When I first started on my health journey I saw the GAPS diet mentioned several times but at the time I was convinced that the way forward was a raw and vegan diet. It took me about a year to decide that GAPS was in fact the better way to go for me. It may have saved me a lot of time and grief to discover this sooner but healing is a long journey of learning and trying different things. I have now been on GAPS for a year and there’s been good, bad and ugly times but again, it’s been a huge experience…*
When I first started GAPS I hadn’t eaten meat in over twenty years so it was probably harder for me than most people. I was prepared for the so called ‘die-off reaction’ and I had experienced some of that when I first experimented with anti-fungals.
And sure enough, it hit me pretty hard. I lost any weight that I had (and I was underweight already) until I weighed under 8 stone and this although I was eating a lot, especially a lot of fat (go figure).
I also lost my period and suffered from extreme muscle fatigue to the point where I could barely climb up a flight of stairs. Diarrhoea also turned into constipation as I started eating animal protein. According to Dr.Campbell-McBride these are normal healing reactions. On her website she states that muscle fatigue is often a sign of mitochondrial damage:
Many GAPS people have toxins which damage their mitochondria (energy factories in the body), so their energy production drops. For a person with mitochondrial damage it takes longer than 5 months to start getting better.
Further she states that it is quite common to miss the menstrual cycle on the intro diet and that it’s a sign of die-off. She also gave an explanation for the extreme weight loss:
Regular consumption of grains and processed carbohydrates causes water retention in the body. As you stop consuming these foods, you will loose that excess water and hence loose some weight, which usually happens in the first few weeks. Without the water retention you will get to your real weight and size, which will show you the real extend of your malnutrition.
I was certainly quite shocked to see the extend of my malnutrition but not surprised given that I had starved my body of many nutrients for most of my life.
The next reaction was a skin rash that stayed for a while and then just disappeared never to return. Again, there was an explanation:
(Skin rashes) are usually due to the imbalance in the immune system, die-off and detox. Our skin is a major detoxification organ: many toxins leave the body through sweat. When these toxins go through the skin they cause damage on the way; the immune system is then tries to deal with that damage and adds inflammation. It is the inflammation that shows up as a rash, often itchy.
After that I caught a pretty bad cough that just wouldn’t go away for weeks. But again it just went away and never came back.
Lungs are one of the major detoxification organs in the human body. Chronic problems with lungs mean that lungs are detoxifying too many poisons which they have not been designed to handle. Usually these poisons come from the gut, so the gut lining needs healing.
Then my hair fell out by the handful until I had only a quarter of my original hair left. I looked pretty cancerous. The hair finally stopped falling out when I ditched shampoo altogether.
Apart from that I always had a big bloated belly and experienced a lot of mood swings, depression and hypoglycemia. Generally I wasn’t too worried about these symptoms as there was always an explanation for them and most of them resolved and never returned.
I finally started getting better after 5 months, as predicted. My cycle finally returned and stayed very regular, my energy and mood got better, my hair stopped falling out, my interstitial cystitis went away and I gained some weight. I was generally less stressed and also noticed that I had been very OCD, which also started getting better.
I kept improving for another two months or so. And then it stopped.
I finally decided to get my gut tested and it turned out I did have some overgrowth of yeasts and pathogenic bacteria.
But it wasn’t Candida as my very first research had made me believe (hello anti-Candida diet). So after speaking to my nutritionist we decided it would be a good idea to treat them with a course of natural anti-fungals. At the same time I went on a night out and had a drink.
Either of these stopped my progress. My mood was low again and I was super bloated all the time. This later turned out to be SIBO which can be triggered by alcohol but also the anti-fungals could’ve killed more of my beneficial bacteria as well, leaving me even more vulnerable.
After I removed FODMAPs from my diet and tackled the SIBO with more natural-antibiotics and a two weeks elemental diet, I started improving a bit.
The next test showed that I had removed most pathogens but that the shape of my microbiome remained pretty compromised. By this time I had already decided on receiving FMT treatment and then slowly started adding healthy starches back into my diet that weren’t allowed on the GAPS diet.
In the year on the GAPS diet I did not manage to really get past the intro stages. Everything gave me a reaction so I was scared to add new foods in. When I had to take FODMAPs out as well I was ridiculously restricted. Adding new foods in not only felt great but I also had more energy.
So what’s my verdict on the GAPS diet?
I think it works and a lot of the things that were predicted came true for me. It was tough. I do believe it will work, especially for children with gut and psychology syndrome. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it does. However, most adults seem to need more intervention.
From a microbiome perspective it seems to work well for starving pathogens and detoxing the body but in the long run it may also starve the beneficial bacteria as it removes a lot of the healthy starches that these bacteria love.
As probiotics don’t really colonize in the gut it can be hard to really restore healthy levels of the beneficial bacteria long term. It is also easy to go too low on carbs which can tax the adrenals and the thyroid. For me all of this has been the case.
On the GAPS diet I managed to get rid of pathogens, normalize my hormones to a certain degree and remove a lot of toxins from my body which resolved a lot of my symptoms. However, it did not make my digestion better or restored my microbiome, although I was having a lot of probiotics. If anything my SIBO seemed to get worse and so did my energy levels.
From what I know now, I failed to remove FODMAPs initially and overdid the probiotics (which can make SIBO worse as they overgrow in the small intestine), I was too scared to introduce new foods and instead always tried harder and removed more foods.
I missed the point where I should’ve introduced more carbs in the form of starchy tubers. I have read a lot of similar stories. But if you’re following GAPS and are seeing the first results it’s hard to believe and listen to any negative sides that this protocol might have.
Initially I didn’t do well on carbs at all but since I’ve introduced them again during my FMT treatment I certainly have more energy and my thyroid seems to work better.
Looking back I think the GAPS diet is a great protocol and I can definitely recommend it, however I think it’ll have adverse effects if followed too strictly for too long. I think it is important to feed the gut with lots of prebiotics as soon as these are better tolerated.
Children’s microbiomes are a lot more dynamic which is probably the reason why they recover well on GAPS without further intervention. And after all this protocol was designed for children suffering from autism.
At the end of the day we’re all very individual and no one diet will work for everyone or forever.
You can find more information about the GAPS diet at gaps.me
*It has now been nearly a year since I’ve come off GAPS, it just took me awhile to write this post!
Now I’d like to hear from you, have you had experiences with the GAPS diet or are you considering following it? Let me know in the comments.