If you’ve been following our family’s story, then you’ve definitely heard of the GAPS diet – more specifically, the GAPS Intro diet. The GAPS diet is a healing, grain-free, low-sugar, no-complex-starch diet that has been known to reverse many health problems such as allergies (food or seasonal), asthma, autism, IBS, ADD/ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, and many more disorders. (Read more about why we began.)
It is highly recommended to undergo the 6-Stage Introduction Diet before trying the Full GAPS diet in order to “heal and seal the gut” as Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride terms it. The Intro diet starts off very limited, and as you progress through each stage, you are able to add in more and more foods until you arrive at the Full GAPS diet.
Some people really see miracles happen through the GAPS Intro diet. Some see little to no change. Either way, it is a diet that will change your life as you know it, and it will affect every aspect of your and your family’s life.
So what’s it like to be on the GAPS Intro Diet? Is it impossible? Is it doable? How much time and work is involved? Is it worth it?
While each situation varies tremendously and there are no cookie cutter GAPS families, I’ll do my best to answer how our lives have changed since beginning the Intro Diet back in January of this year – for better, and for worse.
Hopefully if you are considering an undertaking like the GAPS diet, this will help give you insight into life on the diet. And if you are currently on the diet or have already been through it, please feel free to leave a comment mentioning any other ways your life has changed that might have slipped my mind. I really have a heart for families with ailments that could be helped by the GAPS diet, as well as families who are going through the GAPS diet.
Get Ready for Change
I want to start out by setting forth in plain language – the GAPS Intro diet is a massive undertaking, especially if you are planning on doing this with multiple children. In no way do I want to put forth the picture that you will breeze through the Intro part and into Full GAPS. It’s possible – but there are no promises.
How much time do you already spend in the kitchen? Do you already prepare much of your family’s food from scratch? Are you fermenting vegetables regularly? Baking bread?
When you first begin the Intro diet, there is no room for prepackaged food. Please understand: you will be cooking everything from scratch. Everything.
Here’s another fact: when you switch to the Intro diet and all the easily digested food, paired with the yeast in your body aggressively craving sugars/grains, you will be insanely hungry. I hate to use hyperbole, so hear me: you will just have stuffed yourself for 20 minutes and yet, somehow, still feel ravenously hungry, with a full belly. I have no idea how this happens; it is truly mystifying.
However, if you are only cooking for one person on the diet, this might not be a huge deal. You can easily make soup and heat and reheat throughout the day and that might take care of it. But if you’re planning on cooking for multiple people, you will go through more food than you ever thought possible. Again, I am not exaggerating.
By the time you make it to Stage 6 of the Intro diet, you will be responsible for:
- making enough meat broth for soups, gravies, sauces, and vegetable cooking liquid
- making homemade ferments, enough for each member on the diet to have multiple servings a day
- baking bread, muffins, pancakes, etc. from nuts and seeds
- juicing vegetables to give to each family member on the diet
- making anywhere from 3 to 5 meals per day, totally from scratch
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, needless to say. Due to my children’s prior food allergies, I already spent a lot of time in the kitchen making them allergen-free food, so I was used to it. This is simply much more cooking.
Before starting the diet, consider these tips:
- Cut GAPS-legal vegetables into cubes/slices and freeze
- Prepare meat broth as outlined in the book ahead of time, and freeze
- Soak and dehydrate nuts and seeds to have plenty on hand for making bread and pancakes
- Find a good local source of fresh eggs, if possible
- If dairy is tolerated, finding a raw milk source would be stellar
- A few months before, start picking up extra meat and keeping it in a deep freezer. You will be going through a lot of it.
Cutting your body off of grains and sugars/certain starches is somewhat of a shock to your system. Your body will have to learn how to run off of a new fuel rather than sugar. Yes, simple carbs are included in the diet (it’s not low-carb per se) but you are still cutting out a lot.
This means that the pathogens which have overgrown in your gut are going to be crying out for their food, dying off, and the toxins they leave behind will leave you feeling like a million bucks. No. Wait. Strike that. You are going to feel terrible.
Detox baths are a regular part of the diet. Sitting in a hot bath filled with epsom salts (or other add-ins) pulls toxins from your skin and makes the situation more bearable, but it is still difficult. (Here’s a great post about detox baths for kids by Kula Mama.)
It takes years and years for your body to get to the point you’re at when you start the diet. (Fewer years for children, yes, but still hard for them too.) This is a detoxifying diet. Be prepared. The symptoms manifest in so many different ways as each individual is completely unique. Even my four children all detox so differently.
You could think of it like this: Pretend your whole family has a terrible flu. You’re sick too, but you’re still expected to cook, do dishes, clean, and all of your other responsibilities. Your children are going to be fussy, they might be having meltdowns/throwing tantrums, and you are going to be a real pill too. For a while. Much longer than you want.
- Consider starting with the Full GAPS diet, cutting out grains and sugar, and slowly backing into the Intro diet by removing more and more foods.
- Consider adding ferments to your diet (slowly) before beginning – personally, I’m glad we were already used to eating fermented foods before beginning the diet.
- Consider adding detox baths as outlined in the book before you begin the diet to lessen the toxic burden.
- Enemas (yes, enemas) are a suggested and approved regimen for the GAPS diet. Consider, just consider, doing them while on the diet to help clean from the inside.
Prepare for your emotions to be affected as well. For some reason, it’s difficult for us to make the total gut-emotion connection. But it’s true, your emotions are definitely connected to the state of your digestive system. When going through die-off, my emotions are all over the place. I am easily upset, frustrated by the smallest things. I cry at the drop of a hat. I have snapped at family members way too many times to count. Someone I really admire who has been on the diet gave me such relief when she said her family were at each other’s throats for two years while on the diet. I wasn’t happy that her family was at each other, of course! But it made me realize that all our emotional upheavals were in fact a normal part of the detoxification.
My son would just randomly hit his sister for no reason, something he never did before. There are more arguments, more tears, more meltdowns than we’ve had all the years put together. I have to constantly remind myself that their little bodies are going through this upheaval, and while it is a good thing, it affects their emotions. They need lots of grace and mercy because they are not really doing these things on purpose, at least not in my opinion. It’s a result of the detox.
Guilt – you’re familiar with that word. Well, get used to more of it. You’ll be cooking more than ever and wonder if you’ll ever get to spend good quality time with your little ones or husband again. You’ll feel guilty that you can’t hold your crying daughter because you have to get the rest of the dishes in the dishwasher so it can get started, only to be emptied and immediately started again. You’ll have snapped at your oldest out of frustration and have to ask for forgiveness and explain that your body feels bad too, hoping they understand. You’ll see how hard this diet is and how your children can’t eat many things other children can. You’ll worry that they’re deprived of fun things and you’ll feel guilty for having started the diet. You’ll feel like a mean old witch who doesn’t let anyone have any fun.
Get used to it. And realize that you are doing your children a very big favor. You are setting the groundwork for a healthy lifetime for them. They’re going to need all that nourishment you’re giving them. My children already thank me for doing the diet.
If you go through with it, you will survive. Your family will too. Every tough situation we have encountered has left us stronger than when we began. I’m betting it will be the same for you too.
This is a similar subject to emotions, I’d just like to mention that all the die-off will cause your brain to be a little foggy. At least it has for me. I have had a more difficult time concentrating since we started the diet, but I am expectant that it will get better the more detoxing I go through.
The diet is stressful. Your family will be on edge. All the cooking coupled with other cleaning that must be done, financial matters, etc. will be a source of stress.
This diet is so confusing to me. I also have messed up the diet so many times, I can’t count. We’ve been okay, but my confusion about how to carry it all out has cost us healing time. I am so grateful for the book and the information in it, but my gosh it is confusing. I wish it were more linear, it seems to jump around a lot. Or maybe that’s just me.
- Make yourself take time to relax, if only for a few minutes here and there.
- Make yourself a cup of ginger or chamomile tea.
- Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Pray some more. Prayer has been my lifesaver.
- Love on your kiddos and hubby. Even a 20 second hug releases endorphins that you are going to be needing. Sow love as you can.
Well, the good thing is, your eating out budget is about to decrease. Down to about $0.
The bad news is you’re going to spend more on groceries in a month than you’ve ever spent before. I’m not sure how else to put it – you might have to let go of some monthly luxuries in order to pay for the groceries. It will be worth it as long as you use the money wisely.
- As I suggested earlier, start purchasing meats and freezing to have on hand and lessen the financial impact
- If you garden, plan on growing GAPS-legal veggies/fruit
- Shop around for cheapest prices on quality items. It may be cheaper to purchase half a cow, you know? We buy raw local honey from our warehouse membership and it’s a great deal.
- Buy in bulk.
Yeah, more bad news. I feel like I’ve been complaining this whole time – I’m not trying to be a downer, I just want you to realize what you’re getting yourself into. Prepare to be spending a lot of time in your home.
You’ll be doing a lot of cooking, as you know.
You can’t eat out. Heck, you can barely drive by restaurants as the smell will be so tantalizing, it’s almost too much to bear. Plus, you’re so constantly hungry, by the time you get out of the house, it’s time to turn around and go back because you’re hungry again. Many, many social engagements center around food and the food will NOT be GAPS-legal.
I’m already introverted, but I have been even more limited on my socializing simply from the sheer work of it all.
- We’ve had better luck with inviting others to our house, rather than asking others to adhere to our stringent diet. Do this when you can; you’re going to need the social interaction and the break.
- Please, please, please join an online group/forum. You’ll learn so much and make wonderful friends who are all in the same boat as you. I love the GAPS Kids Facebook Group! There are also Yahoo groups I believe. If you know of one, please tell us in the comments section!
- Be aware that vacations might have to be postponed as well as other outings.
- Family outings are not impossible. Simply pack a picnic and bring it with you. You will enjoy the fresh air and change of scenery.
I homeschool our older children and let me just say – I can not imagine doing the GAPS Intro diet and taking kids to school. It sounds like so much work! BIG TIME KUDOS to you mamas out there who do the GAPS diet while working full- or part-time and/or having children in school. I don’t know how you do it!! You’re amazing.
The first month of the diet was very difficult for me physically. (It’s been three months at the time of this writing and I still don’t have much energy.) We took a whole month off of schooling that first month. This was okay with me because we were already ahead in our lessons, so I didn’t feel so behind.
- If public schooling, consider waiting until the summer break to start the Intro Diet. I really think this would work best. Possibly Christmas break would work, but summer would be better in my opinion.
- If homeschooling, start working ahead in your lessons. Then you’ll feel better about taking a break to do some healing.
Progressing on the Intro Diet
In my reading about the diet before we began, I somehow got it in my head that my family and I (there are 6 of us total, and our children’s ages range from 1 to 7 years) would sail right through in a month, heal our guts, heal my children’s food allergies, and go into Full GAPS for a few months before we would call it quits, fully healed.
Er, that did not happen. Where did I get that idea? I don’t know. Various blog posts on the GAPS diet, coupled with my own hopefulness/denial of reality (which surfaces often) led me to this premature conclusion. Friends, it’s best to make room in your mind for a slow healing, even though you need to have the faith in your heart to see the healing though. There is hope, keep it in your heart and refer to it often, but be prepared in case it happens slower than you think.
Well, this is where the rubber meets the road as far as the diet is concerned, isn’t it? Does it work? Can people be healed and diseases be reversed?
We have seen some amazing healing on the Intro diet. I am quite honestly astonished on a daily basis that my oldest son can have several egg yolks a day – we have had some scary reactions to egg yolks and whites in the previous years. And the other children, who all reacted to eggs through my breast milk, are eating them with no repercussions. I am literally amazed. We are also having loads of ghee a day, something my son reacted to as a baby.
Even with all the healing we’ve seen in a relatively short amount of time, if you catch me on a detox day, I’m ready and willing to throw in the towel and go back to life as it was. The crazy thing is – there is no more life as it was. GAPS Intro resets your system. It’s like formatting the hard drive of your computer and having to reinstall each program (food), one at a time.
Think about introducing an infant new foods. That is YOU! Or whoever in your family is on the diet. All of a sudden, food intolerances are “unmasked” (they were there all along but being covered up by other symptoms) and a food you thought you could have turns into something you can’t. You have to test each new food the way a baby would. Test, wait several days for any reactions, then gradually introduce. This happened to me with avocados. When we first introduced them, they would make my mouth itch and then gastrointestinal discomfort would commence. Really? Avocados? Yes. But now, after some healing, I can have them with no problems.
It simply takes time for the body to heal. The fact that this diet even exists for us to implement and wade through is a godsend. It’s just hard, and slow. (Here’s a great GAPS kid testimony from Trish at Eat Your Beets – love that blog!)
Is GAPS for everybody?
I go back and forth between my opinion on this. Some days, yes, in my mind, everyone should be on the GAPS diet and we would see an amazing surge of health and wellness and diseases/disorders would fade away into obscurity.
Then other days, I can’t imagine recommending the GAPS diet for other families. It’s so much work! Plus, I read blog posts by others saying the diet simply didn’t work for them and I realize – I think it’s too far of a stretch to say it will work for everybody. We are all so different. But many of us find ourselves in similar predicaments, and this diet can and has helped a great number of people.
I have always believed that my children’s food allergies would be healed. I wasn’t sure how it would happen, but I knew it was possible. Now, every day at some point, I get this dreamy look in my eyes as I think: My son can have egg yolks. My son can have egg yolks! That is such precious nourishment that I have wanted for him (and all of my children, as we all avoided them) for so, so long. And he can have them! We all can! How amazing is that?! Even though the diet has been so very difficult, I would do it all over again just so my kids could have egg yolks. The other three can already have the egg whites and I know that one day, my oldest son will be able to as well. (We haven’t really tested him thoroughly on egg whites yet.)
There is another plus I haven’t mentioned. Pre-GAPS, I used to carry so much stress around – it felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders as we lived in a world constantly exposed to potential allergens. The stress was just too much for me. We had a select few restaurants that could accommodate the food allergies, which was awesome! But what if the rag used to clean the booth had eggs on it? (This has happened before and my son was miserable for hours afterward.) Food contamination, especially at social events, was a huge stressor. It was so difficult for me to just trust that everything was going to be okay.
But now that stress has all but faded away. I have eggs in the house, and nuts as well, whereas a few months ago I wouldn’t even dream of bringing those foods into the house for the stress it would cause me. I am so thankful that I don’t have to worry like that anymore.
Still, it’s a gamble. I can’t give you the straightforward answer as to what you should do, if you are considering starting it. At the very least, purchase the Gut and Psychology Syndrome book and read it. It is quite technical but really makes you stop and think. I have learned so much from the book and life on the diet itself. There are still more people to be healed on this diet. But it’s up to you to decide if you are one of them. And if you are, you might want to consider purchasing Healing Patiently, a great GAPS ebook. It will simplify things for you.
If I have indeed scared you off from trying the diet, I apologize. I just want to be real with you. It’s hard but we personally have seen such amazing progress. Yet not everyone can put life as they know it on hold to heal.
The good thing is, you still have options. There are other healing diets out there, other programs too. Whatever path you choose, there is a world of people online who can help you out with whatever situation you are facing. Blessings to you and upon your choice for healing and wellness.
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