When the GAPS Diet doesn't work

When the GAPS Diet doesn’t work 

The GAPS Diet has been touted as the magic cure-all for *everything* among the natural healing community. It is a complete whole food diet with an emphasis on foods that heal, seal & repopulate the intestinal tract & therefore allowing the body to be adequately nourished. So what might be going on when the GAPS Diet doesn’t work?

Folks have credited GAPS for resolving everything from acne to autism, autoimmunity to arthritis, migraines to Lyme disease. 

You can also find stories from people for whom it didn’t “work.” They had a horrible experience, and it didn’t resolve anything. 

Did the GAPS diet fail? Did they fail? 

Before we pass any judgments on everyone’s unique healing journey that is so uniquely bio-individual, let’s discuss a few different possibilities. 

As a GAPS Practitioner for almost a decade, I find three main reasons the GAPS Diet doesn’t resolve issues people were hoping it would.

REASON #1:

Making one or more of these Top 5 GAPS Diet Mistakes

  1. Not preparing for low blood sugar on Intro.
  2. Not eating enough meat stock for healing.
  3. Leaving out the GAPS Detox piece. 
  4. Not eating enough food. 
  5. Not starting with the right part of GAPS.

You can download further details about each of these top 5 mistakes here – Top 5 GAPS Diet Mistakes.

Beyond making the most common mistakes that folks do when they start GAPS, we’re going to jump off #5 on the list and expand on it. 

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, and the GAPS Practitioners she has trained, have continued to revise, fine-tune and tweak the protocol as they work with clients, and there are now more versions of GAPS for different health needs. 

REASON #2: 

Starting with the incorrect version of GAPS.

In the following section, we’ll go into each version of GAPS, who it’s good for, the basic components & any special considerations or cautions so that you have a good idea of where to start if you’re interested in the GAPS Protocol. 

What Version of the GAPS Diet should I start with?

First, I would like to say a word about Bio-individuality. Even with all of these variations of the GAPS Protocol, there will still be a unique way your body interacts with food. 

There will be your microbial makeup, your traumas, food fears, and your particular constellation of immune responses (see Reason #3 below) to work with. 

Secondly, this article is only about the dietary piece of GAPS. You’ll want to pick the version right for you and then incorporate supportive supplementation as needed, detoxification, and helpful lifestyle adjuncts such as:

  • Breathwork and/or meditation
  • EFT (or “tapping” technique to release stored traumas)
  • Cold therapy
  • Time out in the sunshine & on bare ground
  • Letting go of toxic relationships, belief systems, patterns, or jobs

Below I’m going to describe 9 different versions of GAPS briefly

  1. Full GAPS
  2. The 6-Stage Introduction Diet GAPS
  3. No-Plant/Carnivore GAPS
  4. My Modified No-Plant GAPS
  5. More-Plant GAPS
  6. Liquid GAPS Fasting
  7. Ketogenic GAPS
  8. Transition GAPS
  9. Baby GAPS

FULL GAPS

Good for:

  • Busy, traveling people.
  • Chronically constipated people.
  • Very ill or weak chronically sick people are not strong enough to go through the detoxification initiated by the 6-Stage Introduction diet.
  • Most people who haven’t done a healing diet recently. Full GAPS is a starting point for many people from other eating methods. Full GAPS is much gentler than the 6-Stage Intro GAPS and can be a way to ease more gently into it without harsh detoxing & herxheimer reactions. 
  • Pregnant or nursing women (who should not start on Intro).

Special considerations:

Basic components:

  • See this post for a complete list of GAPS foods.
  • Full GAPS is the most flexible & expansive version of GAPS. 
  • Much healing can take place on Full GAPS + meat stock alone, and some don’t need to do anything else. 

6-STAGE GAPS INTRO

Good for:

  • Severe digestive issues: Crohn’s, diverticulitis, chronic diarrhea, acute/chronic enterocolitis, esophagitis, blood/mucous in the stool, ulcerative colitis & acute/chronic gastritis.
  • Stomach bugs.
  • GERD & reflux.
  • Abdominal pain & cramping.
  • Autism.
  • ADD/ADHD.
  • Food sensitivities, allergies & “leaky gut.”

Special considerations:

Basic components:

  • Please see my Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5 & Stage 6 articles for food lists. 
  • Eventually, many people do the 6-Stage Introduction version of GAPS. It is the most healing part of GAPS and is used to go deeper when Full GAPS is not enough. 
  • Food starts very basic in Stage 1 to remove all difficult foods to digest while healing/sealing the intestinal tract. Each stage adds in more foods. 
  • Many people find they benefit by returning to Intro more than once. 
  • The length of time on the Intro Stages is very individual. Those who are chronically ill or autistic may benefit from staying on Stage 2 for many months (up to a year). Others sail through all six stages in less than a month. 

NO-PLANT GAPS 

Good for:

  • FPIES
  • Children w/ ulcerative colitis
  • Adults w/ mental illness
  • Severe rheumatoid arthritis
  • Anyone who has tried Intro/Full GAPS & is still struggling w/ digestive or other chronic issues

Special considerations:

  • In some ways, this version of GAPS can be even more challenging than Full or Intro GAPS!
  • Yes, animal foods can provide all the nutrients needed to thrive. Children have thrived on No-Plant for 3+ years. 

Basic components:

  • Meat stock, including the naturally present fats and bone marrow. 5 cups a day for adults.
  • All kinds of meat, poultry, and seafood, in soup or gently cooked for easiest digestion.
  • Organ meats, which are critical for nutrient density. It is also okay to supplement organs.
  • Eggs: raw yolks added to stock or soup first, and then whole eggs cooked softly.
  • Salt: use natural forms to taste. When you reduce carbohydrates, the body excretes sodium, so it can be helpful to include electrolytes.  
  • 24-hr homemade dairy kefirsour cream, or yogurt. Start with no more than 1 teaspoon a day, checking for die-off reactions. 

MODIFIED NO-PLANT GAPS

This modified diet is my version of No-Plant.

Good for:

  • SIBO/IBS.

Special considerations:

  • This GAPS version is typically only needed short-term (two weeks).
  • Beet kvass is an important plant ferment for SIBO.
  • Those who want more variety can include plant fats & herbal teas & up to 1 Tbls of raw honey/day.

Basic components:

  • All the same elements of No-Plant GAPS (above). 
  • Beet kvass (especially helpful for SIBO, liver/gallbladder & fat digestion support). Start w/ just 1 tsp with meals and increase until you have at least 1/4 cup with meals. 
  • Electrolytes: I recommend Ancestral Supplements Minerals.
  • Raw honey: up to 1 tablespoon/day.
  • Herbal teas: preferably loose leaf. 
  • Olive oil & avocado oil. (Allows for homemade mayo!)

MORE-PLANT GAPS

Good for: 

  • Pregnant women who need to be on GAPS but need more carbohydrates.
  • Seasonal shifts in your body (there are times of the year when it can make sense to eat more fresh vegetables in season, for example, and to cleanse w/ herbs, green juices, etc.). 
  • Carb-type metabolizers.
  • Constipation. More vegetables on the 6-Stage Intro diet can help w/ constipation.

Special considerations:

  • While your gut is healing, focus on cooked vegetables first, then introduce simple vegetable juices w/ lemon.
  • Watch for bloating, cramping & abnormal stool. If these happen, reduce plant foods.
  • You can introduce soft, raw vegetables (like butter lettuces & peeled/seeded cucumbers) when tolerated.  

Basic components:

  • Include more GAPS vegetables. You can apply this version of GAPS for either Full GAPS or the 6-Stage Introduction diet. 

GAPS LIQUID FAST

Good for:

  • Acute ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s not improving on the 6-Stage Introduction diet or No-Plant GAPS.
  • When your digestive system needs a rest
  • Low appetite (your body is probably sending you a signal to take a break from food). 
  • When your body has accumulated too many toxins & digestive energy needs to be used to detoxify. 
  • People who are overweight
  • Periodic, seasonal fasting

Special considerations:

  • Not for pregnant or nursing women.
  • Fast for the timeframe that seems comfortable to you and during a time when you can rest & do enemas. (As short as 1 day, but no longer than 42 days)
  • It is recommended to do enemas every other day during GAPS liquid fasting. 
  • All beverages should be warm, hot, or room temperature (not cold). 

Basic components:

  • You can’t drink too much on GAPS liquid fasting. Get your next drink ready when finishing the last 🙂
  • Spring or mineral water w/ lemon or apple cider vinegar.
  • Meat stock: the more, the better. Drink 1 cup every hour or every few hours. 
  • Juiced fermented veggie medley.
  • Beet kvass.
  • Brine: from fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, pickles, etc.
  • Vegetable broth.
  • Herbal teas made w/ fresh ginger or loose herbs.
  • Fresh whey from 24-hr kefir or yogurt.
  • Green juices from vegetables like cucumber, celery, lettuce, kale, parsley, and swiss chard.

KETOGENIC GAPS

Good for:

  • Cancer (specifically metabolic type cancers).
  • Epilepsy & seizures (I used Keto GAPS to resolve my daughter’s seizures).
  • Other considerations. Some people use keto GAPS for Lymechronic fatigue, obesity, diabetes, mental illness & severe autoimmune disease.

Special considerations:

  • It’s important to measure ketones in the blood & breath daily

Basic components: 

  • I won’t go into detail about how to get into & stay in ketosis, but I recommend the work of Patricia Daly & her cookbook for the primary structures.
  • Here is the GAPS Keto Food list that Patricia Daly put together. 

TRANSITION GAPS

Good for: 

  • People ready to transition to a regular whole foods diet (such as WAPF or Paleo).

Special considerations:

  • You are ready to transition off GAPS when you’ve had 6 months without symptoms. 

Basic components:

  • Start by introducing new potatoes, fermented buckwheat, fermented millet, and fermented quinoa, introducing one at a time, with small amounts to observe any reaction.
  • You can try true organic sourdough bread when these are tolerated, preferably 72-hr sourdough. 

GAPS BABY DIET

Good for: 

  • Starting baby on solid foods. 

Special considerations:

  • Both formula-fed & breastfed babies can use baby GAPS.
  • Bottle-fed = start at 4 months
  • Breastfed = start at 6 months (unless you have a super hungry little one!)

Basic components: 

REASON #3: 

Not knowing what your particular food sensitivities are. 

It has been an absolute game-changer in my work with clients to use the Oxford Biomedical MRT-170 Food sensitivity test alongside our GAPS work. 

We can determine what GAPS foods are sensitivities, take them out for specific periods (based on severity), reduce symptoms, and speed up the healing process.  For more information about the work I do 1:1 with GAPS clients, see our GAPS Services page.

What about you?

Have you tried GAPS and quit? 

Do you see yourself in one of the scenarios above?

Healing is a journey. I wish you the very best on yours. 

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be medical advice. As a GAPS Practitioner, this article is simply a general guide but should not replace your own sound judgment & that of any health practitioner that you work with.

When the GAPS Diet Doesn't Work

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