Sunday, August 5, 2012

GAPS Intro Diet Experiences and Tips

One topic I seem to get questions about frequently is the GAPS Intro Diet, which is an intensive diet that focuses on healing and sealing the gut walls.  This site has some great info on what foods are allowed on the Intro Diet. My family did the Intro diet after being on the Full GAPS Diet for several months, and I also repeated the intro diet again after about 8 months on GAPS. 

Positives of the Intro Diet
The Intro Diet:
  • works amazingly to heal the gut quickly,
  • is a very good way to tell for certain which foods your body has troubles with, and
  • can result in amazing healing or even complete reversal of many gut-related health problems such as joint pain, digestive issues, allergies, etc.
Negatives of the Intro Diet
The biggest drawbacks of the Intro Diet are:
  • It can be VERY difficult as it is a very restrictive diet, 
  • It can cause intense die-off reactions as the bad bacteria in the gut are killed off and there is a shift to more healthy gut bacteria,
  • It can take as little time as a few weeks or as long as several months, and you can't really predict ahead of time how long it will take you (you pay attention to your bodies cues as to when you should progress through the different levels of the Intro Diet).
Our Experiences on Intro
Round 1
My whole family did the intro diet after a few months on the Full GAPS Diet.  At the time, my daughter was 3&1/2. The hardest part of the Intro for my her was not being able to have any yogurt or milk.  But she and my husband generally breezed through the Intro Diet.

I was exclusively nursing my 8-month old son when we did Intro and I had a VERY difficult time of it.  I should caution here that Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride does NOT recommend that nursing mothers do the Intro Diet; unfortunately I somehow missed that and didn't figure it out until I had already started Intro.  I had a very hard time getting enough calories and not feeling like I was starving (I dropped 4-6 pounds a week, and it took me a month to get through intro, so that was over 16 pounds in one month).

I tried to quit the Intro, but couldn't because my stomach would absolutely not tolerate eating other foods.  This was a huge shock to me, as I didn't think I had many digestion problems (and neither my daughter or husband had the same problems on Intro).  So I rushed the Intro as much as possible because I was starving, but still had bad stomach cramping for hours every day because my body wasn't ready to introduce new foods yet. Despite these problems, I had great results from Intro and felt amazing once it was over.

Round 2
I repeated the Intro Diet after being on GAPS for about 8 months because I wanted to once again accelerate the healing.  The second time around, Intro was much easier for me because my infant was eating some foods and not relying on me for all of his calories.  I was also able to include kefir and yogurt (since we had already gone through the full dairy progression), and this really helped in making sure I didn't have that starving feeling like the first time around.  I was hugely encouraged the second time to see that I did not have the same problems introducing new foods during Intro, so I was able to progress through it quickly without the severe stomach cramps.
Tips for the Intro Diet
  • 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.  
  • If you are nursing, wait to do the Intro until your baby is eating a significant amount of food, or wait until you are done nursing altogether: Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride does not recommend that nursing women follow the Intro Diet as there is the potential for toxins released by the body to be passed to the baby through breastmilk.
  • Stop taking probiotics when you start the Intro Diet: Even if you have already followed the Full GAPS Diet for a few months, the Intro Diet can still cause a die-off reaction as the bad bacteria are starved out.  Slowly re-introduce the probiotics 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).  Or you could even wait until you've completed the intro before you slowly reintroduce the probiotics.
  • Do the full dairy progression BEFORE you do the Intro Diet: Completing the dairy progression before the Intro Diet will give you more options rather than having to eliminate dairy along with so many other foods. The full dairy progression includes NO dairy/cheese/butter/yogurt/kefir for 4 weeks, followed by a sensitivity test (putting whey on the skin and leaving it overnight, then looking for signs of redness or irritation the next morning).  If there is no redness or irritation, then start slowly introducing homemade whey a little at a time (starting with 1 tsp per day for a few days and slowly increasing to 1/2 cup per day with meals), then slowly introducing homemade yogurt (starting with 1 tsp/day and working up to a cup or so), and then slowly introducing kefir, and then hard cheeses, butter, etc. Once you start Intro, cut back dairy to only yogurt and kefir.  Limit the yogurt and especially kefir in the early days of Intro as they can lead to more pronounced die-off symptoms. 
  • Freeze some Intro-legal foods ahead of time: Freezing some Intro-legal foods will help in making sure that you will have plenty of food options, and will also save you a bit of cooking during Intro.  I like to freeze soups in single-serving glass containers that can be reheated easily in the toaster oven.
  • Plan to make enough food to eat 6 meals a day: The foods allowed on the intro diet are so easily digestible that you may need to eat 6 or even more meals each day.  Plan for this so you aren't caught off-guard and unprepared.
  • Plan to keep a pot of soup cooking at all times: The Intro Diet is centered around consuming broth, meats, and veggies.  Keeping a pot of soup or broth cooking at all times during Intro is a great way to save on active cooking time and to ensure that there is always food ready to eat. You can drink the broth throughout the day and easily add more meat and veggies as they are consumed. Keeping a pot or slow cooker going all the time can also make it easy to add some variety by pulling some out into another small pot and adding whatever additional veggies or seasonings you want for variety.  There is a great tutorial on a constantly-cooking, perpetual broth here
  • Take some time off or plan nap breaks:Since the body is healing rapidly during the Intro Diet, you may feel more tired than usual.  If possible, plan to be able to take some time off work, or try to plan a nap break each day.  Also, try not to schedule too many activities, but rather take this time to relax and rest.
  • Food variety: Having so few food options during the Intro Diet can make it tiresome to eat sometimes.  Egg yolks can be added to any bowl of soup to add great flavor and richness. Some ideas for variety are:
    • Beef and veggie soup with peas, carrots, onions, zucchini, garlic
    • Boiled chicken (including some chicken skin and fat) served with cooked peas, carrots, and onions, and a cup of broth
    • Brisket with carrots and onions (leave the celery whole so you can easily discard it)
    • Classic chicken soup with onions, carrots, and mushrooms (celery can be added whole for flavor and then discarded)
    • Meatball and mushroom soup (omit the sour cream, replace butter with ghee or tallow)
    • Chicken soup with carrots, onions, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, and fresh ginger
    • Beef soup with carrots, onions, and fresh dill
    • Braised short ribs  (follow the time-crunch method and leave the celery whole so you can easily discard it)
    • Chicken soup with tomato paste, garlic, carrots, onions, zucchini, green beans, peas, and oregano 
    • Chicken and thyme soup (omit the creme fraiche and replace butter with ghee or chicken fat)
    • Pureed butternut squash soup made with chicken broth, chicken fat, onion, garlic, ginger, honey, and nutmeg (since spices aren't allowed in the early stages of Intro, you can leave the nutmeg whole and discard it once the soup is done)
    • Slow cooker beef fajitas (omit cheese and sour cream from garnish, serve in a bowl)
    • Pizza soup made with beef, strained tomatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, basil, oregano, thyme, and a dash of red wine vinegar
    • Herbed pork and cabbage stew


Anonymous said...

thank you so much for this post!

Roxanna said...

I've been on GAPS with my 3.5 yo for a little over a year. We skipped intro as I was breastfeeding and not feeling up to it, and I got pregnant my 2nd month on GAPS (which was fantastic to conceive with no drugs!!). Now I've had another baby (5 months) and I am having tons of tummy issues. My 3.5 yo is doing great! I'm looking forward to trying the intro for myself next year when my baby is older. I've been struggling to keep my milk up as I was super sick for 2 months (first time ever with pneumonia) so I've been eating soaked oatmeal a few times a week. Thanks for posting this, it made me feel hopeful that I won't have to tip toe around food forever :)

Randa said...

This is a great summary! Thanks so much!

Jamie Luck said...

This is sooooo helpful,thank you!!

Michellerobin1979 said...

Hi Sarah,

What are the main reasons people go on the GAPS diet? I have been loosely following the WAP diet for years now, and always hear people talk about GAPS. I haven't read the book yet, simply because its kind of expensive and I am not sure anything is wrong with my health in order for me to need to try and read it. But because I see it mentioned every where I sort of feel like maybe I am missing the boat and need to try it like everyone else. What are your thoughts? Who do you recommend this diet for? Thanks!!!

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Michelle,
The GAPS Diet is recommended for healing any autoimmune issues, such as allergies, food intolerances, joint pain, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and even autism. However, in my family's experience, GAPS wasn't the cure-all it was touted to be. We had great results at first, but ended up transitioning off the diet after 18 months as we realized my husband and I were getting increasingly worsening adrenal problems from the diet. I wrote more about that here:

Adrie said...

Thanks for all the awesome info and tips - it's so helpful to hear someone else's real experience!

Marina said...

Hi Sarah,

It is almost my story...but is still not sure what to do and almost feel i need some grains, i wanted sugar, white chocolate (i never ate it), completely did not like my would have been normal dark chocolate, ate bread - quite a bit...still need more carbs but have issues, so one part of my brain wants to repeat some intro and go back on full (as i still have digestive issues as well as some other)and another thinks that i need to try to figure out something else....

julz said...

I have a question for you. I believe I read your post recently that you felt like you had severe dairy, icecream cravings. I have been considering going on gaps but not sure if I should. I dont know what is a craving or an addiction. I recently started implementing dairy . We have been hard into dairy for the last month, raw. So now, I feel like I am addicted to dairy. All I want now is to drink milk, eat cottage cheese, cheese. More goat milk though. I have been dairy free for EVER yet I grew up on goat milk. Yet after introducing, All I want is dairy now. I feel like I am gaining weight too! I can eat a whole meal but unless I have something dairy I won't be satisfied. I am also producing enormeous ammount of saliva craving dairy. The type of saliva I am talking about is when you are starving and you look at a picture and you see food and your mouth waterS? well, I am producing that all the time wether I am hungry or not and I am associating it with dairy. I have been on so many diets lately, paleo, somewhat full gaps, grain free, dairy free and all which seemed to help me but I just was never happy on them. So after finding about the weston price, even though I am still grain free, I like it, and particulary i like DAIRY! So many words, I hope you understand my message! Anyway, how do you know when you have some type of imbalance of an addiction or you are really craving something like dairy? I have heard people going on dairy fast where they drink gallons of milk per day! WOW I WOULD LOVE THAT lol. Hope to hear from you!

Joanne said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences!!! Blogs like these have been a great encouragement to me; we actually just started the GAPS intro diet today. I decided to blog our journey too; if you are interested, here is a link

Thanks again for taking the time to give updates.

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Julz,
Yes, I did have a time, when my adrenals were at their worst, that I wanted lots of ice cream. Instead of ignoring these cravings (as I would usually do), I decided to roll with it. I ate ice cream 2-3 times a day for about 6 weeks, and was amazed to see how much improvement I saw in my adrenal symptoms (low energy, poor moods, etc). Then, the craving gradually went away on it's own. This was an interesting experience for me to see that I was actually craving what I needed to get better! So now I try to listen to those cravings. It may be that, since you were dairy-free for so long, your body really needs some things in the dairy.

By the way, I also did gain weight while eating so much ice cream. Over time, I figured out that if I ate the ice cream in the first 2/3 of the day, I didn't really gain any weight. It was the evening/after dinner ice cream that was leading to the weight gain. Ice cream for breakfast was the best!

Sarah Smith said...

Good luck, Joanne! We are done with GAPS (we did it for 18 months), and moving on, but hopefully others will see your link as well. Let me know if you have any questions!

julz said...

Hi Sarah!
I do not have an adrenal problems. Well atleast I don't think I do...I am not tired by any means, I feel ok. Some days are better then others though for w.e reason. I am going to try this, the dairy indulgence and see where this takes me because I am seriously just beyond done with trying to stop myself...I really cannot even concentrate sometimes because I want something dairy. Were you making your own icecream or you were buying store bought? How did you cope with sugar? I have liver problems and canot have that much sugar, stevia is ok for me, the green one though. I attempted making the icecream myself and, it tasted like grass...gross. So i ate it. Cannot find any recipes that uses just green stevia.
Thank you for this, after reading your post I felt soo sane again. I have been so overwhelemed because anywhere I search about dairy every website tells me I need to stop dairy and that its bad and that I am addicted to diary because it has an enzyme in it that you get addicted like drugatics do! So I am like wow this is horrible!

Sarah Smith said...

I did make my own ice cream, but I've never really used stevia. So I sweetened it with honey. I thought I would have a bad reaction to so much sweet stuff, since we hear all the time how bad sugar is. But it seemed that I really just needed it at that time. I of course still like ice cream now, but I never seem to have any strong cravings for it. Got it out of my system I guess. Now my body tends to ask for more starchy things instead.

Anyhow, good luck! I hope you have some relief from the cravings once you give in for awhile and see where it takes you. Let me know what happens!

julz said...

I will, I am king of excited about this to be honest. I can't belive i don't have to torture myself and just eat what I want! Thank you so much Sarah, I will let you know. Blessings to you and your family

Bryce and Erin said...

When you were nursing the 8-mo-old on the intro, where there any problems with the baby? You said you were starving all of the time. Anything concerning that you saw in the baby? And did you move quickly through the intro? I'm thinking about doing a short intro for 30 days while nursing a 6-mo-old. Thanks!

Sarah Smith said...

There was no noticeable difference in my son while I was doing intro (he had eczema before, during, and after GAPS; it really didn't seem to have any affect on him one way or the other). Because I was starving, I tried to move quickly through intro, but was not able to move as quickly as I wanted to. I tried to quit the Intro, but couldn't because my stomach would absolutely not tolerate eating other foods. This was a huge shock to me, as I didn't think I had many digestion problems (and neither my daughter or husband had the same problems on Intro). So I rushed the Intro as much as possible because I was starving, but still had bad stomach cramping for hours every day because my body wasn't ready to introduce new foods yet. Even rushing as much as possible, it took me at least 6 weeks to get through. Despite these problems, I had great results from Intro and felt amazing once it was over.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this Sarah.
Today is my first day at GAPS and am beginning with the intro diet as I have digestive issues, but came across your article as I was searching on Google literally starving! Didn't realise you could have unlimited servings of the soup, it's just gone 4pm and I'm now heating up my 3rd serving as I cannot wait for dinner! So thanks for the very helpful tips. :)


Anonymous said...

First I have to say, I use your blog ALL the time! I LOVE your recipes! THANK YOU!You made our intro to GAPS much easier. My family of 5 has been on it for 6 months now.

Why I am writing it I can not find a contact for you anywhere. I am eager to let you know about a 1 hour presentation I just put on and recorded on an overview of GAPS diet.

People who have seen my overview seminar on the GAPS program said it was super helpful, and I want to pass it on to as many as possible!

I was wondering if you would be interested in posting this to your blog. I understand if you are unable/uncomfortable doing this, but I wanted to make this resource available for those who could pass it on.

Thanks again for EVERYTHING!!

Mindful Mama- Lauren Heres the 1st of 4 (equal 1 hour)

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Lauren,
I'm glad my blog has been so helpful to you!

I have added your video to my post on resources for GAPS. This post is linked to in my About page that has a list if GAPS-related posts, so hopefully people will find it there!


Sarah Smith said...

Oh, and the link to that post is here:

Julia said...

Hey Sarah. Awesome site. I Really am glad it exists. Thanks!!
I have just begun the Intro diet, somewhat shakily - hesitant because it is extremely restrictive, and my energy is low to begin with, so constantly cooking and spending most of my time alone resting with the anxiety that sometimes seems associated with these digestive issues... well it's not that appealing. Yet I know I need deep gut healing.
I've got a few questions. How do I know when I'm ready to move on to Stage 2 in the intro diet? And Stage 3, and so on? Maybe she explains this in the book, but I have it and don't see much explanation. Am i missing something?
Am i really going to get better? (haha, you know this, right?)
I'm taking a few supplements because a doctor is working with me to balance out candida. We've done a stool test and are waiting for the results for more specifics. In the mean time I've got a really intense itchy (fungal, candida related, maybe other stuff too) rash all over my arms and hands... And the supplements I take are once-a-day antifungal (conventional, Diflucan i think), Cod Liver oil, vit D3, enzymes each time I eat, Nourishing herbal infusions (mostly oat straw and nettle leaf), and Saccharomycin DF (once a day). I was recommended to take this licorice root fiber stuff between meals, but since I started drinking all the bone broth, something doesn't feel right about it. I'm also taking powders probiotics each morning on an empty stomach, but I'm wondering if that's too much with the intro diet. My doctor is not incredibly accessible as she is really popular. So I'm asking you for any experience or insight you might have about whther these supplemtns are good with the intro diet, and how each might affect what happens (diet vs. various supplements).
How did you manage to find enough support?
I live alone and also am not partnered, so I don't have the situation you live in. I have close friends and relatives but no one really gets that digestive predicament I'm in, and I often wish I could just be like them and let some foods slide, because I don't actually have to be that strict.. I was to be more flexible, and then when I tell myself to be more restricted.. well, there's no support for that outside of what I read. Even the doctor I've seen doesn't seem to understand just how sensitive this body is, and that I'm not just being "picky" or have an eating disorder... Its a vicious cycle... And its also, of course, lonely, and sometimes I get impatient with myself. Are you familiar with these emotional cycles? Very frustrating.
So anyway I'm writing to you hoping to hear from you just for acknowledgement because I feel so alone in this!!! Honestly.... But also, if you can respond to all I've asked that'd be great too. Thank you for putting yourself out there through this blog!

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Julia,
Moving forward through the stages on the Intro Diet is largely dependent on the individual. You really have to watch your body and see what it needs. You may only need to stay on each stage a day or two, but it also may take a week or longer for each stage. If you are unsure, try eating a little of the food from the next stage and see what happens. If you see any regression or worsening of symptoms, then you know it is too early to move on to that food. Dr. NCM also mentions that some people may end up skipping certain foods/stages and incorporating them later, depending on what the body seems to tolerate.

As for supplements, the intro diet can cause some very intense die-off symptoms, so it is a good plan to stop taking probiotics during the intro diet and then slowly reintroduce them once you're done with the die-off symptoms. Or you could even wait until you've completed the intro before you slowly reintroduce the probiotics.

Were I to do it all over again, I would not start with the GAPS Diet. It is so restrictive and so much work, and we had mixed results with it in the long term. We 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 (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.

But if you decide to stick with GAPS, know that you are not alone, and it can be done! Feel free to ask me any further questions, and I'd be happy to send you a complimentary copy of my grain-free cookbook if you e-mail me at nourishedandnurtured[at]gmail[dot]com.

Anonymous said...

Im re-doing the intro diet and Im seeking clarification on a few things. When moving to the next stage, do I introduce just one food from the next stage at a time? Or do I just add in everything allowed on that stage? When adding foods, do I wait at least 3-5 days inbetween adding another food? I had lamb cooked in te Italia meat casserole form and I became bloated. Does this mean I need to wait a week to introduce another food or can I introduce a new food in a few days? I read that if there is a reaction to a food that one should wait a week to reintroduce that same food.. Does that mean I can’t try any other new food within that amount of time? I hope you will be able to offer some info here. Thank you!!

Sarah Smith said...

Yes, only introduce one food at a time. Yes wait at least 3-5 days before adding a new food. If you react to one food, skip it and try introducing the next one as soon as the symptoms subside and you feel normal again. I hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Yes, that makes sense! Thank you so much for the quick response!! I enjoyed reading the other comments on your site. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,
How will I know if I should wait just the 3 days or the full 5 before adding a new food?

Sarah Smith said...

If you feel completely normal, 3 days is probably fine. You'll have to experiment a bit to see what works best for your body.

Anonymous said...

Ok! Thank you so much for your clarification!!

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