Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tips for Starting the GAPS Diet

The GAPS diet is a temporary diet used to heal mild problems (like eczema and allergies) as well as serious problems such as lupus, autism, and rheumatoid arthritis. The GAPS diet heals these conditions by establishing normal gut flora and repairing leaks in the gut walls.  The 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).  My family has good success using the GAPS diet to treat joint pain and boost the immune system, among other things.

Tips for getting started
  • Get organized: Before starting the diet, make sure you have a good understanding of what foods are allowed and not allowed on the diet.  I find it very handy to keep this list of GAPS Diet Allowed and Not Allowed Foods on the fridge for handy reference. I also frequently visit the Legal/illegal SCD list, which is a very comprehensive list of legal and illegal food items, including very obscure ingredients.  (The GAPS Diet is based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD); while this list is for SCD, it also generally applies to GAPS as well.) 
  • Get everyone on-board: If possible, get everyone in your household on-board for the GAPS Diet.  In the beginning, the GAPS Diet can feel overwhelming at times. The diet is more likely to be a success if everyone follows it together, as this will keep the amount of cooking and cheating on the diet to a minimum.
  • Practice doing GAPS: Rather than jumping in all at once, try having a few GAPS weekends to see what the diet is like. These weekends will be a great chance to figure out exactly how to do the GAPS diet, and to get comfortable with it before you're fully committed..  This allows you to still have plenty of time to research anything that you're unsure about without the pressure of having to know everything all at once.  My $5 grain-free e-cookbook is a great resource to have when you start the Full GAPS diet.
  • Prepare meals in advance: During your practice GAPS weekends, make some large servings and double batches.  Freeze the leftovers so that you already have some foods ready for when you start GAPS. This is like having a safety net in place for when you actually start GAPS full-time.
  • Make ferments, broth, and snacks: Since the GAPS diet relies so heavily on broth and fermented foods, it is a big help to prepare some of these in advance.  I have relied heavily on storebought fermented pickles (I use Bubbies brand) as well as homemade sauerkraut and bread and butter pickles. Storebought condiments are also generally not GAPS-legal, so you may want to take the time to prepare some homemade mayo and ketchup in advance of starting the diet. If possible, prepare a few grain-free snacks in advance as well, as snacking on GAPS can seem particularly difficult when you are not used to eating GAPS.
  • Go very slowly in introducing fermented foods and probiotics: Even if you are already taking probiotics and eating fermented foods, a “die-off” reaction can occur with the shift to more beneficial bacteria as you transition onto the GAPS diet. “Die-off” reactions are caused by toxins that are released as the bad bacteria are killed within the gut, and symptoms can include diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and lethargy. Stop taking probiotics before you start the GAPS diet, and then very slowly reintroduce them once you have finished with the first round of die-off. With a therapeutic-strength probiotic (such as Bio-Kult), you'll need to initially break the capsules open and start with a small amount (such as 1/4 of one pill). Wait several days before increasing the amount to keep die-off symptoms to a minimum.
  • Start with Full GAPS instead of the Intro Diet: Don't do the GAPS intro diet right away, as this can be totally overwhelming.  Instead take a few weeks or even a couple months to get used to the Full GAPS diet first. This will also help to keep die-off symptoms at bay.  I will post more about doing the GAPS intro in the coming weeks.
Do you have any tips to share for people starting the GAPS diet?

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways! 


Meghan @ Whole Natural Life said...

Great tips! I would add that you should be prepared to not see results right away. I guess that's more of a mindset than anything else. But I think it's helpful to remember that gut healing is slow and that apparent results might not manifest themselves for a while.

Joy at The Liberated Kitchen said...

I really like your tips. I like the backwards approach to intro and have been planning to make a post about that, too. Adding good things in and getting used to doing a few key things like making stock and yogurt can make the whole process go a lot more smoothly.

I also think Meghan is right that results might not show up right away and you might even feel worse. It's important to both listen to your body and to learn to recognize the subtle differences in the way allergies, die-off, and food intolerances feel as you heal.

Here's a compilation of GAPS posts and resources that I put together on my blog:

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for sharing, Joy!

Sarah Smith said...


ICore said...

I wanted to chime in - we started the full GAPS for my 27 motnh old daughter (possibly on the austism spectrum) a week ago and I made the mistake of introducing kefir too quickly. She seemed to tolerate it fine initially but after 5 days, lost her apetite and threw up twice after it. I am thinking it might be part of the die-off effects too. As a precaution, I've backed off the kefir today and will introduce it again later. Hopefully, she will gain her apetite - it's been ahrd trying to get her to eat the soups and broth.

Sarah Smith said...

Yeah, kefir can definitely cause some die-off symptoms. To be on the safe side, you could start with just a spoonful initially, and only increase the amount every few days. I know that probably seems slow, but I think minimizing die-off for kids is a must as they don't understand what is happening! When we started GAPS, I had to be willing to let my daughter eat lots of nut granola and snacks initially, and then we worked up the amount of soup and broth over time.

I found that she liked drinking broth better than eating soup, so I would serve the soup meat/veggies separate form the broth.

One other thing that might help is letting your daughter use a straw for soup or broth (if she likes using straws).

We also had good luck having "chicken tea" parties on the floor.

And, we all really like broth with a scoop of unrefined coconut oil added in. The flavor is fantastic that way!

Also, make sure you add a good amount of salt to the broth.

I hope some of these tips help!

Monica said...

Hi Sarah,

I missed your giveaway :(
Just wanted to see if you could update me on your results with Matt's Diet Recovery!


Sarah Smith said...

Hi Monica,
Sorry you missed the giveaway.

The off-GAPS transition has been interesting. I went straight into Matt Stone's RRARF program (focusing on eating lots and resting lots), and was going crazy with the starches for a month. But sadly, I started getting some joint pain back towards the end of the month. So now I'm back to GAPS, although probably only 95% since I'm eating potatoes at Sunday dinners at my mom's house. But now it is GAPS with lots of homemade ice cream.

I wrote to Matt about my results after one month on RRARF (some good changes in my menstrual cycle, but my temps hadn't started to change yet), and he recommended ice cream for breakfast as a way for me to get the most out of the program, especially since I am still nursing. It blows my mind how certain foods can be great at different stages of life and then at other times abstaining can be good. I'm happy to be at a point where ice cream is doing me some good! It is so strange to be eating so much ice cream after years of trying to reduce sugar consumption, but my energy levels are SO much better with the ice cream! My temperatures really started coming up once I started eating more ice cream, but I still have more to do to get my temps up all the way to where they should be.

My only complaint with the program so far is weight gain. From what I understand, some people gain weight on the program and some do not. I have maxxed out my jeans (and now have a little muffin top), and am really hoping to not gain any more. It is hard to decide it is okay to gain weight, even if it does mean that my body gets healthier over-time. I feel like it is a bit of a catch 22. From what I can tell, many people get their temps up after just a couple weeks on RRARF; mine are taking longer because I am nursing (which is a huge drain on the metabolic system). In the last few weeks, I've started to add exercise back in, but have learned that it is really easy for me to over do it (as my temps will start to fall back down if I work out too hard). It is a bit frustrating, but I am very glad to have such an easy measure of my progress through checking my temps.

Have you started trying any of Matt's programs?

Monica said...

Hi Sarah!

Thank you so much for your feedback. I have not tried Matt's program yet. After going through a Detox Diet two years ago, I lost me period and my thryroid slowed down and I suspect I have a bit of leacky gut.

After doing this Detox for 8 months, I followed a similar program as Matt's: I was eating whole natural foods, I never restricted my carbohydrates, or proteins and my fats were restricted on Omega-6. After one year of eating plenty, I was still not gaining any weight, my period was still gone and my thyroid was still low. So I started researshing and came across Ray Peat and Matt's work.

I have been following Ray Peat's work, but my body does not react well to dairy (specially milk, even if it is raw) and does not react well to a lot of fruit and fruit juices (it seems that I do better on complex starches). I talked to Matt and he told me to eat lots of pastries, pizza and ice cream. But to be honest, I have eaten ice-cream (which is included in Peat's work), but I just feel that pastries and junk food will do my body no good. I really want to gain my menses back, specially because I have Osteopenia and want to heal my bones.

So I am kind of divided on weather I should do Peat's work (which my head tells me to, but my body is not reacting very well to the foods) or to do Matt's (because for some reason, my heart tells me to trust him)...

I appreciate any suggestions!

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Monica,
Yes, Matt's suggestions can seem a little weird when we're used to trying to follow a nourishing diet. I had such a hard time wrapping my head around his suggestion to eat lots of ice cream, but it has really worked so far. We'll see over time. He does talk about needing to be brave enough to try the foods that will really help, and I had to remember that.

I think there is a difference between Matt's RRARF program and the way you described eating without restriction. I wasn't trying to restrict myself before I started his RRARF program in terms of the amount of food I ate, but I was absolutely amazed at how much more I was eating when I started RRARF. In RRARF, you actually try to eat MORE than you want for 30 days, while resting as much as absolutely possible. I think the combination of those two things makes the difference. I made mysef start staying in bed longer and taking a nap every day, plus no exercise at all the first month. Now since I've been on it longer, I'm still napping but getting up a bit earlier (like usual) and trying to do a little exercise (only one HIIT session per week, which was fine when I was doing running sprints, but I tried burpees instead last week and my temps actually plummetted right back down). Anyhow, I think RRARF is more intentional than just not restricting yourself, so it may still be beneficial for you. Just my two cents.

Please keep me posted on what you decide to try and how it works out for you!

Lauren said...

Hi Sarah. I just stumbled on this and wanted to let you know in case you're interested:

Just eavesdropping on the comment string here - are you eating home-made ice cream? 'Cause that's cold and delicious health food (if you tolerate dairy)! I've only dabbled (can one use that in reference to reading?) on Matt's site, but from that I can understand those who complain that his methods work best for active young men.
Something else I came across recently was this list of ancestral health "voices" - they're not exclusively paleo, so don't let the URL stop you, but they are smart people with a lot of combined yet varied wisdom about the body. Perhaps Monica might find some tips that work for her among them (esp. Chris Kresser and Jack Kruse):

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for the links, Lauren. I've been reading Chris Kresser's stuff for awhile (he's got great info), and was looking at Jack Kruse's info a couple weeks back (but I didn't really feel like it was for me for whatever reason).

Yes, I'm eating homemade ice cream. Raw cream and egg yolks, plus raw honey. Mmm.

mamaof5 said...

This all seems very complicated. How could this help someone with Lupus? My husband was diagnosed with SLE but I honestly don't think I could get him to even consider this. He hates yogurt, nuts, and most veggies and I have to beg him to drink water. All he drinks is coffee in the morning maybe a monster and then for the rest of the day Mt. Dew. I'm talking about at least a 2L a day.

Sarah Smith said...

Hi mamaof5,
The GAPS Diet is definitely a bit complicated, but the results are phehomenal as well. It can actually cure autoimmune diseases, such as lupus. But it absolutely takes quite a bit of effort and commitment. Perhaps you could see if your husband will read the book, and that could help in motivating him?

DianaG said...

Hi Sarah

I'm looking at putting my 23 month old onto GAPS. He's had antibiotics previously, though took probiotics throughout (and before and after (continuously)). He's pretty easy to feed so I don't anticipate problems (he's always eaten Nourishing Traditions foods) but I'm worried that as he's not talking well I won't notice his die-off symptoms. I'd been thinking of spending a minimum amount of time on GAPS Intro and kicking into Full GAPS within a week or two for a period of six (6) months. Is that okay, in your opinion? Do you think he'd have a massive die-off given he's always eaten so well?

Many thanks for any advice you can give :)

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Diana,
I would absolutely NOT start with the intro diet if you want to keep die-off symptoms down. Even switching to the Full GAPS diet from a Nourishing Traditions diet can cause die-off, and the intro diet can really make the die-off even more intense.

Make sure you stop taking the probiotics when you start the Full GAPS diet, and then slowly re-introduce them after the first wave of die-off is over (or after a week or two if you can't tell whether or not there was die-off).

I would start with Full GAPS for a couple months before doing the intro. Also, does your son still nurse? If not, you may want to do the full dairy progression BEFORE you do the intro. That way he would be allowed to have some fermented dairy (like kefir and yogurt) while you do intro. That might help in making sure he has plenty of options during intro. The full dairy progression includes NO dairy for 6 weeks, followed by a sensitivity test putting whey on the skin and leaving it overnight. The next morning, you look to see if there is any redness or irritation. If not, then you start SLOWLY introducing whey a little at a time, working up to yogurt, and then kefir, and then hard cheeses.

The intro diet can easily take much longer than 1-2 weeks; it really just depends on how well your son tolerates each new addition as you go. It can easily take at least a month, or even longer.

Just out of curiosity, what are the reasons for putting your son on GAPS?

DianaG said...

Hi Sarah

Thanks for your response - sorry for my delay in getting back to your blog, things are manic at this end (getting our house ready for earthquake repairs (Christchurch, NZ)).

I thought I'd put him on GAPS now seen as he's had antibiotics. I figure that given it won't be a huge diet change for him (he doesn't eat grains at the moment and has plenty of broth in the form of soup) it'd be good to do now while he's younger, basically before he discovers 'bad' foods.

He doesn't have any signs of being autistic or anything, though we do have rheumatoid arthritis in our family (my mum). I bascially thought doing it now would save him any hassle when he's older.

What do you think? It's certainly a lot of effort to go to if he won't necessarily benefit from it.

This motherhood thing is tough - I've never made so many important decisions in my life! :)

Thanks, Diana

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Diana,
Does your son exhibit any physical or psychological symptoms? Food intolerances? Eczema? I personally wouldn't do GAPS for the kids if they weren't showing any signs of needing it. My daughter, for instance, had a poor immune system and has always had problems gaining weight; GAPS definitely made her immune system better and also made her sleep better (which was an unexpected bonus). She also started behaving better on GAPS (another unexpected improvement since I didn't realize her behavior could be improved and hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary).

But like you said, it would also be easier to do GAPS while they are younger, so it might make sense to get it out of the way now.

DianaG said...

Hi Sarah

He had a little patch of eczema when we returned from living in the Middle East. Not sure if it was the upheaval, different humidity and temps or what to be honest as it came on just before I started him on solids. We took him to a homeopath and I started raw milk at the same time, so not sure if it was my milk or the homeopathics that worked at clearing it up. It wasn't really that bad either, the homeopath and I had to really stare to see it!

Just remembered he's had hives before - I assume that's a GAPS symptom?

Other than that his immune system seems normal for a little one, he's an excellent sleeper and has a great temperament - though now that we've just hit two we certainly do seem to have started voicing our opinion, lol.

I think he's intolerant to peaches, which is the same as my mum (in fact that may have been when he got hives, but my memory fails me). She's got rheumatoid arthritis which I'm keen for James to avoid. I'll be doing GAPS myself in a few years to ensure I don't get it myself!

So I guess he has a few minor symptoms but nothing major. I might put him on full GAPS and see how he goes starting with that. I guess I won't regret it if I put him on it now but may regret not doing it in the future if I don't.

Thanks for your help :)

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Diana,
That makes sense. You may be able to skip the intro diet with him altogether since he doesn't have any severe symptoms. Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions as you go along!


Megan said...

Hi Sarah!

Thank you for the helpful information!

I am contemplating starting the full
GAPS diet ... Our son is for months and we don't intend to start weaning 'til 6 months - we'd like to do baby-led weaning.
I'd eventually like to do the starter diet but definitely not while nursing ... and I'd probably be the only one doing it in our family, which would make things harder.

Anyway, my question is about whether people see
results even on the full diet ... I have been struggling with some joint pain that might be pregnancy-induced rheumatoid arthritis? Our son also has mild eczema. On my side of the family we have chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia, which I've heard GAPS helps with ... Thank you!!

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Megan,
Yes, people do see good results with just the Full GAPS Diet. However, upon reflection on our own GAPS journey, I would recommend that you look into a few other options before the GAPS Diet. We did GAPS, and had good results with some problems (such as joint pain), but it also made some other issues worse (such as adrenal/energy problems). My husband's eczema was NOT cured by GAPS, and in the long run it was not sustainable for us to stay on GAPS further because of the adrenal problems (we did strict GAPS for 18 months; my husband seemed to keep losing weight and he was already underweight, and we both showed more and more signs of adrenal issues the longer we stayed on GAPS).

We are now consulting with a Classical Homeopath (Alan Saxon), and are hopeful that we will finally get to the root of our problems. For my husband in particular, dietary changes seemed to only take his healing to a certain point, and then his issues would keep coming back (we experienced the same thing when we first switched to a Weston Price-type diet back in 2005, and then again on the GAPS Diet). Homeopathy will address it at a more fundamental level (it is essentially an energy medicine, rather than focusing on the physical symptoms we exhibit). You might want to consider looking into homeopathy before undertaking the GAPS Diet for you and your kids (the GAPS Diet is a LOT of work, and takes several years before you will know if it works, which is rather frustrating if it doesn't work). As for dietary approaches for you, if I could do it all over again, I would personally try Matt Stone's RRARF program before trying the GAPS Diet, as it is much easier, will be done much faster, and may work just as well.

Desi said...

I have a 10mo baby that suffers from very severe eczema. We've tried a lot (everything suggested) up to this point. We have eliminated gluten, dairy, soy, eggs. We use safe products in our home. We use essential oils, etc. I am considering GAPS and found your site. Do you suggest that we skip the "Intro" diet completely and just eat GAPS legal foods to see if that clears him up (that sure sounds a lot easier)? Based on your experience and opinion, do you believe we will see results in his eczema simply by following a GAPS legal diet?
I appreciate your feedback if you have time.

Sarah Smith said...

Hello Desi,
My experiences with the GAPS Diet and eczema have not been so great. While my husband's eczema was originally lessened by GAPS, over time it came back anyway. My son also had eczema starting as an infant. He was raised on only the GAPS diet for the first two years of his life (since we all started GAPS when my son was only 6 months old and still exclusively breastfed), and yet he still had eczema.

The big improvements we have seen with my son's eczema are through homeopathy. Eczema is something that really needs constitutional treatment with an experienced classical homeopath (not something you could figure out on your own through just picking a homeopathic remedy, since the eczema points to a deeper problem which constitutional treatment). Through his constitutional treatment, my son (who is now almost 3 years old) has seen his eczema almost completely cured (and we just started his treatment about a month ago, so I would guess that as we continue his treatment the eczema will disappear completely). We have also seen dramatic improvements in other ways with his constitutional treatment, such as much better sleep patterns, resolving his life-long constipation (which he had even as an exclusively breastfed baby, since he would only poo once a week or so), and a happier outlook overall.

I hope this helps!

czmonkamom said...

Hi Sarah, I LOVE your blog thank you for posting these great tips. If you have a moment would love your opinion since you've experienced gaps with infants. I started my infant (she's now 10months) on 16hr chicken bone broth (she has pretty bad allergies eczema dairy, wheat, soy, rice) was breastfed for 6 months, now on neocate hypoallergenic formula. She's been on the 16hr bone broth about 4-6oz per day for almost 3 months.looking back there were definitely die off periods , there have been so many sleepless nights since she was 2 months due to the raging eczema that somehow I didn't connect the dots between broth/die-off and her regullar horrible eczema. I mistakenly didn't begin with 2-3hr meat stock as the GAPS book suggest. Have I caused any harm to my daughter by having done this????? I am now starting the 2-3hr  meat stock immediately having realized my mistake. I read that the glutamates in the broth are excitoxins and can have a damaging effect on neurons. Anything you can share based on your experience would be greatly appreciated. I haven't added kefir or any dairy because she's allergic. Cz

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Cz,
I did not use the meat broth at any point in GAPS, as I had already been making homemade stock for years previously and kept making it the same way. Regardless, we did not have good long term results using GAPS to treat eczema. GAPS initially helped my husband's eczema, but over time it came back even in GAPS. My infant son was on GAPS by default since the rest of the family was as well, and yet he still developed eczema. The best results we have had in treating eczema for both of them has been through constitutional homeopathic treatment. At this point I am convinced that diet alone is not enough to heal my family, and we have had amazing results with homeopathy (which is why I am now studying to become a classically trained homeopath myself). Please let me know if you have any further questions!

czmonkamom said...

Thank you for responding I appreciate it. Cz

Hyphen Interiors said...

What is the difference between broth and stock? I couldn't find just bones, so I plan to use meat on bones... Could you email me? I hope to try homeopathy soon!

Sarah Smith said...

Technically, broth is made with meat and stock is made with bones. Mine is made with a combination of meat and bones, although if I am using something very meaty I usually pull out most of the meat after a few hours to be eaten.

Mira K. Bryan said...

Hi Sarah!

I'm so glad I found this post because I have not been able to find information about when to take the probiotic! I have an 18 month old (still breastfeeding) and we are both starting the intro in 2 weeks. We've been doing full for 6 or more months now and she did the baby GAPS but there is so much healing to do. We are going to take it as slow as possible so there is maximum healing and I'm in no rush.

We've been taking bio-kult but you say to stop before doing the intro? My question: what do you mean by starting again after the initial die-off? When is that? Do you mean after the first stage? I can't seem to figure this out and no one else seems to have any info so I'm very thankful for any advice you can give!


Sarah Smith said...

Hi Mira,
When you start the intro diet, there will likely be a wave of die-off, where bacteria are being killed off in the gut. You will know this is happening if you start to feel "off", develop achiness, or a slight flu-like feeling. Make sure you wait for this to subside before you start taking any probiotic.

I hope this helps! Also, you may be interested in my blog post about our final GAPS results (which were mixed):