Sometimes, a traditional diet isn't enough to address health concerns — we need extra special care. Enter the GAPS diet, a gut-healing diet.
GAPS = Gut and Psychology Syndrome
(and even Gut and Physiology Syndrome)
Did you know that much of a person's health is tied to the health of the gut? If a person's gut is not healthy, many things happen can happen. Here are two broad but significant consequences:
- food isn't digested properly and undigested food particles may actually be in the bloodstream, causing symptoms of food allergy
- pathogens, viruses, and otherwise undesirable organisms get a stronghold in the body, releasing toxins and preventing all sorts of good stuff from happening, like hormone production, hormone regulation, or nutrient usage — one of those toxins are histamines, putting a body in allergy mode constantly
Three members of my family, including me, have some issues that our good traditional diet isn't addressing, so we began the GAPS diet on April 1, 2012. We started with the Intro GAPS diet, which is more restrictive, and moved through that pretty quickly to the Full GAPS diet.
I want to tell you all about it! (And hopefully, you want to hear it.)
So starting today, I'll be writing a series on the GAPS diet — starting with my story of why I'm on it. (I shared my story during my last webinar on seasonal allergies, so for some of you this is not new information.)
Please understand that in this post and future posts in this series, I'm not giving medical advice, but rather sharing my story.
My Story: Why I'm On GAPS
I'm on GAPS to heal my seasonal allergies.
Many times you'll hear people say, “There's so much pollen this year.” I've even said that — until I knew better. If my immune system is healthy, it shouldn't matter how much pollen is around — either I can handle it or I can't, right?
As Sarah from The Healthy Home Economist put it, “Pollen is not the problem. The truth is that seasonal allergies are much more than a nuisance. They are one of the mildest forms of autoimmune disease and a gentle warning by the body that more autoimmunity problems are on the way if the gut imbalance that is causing them is not dealt with effectively.”
My Worst Allergy Seasons
As I look back on my life's seasons of extreme allergy suffering, they seemed to be linked to times when I was not taking very good care of myself. My first really bad time was in college. I was in a low-fat, vegetarian phase and many things in my body weren't working right — losing hair, cessation of female cycles, fatigue, coming down with mono… and my allergies were really bad then. The worst they'd ever been in my life.
I loved going for daily walks, but it was especially painful in the spring. I was in college in Salem, Oregon at Willamette University. Have you been to Oregon in the spring? Oregon boasts countless fruit trees in blossom, and it grows tons and tons (and tons) of grass seed. Pollen is everywhere! When I would walk I would literally sneeze every step, non-stop. My ears would itch, my eyes were puffy and my nose ran… I was a mess.
I took prescription allergy medication. I couldn't function otherwise, indoors or out. The walks obviously made it worse, but even indoors I would have to take my medicine within moments of waking, otherwise the day would be shot.
That was when I was in my late teens and early twenties. This cycle continued throughout all my adult life.
The next bad time I remember was when I was married, had birthed my three children, and we were vegans. The allergies that year were so bad. It was the year we planted our first garden. The kids were little so they were tottering around outside as my husband and I worked. Well, he worked and I just sneezed. Over and over and over.
Of course he felt badly for me, but I know how annoying it was for him to work with someone who had to take breaks to blow her nose every thirty seconds. He would tell me to go inside! (And of course, all those seasons where I was constantly blowing my nose and stressing my skin brought on vicious attacks of cold sores…) I was really a mess!
I started back on allergy drugs then and kept them up seasonally for a number of years. I couldn't function otherwise. It's not an excuse — it's the truth. Even though the medication made me feel bad in other ways — being so dry in my sinus passages that they would bleed or itch, and feeling mentally foggy — the alternative was worse.
Then We Found Nutrient-Dense Traditional Foods
Then about four years ago, we found traditional foods — the proper preparation of grains, the inclusion of good fats, pastured meats, fermented foods. Here's that story. I know that marvelous things happened in our bodies because among other things, my seasonal allergies eased, along with my son's egg allergy and my daughter's gluten sensitivity. I've gone through several allergy seasons without needing medication.
But the past two years (2010 and 2011) have been busier and more stressful. I took on more farm chores, kept up with homeschooling, and also launched and kept running our online classes and menu plans. Though joyful experiences (for the most part 😉 ), my workload and stress level increased.
A Turn for the Worse
I think the extra challenges of the last two years have everything to do with how my allergies came back in the summer of 2011 and lasted until recently. Whether indoors or outdoors, and even during times of the year when I would not usually have allergies, I was congested most of the time. Last winter I had a chronic cough from the constant sinus congestion and drainage.
But today I'm writing this post being virtually allergy-free and cough-free. How is that possible? For me, remember — this is my story. 😉
A Gut-Healing Diet
I'm following a diet that more intensely focuses on gut health and healing, the GAPS diet. In a nutshell, this is what I'm doing:
- Focusing on eating these nutrient-dense traditional foods — good fats, naturally raised meats, limited sweets, raw fermented dairy, enzyme-rich foods, fermented foods, healing broths, non-starchy vegetables.
- (To pull one thing out of the foods just mentioned) Consuming fermented foods — beneficial organisms to populate my gut to keep my immune system strong.
- Restricting foods with sugars that feed undesirable organisms in my gut — so those bad guys will die and therefore cease producing toxins such as histamines.
- Improving my lifestyle — less stress, more sleep, adding exercise (I'm T-Tapping), and less work.
My experience has been that even the simple step of reducing sugars from grains, starchy vegetables, and sweets made a very quick and miraculous improvement in my seasonal allergies. Within three to four days of beginning GAPS, I no longer suffered from them.
The same is true for my son. He is on the GAPS diet with me and doing much, much better with allergies. (My husband is also on GAPS but for other issues beside seasonal allergies.)
What I hope for the future is that I will be able to reintroduce traditionally prepared grains (sprouted or fermented) without recurrence of allergy symptoms, but I think I have some gut-healing ahead of me first. The last two years have been stressful, and I believe my gut health has suffered because of it.
The GAPS diet is not mean to be permanent, and each person's experience is different. Time will tell for me. So far, I'm very, very, very happy. Hey, I'm breathing clear and I'm not coughing. That's huge.
What's Coming Up…
In future posts of this GAPS series, I will share more about the GAPS diet, resources, strategies, results, experiences, and recipes. I am also looking for stories to share; please contact me if you'd be willing to write for this series.
If you're interested in learning more now, of course turn to the GAPS book, authored and developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. It is essential and mind-blowing.
Finally, visit my friend Starlene's blog GAPS Diet Journey — she offers recipes on her blog, and a wonderful PDF download for newsletter subscribers.
You can see all articles in the series here (check back as more will be added).
Are you interested in GAPS? Do you have lingering health issues that a traditional diet doesn't seem to help? What would you like to learn in this series? What are your favorite GAPS resources — books or blogs? Please share in the comments.
This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursday.
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