I'm writing this blog post to answer a few questions:
- What is the GAPS diet?
- Why did we need the GAPS diet?
- How did it help us?
- How did I (and do I) institute the diet in our everyday lives?
GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. The science behind the diet is simple - what we eat affects us. It affects our growth and development, our neurological system, our immune system, our sense of health and well being, and even our behavior. If you don't believe it, keep reading.
The GAPS diet seeks to (1) heal our gut and (2) provide the essential nutrition to nurture a fragile system. Our gut is populated with flora, micro-bacteria, that exist in a symbiotic state with our stomach lining. These bacteria are good and actually help us to break down and digest food. However, with modern / processed foods and our predisposition to sterilize everything, our stomach flora has taken a hit. It doesn't help with digestion, and it doesn't provide the necessary environment our stomach lining needs to break down foods. Therefore, our foods are mal-absorbed. Especially gluten and casein (wheat and dairy products). The generally accepted theory now is that the gluten and casein molecules are absorbed as long peptide chains (instead of broken down amino acids), which go into the blood and then brain . . . creating a dulling effect on the brain power of our children. Don't believe it? Talk to a mom of an autistic child who has just tried a gluten / casein free diet.
GAPS foods (stage one) are actually prescribed to heal the stomach lining - in order to (1) restore the good bacteria and (2) restore the stomach's ability to properly break down food and absorb it as God intended. There are actually stories of people coming off the GAPS diet and being able to eat a broader diet without consequences. But we're not there yet!
Need more information - get the book! "Gut and Psychology Syndrome" by Natasha Campbell McBride. (www.gapsdiet.com)
Why did we need the GAPS diet?
Our oldest son, Grey, has been diagnosed with apraxia of speech, dyspraxia, and autism. Dyspraxia is a motor planning disorder - so all output is difficult for Grey. It is hard for him to learn new motor pathways and processes, and to apply previously learned ones to new experiences. This has also manifested itself as a speech delay (learning how to move the muscles of the mouth to make sounds, and make them consistently, is very difficult for him). The autism was a difficult diagnosis for us (not diagnosed until almost 4 years old). Grey does and will engage with you in social situations (good eye contact, wants to see your reaction about something) - but his peer interactions were/are abnormal. Other behaviors categorically in the autism camp were: his extreme attention / focus on one toy for long periods of time; predisposition for spinning objects; flapping of his hands when excited; difficulty with transitions; and need for a schedule.
He was behind on the developmental curve, as well, with most of his milestones being delayed. What I've come to admire about Grey, though, is that he consistently progresses on his own curve! He gets there, just on the Grey timeframe.
How did it help us?
Grey is almost 5 years old now (turning 5 on July 9, 2014), and we have seen tremendous growth in the past year or so. At 2 years old, he was not talking at all - no words. At 3 years old, he had a lot of words, but no sentences. The summer of his 4 year old, a lot happened . . . We started GAPS. He was through the horrible three's (and it was horrible!). He now had two years of preschool and speech therapy and OT under his belt. And at the end of the summer, not only did he start talking in sentences (minus correct grammar of course!) but he started initiating spontaneous communication! His tics got better, his focus improved, his transitions improved a little (we're still working on it). But from the fall of this 3 year old to the fall of his 4 year old, he was like a different kid! Spontaneous verbal communication that you could understand! Granted, the diet may have just been a piece in the puzzle that contributed to this wonderful picture, but it is working!
GAPS and us, Everyday
Ok, so I'll admit . . . I did skip the stage 1 part of the diet. Not that I didn't believe it would help - I did. I just didn't have that amount of time to devote to it. So . . . if you are reading this and trying to figure it all out - I will tell you that you can get good results without driving yourself (and entire household) crazy. And, you can always go back and do stage 1 later.
What should you eliminate?
Gluten, all wheat products. Processed foods. Sugar. Rice. Potatoes. Corn. Most milk products (with some exceptions). Oatmeal (with exception).
Ok, so there's a list in the book of what you can and can't eat. I kept the book close by and referred to it frequently during the first months. This was just off the top of my head.
What do we eat? (the nitty gritty now)
Disclaimer: my boys (3 and 4 years old) are good eaters and happen to like eating the same things all the time (knock on wood!)
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs (I will put shredded cheese on them, but raw organic cheddar cheese, like the $6-$8 block by Organic Valley from Whole Foods), homemade ketchup (I can provide the recipe upon request), a fruit (usually strawberries), and yogurt. I made my own yogurt for the first 8-9 months on the diet. Now I cheat and buy organic plain Wallaby yogurt at Whole Foods. To the yogurt, I add: 1 tsp fish oil for Grey, the powder from probiotic pill, and honey. Mix it all together, and yum!
Lately, just in the month or two, I've introduced oatmeal, which is cheating on the diet, and I've not noticed any usually negative behaviors / regressions. Will keep you posted.
Latest breakfast introduction - Gluten free banana oatmeal pancakes, or pumpkin oatmeal pancakes . . . here is the website for these recipes: http://cookieandkate.com/2013/pumpkin-oat-pancakes/
Snack: Raisins, almonds/nuts, sunflower seeds, fruit, banana chips, (raw organic) cheese
Drink: water, or juice (that I juiced myself - yes, I bought a juicer). I cheat now, though and buy the organic apple with no additives in it from Whole Foods. They also get (up to) one small cup of raw milk before bedtime. It has to be raw though . . . I can explain more upon request.
Lunch: Banana and peanut butter (or sunflower seed butter) wraps. I make 1-2 weeks worth of wraps at a time and freeze them. They are easy: eggs, almond flour, vanilla, salt and honey. I can give the recipe upon request.
Dinner: Usually two of the following sides: steamed carrots with honey, broccoli with butter and salt, spaghetti squash (with a carefully chosen organic marinara sauce), avocado mixed with applesauce, green beans (rarely), and/or sauerkraut (GAPS diet loves all things cultured)! And then a meat (one of the following): Organic chicken (sautéed in coconut oil), wild caught Alaskan salmon (I do it in toaster oven with a little spice - really easy), meatloaf (I can provide GAPS friendly meatloaf recipe), or (rarely) pork, with a homemade BBQ sauce.
Note: we have cheated a couple times with mashed potatoes, and have noted worsening behaviors - more crying / difficulty with transitions, less focus (more spacing off), more tics / flapping. Not sure if we'll be trying this again.
This is how I manage it on a day-to-day basis. And it's not say that we never cheat (I am planning ice cream and gluten-free peanut butter cookies for their birthday party at the end of the month). It's also not to say that this is an exhaustive list of what you can feed them on GAPS - it's not! As matter of fact, I've noted that many Paleo recipes are GAPs compatible.
I hope this helps at least one person! It's difficult to wade through the amount of information out there about special diets, but our family has figured out life with a special diet . . . and it's not so bad! Feel free to contact me for more information!
Eat well and Live well.