Some days just stand out in your mind. Today's one of those days. This time last year, my husband had just gone in for ACL surgery and I began the GAPS diet after months of illness in the aftermath of longterm antibiotic use for Lyme Disease. Just a quick recap, if you're new here:
Extreme bloating and discomfort after eating pretty much anything, debilitating and constant joint pain, breakouts, eczema flare ups, indigestion, hair falling out more than normal in the shower, hormonal imbalances, weakened immune system.
The GAPS diet is a healing (meaning short-term) diet that can last up to two years or so. The idea is to heal and seal the gut lining (leaky gut) with the foods allowed on the diet and the few recommended supplements (cod liver oil, fish oil, omega 3-6-9 oil and probiotics). As the health of the gut is repaired, and the gut flora and healthy bacteria is restored, ideally we should be able to sit back and watch the symptoms disappear, according to the author of the book, Dr Campbell-McBride. The diet goes in stages, starting with a list of food that is easiest to digest. In each stage you add more and more different types of foods as the stomach heals. It's quite similar to the paleo diet, but not exactly the same because it has an emphasis on probiotic foods, allows for certain types of cheese and dairy, and doesn't allow for grains, sweet potatoes and a few other starchy vegetables allowed on the paleo diet.
Here's how it's gone so far:
I noticed almost immediate relief from all stomach issues. Joint pain slightly diminished. Less hair fall-out. Skin slowly, ever so slightly clearing up.
Bonus: Extremely smooth, hard and even colored nails.
Most of the prior symptoms have pretty much cleared up except for the joint pain, which I find correlates with eating more than a few nuts, dried or fresh fruit, cacao powder, or drinking fresh fruit juices. Also a bit suspect is my skin, which for the most part is clear, but breaks out or has an eczema flare up at just the slightest stray from the diet, increase in stress or lack of sleep.
Bonus: This was the first winter in probably ten or twelve years that I didn't experience seasonal depression.
1 year on the GAPS diet
For the last few months I've focused on consuming less fresh fruit juices, and limiting my nut intake to just a few per day and my joint pain has gone down to be nonexistent on most days. My skin is about the same as it was at the 9 month mark - relatively clear, but sensitive to the slightest bit of stress, increase in stress or lack of sleep.
What's been tough is how much moving we've done since April, when we moved back to the states for the summer, drove across the country in May, only to drive back across the country in July and fly back to Europe where we lived in a hotel for two weeks before moving into our place for the year. All that travel makes it difficult to stay consistent on the diet, so while I wouldn't say I've had a setback, I also wouldn't say that I've progressed as much as I would have liked.
Overall, though, I'm trending in the right direction, and feel really good. I'm going to keep up the diet, though I have some more travel coming up over the next month which will make it challenging, but I'm going to do my best and let that be enough.
If you're interested in the GAPS diet, I recommend getting the book which explains the diet and how digestion works in detail.
A few lessons I've learned while on GAPS
The diet alone didn't help me. I've found that everything is related. I might be eating the diet perfectly, but if I don't get quality sleep, or if my stress is through the roof, my symptoms may flare up. For me, it's about learning how to integrate all the different pieces of the puzzle to feel healthy.
The diet is hard work. For the most part, everything has to be cooked and prepared ahead of time. The biggest pick-up for me was the ISO Bag we got this past summer. Often times, we'll cook up all the meats and veggies at the beginning of the week and have a few meals ready to go in the fridge. That way, if we need to leave the house for an extended period of time (remember, eating no grains means you get hungry SO fast), we can just grab a few meals and put them in the ISO Bag where they'll stay fresh for hours.
Easy snacks. There's really no such thing on the GAPS aside from a few nuts and berries. I have found that taking some time to prepare your snacks ahead of time makes it so much easier. We make our own yogurt (recipe included in my e-book when you sign up for the weekly newsletter). Store-bought yogurt is fermented for 4 hours, and our homemade yogurt is fermented for 24 hours, making it more beneficial as it's got more healthy bacteria. It's also more creamy and delicious. I honestly don't see myself ever buying store-bought again.
A little creativity goes a long way. At first, when I looked at the diet, I thought I was in for a couple years of super bland, boring meals. Then I got a bit creative. Butternut squash pancakes with blueberry sauce became a favorite. I was excited to master cauliflower tortillas, pumpkin ginger soup, and garlic lamb meatballs. If anything, the blessing in disguise with this whole ordeal is that it lead me to learn how to cook!
Support is everything. When I started the diet, my husband didn't have much of a choice in eating it because he was laid out on the couch following his surgery. For as long as I've known him, he's been interested in nutrition, and GAPS food is really delicious (think: hearty meals) so he was into it. He's been a huge help and a big part of the reason why I've stuck with it so long. He saw how much I had been struggling with my health, and picked up the GAPS book to learn more about how the diet works while he was recovering from surgery. The diet is quite similar to what this trainer he used to work with had recommended, so he was on board from the beginning. He was the one who researched how to make yogurt and fermented vegetables and made the first few batches. He made me a savory GAPS cake for my birthday, and generally has just been awesome at being supportive. I am so thankful for that because a diet that is seemingly so restrictive can feel alienating so having a partner who is down to do it with you means the world.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss things like goat cheese and the occasional glass of wine, but overall I feel really good about continuing on the diet and seeing how I improve once I have returned from traveling to the US and Costa Rica and back this fall.
Let's talk Have you ever been on a special diet for your health? What diet? How'd it go for you? How's your health now?