GAPS diet

On Dec 17, 2011, Mike and I embarked on a journey to heal our guts via Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's Gut and Psychology Syndrome [GAPS] Diet*.  This is the story of that journey and a guide to enjoying this challenging cleanse by way of good food.

Buon appetito!

See below for tips on how to get started and related recipes.


I have been battling digestive issues since I was ten years old.  The cause?  At first, we had no idea.  Doctors said I would "grow out of it."  I never did.  My digestion and related symptoms [PMS, memory loss, eczema, bloating, adrenal fatigue, candidiasis, and bouts of depression and anxiety] continued to get worse after puberty but it was not until college that I decided to take my health into my own hands.  From there, I tried many methods [Body Ecology Diet, Raw Diet, GF/CF Diet, probiotics, cultured foods, etc] to alleviate my symptoms.  All of these methods helped, but none truly fixed the problem.  As I became more educated about my health, I found that like my Mom and my Gram, I had a weak gall bladder, which made digesting fats challenging.  My liver would give out every once in awhile too, which made it hard to digest carbohydrates.  I had cravings for the very foods that negatively affected my digestion - sugar and carbohydrates [usually accompanied by "bad" fats].  By limiting these foods, I was managing my symptoms, but not eradicating them.  I wanted to feel well.  I wanted to know what it was like to eat a meal and not feel like a brick was slowly moving through my gut.  I wanted to feel normal.

My Mom and I had heard about GAPS diet before.  Why we never tried it?  It is hard.  Really hard.  And it takes commitment.  And you can't cheat.  And for foodies like us?  You don't want to give up the delicious foods you have become accustomed to enjoying at new-found foodie destinations.

But GAPS works.  Like really works.  At least that is what we have learned over and over again from those who have tried it.  Yeah, it's hard.  But what is hard compared to dealing with continued digestive issues and a compromised immune system that will only lead to chronic illness?  GAPS should be cake.  At least I hope.

In a nut shell, the GAPS Diet aims to give your digestive system a break from all of the hard-to-digest and bad-bacteria-feeding foods you were eating and focuses on nourishing foods that will heal the gut lining and re-establish good bacteria [flora] to the gut.  Once you have healed the gut, you can slowly re-introduce harder to digest whole foods that will make up the basis of your healthful diet.  You can never go back to the SAD [Standard American Diet].  You can, however, occasionally enjoy some of the less healthy foods you enjoy without the digestive upset or negative response you had in the past. 

Eastern medicine refers to the gut as the second brain - and for good reason.  All of the functions of the brain [as well as the entire body] are related to what goes on in your gut.  If you aren't digesting and assimilating your food [aka nutrients] very well, your body will not function the way it should.  If the food particles leak outside of a gut that it damaged and "leaky," those food particles will enter the blood stream and travel to the brain as neurotoxins, which negatively affect every function of your brain.  Hence why most of us who have digestive issues also have neurological symptoms [memory challenges, headaches, insomnia, concentration issues, depression, mood swings, anxiety].  Unchecked, these issues can lead to and worsen serious chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer's, ADD/ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy and dyslexia.  Surprisingly [or not so much], the health of your gut can also influence your susceptibility to a myriad of auto-immune disorders such as diabetes, hyper/hypoglycemia, hypo/hyper-thyroidism, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease.  For a more in-depth, medically based analysis, I would recommend reading Dr. Campbell-McBride's book and perusing her website.  She breaks it down to the simplest of terms and her book is an easy read that is understandable and sensical.     

So here we were on the brink of embarking on this fix-all diet.  I was scared.  Nervous.  Anxious.  Excited.  I wanted to feel well so badly, but I was afraid I wouldn't be able to hack it.  My parents started the diet first [they are about a month and a half ahead of us] and I soon witnessed that yes, it takes time and diligence, but it's not that hard.  And it's actually quite delicious.  Heavenly even.  What the hell was wrong with me?  So we took the leap.


Before you start the diet:

  • Plan to start with the GAPS Intro Diet.  It's a bit harder than the full GAPS Diet, but chances are you'll need a slow, nourishing introduction to the full blown diet.  Your body will thank you.
  • If you are a working professional, plan to start the diet when you know you will have a few days off - the first few days are the hardest as you get used to cooking every meal.
  • Read Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD
  • Read GAPS Guide by Baden Lashkov for additional information on the diet and a real-life testimony
  • Make cultured vegetables, chicken stock and ghee so that you have these items before you begin
  • Purchase locally raised, grass-fed beef soup bones, marrow, roasts and stew meat [a few of each] and place in your freezer
  • Purchase 3-4 whole pastured chickens and place in your freezer [thaw 1 the day before you begin]
  • Purchase celtic mineral sea salt [added nutrition and flavor]
  • Order probiotics {Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends Bio-Kult, but we interchange Bio-K+ [morning] and Bio-Kult [night] for maximum probiotic benefit}
  • Order supplements [we're taking BodyBio liquid selenium, iodine, zinc and magnesium, and Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil]
  • Purchase a crock-pot or slow-cooker [this will allow you to "make" broths and stocks while you sleep or while you're at work - essential!]
  • Purchase a juicer [we bought an Omega Nutrition Center, which makes foam-free juices and nut butters, milks, grinds spices and minces herbs and garlic]
  • Purchase a food processor or blender or immersion blender [for blending soups]
  • Purchase a large, heavy pot for cooking soups and stews [my Le Creuset works perfectly - check out your local thrift store for a good-quality cast iron pot]
  • Purchase 12-24 quart-size glass mason jars w/ lids [for storing broths, stocks, soups and stews]
  • Purchase a large funnel and unbleached cheese cloth for transferring broths and soups to jars and straining homemade ghee
  • Purchase freezer bags for storing broth bones
  • Purchase a large thermos for toting meals to work and on day-trips.
  • The day before you begin, clear out your fridge and pantry of any GAPS-illegal foods so you won't be tempted.  Treat a neighbor to the goodies.

Once you're on the diet [will be added to as we make our way through the diet]:

  • Do it with your family.  It is impossible [and ridiculous] to try to make separate meals for everyone since GAPS cooking takes much more time.  If your spouse or partner is reluctant, have them read the book first - chances are they will have a positive outcome from being on the diet as well.  If they want to cheat, ask them not to tell you about it and to have their treats away from home.  The GAPS Book has some great tips for picky eaters, child and adult alike.
  • Shop at your local farmers market.  There you will find the most nutrient-dense, flavorful and in-season produce.  Hopefully you have a local rancher who can supply you with grass-fed meats as well as the soup bones and marrow you will need for the diet.
  • Be creative.  In the beginning, chicken soup gets a little old, so mix it up and change out the vegetables you use so you don't get bored.
  • Don't be afraid to have guests over.  Do or don't tell them what they are missing [i.e. carbohydrates, sugar].  Chances are they will thoroughly enjoy the nourishing and tasty meal you have prepared for them.  Oh, and don't forget to tell them "BYOB" since you won't have any wine or beer in the house.
  • Enjoy the food you prepare.  Make foods that you enjoy and that are allowed on the diet.
  • Don't be afraid of FAT!  Besides, it makes the food taste way better and will curb any sugar cravings you may have. 
  • Don't give up!  If you're having bad die-off reactions [worsened symptoms as the bad bacteria literally "die-off" and leave the body], push through - it will get better.  Take a hot epsom salt bath and treat yourself to a foot massage.  Read a good book.  Enjoy a cup of tea with a bit of raw honey.

GAPS Recipes [almost all of my recipes are now GAPS-friendly]

The GAPS Experience [via Katie]

Since I don't have much time on my hands since starting the pots and pans diet [aka GAPS], I'll try to journal every few weeks to keep you [and myself] updated on our progress.  My regular posts will focus on the recipes, while these journal entries will focus on the GAPS experience.  Enjoy the ride.

*Please note that there are a few GAPS websites out there - they each have useful information and should all be explored before embarking on your GAPS Diet journey.

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