Note: I know many of you may be intimidated by me even talking about a strict diet that is potentially two years in length. Don’t feel like, by any means, that you must do GAPS to get clear. That’s not really what I’m trying to say – I got 100% clear 90% of the time long before I ever heard about GAPS, and most people can definitely clear their skin without such measures.
For me, I personally just want to take things to the next level for several reasons that I’ll talk about on Wednesday. And for some people with extremely stubborn acne and digestive symptoms, it may resonate with them as something they want to try. If that’s not you, incorporating just some of the GAPS principles could also help your skin (like bone broth for example!)- so hopefully either way, you’ll find all this information and my experiences interesting 🙂
But, I didn’t really get too much into what exactly the diet and program entails, which is what I’ll be sharing with you today.
To give you some background, the GAPS program was developed by a mother, neurologist, and nutritionist named Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. She had a child with autism (considered incurable), and wondered why the incidence of autism was increasing ten fold from just a few years ago. She was also desperate to help her child and was upset that the field of neurology really had no answers.
After serious research, scientific study, and clinical observation linking the digestive system to autism and other mental disorders, she developed the GAPS program – which is actually based on a tried and true gut healing diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) developed by a guy called Dr. Haas and popularized by Elaine Gottschall and her book “Breaking the Vicious Cycle“.
GAPS is the SCD with a few tweaks that Doc Natasha found that she was needing to make to help her clients. She completely healed her child of autism with the GAPS program (which is pretty crazy) and has helped thousands and thousands of patients in her clinic heal from not only autism but the entire spectrum of mental illnesses and behavioural problems, all sorts of auto immune disorders, digestive illness (Chrohns, Colitis, IBD), and all kinds of stuff.
So, yeah.. basically, GAPS was specifically developed for autism and primarily that was who began using the program – parents of autistic children. But then (and of course this makes sense because “all diseases begin in the gut”), people started discovering that GAPS was giving relief from almost every disease and little health issue under the sun and GAPS is rapidly growing in popularity.
The Ins and Outs of GAPS
GAPs has three components:
- The diet, based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet
The Full GAPS Diet
The basics of the GAPS diet is this:
- A large deal of homemade bone broth and meat stock and its resulting gelatin are required to be consumed every day, as this is extremely healing to the gut.
- Fermented foods and probiotics are required in in large quantities to repopulate the gut with good bacteria. This includes things like homemade sauerkraut and other cultured vegetables, and fermented dairy.
- All grains, regular dairy containing lactose, refined sugars, and starches (like potato and sweet potato and most beans) are avoided. This is because, according to Doc Natasha, the sugars in these foods are double bond sugars (disaccharides), which need to be broken apart to be absorbed by the gut wall. But I guess that doesn’t happen too well in people with a weakened gut, and then it goes on to feed the bad bacteria.
- The most encouraged foods on the diet (aside from broth and probiotic foods) are eggs, animal fats, fresh meats, fish, shellfish, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, garlic, and olive oil. Fresh pressed vegetable juices are encouraged. Lactose free organic dairy such as homemade yogurt, kefir, butter and ghee, and aged cheeses are also allowed.
- Unlike the candida diet, ripe fruits, honey, and sweet vegetables like beets, winter squash, and carrots are allowed. Lentils are allowed in later stages too. Doc Natasha feels that over the long term as with this diet, candida and gut flora imbalances can be healed even with the inclusion of these simple sugars. (Personally I believe that cutting all sugars are good in the short term strategy against candida though).
- Processed foods and any food additives are to be completely avoided. Organic and naturally raised food is strongly encouraged.
Click here to read the full list of what you can and cannot eat on the GAPS.
The Intro GAPS Diet
Okay, but that’s not the end of the story. There’s actually two parts to the GAPS diet – the introduction diet, and the full diet. What I just described is the full diet.
So the thing about GAPS is that it’s not just a diet – it’s also an elimination diet and you only get to eat the full range of foods on the full GAPS diet as your body can handle them. You start from bare minimums and add foods in one by one to find out exactly what your body likes and doesn’t.
So it’s highly encouraged that you start your GAPS experience with the introduction diet, which is a time to really kick start and supercharge your healing as you begin only with a very few, extremely gentle and easy to digest foods. (hint: you eat a lot of soup on the intro). You slowly introduce foods one by one, watching for reactions, and slowly up your intake of probiotics.
There’s 6 stages to the introduction diet. On stage 1, all you’re allowed to eat is meat or fish stock, well boiled GAPS-legal vegetables, winter squash, boiled meat, sea salt, and some sauerkraut juice.
Over the course of the next 6 stages (each stage introduces a couple of new foods), you will introduce egg yolk, avocado, fermented fish, ghee, herbs, spices, sauerkraut or kimchi, GAPS pancakes made with nutbutter, squash, and eggs, fresh pressed juices, raw vegetables, fruits, honey, nut bread, olive oil. You will continue adding things until you reach the full GAPS diet.
Apparently on GAPS, particularly when you start from the beginning of the intro, your body becomes very in tune with what it it can tolerate and what it can’t. If you try to introduce a new food, you will find that if you are not ready for it, your body will produce a noticeable symptom that will tell you so. If this happens, you remain for a few days on the earlier stage, and then try to introduce a different food. You can try the problematic food a few weeks later. Often people will find that they can reintroduce the food no problem at the later date because their gut has healed more.
Now, I know your question.
How long does the introduction diet take?
Well, as annoying as this answer is: it depends. You spend as long on intro as your gut needs. Doc Natasha recommends moving through it as quickly as you can, challenging foods every couple of days, but ultimately your gut will tell you how fast or slow you can go.
But since that answer is so annoying, I’ll just tell you that, right now as a ballpark figure, I don’t plan on spending more than a month on intro. Five days for each stage. I really hope it doesn’t take any longer than that, anyway.
The second part to the program is detoxification. This is because as people with damaged guts, we’ve been letting a lot of toxins into our body that we shouldn’t have. The gut wall becomes permeable and lets in food toxins and chemicals, toxic waste from the bad gut flora, and undigested food particles. These toxins then deposit around the body’s tissues, our immune system reacts to them, and we get sick (or break out).
So anyway, in order to get well, at the same time as healing our guts, we gotta get rid of these toxins and also reduce our exposure.
What Dr Natasha recommends in the GAPS protocol is:
- Reducing Chemical Exposure. So along with removing all processed foods, this means switching over to non-chemical or food based beauty and hygiene products (which if you’re a regular follower of mine, hopefully you’ve already done that!), natural cleaning products and soaps, safer cookware, etc.
- Detoxification Baths (the poor man’s sauna). Doc Natasha is big on the detox baths, which are just regular baths with a detox aid added. She recommends having one daily, and rotating between a cup of epsom salts, apple cider vinegar, baking soda, and seaweed powder. The detox baths and the detox aid help you to release toxins out through your skin, and can also help relieve die off symptoms. You can also absorb the magnesium from the epsom salts transdermally, which is a very important mineral for good health and low stress.
- Juicing. She notes the cleansing and detoxification effects of raw vegetables, and fresh pressed vegetable juices are the most digestive friendly form of raw veg you can get – no fibre, no problems. Optimal absorption and no irritation. Also, in case you were wondering, store bought juice isn’t cool on GAPS.
- Enemas. Although this is not required for everyone, Dr. Natasha encourages enemas if they are needed (ie, if you’re constipated), and also coffee enemas for detoxification of the liver. I guess coffee, when given rectally, is super beneficial. Not when drunk though – sorry. Not the most pleasant way to take your morning cup, I know.
There are other random ways to detoxify as well that you can incorporate if you want: saunas, colonics, exercise, yoga, skin brushing, deep breathing in the fresh air, oil pulling, and whatever else. (That’s just my own little list, none of that is mentioned in the program)
Heavy supplementation isn’t required like some healing programs. Much like me, Dr. Natasha would prefer if you got your nutrients from whole foods!
The ones she strongly recommends though are:
- A Commercial Probiotic. You can get tons of probiotics from fermented foods, but I think she wants you to take a commercial probiotic to ensure you are getting a lot of different strains of bacteria. The one that is recommended is called BioKult. It’s a very strong probiotic with very particularly aggressive strains of bacteria for killing bad guys and repopulating your guts. Dr. Natasha is actually one of the inventors of it, so it’s specifically tailored for this program’s purposes.
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil, like I was talking about the other day. This is for Vitamin A and essential fatty acids, two much needed nutrients for GAPS patients. And if possible, for extra essential fatty acid support, she also recommends a good seed/nut oil Omega blend, and a good fish oil.
- Digestive Support. This is only if it’s needed, but since most GAPS patients have low stomach acid, Betaine HCL (hydrochloric acid) supplementation is recommended. Digestive enzymes and/or digestive bitters may also be used as needed.
All supplements are to be discontinued in the very beginning of the program, even the cod liver oil, and they can be added in slowly over the course of the intro.
As for other supplements, like vitamin and mineral pills – you can use them on the full program if they have GAPS legal ingredients, but it’s recommended to keep supplements to a bare minimum. Most supplements are synthetic and contain fillers, additives, and illegal ingredients. This diet is so nourishing, you really don’t need them anyway.
So, you really shouldn’t cheat on this diet. Luckily if you cheat one time, it doesn’t send you back to square one or anything (hey, we all make mistakes), but the more you cheat, the more you prolong the amount of time you have to stick to this diet. For me, this will definitely be the hardest part of the whole shebang, mostly due to social situations.
GAPS Resources and Books
If you are interested in this, I’d highly recommend actually reading the GAPS book written by Dr. Campbell-McBride to understand the whos and whys behind it all. It explains all the mechanisms of how the diet works, and I think that if you’re serious about doing the dedicated diet, it’s important to fully understand the goal which you are trying to accomplish.
Unfortunately, it’s not available as an online book yet. Which sucks.
Anyway, you can buy the book here:
While the actual GAPS book explains everything and the protocol, there’s also a companion guide called the GAPS Guide, which takes all the information presented in the GAPS book and helps you to actually put it all into action and answers a lot of the questions that people have after reading the initial book. It’s pretty handy, and so is her website: www.gapsguide.com
Also, another absolutely crazy awesome resource that I have found indispensable is an ebook from Cara at Health Home, & Happiness called “What Can I Eat Now? 30 Days on the Gaps Intro“. This is a 30 day step by step guide and menu plan for the intro diet. I refer to it, like, every day.
And finally, there is a GAPS cookbook called Internal Bliss. This is the only GAPS book I don’t have yet, but I will probably end up getting it at some point or another.
There’s also lots of blogs out there blogging about their GAPS experiences, so google around 😀
Not quite ready for the full GAPS experience? Check out my acne ebook “Ultimate Secrets to Acne Freedom“.