You’ve been struggling with digestive issues or other health problems. You want to know how to start the GAPS diet, but you’re not sure exactly how to begin, or which starting option to choose.
How to start the GAPS diet
I’m going to explain the differences between full GAPS and intro, how I decided which path to take, as well as everything else you need to know on how to start the GAPS diet, the right way.
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What is the GAPS diet?
The GAPS diet was designed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a medical doctor with two post graduate degrees, Master of Medical Sciences in Neurology and Master of Medical Sciences in Human Nutrition. Dr. Natasha discovered the GAPS diet when her son began developing autism.
Gut health is so very important. Hippocrates, an ancient physician, believed that all diseases begin in the gut. Dr. Natasha agrees, and this quote from her helps illustrate this:
As we know, the roots of a tree, invisible, hidden deep under the ground, play a crucial role in the wellbeing of every branch, every twig, every little leaf of that tree, no matter how proudly high and far they may be from those roots. In the same way the diverse and multiple functions of gut flora reach in the body far beyond the gut itself. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, page 25
Basically, the GAPS diet is traditional way of eating that mimics the nutrient dense diets of past cultures, before processed, packaged, and artificial foods were invented. It focuses on very nourishing, building, and healing foods, while avoiding anything that is hard to digest. Following the GAPS diet also includes a few essential supplements, as well as gentle detox and lifestyle changes.
What are the benefits of the GAPS diet? The goal of the GAPS diet is to heal and seal leaky gut, and to restore the balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Restoring gut health with the GAPS diet is how I reversed my chronic health problems and got my life back. Many, many others have experienced the same thing, across a broad range of stubborn health issues.
Implementing the GAPS diet
The GAPS diet might sound like a hard diet to follow. For anybody that is used to eating packaged and processed foods, it is a big adjustment. Once you’re used to it and have all the cooking techniques under your belt, it’s not that hard.
How do you follow the GAPS diet? It’s really simple: you buy everything fresh and cook all your food at home, following the allowed foods and proper cooking techniques. This doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming at all, and I’m here to share all of my best tips with you from my years of experience and training to make the GAPS diet very doable.
The most important thing to remember is this: Doing the GAPS diet is so worth it! It really did change our lives.
Full or intro?
There are two main ways of starting the GAPS diet: jumping into the full GAPS diet, or working your way through the stages of GAPS intro.
If someone starts with the full GAPS diet, they’ll eat everything that is allowed, right away. The only exceptions would be foods that have previously been a problem, and dairy. We’ll talk about this more in a second.
The GAPS introduction diet is an elimination diet that is very soothing and healing. GAPS intro can heal and seal leaky gut very quickly. Starting with GAPS intro means going through each stage in the proper order, and introducing each food, one at at time, at the right time. I explain how to start the GAPS intro diet here.
Dr. Natasha recommends that most people start with the GAPS introduction diet, and then transition to the full GAPS diet. This definitely includes anyone with digestive symptoms, including diarrhea. Going through GAPS intro provides the deepest healing in the shortest amount of time.
Anyone who is relatively healthy can choose to do GAPS intro just to reset their health and help their gut be the healthiest it can be. Dr. Natasha even recommends going back to GAPS intro for several days whenever there is a stomach bug, or after a vacation, or other time spent eating less than ideal food.
On the introduction diet, each food is introduced slowly and carefully, one at a time. If there are any food sensitivities, Dr. Natasha recommends doing the skin sensitivity test before trying that food. I walk you through each of the 6 stages of the GAPS introduction diet in detail, starting with stage 1 here.
The introduction diet uses a lot of meat stock, and does not use any bone broth. Later on in the full GAPS diet, you can include bone broth if you want.
This is an important distinction, because people with leaky guts usually have trouble with the high amounts of glutamic acid in bone broth. Meat stock doesn’t include so much glutamic acid, and provides all the nutritional building blocks for the gut to heal and seal.
The full GAPS diet
If someone suffers from constipation before starting the GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha recommends they start with the full GAPS diet. This is because GAPS intro is very low on fiber. Later on, once gut health has improved on full GAPS and the constipation is relieved, going through GAPS intro is a good idea.
People who are already quite healthy and don’t have any digestive symptoms can choose to skip GAPS intro and just start the full GAPS diet. These are often people who only need to follow the GAPS diet for 6 months or so before transitioning off.
Anyone who is very busy or does a lot of traveling will find it much more doable to start with the full GAPS diet, rather than GAPS intro. Since such a wider variety of foods is allowed on full GAPS, it is much easier to follow during busy times and travel. You can even eat out on full GAPS sometimes, if you’re at a good restaurant and know what to order.
Dr. Natasha recommends that anyone who starts right into full GAPS without following intro go through the dairy introduction protocol before having any dairy products. This introduces ghee, butter, yogurt, kefir, and then cheese, in a specific order and timeframe. Following the dairy introduction protocol helps avoid and eliminate any dairy sensitivities.
Most people need to follow the GAPS diet for at least two years, and then they can transition off without any health problems returning. When I transitioned off of the GAPS diet, I began eating a Wise Traditions or Nourishing Traditions diet, that includes all food groups. Nothing is excluded, but source and proper preparation is very important. Some people choose to stay on GAPS full time, because they feel so good on it.
How to actually start the GAPS diet
After you’ve decided which starting point to take, intro or full GAPS, it’s time to actually begin. Whether you’re starting with intro or full, you’ll need to get yourself, your home, and your and kitchen ready.
- Read “Gut and Psychology Syndrome.” Make sure you understand how the diet works, and why you’ll be eating certain foods. Being informed is essential.
- Find support. This can mean finding a friend or family member who can help cook and supports what you’re doing, or joining a GAPS diet Facebook group. It can also be a very good idea to locate a certified GAPS coach and/or practitioner for extra help.
- Get your kitchen ready. I have another blog post on how to get your kitchen ready for the GAPS diet. Basically, make sure you have all the ingredients and essential cooking equipment that you’ll need.
- Plan a batch cooking day. This is a prefect time to have friends and family to help. Make lots of meat stock, and get your fermented vegetables going. I show how to make meat stock here, and how to make sauerkraut here.
- Detox your personal care routine and home. Part of following the GAPS diet means making sure you’re not exposing yourself to more toxic chemicals while you heal. Commercial personal care and home products can be big offenders. I switched all of my skincare and personal care products to natural ones, as well as my laundry and dish washing products, and household cleaners.
Once you’ve gotten everything prepared, you’re ready to start the GAPS diet. Just follow Dr. Natasha’s steps in her book, and you’ll be on your way.
For example, in stage one, Dr. Natasha recommends drinking lots of homemade meat stock, and eating homemade soups made with meat stock. She recommends non starchy, non fibrous vegetables, and to include plenty of animal fats, as they are very healing.
Dr. Natasha recommends adding some liquid probiotic food into every cup of meat stock and every bowl of soup. These can be why from homemade yogurt, homemade sour cream, and liquid from fermented vegetables.
She also recommends some fresh ginger, mint, or chamomile tea with a little raw honey in between meals. After the right amount of time on stage 1, move to stage 2.
If you’re following GAPS intro, a common question that often comes up is, “how long do I need to stay on GAPS diet stage 1?” Dr. Natasha recommends most people just do stage 1 for a few days, maybe a little longer, and then transition to stage 2. She recommends proceeding very carefully and gradually after that, spending as long as is needed on each stage.
A daily routine and sample GAPS diet meal plan
Here’s what a typical day looks like when I’m following the GAPS diet:
- Every morning I start with a glass of filtered water with a slice of lemon or a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar.
- Soon after that I drink some freshly made juices mixed with some homemade sour cream and an egg yolk.
- For breakfast I choose from eggs and sautéed vegetables with sausage and sauerkraut, squash pancakes topped with berries and yogurt cream, or a kefir smoothie.
- Lunch and dinner look pretty similar, and I enjoy meat and vegetables cooked a variety of ways served with some probiotic food and a mug of meat stock or bone broth, or some soup.
- Whenever I need a snack I have some more freshly pressed juices with homemade sour cream and an egg yolk, and I can also choose from soaked or sprouted nuts, nut flour baked goods, yogurt, and fruit.
- There are a lot of dessert options on the GAPS diet, too. I enjoy muffins, cakes, pies, baked fruit desserts, custard, jello, gummies, fat bombs, and more.
For a full GAPS diet food list, and a GAPS diet food list to avoid, check out the official GAPS diet website here.
Supplements for the GAPS diet
The main focus on the GAPS diet is food. That being said, there are a few supplements that Dr. Natasha recommends that most people use while on GAPS.
Supplements for the GAPS diet include a therapeutic strength probiotic, essential fatty acids, and vitamins A and D from cod liver oil. I go into more detail about all of these essential supplements for the GAPS diet here.
Daily detox baths
While going through the GAPS diet, especially on GAPS intro, something called die off happens. This is when the beneficial, probiotic bacteria start to go in, clean things up, and make the gut healthier. What that happens, the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria starts to die.
When pathogenic bacteria die, they release toxins. The toxins can make us feel yucky, with flu like symptoms.
The ease die off or detox symptoms, Dr. Natasha recommends epsom salt baths. You can do detox baths three times a day when you’re going through die off, to help the body feel better.
Other add ins for detox baths (used one at at time, in most cases) are baking soda, apple cider vinegar, Dead Sea salt, and magnesium flakes.
Common mistakes when starting the GAPS diet
There are some common pitfalls and mistakes that can happen when people start the GAPS diet. Most of the time, they’re not a big deal and can be easily remedied. Just the same, I thought I’d list them here to hopefully save you the trouble.
- Not planning ahead. It’s very helpful to get your kitchen, home, and life ready before you start the GAPS diet. This is especially true before starting the GAPS introduction diet. The fermented foods that you’ll need take time to ferment, so you’ll want to make those ahead of time. Also, batch cooking is extremely helpful. I recommend making some big batches of meat stock and fermented vegetables before starting GAPS.
- Not reading “Gut and Psychology Syndrome.” It is so important to understand what you’re doing and why. Definitely read through the GAPS diet book, and spend time on any chapters that really stick out to you.
- Using bone broth during the introduction phase. Like I talked about before, bone broth has a lot of glutamic acid, which is a problem for people who still have a leaky gut. Only use meat stock on the introduction diet. You can use bone broth later on full GAPS if you like.
- Adding fermented foods or probiotics too aggressively. I can relate to this one. I tend to think, “I’m filling my gut with this good, probiotic food! Let’s go for it!” It’s so important to follow Dr. Natasha’s recommendations and introduce each fermented food and the probiotic supplements slowly and gradually, and at the right times. Adding a lot of beneficial bacteria in large amounts too soon can cause some really uncomfortable die off symptoms, and it’s just not necessary. Slow and steady wins the race.
- Adding foods too quickly, or coming off of the diet too soon. It’s temping to add new foods in quickly, but everything will go so much better if you introduce each food slowly and gradually. The same goes for deciding to come off of the GAPS diet. Don’t jump ship too soon! Damage happens quickly, but healing takes time. You want to make sure that you have at least 6 solid months of normal digestion and no old symptoms returning before transitioning off. And when you do come off of the GAPS diet, be sure to follow Dr. Natasha’s steps for introducing non GAPS foods the right way.
What conditions does the GAPS diet target?
Does the GAPS diet work? I personally used the GAPS diet to successfully overcome fatigue, frequent headaches, being underweight, and serious cystic acne. Other people have also used the GAPS diet to heal from many other health symptoms. My friend Laura shares her GAPS diet review and success story with her son here. It’s quite an amazing GAPS diet before and after.
Dr. Natasha has worked with hundreds of children and adults with many different neurological and psychiatric conditions, including:
- Autistic spectrum disorders
- ADD and ADHD
- Bi polar disorder
- And other Neurology psychological and psychiatric problems.
In addition to the mental side of illness, Dr. Natasha has also worked with hundreds of patients using the GAPS diet with numerous physical conditions, including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Fussy eating
- Heart disease
- PMs and other hormone problems
- Ulcerative colitis
- Weight problems
- And many more.
Who is the GAPS diet for? Does the GAPS diet have any risks?
Anyone can follow the GAPS diet. In this day and age, where chronic illness is everywhere and our toxic burden is growing, I daresay just about anyone would benefit from following the GAPS diet.
Dr. Natasha and her certified GAPS professionals work with people of all age groups to follow the GAPS diet. These include elderly people, toddlers, newborn babies, and everyone in between who happens to suffer from chronic illness.
Because the GAPS diet is just a traditional, nutrient dense way of eating, much like how our ancestors ate, Dr. Natasha says it is safe and beneficial for anyone. Again, the GAPS diet is just a traditional way of eating that focuses on nourishing foods and avoids things that are hard to digest, like grains and sugar.
Many, many people follow the GAPS diet on their own and experience wonderful results. Whenever any questions or concerns come up, I recommend working with a certified GAPS professional.
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GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.
The information in this blog post is my personal experience and opinion. It is for general information purposes only, that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for your own physician’s medical care or advice. Always seek advice from your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding nutrition, medical conditions, and advice. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on this blog.