diet. It could help heal our digestive system, but not be an ideal diet for long term. All of these are some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind when I considered our common problems with the GAPS diet.
So, my conclusion is this. I feel that the GAPS diet is very important for people to know about as it offers an effective way to deal with digestive disorders. I really believe in the diet’s power to help heal, sometimes even dramatically as recounted by many. Some people may not want to stay on the diet forever, though as the diet may not be the ideal diet for them. I do believe that we are unique, and while the GAPS diet can offer digestive healing for all, it may not be the ideal diet for all long-term.
It’s also worthwhile for me to point out that the point of the GAPS diet is to heal the digestive system so that you don’t have to stay on the diet forever! Being able to eat normal food without it bothering you is the goal. The point of the GAPS diet is not to issue instructions on how everyone should eat for the rest of their life, but rather how to heal their digestive system so that they overcome limitations.
I think it’s important, as we go into this week of GAPS, that you have this information about possible long-term effects. Out of my friends who have stayed on the GAPS long term, some have felt so wonderful, they have stayed on it much longer then required to heal their digestive system. With them feeling so well on the diet, why change? Others experiences, as recounted above, are quite different. Perhaps one day someone will figure out the missing piece for those who need to use the diet to heal digestively, but don’t have energy while on it.
Meanwhile, despite my experience, I feel that GAPS is a wonderful tool to use to heal the digestive system. So much in fact, that we have recently started a trial run of it for my daughter, who had a few issues crop up again.
I would love to hear your experiences using the GAPS diet!