Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Our Progress with GAPS Intro...The Benefits Abound

As promised, I'm back to talk in more detail about the GAPS Intro protocol and my family's experience thus far.  This is very exciting territory and I am eager to share.  I'm going to follow the sage advice of my favorite journalism professor (boy, does that bring up memories) and try to "Keep It Simple."

If you have not already, please read my GAPS Summary.  Now, before I dive into what GAPS Intro is and how we have implemented it, I'm going to tell you all the fantastic results we have seen to date.  Lead with the "meat," right Prof?

Because I am the worst case of gut dysbiosis and overall health in our family, I'll start with my current results.  The most significant improvement has been with my headaches.  Normally, I suffer two to three migraines a week.  Since beginning the Intro protocol, I have experienced.....drum roll, please.....three headaches altogether in four weeks.  That is AMAZING for me.  And, the headaches have been less intense and of shorter duration.  TaaDaa!  I'm pleased enough with that outcome, but wait!  There's more!  

Since my last pregnancy (with toddler who is nearly two), I have suffered nearly debilitating back pain.  For the first year after her birth, I could not get out of bed without someone pulling me out.  The low-back pain was nearly constant, but most debilitating in the morning, and anytime I tried to go up/down the stairs, take a long walk, and lift a laundry basket, or my child.  I actually hobbled regularly.  Guess what?  Yup...since week two of Intro, the back pain is reduced significantly!  Estimating 85%...still get twinges once in a while, but NOTHING like it was...I can even skip down the stairs.

My chronic insomnia has not yet resolved, but has improved.  Current personal circumstances complicate my ability to sleep soundly through the night (noise of our location and my teething toddler who does not sleep through the night), but I am actually waking some mornings feeling rested, and I have not had a nightmare in three weeks.  Again, very unusual for me.  My constant tinnitus is also not resolved, but the roaring in my head has subsided...I notice an improvement.

My husband claims that my allergic responses have dampened significantly.  I am not as optimistic as he quite yet, but I can say that my allergic responses have diminished.  Normally, I cannot spend any amount of time outside without significant suffering.  But since beginning Intro, I have been outside for our daily walks and even spent a couple days outside visiting with friends, without the severe reactions that I would normally experience!  It is a notable improvement.  I did have a bit of an allergy attack yesterday, though, so I'm not out of the woods yet, LOL.

Perhaps the most significant improvement overall is my clearing brain and mood.  Brain fog, for anyone who has experienced it, can be beyond vexing and discouraging.  My brain fog has appreciably lifted and my mind feels more refreshed than it has in years.  I also find myself feeling less angry during the past weeks on Intro.  Typically, I get frustrated easily and I tend to have a short fuse for particular annoyances.  I cannot fully explain it, but somehow I just feel more calm...less tempted to ignite.  These are happy changes.

Finally, the surprise side effect that I teased in my previous post...I have lost 15 pounds!  I am back to my ideal weight, and I wasn't even trying!  I want to emphasize that the GAPS program is NOT a weight loss diet.  It is a healing protocol.  GAPS Intro certainly restricts the types of foods you eat, but not the amount.  We were consuming the same calories as before, and copious amounts of saturated animal fats...I mean A TON!  And both my husband and I have just effortlessly dropped the extra weight we've been carrying since my pregnancy (isn't he sweet to gain weight, too, just to be supportive? LOL).  It literally has melted away.  In my opinion, it's all about detoxifying.  The body stores toxins in fatty tissue.  On GAPS, we have been detoxifying rather quickly.  Ergo, body dumps toxins, body dumps excess weight.  Like taking out the trash.  And we feel great!  Body and mind feel much clearer.  I feel like I did eight years ago when I was at my optimum weight and flexibility.  Now I just need to tone up these flabby muscles, LOL, and I'll feel even better!

Now I'll share what we're seeing in the children.

The most sensitive of the three is our four-year-old.  For somewhere over a year, he has suffered night terrors, a type of seizure.  He would have an episode every night between 12 and 1 a.m.  He would scream out, talk garbley-gook, shake/tremble, and his eyes would be fluttering/rolling back.  He was not awake during these episodes...this is not a child who was awakened by a nightmare.  This was an attack of neurons misfiring in the brain.  Every night, I dreaded the time when I knew he would have the episode.  When it occurred, I would need to pick him up, take him out of the room, and gently try to wake him and then calm him so he could go back to sleep.  Some weeks before starting GAPS, I had begun to give my son doses of vitamin B6, which can be therapeutic in cases of epilepsy.  We did notice an improvement with the B6...the episodes were not as severe, nor did they last as long.  Well, after five days on GAPS Intro, the night terrors ceased.  Completely.  He hasn't had one in the past three weeks.  Perhaps of all the improvements in our family thus far, this is the biggest blessing.

My four-year-old also suffers the most significant allergies, with chronic eczema and an anaphylactic/hive reaction to tree nuts.  I am not sure if the GAPS program will be able to heal him completely of his nut allergy, but I long to see if it does.  We did have an event two weeks ago where Daddy arrived home from a business trip, during which he had eaten nuts (the poor man was trying to stick to stage 3 of Intro while traveling).  When he hugged our son, his eyes immediately began to swell up...his typical nut response.  The child is so sensitive that he even reacts to nut dust residue on clothing. I administered my treatment protocol to our son and he was fine, but it indicates that the allergy is still present.  However, his eczema is 75% better.  It is apparent that his body is healing.

Both my sons (the other is 11) routinely suffer from leg cramps.  It is something I've been working on in the past year through nutrition and herbal supplements.  Since beginning the Intro protocol, neither of them have complained of any leg cramping.  Additionally, my husband has suffered from a terrible case of nighttime restless leg syndrome for a few years.  When he takes the herbal tonic I make for him, he doesn't have an attack.  But if he would forget to take the tonic, he would pass a miserable night.  Guess what?  Right...GAPS Intro, no more restless legs.  Hubby also has shed 12 pounds and says he feels great.  

Certainly, we have not yet overcome all the ailments/dysfunctions for which we began GAPS, but these monumental improvements so far are exhilarating.  I am so thankful for the protocol.

So I presented all the upsides for our family...should we delve into the less-than-pleasant aspects of our journey with GAPS Intro?  I don't want to scare anyone away from doing the program; I'm hoping the positive outcomes I shared above will convince any seekers that the protocol is worthwhile.  But it is also difficult and I feel it necessary to be honest regarding the challenges.  Of course, the challenges will vary depending upon your current lifestyle and level of dysbiosis.

Before continuing, I want to emphasize how valuable it is to read McBride's GAPS book and Baden Lashkov's GAPS Guide, which you can purchase together at for the did we adapt to the GAPS Intro?  What difficulties did we experience?  I can tell you that die off and sugar withdrawal were quite unpleasant the first couple weeks.  Children were crying, our bowels have been sketchy, people were hungry (again, cue the crying children), we were grumpy and lethargic.  But none of that is unusual considering the incredible changes the body goes through on the protocol.  And the old adage is absolutely true here..."it must get worse before it gets better."

The Intro diet consists of six building stages.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm going to direct you to a great post written by Cara at, where she describes the Intro diet's phases.  Of course, the Intro diet is outlined in detail in the GAPS books.  Aside from the incredibly nourishing and gut-healing bone broth soups and saturated fats, the lack of sugars is designed to starve the pathogens inhabiting your gut.  And believe me, it works.  As those little buggers begin to die, you experience die off to some degree, and also likely sugar cravings.  And, if you happen to have a sugar addiction going into GAPS, you will have withdrawal.  I did...

And now it's time for True Confessions...I have long had a sweet tooth...not unusual in our culture, right?  Mine is not the candy/pure sugar variety, but the baked goods variety.  And chocolate, of course.   A genuine bakery (especially of the French or Persian variety) is an exceeding temptation for me.  But because I have long been a "health nut," dessert was never part of our routine, and baked "treats" were rare occurrences rather than the norm.  And then, we moved.

Coming close to two years ago, our family relocated.  Since the move, I have been...shall we say...less than happy and more than frustrated with the circumstances.  As a result, I found myself seeking solace in food; I became an emotional eater.  And the comfort foods I chose were, of course, baked goods...primarily cookies.  Even though they were made with "healthy" ingredients, they were carb/sugar-rich delights.  Even healthy raw honey "feeds the beast." 

Needless to say, I was not prepared for sugar withdrawal my first week of GAPS Intro.  Even though somewhere in my brain I knew I had been eating way too many baked goodies, I still thought of myself as the health/nutrition guru who knew and did all the right things.  Funny how we can deceive ourselves sometimes.  GAPS Intro Stage One was a wake-up call.  I was miserable!  I said, probably multiple times every day, "I would kill for a cookie!"  And I know that's a terrible thing to say...outrageous hyperbole...of course I would never even think of k-i-l-l-i-n-g anyone, but I was genuinely going through withdrawal.  I also made the mistake of dealing with some low blood sugar moments by eating a tiny spoonful of raw honey.  Woah...that just made the cravings all the worse!  What a crazy rollercoaster!  I actually told my husband he needed to remove the jar of honey from my kitchen before I ate the entire thing on the spot.  

After two weeks on that roller coaster, the cravings subsided.  I now crave sugar a bit, but am not chomping at the bit.  I realize that part of the cravings belonged to me (from my abuse of the sugar in the past year), and part were due to the hungry organisms I was starving in my gut.  Nevertheless, I actually had newfound clarity about and compassion for people who struggle with addictions.  I experienced what I've been teaching for years...  We need to be so careful what we get "hooked on," whether it is sugar, caffeine, or pharmaceutical or "recreational" drugs.  Addictions are never a good thing.

Despite the fact that we ate as much as we wanted of the allowed foods in stage one, including lavish amounts of saturated fats, we were all hungry.  The body goes through an adjustment when you deprive it of certain food types.  Any major change in diet will cause the body to recalibrate.  This may be uncomfortable, but it is harmless, temporary, and actually part of the crucial healing process.  After the first three of four days, we began to feel satiated again.  

And I cannot tell you how wonderful fresh, raw homemade carrot juice tastes after two weeks of no raw veggies or fruits.  I am a salad fiend.  I have missed salads desperately during Intro.  But juicing really put us all in a better place physically and emotionally.  It also contributed to the detoxification and cleansing process, which is essential to the protocol.  My husband and I chuckled a bit at how ecstatic we were to be drinking carrot felt like a lascivious treat after days on end of vegetable/meat soup.  This is the part where I want to encourage you to believe that anything worth doing takes can be hard.  We view this protocol as a short-term sacrifice to reach a long-term goal.

Besides adapting to the food regimen, each member of our family experienced different degrees and forms of die off.  Remember, die off occurs as the pathogens inhabiting your gut starve and die, and as your beneficial flora begin to take control and destroy the bad guys.  Good flora repopulation occurs as you eat naturally fermented probiotic foods (whey and sauerkraut primarily) and take a potent, viable probiotic supplement.  After experimenting on myself a bit (using the "kill them as fast as possible and get it over with" approach), I must concur with McBride's recommendations and advise you to proceed slowly and steadily with the probiotics (see book for details).  Otherwise, you could end up pretty miserable.  But each system is unique and your experience will depend upon your level of dysbiosis.  

I'll not take the time to share each of my family member's die off details, but simply say that our die off picture included lethargy, crankiness, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, exacerbated symptomatology (ie eczema flareups), highly acidic urine/stools, sleeplessness, gas/bloating, constipation, food cravings....I'm certain to forget something.  My brain fog is lifting, but not cured yet. LOL

Where are we now?  We are essentially in stage six of Intro.  Some members of the family are improving at a faster pace and seem ready to move on, others of us are not.  But we will progress one last week through the final Intro stage and then see how we do on Full GAPS.  I suspect that there may be a need to back-pedal a bit, but now that we are familiar with Intro, I am confident I can go back as needed.

I am coming to the end of my steam, and have yet to share my tips regarding detoxing, healing herbs to compliment the protocol, and recipes I created as we traveled through the stages.  So I will leave that for the next post.  But as a sneak peek, I'll mention activated charcoal; Pascalite; comfrey, nettle and peppermint; homemade sauerkraut; and butternut squash/coconut cake.  Mmmmm...