Can You Cheat on GAPS?

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Can you cheat on GAPS? If you do, what can you do to prevent a flare-up of your pre-GAPS symptoms? Katy’s back to give us some good news. There is room for cheating on GAPS — though probably not too much if we really want to heal. I confess to a  few cheats here and there recently, and my body’s letting me know it isn’t happy with a slight recurrence of seasonal allergies. What about you? –Wardee

So, you’ve started the GAPS diet, or are considering it. But it all sounds so rigid, and militant, and impossible!! How will you manage to eat the exact right things all the time? How will you pacify your sensitive mother-in-law when you spend Thanksgiving at her table? How will you possibly make it without eating a single bite of chocolate for the entire length of the diet?

Well, I’m here assure you that often times there is room for a little bit of cheating while on the GAPS diet. The keys being: 1) don’t cheat while on the intro diet, 2) after intro, don’t cheat often, and 3) pay close attention to your body’s signals and your own weaknesses (which will be different from the next person’s).

So, one-by-one, here are those keys, followed by a list of my own personal cheats.

1. Do NOT cheat while on the intro diet!

I am a huge fan of the intro diet, and think it is most effective when followed to the letter. This is a true chance for your body to detox years and layers of candida and all sorts of other bad gut pathogens. Your body cannot do this effectively if you cheat — in addition, you can’t pay attention to your body’s true reactions if you are also feeding it illegal sweeteners and starches (yes, even TINY bites make a difference!) Rather than cheating during this phase, I recommend researching some of the legal ways to get a “fix” when you need it — such as a sweet-tooth cure of a simple mix of pure raw coconut oil and honey, which tastes like candy.

2. Do not make a habit of cheating.

Even after months on the GAPS diet, your body is still healing. You might be able to tolerate a very small amount of illegal foods — but keep in mind that it’s not what’s best for healing your body. So while feeling immense guilt over that one bite of homemade (lactose-laden) ice cream isn’t necessary, you can’t expect to eat lactose every night and still heal at an effective rate.

Pay attention to your body, and your personal level of tolerances.?I was very fortunate to have what I referred to as my “flux capacitor:” a spot of eczema on my leg that flared up every time I ate a problem food. During the first few months on the full GAPS diet, it would flare if I took so much as a bite of an illegal food. Now, after almost a year on the diet, I have healed to a point where the eczema almost never flares. I can tolerate small cheats here and there with no reaction — but again, I keep in mind that while my leg doesn’t itch, it’s still not ideal for my gut.

3. If you really cheat, take extra detox measures.

Early in my diet, I was at my mother-in-law’s house for lunch, on the road, and she’d made homemade soup for us. A true labor of love — and I literally had nothing else to eat. So I ate minestrone, loaded with pasta. That night when we got home I took a long detox bath, juiced first thing the next morning, and drank extra broth during the next 24 hours. My eczema still flared, but I avoided any worse symptoms.

Easily Tolerated Cheats

So, what are easily-tolerated cheats? It differs for everyone, but this is a common list for people with whom I’ve spoken.

  • commercial canned coconut and/or almond milk (as few additives as possible, no illegal sweeteners)
  • store-bought bacon (usually contains sweeteners, try to get nitrate-free w/ no artificial flavors)
  • the occasional meat that has additives (Mom’s Butterball turkey, perhaps?)
  • very small amounts of maple syrup or maple sugar
  • an occasional serving of rice or other gluten-free grain
  • corn (homemade popcorn, organic corn tortillas or chips, fresh corn)
  • home fries, or other potatoes (including sweet potatoes)
  • coffee (limited amounts — it can be hard on the stomach)
  • organic store-bought dark (78%) chocolate (I do a single square about 3x a week)
  • soft cheeses and other non-cultured dairy, like heavy cream

If you’re on the GAPS diet, have you found any foods to be tolerated if eaten in small amounts? Or have any on the above list given you trouble? If you’ve done any “big” cheating, how did you detox to avoid a full-body revolt?

New to our GAPS series? Get up to speed by browsing past posts in this series or reading what the GAPS diet is.

This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. Thank you for supporting Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS with your purchases. Our family thanks you!


  1. says

    This is a comforting post! I haven’t started GAPS yet but have planned on it. I’m seeing my Paleo-minded doctor today for the first time to get hormonal test results. She will probably want me to start Paleo for a month but I want to do a GAPS into to kick it off, maybe with some freshly squeezed veggie juice to keep my sanity. I don’t have intentions of cheating, but when I do GAPS I will probably modify right away to my individual tolerance after several weeks of intros and avoiding the most likely suspects. I think it’s important to customize your diet for your own needs and tolerance levels. You may be needlessly missing out on things you like that pose little threat to your healing and overall health. Thanks for this post, I enjoy the discussion of customization and what to do when we go off track for whatever reason. :)

    • says

      j3nn — I agree! Recently, at my naturopath’s office, my thyroid tested low for the first time ever. My doc thinks it’s being thrown off by the complete lack of grain (even though she’s a huge fan of the GAPS diet) — so I’m actually “prescribed” to eat a single piece of sprouted grain bread every day. It *must* be sprouted — if I eat regular wheat, my eczema flares.

      Our bodies are certainly completely unique, and our needs will vary. To me, that’s one of the biggest challenges of the diet, even above and beyond all the cooking ; )

      • Jennifer says

        Hi Katy,
        I am intrigued by your comment about low thyroid due to not eating grains/starches. My son has some allergies and other issues I am trying to heal with GAPS. We have been on it for 5 months now. I have put the whole family on it, so he doesn’t have to see others eating what he cannot. (Son is 4, daughter is 1.5). I am wondering if there is any harm in keeping myself and my daughter and husband on the GAPS diet though we don’t seem to really need it. This is the first time I have come across the “need” for starch. One question: did your Dr. recommend any starch to fix the issue (I prefer plantain, potato, sweet potato, rice to grains in general) or was there a reason to eat a sprouted grain? Any insight you might have would be helpful. My son seems to have improved, but not sure how long I need to keep this up, and for which members of the family it is best.
        Thanks so much!

  2. says

    You made some great points, Katy, about how to cheat on GAPS! I agree that it is especially important to not have any cheats during intro. I also think it’s important early in the diet to be as strict as you can.

    I get a tell-tale swatch of eczema on my arms if I have anything that my body isn’t ready for. Doesn’t it make it easy to identify?!

  3. says

    We occasionally have organic, non GMO corn tortillas, dark chocolate, and I have a cup of coffee every day. I have 2 kids under 2… I need the coffee… and the occasional glass of wine, but that is organic too 😉

    • says

      Amanda, I also drink 1 cup of coffee a day, which I tolerate well. Went totally off for intro, and even stayed caffeine-free for almost 6 months (a small miracle for me). Now I’m happily back on my one cup — my husband roasts all of our coffee, it was just too good to stay away ; )

  4. Mrs. Mom of 6 says

    My daughter (4) has been on GAPS for almost a full year. She started with a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder, screaming fits, “crashing”, toe walking, slow verbal expression (not delayed exactly… but almost), low weight gain, unable to wash her hair or give her a bath, etc…. We backed into the diet, Full GAPS then Intro, and she didn’t cheat for at least 6 months. After that her behavior was SO DRAMATICALLY IMPROVED, that we began allowing her to go out to eat with her Grammy. Grammy knew the diet well, so she chose foods that appeared to comply… vegetables, meats, no grains, no sweeteners… etc. She did fine.

    Here is what we have noticed: she cannot tolerate even a tiny bit of wheat! That brings back nasty behavior within 24 hours, and it lasts at least 24 hours. (She once had a bite of a chicken tender, breaded and fried…it was an accident)… boy! that was nutty.
    She couldn’t tolerate even a tiny bit of food dye. So on rare occasions she was given candy with actual cane sugar, but if it had food dye, look out! If it had no food dye or preservatives, like Hagen Daaz Ice Cream, she was fine.
    Until the 8th month on the diet she could not tolerate any preservatives in meat. In the 8th month I accidentally gave her ham (hey, I have 5 kids and I just slipped up at a breakfast buffet). She handled it just fine.

    When she had been on the diet for 10 months she was bit by a dog, and it required a HEFTY 10 day dose of antibiotics. I consider this my “how far have we come” measurement…. While this wreaked havoc on her attitude and self control, she actually would no longer qualify for SPD, even in her worst moments, I’d say her behavior has been more like ADHD (and a fairly moderate or mild form). At the time of the anti-biotics, we also had a break out of scabies (which I used natural essential oils to overcome, and 2xs a day baths for two weeks), she also had to cheat with the foods I could give her because we were moving across several states, so lots and lots of compromise foods.

    Acceptable Cheats in moderation:
    milk, even store milk
    store yogurt
    ice cream with no preservatives
    sugar in moderation (without dyes or preservatives)
    potatoes/french fries
    store bought Peanut Butter with real sugar (not HFCS) and a good oil like Palm
    properly prepared black beans

    UNacceptable cheats:
    wheat or grain of any kind
    improperly prepared beans of any variety

    I’m sure there are others… when she does get something that she shouldn’t, and it starts a reaction… detox baths and broth and restricting sweets (honey etc) seems to get her back on track faster… I usually increase her probiotic and FCLO and HVBO too at those times.

      • says

        also — it’s so amazing the change you’ve seen in your daughter. I’ve heard of several cases of SPD that were dramatically improved by GAPS!

        • Mrs. Mom of 6 says

          It’s been absolutely incredible. I thank God everyday for showing me this diet and giving me back my REAL daughter… the one that was hiding inside those first three years. She used to be anxious all the time, almost never smiling, worried looking… Now she is HAPPY. She smiles everyday! She’s still my most emotional child, and can easily be discouraged or get irritable, but she’s almost NEVER anxious anymore!

          Even though she was bit by a dog, she hasn’t gone completely nuts about dogs. She avoids them, she declares that she doesn’t like them. But she doesn’t climb my leg in terror (she used to do that even BEFORE she was bit by one!!) She used to be terrified by the sounds of trucks driving down the road, or the sight of a dog.

          I couldn’t be more happy with the results of this diet. I recommend the diet to EVERYONE I know. I recommend it to people on the street when I find out their kid has autism spectrum issues.

          God has been gracious to our family.

  5. says

    I’m into my 7th month on GAPS. Didn’t cheat on intro and was strict for six whole weeks when Easter came around and I made GAPS chocolate. I’ve also had plantain chips which I’ve heard are okay but more advanced like cocoa. I made homemade honey sweetened ice cream a few times this summer. Other than those foods, I’ve barely cheated because I want to feel good and heal. I love GAPS food, so it’s not hard–just a lot of work in the kitchen. My worst cheat has been sourdough bread but I didn’t react badly. I reacted far worse when I had ice cream at a restaurant. I avoid all sweeteners except honey.

    • says

      Lisa, I do think that if we cheat, doing so with properly-prepared grain is a huge help (your sourdough, or in my case sprouted grain bread). I love a recipe I found recently for GAPS chocolate, that uses cacao butter instead of coconut butter — it’s been keeping me away from my dark chocolate bars!

  6. says

    This is great :-) We cheated at the State Fair after being on for seven months. I’m not even going to admit to my ridiculousness by telling you what we cheated with, but I will suffice it to say that I am going to be restarting a brief intro with my three year old this weekend to make up for it. It amazes me that a small amount of starchy illegal food can cause: eczema recurrence, ornery/crabby behavior, refusal to eat good nourishing foods, runny nose. Kicking myself. Big.

    • says

      Heather, I can see why you chose the State Fair to be your “cheat” — I went with a couple of friends, and ate a single bite of a funnel cake that felt life-altering, it was so good.

      Hate that your little one has had a hard time getting back on track — but what a blessing that her body is healing. I hope the short trip back on intro helps her get back into the swing of things!

  7. says

    My body is way to sensitive to cheat any…or perhaps it’s my mind doing it? If I only have 1 teaspoon of an item not allow, my body let’s me know it’s not happy. But I’m sticking to it because I feel better and I know it’s working (as long as I follow the rules). So don’t give up.

    • says

      Shonda, I think that if your “mind” is making your body feel sensitive, then your body is sensitive! It’s great that you know your body so well, and its current limits. It is much easier to not cheat when your body tells you immediately that it’s not happy — and also when you know your body is healing.

  8. Deborah says

    I actually wish I had one of those telltale patches of skin problem! I have so many autoimmune disorders that can flare up at any time, from both emotional and physical causes. I never know if I’m in pain from a digestive problem or a disease problem.

    When I first got off GAPS Intro, I had instant stomach cramping and belching if I ate anything wrong. That was several months ago, and now the only thing that shows instant effects is eggs from soy/corn fed chickens. Pastured eggs are fine, but one egg from a commercial chicken is baaaaaad!

    • says

      Deborah, where do you get your eggs that are not from soy/corn fed chickens? That has been hard for me to come by. I am so happy the GAPS Diet is helping you too!

  9. ~Kate F. says

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been “non-officially” eating grain free and dabbling with GAPS like food. It has reduced my fibromyalgia pain by about 70%! I notice that if I eat ANY gluten all of my pain comes back. I’ve been cheating a bit lately – hummus, tortilla chips, rice bread- but I feel so much better when I don’t. It just goes to show that I do much better with my shopping when my kids stay home. 😉

    I’m also quite excited to see a real food blogger from Indy! I *just* moved away from there. I’m still bummed as I was getting ready to enter nursing school at IUPUI. Life takes its turns I guess. Enjoy it for me, okay? 😉 I’m seriously missing the convenience of Georgetown Market (best deals on real salt & cashews – gotta get the ones hidden toward the bottom), Trader’s Point Creamery treats, and “my” Trader Joe’s!!

    • says

      Kate — how fun that you were in Indy! Life does take its turns — that’s how we ended up here ; ) But we really love it.

      Funny thing — I’ve corresponded much on twitter w/ Georgetown Mkt, but have yet to walk through the doors. It’s just the location — I’m rarely on that side of town, but need to make a special trip! I assume “your” TJ’s was west-side? I can most frequently be found in the Castleton store.

      Also — my pain comes back w/ gluten too. I’ve eaten sprouted grain Ezekiel bread (1 piece) w/ no problem — but any other glutenous food, my hips start hurting again. Really hoping I can heal past that, but we’ll see.

  10. Stephanie says

    I’m glad to see others cheat as well… I have been doing GAPS for several months while pregnant to prevent gestational diabetes (which I had during my last pregnancy). I don’t actually have any food intolerances or allergies of any kind, so there are areas I’m extra strict and areas I’m extra lenient. I don’t eat any beans, even the approved kind, and I rarely eat fruit, but I haven’t given up drinking raw milk daily and even occaisionally having homemade ice cream (made with raw cream and sweetened with honey). I haven’t done intro, but plan on it after I deliver and breastfeeding is well established.

  11. says

    Coffee isn’t a cheat though; she says on Full GAPS as long as it’s brewed, not instant, it’s OK. Course that means getting through Intro without caffeine, and frankly, that worries me a lot more than limited foods. Caffeine withdrawal sucks.

    I have randomly decided that when I get to coconut milk, I’m buying a non-BPA canned variety as I just don’t see making it homemade. It’s technically a cheat, but I’ve decided it will be legal for me. Similarly, I think “uncured” bacon will be legal (just meat and celery juice as ingredients).

    • says

      True! She does say that brewed coffee is legal — I think the part I feel like I cheat on is that I drink *strong* coffee — and I remember the GAPS book (my version) saying that “weak” coffee was legal.

      When I did the intro diet, I actually weaned off coffee the week before I started, because I knew it would be bad. It took less time than I thought — about 3 days — to lose the headache. I eased off by drinking green tea, and in lesser amounts, each day for a week.

      I have loved the coconut cream from Wilderness Family Naturals, and have been buying it by the case. It has a tiny amount of a stabilizer (not guar gum, something else I can’t remember) but comes in tetra-packs. You can thin it with water to make more of a coconut milk consistency. Unfortunately they’re currently out of stock, and the CSR said it will be months before they get more in, as they have to find a new supplier : (

  12. says

    I have been on GAPS for about 7 months. Within that time I was practically to the letter but in the last month I have had a few “cheats”. Not terrible ones but for me, they were scary to try. I first make my own GAPS chocolate so I could make Wardeh’s GAPS friendly muffins with the add ons of “chocolate chips”. Here’s that post: And the other thing I have done was eat some non-organic fruit here and there because I know that the providers are low pesticide but I still think I wasn’t doing that great when eating it. I have found that the main temptation for me on the GAPS diet has been to eat too many baked goods (almond flour) because it helps me have more “convenience” foods when I travel and I can grab something easier on the road. Thanks for a great post!

  13. Micah says

    I was in Guatemala a couple weeks ago on a mission trip, and since I couldn’t load my suitcases with frozen chicken, almond flour, veggies, and yogurt, (imagine what they’d say at customs) I ended up eating several “illegal” foods. These included queso fresco, rice, plantain, refried beans, and corn tortillas. (plus numerous additive I was oblivious too) I had some minor symptoms that week, but nothing major like I’m used to. Of course, we attribute this to more than “careful eating”, and I am currently doggy paddling through the entro diet to detox.

  14. Jean says

    Hi, I’m just starting to eliminate gluten and waiting for my gaps book to arrive .
    Can I eat uncured ham and bacon? Also what about unhomoginized grass fed cows milk?
    Are there any flours that make a lighter textured bread for sandwiches? I don’t mind the breads made with almond flour but I would like to get my husband and kids on no grains as well and they want a more “normal” textured bread.

  15. Jade says

    I cheated two weekends in a row, and I only did out of being SO hungry and really, not trying hard enough. I am a month into the full intro diet (I have eczema) and BOTH of the cheats included BREAD. I have always believed wheat is a HUGE trigger for my eczema, and as soon as I ate this bread, within HOURS I was itchy and getting flare ups.

    Other than that, my eczema stays at bay.

    I drink 2 – 3 cups of coffee each day (I know, I know) but I don’t find this has any negative affects on my condition.

    I also use raw cacao powder. I am a HUGE chocolate fan and I just can’t say no to it. I have not noticed any negative affects with this in my diet either.

    I think we are all different, and some things will work better for some than others. It is about listening to our bodies, making sure we track any major changes in the diet to see if a reaction has come from that particular food…

  16. April says

    I’m a week into the intro, BUT we are taking our three oldest to Disneyland this Friday for their birthday present. I will be on day 13 (we fly in the night of day 12). WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO EAT? I figure the best I can do is eat grilled meat and steamed veggies. Scrambled eggs and avocados will also be tolerated by then, but I doubt the restaurants use ghee to cook their eggs. The TSA isn’t going to let me through security with a bunch of broth. I can pick up some naturally fermented sauerkraut at a health food store. I know juicing is allowed at the next stage, but I’ve heard their is a juicing bar at Disneyland. Would that be a good idea? Juicing isn’t new to me, and I mean green juicing, not sweet juicing. Should I plan on detox baths every night? Will I have to start over at stage 1? Just go back to stage 2? I can’t cancel my trip.

    Also, Thanksgiving is THE MEAL of the year in my family. I can make the dressing and things with naturally leavened bread to make it better. I can have my creamed cauliflower instead of potatoes, I can steam some veggies, but oh the gravy! And rolls! And jello salad! Is a cheat a meal? Or a bite? Other than these two incidents, I have no problems staying true blue.

    • Mrs.Momof6 says

      Disney- I would encourage you to hit a grocery store when you get to the Disney area. Prep up some simple foods using the hotel’s microwave (or if you were lucky enough to get a mini kitchen use the stove). Buy steam-able vegetables with nothing added, cook up some carrots, and other veggies that you like. Buy some hamburger and cook that up with sea salt. Pack yourself snacks and lunches. Hit the juicing bar if you like, just go easy, that can really stir up digestive distress if your body isn’t ready. Don’t forget to eat the probiotics, but a pill form might be less difficult. If you can keep up the detox baths, at least with epsom salts, your body will process your cheating better.

      Thanksgiving- Cheating on GAPS really depends on why you are on GAPS and how much healing you need to do. Even one LICK of food dye set my daughter back a week! She was on GAPS to cure Sensory Processing Disorder (which it did wonderfully well!) If you are on GAPS for IBS, or food allergies, instead of a mental disorder, you may find that a little cheating on Thanksgiving is worth it. The more you cheat, the longer the set back, and the longer the diet takes to complete it’s healing. Only you can decide how much is too much.

      I have a second child going through GAPS now, because he has some kind of food allergy that we can’t identify, plus some sensory issues…For one reason or another I cannot keep this kid from cheating. (For example, this morning he snuck out of his room *he’s 2*, found a stash of bubble gum, unwrapped two or three pieces and ATE them, before I knew he was up!! Still waiting to see how this affects him. I expect more meltdowns, possibly upset tummy, and possibly an outbreak of eczema.) What I thought was going to take only 6 months on this diet, is starting to look like it will take a year, due to all the setbacks he constantly endures. Just when he is 4 weeks off of dairy, someone leaves a piece of cheese lying around and he nibbles it, and I have to start the counting over again. (Takes 6 weeks for the milk protein to leave your system… so if that is what is causing his eczema….)

      Have a great trip!! Don’t forget to pack some organic fruit for snacking in the park in case your body burns through all the energy and you go keto!!

  17. Liz says

    Hi, I’m about to embark on the gaps journey for our family. We already eat Paleo so it really isn’t that much more restrictive, but I don’t think my body will fully heal unless we do gaps. My question is can I still heal if I just go straight to the full gaps diet? We’ve been on a journey to health for probably 3 years now and I’ve gone through many detox symptoms already so I feel like I might have gotten the worst behind me and hoping that I can just go straight into the full gaps for all of us. My 2 and 3 year old eat wonderfully healthy diets but even I would find it a challenge to get them to do the introductory diet!! 😛

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