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Why we started the GAPS diet

In November 2009 my family was in a crisis. My biggest concern at that time was my youngest. She was 21 months and had terrible problems with reflux and candida. She was on a very strict elimination diet that while it helped, did not completely eliminate her rashes or pain. This meant many sleepless nights for both of us and taking multiple medications that had to be compounded to avoid her allergens. This is not to mention the visits to the GI and the allergist.  I’ve been pretty holistically minded for many years. Multiple specialists and rx medications was not how I had envisioned myself managing health problems in my family and yet there I was in the midst of it and unable to see any other way to find relief for her.My older daughter was 5 and we had been taking her to a psychologist for a few months at this point. She had been a challenge since birth in many ways and we finally called uncle and asked for help. When we talked about labels for her issues we talked about adhd, ODD (oppositional defiance disorder), bi polar disorder, sensory processing disorder and some others. We didn’t want to medicate her so we didn’t pursue any definitive diagnosis we just needed ideas on how to parent this unique, brilliant and often frustrating creature. Some of the ideas we got helped a lot, but it seemed like she was never the same person from one day to the next, so knowing how to cope day to day was frustrating to say the least.

Then there was me, stressed to the max trying to parent these two kids with very different high needs and getting no sleep. Oh and I also had decided that other people just powered through these sorts of things with their young kids and still had time for outside commitments so I would too. I spread myself way too thin trying to do it all. I also have my own adhd, adrenal fatigue, and hypothyroidism to deal with, and those were just the ones I knew about.

Last but not least there was my husband. Working 50+ hour weeks and dealing with his own “absent minded professor” issues and doing his best to help out when he was home. Despite my attempts to do it all I certainly couldn’t. In general he was and is the healthiest of us all but he still fit some of the GAPS labels.

We started working with a homeopath over the phone in the fall of 2009 and she helped me tremendously and also was able to figure out some good remedies for my older daughter. My younger daughter however was a different story and remedy after remedy was tried with no apparent effect. This homeopath was doing GAPS for her son and suggested it for us as well but I had already done SCD (the diet upon which GAPS is based) for a year and I knew how hard it would be so I resisted.

Then in mid November we had another appointment with little J’s GI to see if we could find a medication that would stop her reflux and not cause candida flares. That appointment was on Friday and by Monday it was clear that her new medication wasn’t working. I called to ask about what to do and got a shock. The GI was unwilling to try another medication and decided that the next course of action needed to be an upper GI scope. It was scheduled for 3 weeks in the future. The main purpose of this scope was to look for Eosinophilic esophagitis (EE). We had suspected EE from the start but had hoped to not get to this point. If she turned out to have it, the recommendation at this point would be to take her off all food and put her on an elemental formula exclusively.  (We were already on an extensive elimination diet so further eliminations did not seem like the right course). To say that this freaked me out was an understatement. The phone call came late in the day, by dinner time I had made a decision.  Little J and I had a GAPS legal meal for dinner that night. I had about 3 weeks to make a difference and I didn’t want to waste a single minute. I didn’t have the books yet but between my experience with SCD and the information that is available online, I was able to figure out how to get started.

To make things more interesting we were flying to my parents house for Thanksgiving and a week long stay about 10 days after we started GAPS. At some point in that first week on GAPS we decided that the whole family should give it at go. Maintaining multiple diets for different family members sounded way too hard and each of us had enough GAPS symptoms to justify the diet. So we all plunged into intro the week before Thanksgiving, 2009. Just in case you were contemplating starting GAPS intro, right before a major food holiday, having not read the book and while traveling, I don’t recommend it. We certainly didn’t do intro perfectly but we did our best. I speed read the books and scoured the internet each spare moment of our “vacation” (when I wasn’t cooking) and tried to hold it together for everyone.  I didn’t know at the time if this herculean effort would be enough to avoid the diagnosis of EE and all that came with that.

Our first test of how the diet was doing actually came before the scope. W had a psychologist appointment just a couple of weeks after we started the diet. We were in the thick of things arguing about broth consumption and mourning the loss of old food favorites. We couldn’t see much if any progress ourselves but W’s psychologist could. We hadn’t said a word to her about our diet changes and after about 10 minutes in the appointment she turned to us and said “What have you done?  The change in her is remarkable!”  She pointed out how her eye contact and willingness to engage had changed quite dramatically from previous sessions. We told her about the diet. She was very impressed. She compared the transformation to children with PANDAS who go on antibiotics. In fact she was so impressed that she reported at our next session that, because of what she had seen in W, her sister and niece has both started GAPS for their own issues.

Wow!  This really works! It works well enough that people not deeply invested in seeing progress from it can see the changes. There has been progress and back sliding in all of us on GAPS but the girls have never gone back to the place that they were at before GAPS.

And what about little J?  Her scope came back clean. Was it because of GAPS or because she doesn’t in fact have EE?  We will never know.  I have come across stories of children on GAPS who healed their EE so it is possible that the combo of the right elimination and the healing foods is responsible for that clean scope. It doesn’t really matter though. Over the next few months, we got to see some of her worst trigger foods, dairy and eggs, become a regular part of her diet with no pain or problems with their consumption.  We have had other breakthroughs and healing along the way.

It is good to look back at where we were 26 months ago and to see just how much has changed and how much progress we have made.  If you are considering GAPS for your family do what I didn’t do. Take some time now to write down where you are right now.  Then when you have been on GAPS for a while you can look back and see the progress and be encouraged that more is in the wings.

These two books were invaluable getting started with this protocol.  I highly recommend them to anyone considering it and have them linked from my affiliate partner. The Gut and Psychology Syndrome book explains the why of GAPS and the Gaps Guide explains how to do it, including a great guide to getting started slowly over the course of weeks or months, not hours like I did.  It’s much more sensible.

Afterthought:
I forgot to mention that my older daughter no longer sees a psychologist.  A few months into GAPS it became clear that her issues were no longer such that we couldn’t figure out how to parent her on our own.  She still has some lingering sensory issues and adhd symptoms but nothing like she was. Some who know us will probably say that she “outgrew” these things but we know better. It becomes clear whenever she eats a food too advanced for her body or during periods of “die off”. It isn’t ever as severe as it once was but when those days come we are reminded of just how far we have come and how glad we are that we don’t live there every day anymore.
Many of my blog posts contain affiliate links. Purchasing through an affiliate link allows me to keep blogging and sharing what I learn with you. It is a bit like leaving a tip for service and is very much appreciated.
 
Thank You! –PattyLA


9 Comments

  1. Patty, my little nephew has EE. He was the only colicky baby I've ever seen that was more colicky than my kids. Now he has multiple food allergies that are very severe. They put him on steroids for his EE, and now he has asthma. The poor kid, I really feel for him. Once you start the medications, it's a slippery slope down, I think. (I've read that PPI's can cause EE, and he was on them for 2 years before the EE diagnosis). I've talked to my brother and SIL a lot about GAPS. They all need it so bad, and I don't know why they're resisting. My SIL says she wants to wait until the kids are older. Not sure why. I try not to be too pushy with info, but let her know young kids heal easier. Oh well. I'm glad your family is doing so well on the diet. My family's problems were not so major, but we are seeing some good improvements these days (on GAPS since June).

  2. Erin- It is so hard to see others suffering and to think you have an answer for them but they don't want it. It seems a bit foolish to wait till the kids are older since it is never easier to change their diet than when they are little but I do understand the frustration and thinking that some other time will be easier. The people with the biggest problems on the GAPS diet are those with teenage children. It is very difficult to get a child that age to follow the diet and not cheat and since they are out of your sight so often at that age there are lots of opportunities to cheat. One thing that may be a part of the picture for your nephew is adrenal fatigue. That is a common piece in asthma and food allergies. I wrote about that some in my post about my older daughter. Part 1 of my series about all of us (I haven't written any of the others yet.)

    I realize that one thing I didn't include in the post was that we have totally stopped seeing the psychologist. We just don't need her help anymore. That actually happened pretty early on.

  3. Patty, I love reading these posts for why you started GAPS. I started to blog at the beginning of my GAPS journey, in fact I think I started prior and I did list my symptoms, and my fears and concerns, and also I listed the things we were already doing right. It was great to be able to go back through and jog my memory as to how I used to feel, and how much I had healed. Recently it occurred to me, now that I am looking at my thyroid and adrenal issues that most of the symptoms that disappeared were thyroid symptoms. I have tested positive for Hashimoto's Disease, although my antibodies are very low right now. I feel this is because of being on GAPS and going off gluten. It certainly helps me to understand why I felt better so quickly. I learned that eating gluten makes the antibodies worse and they attack and kill off the thyroid tissue. It makes sense that I felt better because the attack to my thyroid was halted. Also, about seeing others who I know need to do GAPS. I have a friend who has triplets and I saw the manifestations of autism in one of the baby's at their first birthday party. I did send an email with information about GAPS and baby probiotics which I think would have helped the little one as it was obvious to me that he had several digestive issues which of course we know to underlie autism and which can be addressed and healed with GAPS. My friend recently admitted to me that her husband's family suspects autism but she wants to wait a few more months until he turns two. I wish I had the nerve to have spoken up and said I agree with the in-laws and precious time is being wasted. I feel guilty but at the same time like Erin I don't want to be pushy. She knows I am doing GAPS, she knows it is a diet to specifically heal autism and she actually did mention to me a few months ago that she was thinking about doing GAPS. I did tell her if they did get a diagnosis of autism it could be healed completely with GAPS. I just wish I'd said the sooner you get started, the better. As Dr. Natasha says normal functioning babies are learning by leaps and bounds while the child with autism is not progressing anywhere near as quickly and will need to be pushed with special therapy to run to catch up. I'm so glad your daughter is doing better. You know when I hear these stories it makes me think of my childhood and the way I was raised. If we had been a "difficult" or "challenging" child we would have simply been beaten. I know of people today who have that belief and it just sickens me. In my own family I have a nephew diagnosed with autism and my mother knows about GAPS but she just complains about what a brat the little boy is, instead of urging my brother to start GAPS with him. I don't have much contact with my brother and have avoided him for a few years due to family dynamics so I couldn't say much myself. It's just a mess. But again, the work you have done with your family is encouraging and wonderful to hear and read about. Oh and Patty, I wanted to ask, have you been getting to sleep more? Your mention of not getting much sleep here reminded me of conversation on the list where sleep was so hard for you and I felt that being able to start sleeping more hours at night had been integral to my healing. I have been wondering if the girls were sleeping better which I know had a big impact on your sleep. Great post.

  4. Nicely written, Patty. You have gone to great lengths for yourself, the girls and your hubby to heal them.

  5. Hi Starlene,
    It is so hard to know about GAPS and want to help everyone with it. Yes I am getting better sleep and I do agree it is so restorative to get more sleep. As my children heal they sleep better and so I get to sleep better too.

  6. Thanks Dorothy.

  7. Thank you for sharing this! I tried jumping in a year ago with no book, and we lasted a couple of weeks, and in that time I had die off so bad that I had huge rashes that turned into huge bruises. My legs looked like I had fallen on the ice or down some stairs. My son, who is my whole reason for doing this, sounds so much like your older daughter, and I am not taking him to the doctor either, because I can’t see the point in labeling him if I have no intention of medicating him. We are doing GAPS this summer to get him ready for kindergarten. I decided it was time. It took two days of full GAPS, with cheats to bribe him for eating the GAPS food, and he started calming down so much. He was a colic baby while I had postpartum anxiety, and I don’t think we bonded like we should have. Now I feel like we are going through this together and making up for lost time. I’m glad I found your site. Thanks for sharing.

    • It is ok to work into GAPS slowly if you find it is still too difficult for you to do GAPS right now. Be gentle with yourself and him while you do this. It can be a rough ride with lots of ups and downs. Good for you mama to be willing to go through it with him! I’m sure it will bless your relationship.

  8. My youngest daughter has EE and she has been on the elkmination diet for 6months. I ordered the GAPSbook. I am hoping this could be our answer and that I am competent enough to follow this diet! Thank you for blogging. I can wait to read about your journey durring gaps!

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