Health

GAPS DIET & SENSITIVITY

My girlfriends were up a few weekends back for my ‘support group weekend’ (aka bachelorette). Walking down the aisle next month will be the biggest right of passage I have ever moved through and although bridesmaids felt a bit too traditional, I wanted to honor the profound women in my life for their company on this journey thus far. As a result, my support group was born.

There were no stripper requirements last weekend and there won’t be any dress obligations for the wedding (though to my surprise, they have all chosen to wear red!). My only desire for having a ‘support group’ was to display gratitude for each one of these women and to receive reciprocal backing as I move into the next phase.

It occurred to me at some point over the weekend as the eight of us rustled through my fridge to make breakfasts and dinners that I had some weird stuff in there – most notably, a huge vat of bone broth and several mason jars full of raw milk kefir and ‘kraut. Over the past several months these odd-ish foods have become staples in my diet.

For those of you who were with me back in April, you know that after a lifetime of digestive issues, I received a clear message that it was time to heal.  I mean really heal.

The days of stomach discomfort, odd digestion, and bouts of fatigue fueled by malnourishment were no longer supporting the way I wanted to live my life and show up in the world.

I embarked on a thirty-day GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) healing protocol and have been including certain variations of the regimen ever since. It was intensely restorative for my body and continues to be nourishing to my entire being. I questioned how and whether to share this “diet” as I know the word can be rather triggering; yet I feel that the benefits of sharing my experience on GAPS far outweigh the activation of the word.

HOW DID I DISCOVER GAPS?

As with anything that truly heals, GAPS discovered me. My body clearly let me know it was ready to release toxins and heal its imbalances and with that declaration, the protocol literally fell into my lap. I immediately purchased the Gut and Psychology Syndrome book and proceeded to research incessantly.

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS THE GAPS HEALING PROTOCOL ALL ABOUT?

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride formulated the healing protocol as a means to help her son move beyond a severe learning disability. Along the way, she discovered that all children suffering with autism, ADHD/ADD, asthma, eczema, allergies, dyspraxia or dyslexia all shared one commonality – a compromised digestive tract.

Similarly, she found that those suffering from schizophrenia, depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder also shared similar digestive abnormalities.

Dr. Campbell-McBride is not the first one to draw this conclusion about the gut. Hippocrates stated that “all disease begins in the gut” way back in 460 BC and in 1807, the father of modern psychiatry Phillipe Pinel concluded, “the primary seat of insanity generally is in the region of the stomach and intestines.”

There is a huge body of research supporting these claims and after extensive inquiry coupled with experimentation on myself, I am a firm believer that it starts and ends in the gut.

Now if you are reading this and your eyes are beginning to glaze over, please stick with me. Perhaps you are taking your daily probiotic, eating yogurt regularly and doing all the things you have been told support gut health. I thought I was too. Yet, I still struggled with my digestion (immensely).

What makes the GAPS healing protocol different is that it seals our guts before we begin to add in healing substances (such as probiotics). This is a vital and often neglected step for those suffering from major gut dysbiosis and/or leaky gut.

WHAT IS DYSBIOSIS OR LEAKY GUT?

In laymen’s terms, gut dysbiosis is a condition that happens when the balance between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria has become disrupted. The causes of dysbiosis are many – most notably antibiotics, use of contraceptive pills, excessive alcohol, too much sugar or refined carbs, and stress (on an emotional or mental level).

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most HSP’s, particularly those struggling with steady addiction and depression, have varying degrees of gut dysbiosis. It’s hard to say whether the gut is triggering the addiction/depression or vice versa, a chicken-or-the-egg type scenario.

The main factor I see as perpetuating dysbiosis is the elevated stress levels sensitive’s experience; especially those lacking tools to cope with the vast amount of stimulation our nervous systems are predisposed to sensing. Add to that, disordered eating or prevalence to overusing alcohol and/or drugs and leaky gut unfortunately become unavoidable.

On an anatomical level, leaky gut happens when the pores of our small intestines widen or become too porous allowing undigested food particles and toxins that would normally be blocked make their way to the bloodstream. At this point our symptoms become septic and we may experience a host of symptoms ranging from gas, bloating, seasonal + food allergies, hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue, mood issues, candida, and autoimmune disorders.

Depending on the intensity and duration of our compromised gut, you can see why simply popping a probiotic and consuming occasional yogurt will not return us to a symbiotic state.

We must work to coat the gut and patch up the holes in our intestines prior to adding in healing substances. Before I go into the ‘sealing’ protocol involved in GAPS, I want to address eating disorders. This chapter in the book particularly peaked my interest as it broke down the cycle in an astonishingly succinct way.

EATING DISORDERS & GUT DYSBIOSIS – ‘THE CYCYLE’ {demystified}

{Adapted directly from Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s Gut & Psychology Syndrome}

STAGE ONE – A young adolescent experiences poor body image and as a result develops an inappropriate diet (perhaps restricting/bingeing). The poor nutritional choices eventually lead to a compromised immune system and a high rate of infections. Typically these infections are treated with antibiotics, fueling the vicious cycle of a weakened immune system and more antibiotics. Initial damage to the gut flora happens in this stage.

STAGE TWO – GAPS Syndrome develops. Abnormal gut flora begins producing toxins, which flow out of the leaky gut and into the blood stream. This is where major problems start. The toxins begin to reach the brain and cause problems with mood, behavior and sensory perception (including self-perception).   When a GAPS adolescent (or adult) looks into the mirror, they cannot see their true reflection for brain toxicity has set in (they are not just “deceiving” themselves). It’s not only self-perception that suffers here; it is also perception of human relationships, emotions, and the ability to read social situations.

STAGE THREE – Gut degeneration. In a normal functioning gut, the gut lining is the site of active cell regeneration for the entire body. In order to produce new cells, the body needs nutrients and hormones, which are seemingly unavailable in GAPS patients for they lack the proper digestive functioning to break down food.

STAGE FOUR – Hormonal Exhaustion. This is when things can go seriously awry. Hormones are proteins and the body cannot build them without an adequate supply of zinc, magnesium, fat-soluble vitamins, B vitamins and other nutrients that GAPS patients do not have. Hormones rule just about everything in the body and when they are not being properly developed a host of issues can arise – children stop growing, menstruation becomes irregular or stops altogether, sexual development arrests, poor muscle tone, osteoporosis, sleep problems and behavioral issues to name a few…

If you resonate or relate to this cycle, I urge you to get the book and investigate further. This is a cliffs notes version of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s research.

I must admit when I first read through this chapter on eating disorders, tears flooded. It made so much sense to me and I can see how it plays out for not just those struggling with an eating disorder, but any sensitive soul whose off-the-charts stress level propels them into GAPS syndrome (which is A LOT of us).

It’s one thing to be highly sensitive and to be sensing more than most, but it’s a whole other to be highly sensitive and lacking proper body functioning to digest what we are sensing on a biological level. The ladder feels like a bad dream we can’t wake up from.

HOW DO WE BEGIN TO SEAL THE GUT?

Sealing the gut starts with the GAPS Introduction diet, a 30-day healing protocol that was designed to work quickly and efficiently.

The Intro diet removes foods that cannot be fully digested – all grains, sugars (except honey and minimal fruit) and starches. As these foods are eliminated, the holes in the gut wall begin to reseal, stopping toxins from spilling into the blood stream and wreaking havoc in the body.  Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride reiterates how important it is to remove all offending foods from the diet in order to be able to fully heal – the addition of probiotics alone will not work.  I realize this may sound like extreme deprivation, and to a degree it is (even for me who has been eating a mostly whole foods diet for years).

But I must say, after completing 30 days on GAPS Intro, I can honestly tell you I have never felt so nourished in my life. Yes, grains, sugars and starches go away, but what is added in – wholesome bone broths, mouth-watering fats, and healing raw milk kefirs and yogurts provide a level of satisfaction that our cells have been begging for.

My ordinary cravings for carbohydrates and sugars dissolved (something most GAPS patients crave given our unstable blood sugars). Deep nourishment descended upon me.  My mind quieted and my body was being fueled in a way that felt sustainable.

Several months later I continue to feel nourished. I know that I have some ways to go on my digestive healing journey but the ‘sealing’ piece of the equation has been somewhat of a Godsend. I have found no other healing protocol that includes this step and in my case, it was essential.

FINAL NOTE

I believe in the power of the body to heal itself.  I believe in the power of the gut to heal the body.  I believe in the power of foods to heal the gut…but that is not the whole story.

I write this post from a place of wanting to share the research behind what I consider to be a very nourishing way for HSP’s to heal. That said, I arrived at this place because I was lead by my body. I trusted that she new better than I on how to experience optimal heath.

I realize each of our journeys is different. I want you to take in this information and return to your body. What has nourished you in the past? What is nourishing you in this moment? Are you not sure? Are you looking for deeper levels of nourishment?

It is in you. Listen deeper, and deeper still.

The more we listen to our bodies, the louder they will speak to us. It won’t always be the same. I trust that GAPS has worked for me at this point in my life but by no means does that mean I will stay within its guidelines forever, or even tomorrow for that matter. It’s a constant listening. I am right there with you, bravely choosing to trust every day.

So Much Love.

2 Comments

  • Reply
    Emily
    November 14, 2014 at 3:30 am

    Kate,
    Would you please give an example of one day on your gaps diet? Times and portions of food? Id be SO grateful. That part is so tricky for me to get right. Thanks for your beautiful blog.
    x

    • Reply
      Kathryn Stefans
      December 11, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      Emily!

      So sorry for the delay. I am in the process of transferring over all of my content from my old platform and this comment went under the radar!

      As far as a typical day on the GAPS diet, here we go:

      Bone Broth upon waking…it has replaced my cup of coffee and I really look forward to it. Chicken is my favorite with an assortment of herbs, spices and seaweed.

      Breakfast –
      2 soft boiled eggs
      Braised or Sautéed Greens (in some sort of animal fat, butter, or coconut oil)
      Starchy Root Vegi (I love celeriac root right now, butternut squash is also a favorite)
      Sauerkraut

      Lunch:
      Some sort of soup or stew (leftover chicken or beef stock whipped up with vegis – I prefer blended soups, there is just something very comforting about warm mush LOL)
      Leftover Chicken/Red Meat/Turkey burger
      And more sauerkraut…

      Dinner:
      Roasted Chicken/Sautéed Fish/Ground Meat Stir fry
      More Vegis (steamed, roasted, or sautéed depending on what I am feeling – always a generous dousing of fat to go alongside)
      And of course, don’t forget the sauerkraut

      Snacks are smaller versions of the meals listed above. I’ll also have some sprouted nuts or coconut oil/butter to level off blood sugar in between meals. Perhaps a piece of fruit if I’m not getting enough starchy vegis/raw milk!

      Hope that helps you 🙂

      xoxox
      -Kate

      Oh yes, you asked about portions…this is really up to your body. For me, going on GAPS was all about nourishment and gaining a true understanding of my bodies cues/cravings. Some days I would have what felt like an entire stick of butter, 1/2 a roasted chicken, more vegis than I knew what to do with and two hamburgers…Other days I would have a few cups of bone broth and be totally satiated. It all depends…Trust your body, she will tell you!

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