The GAPS diet didn't work for Jennie. This is important to share, and important for everyone to hear. And Jennie's not the only one. You can read Kimi's story (The Nourishing Gourmet) here, and Erin's story (a comment) here. What I most want to see is that people heal. For some, the GAPS diet doesn't do it. I'm okay with that — in fact, I embrace it. So, let's listen with open hearts to Jennie's story. And be sure to read to the very end for a recent update! –Wardee
I started GAPS Intro in June 2011 with the goal of healing my severely damaged digestive system. Multiple abdominal surgeries, foreign travel, salmonella poisoning, pre-nursing school vaccinations, exposure to antibacterial products during my nursing career, and years of antibiotic use (14 courses in one year alone) had all added up to the perfect storm, leaving me with a gastrointestinal system that seemed incapable of digesting anything without daily gut pain, severe bloating, alternating bouts of diarrhea/constipation, and mind-numbing fatigue.
At that point, my illness had forced me to quit my job and had left me housebound most days. I had been treated-unsuccessfully-by 2 different gastroenterologists and had already eliminated a long list of foods from my diet in my quest to feel better-all to no avail.
I began GAPS with high hopes of healing my gut lining, balancing my gut flora, and moving forward with better health. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me.
It’s something of a testimony to my commitment (or stubbornness) that I stuck with the diet as long as I did. I really wanted to believe that if I did the diet perfectly, it would work. And I did do it perfectly, without a single cheat, for 16 months. During that entire time, I was never able to move past the 4th stage of Intro and, even then, was unable to tolerate many of the foods allowed on the previous 3 stages.
This past July my husband and I took our annual summer vacation. Last year we were at a big family reunion with all of his relatives. This year, it was just the two of us in the Taos, New Mexico area with lots of time for me to relax and rest. Just like last year, I spent several weeks prepping for the trip and dutifully packed my coolers full of broth, ghee, sauerkraut, and other GAPS intro foods. I even made kefir on the road so that I would have plenty of probiotic-rich foods. We made sure that the places where we stayed had a kitchen so I could scramble my pastured eggs for breakfast or put a grass-fed roast in the crock pot for supper. Just like last year, every meal I ate on our trip was cooked by me and consisted only of foods allowed on my current stage of Intro.
Something was different about this year’s vacation, though. I noticed that I was a lot more tired than I had been the year before. And, while I knew that I had lost some weight since starting Intro (I went from 142 to 125 pounds during the first year), the clothes I had packed for this trip seemed to be getting bigger and something about me looked different in the mirrors in the condo where we were staying. By the end of the trip, I was declining all of my husband’s invitations to go anywhere, because I was just too exhausted.
Two things happened during that trip that I now realize were very significant. The first occurred while I was standing in the shower one morning and the words “six months to a year” popped into my head. I remember wondering what that meant: did I have six months to a year of healing left until I would feel well, or six months to a year until I would be gone? Then, a few days later as we were driving through the mountains outside of Eagle’s Nest, we stopped by the side of the road to enjoy the beauty of the Palisades. As I stood by the creek and looked up at those soaring walls of stone, a thought rose up to the surface and burst into my awareness: “This diet is not serving your body”.
Still, I didn’t know what else to do to get better, so was convinced that I had to stick with it. After all, every attempt to add a new food and progress through the rest of the Intro stages had only made me much worse. There really didn’t seem to be a way to get off of this diet. I was stuck.
When we got home and I stepped on the scale, I was shocked to discover that I had lost another 6 pounds during our ten-day trip. Even more alarmingly, I was unable to regain the lost weight once we were home.
Shortly after that I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store that I hadn’t seen in several years. She asked how I was and on that day I varied from the usual “fine” and told her the truth: I was sick and had been for some time. The last time we had spoken, we had commiserated over how sick we were from IBS. That day in the store, though, she told me that she was well and hadn’t seen a doctor in 18 months. She strongly encouraged me to see a local naturopath (Dr C) and pronounced that our meeting was by Divine appointment.
A month or two passed but I still clung to the hope that GAPS would heal me. During that time I tried a FODMAPS elimination diet (with no improvement) and also started a new botanical antimicrobial. I had been on several, as well as antifungals and antiparasitics recommended by a GAPS-familiar integrative medicine practitioner. The only problem was that I felt worse after one year of this treatment than I did when I started.
Then last month my 22 year old nephew died unexpectedly. While the rest of my family planned to travel California for his memorial service, I resigned myself to remaining at home. My health had declined so much since our July vacation that I knew that I was now unable to travel. On the morning of my nephew’s funeral, I weighed 117 pounds. I’m 5’10” tall. The clothes I had made and worn just a few weeks before were now too big on me. I was too tired to do much more than prepare my food each day. I spent most of my time on the couch and had begun to wonder if I had outlived my usefulness. I felt like I had no purpose any more.
On the day before my family left for California, my dad anointed me with oil and my family laid their hands on me while he prayed for my healing. The next morning, I called the office of a specialist who treats patients that other gastroenterologists have given up on. There was a six month wait to see him, but I took the earliest appointment for the end of February.
In the meantime, I decided to follow up on the suggestion from the friend at the grocery store, so I made an appointment with Dr C.
At my first appointment with her, Dr C took one look at me and told me I had a lack of joy and was experiencing acute grief (this was before I told her about my nephew). She also said that I had used up all of my fat stores and was now burning muscle for energy and couldn’t live much longer on that either. She said it was time to stop all of the antimicrobial treatments and to focus instead on rebuilding my strength. The session covered much more than my physical issues. We spent a lot of time talking about the Lord and finding joy in Him and believing with every cell of my body that He is good and that He is my healer.
She sent me home with a quart of fresh raw milk and instructions to drink one swallow with each meal and in between meals as I wanted. I was also to start using a specific essential oil, applying it topically to my feet. I admit that I was worried about drinking milk. I have a history of lactose intolerance and suspected a casein allergy as well. I had been dairy free (except for ghee) for nearly 1-1/2 years.
I’ve been drinking the milk for about 3 weeks now. I was taking activated charcoal several times a day for severe bloating prior to this, but since beginning the milk, I have taken it just two times. As I have adjusted to the milk and gradually increased the amount I’m drinking, I’ve begun to have periods where I have an increase in energy (and a decrease in GI pain), for as much as 3 days in a row. And I’ve broken the 120 pound mark on the scale for the first time in months (this morning I weighed 121).
So, am I still on GAPS? Yes and no.
Yes in that I still haven’t added any new foods (other than milk) or tried to advance my diet. Gut healing needs to happen first, and that can take some time. But I think that I am finally beginning to heal, rather than just surviving the symptoms day after day. I suspect that I will eventually advance through the remaining stages of Intro, then onto the full diet before transitioning to a Nourishing Traditions diet.
No in that I’m willing to add any food to my diet if it will help me feel better — whether it’s GAPS friendly or not, hence the raw milk (which is not GAPS friendly because it’s not fermented into kefir).
I’m not well yet, not by any means. Dr C told me that I’m tenacious and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a Type A overachiever (Hello? Stage 4 of Intro for 16 months with no cheating?). I know that I have to let go of the reins on this, trust that I am in God’s hands, and just take each step as it is laid out before me. But I do think I’m finally heading in the right direction.
I really, truly wanted GAPS to heal me. I know that there are a lot of people who have gotten well from following the GAPS protocol; I’m just not one of them. I don’t think it was a matter of doing it right; I think it just didn’t meet my body’s needs and I’ll probably never know the reason why. I’m okay with that.
I'm okay with that, too, Jennie. Thank you so much for sharing your story here. You are already often in my prayers and I will continue to pray that you find the healing you need. God bless you! –Wardee
Are you someone for whom GAPS has not worked? Do you know why? Or can you speculate why? We'd love to hear your experience, too.
Update from Jennie 3/18/14
“First I need to clarify that my illness is not autoimmune. I was initially under the impression that it is, but have since done a lot of reading and have found that it is not. It is, however, immune regulated. Basically, my immune system behaves as if everything I come into contact with is dangerous. (and by everything, I mean everything: food, water, heat, cold, scents, hormonal changes, seasonal changes, etc). As a result, certain immune cells (in my case, mast cells and eosinophils) activate and do what they are made to do, but at a heightened level of response that isn’t necessary. We all have these cells in our bodies and when they are functioning normally we don’t notice anything. Mine are over-reactive all the time.
One of the results of this heightened immune response is an excess of histamine throughout my body. This is why GAPS didn’t work for me. It relies heavily on foods that are high in histamine like broths, fermented veggies, and kefir/yogurt. The GAPS diet is also high in salicylates, which are not a problem for most people but are major mast cell triggers for me: honey, coconut, avocado, nuts, olive oil, most vegetables and fruits, etc. Sadly, I also learned that the essential oils I began to use after stopping GAPS contain salicylates as well. I kept getting sicker because I was adding more and more histamine to my already high levels. And, because salicylates build up in the body, I grew even more sensitive to them over time.
One of the things that has continued to be beneficial to me, however, was the addition of raw A2 milk to my diet. Though I started with cow milk, I eventually switched to goat milk and have found it to be even easier to digest. Because raw milk was my primary source of nutrition for over year (and continues to be a major part of my diet), I consider the fact that I was introduced to its benefits to be a major blessing.
Although I have not seen a dramatic improvement in my physical symptoms, I have experienced a major increase in cognitive ability. The brain fog that kept me on the couch or online all day every day (because I lacked the mental energy for anything deeper) has improved dramatically. Just over a year ago I was unable to even read a short magazine article. Now I am reading several books a week, memorizing Scripture (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 is a current favorite), knitting socks, quilting, and taking some online classes.
My focus and purpose have changed dramatically over the past year. I’m spending a lot less energy on getting well and a lot more on enjoying each day as it comes; whether easy or difficult, each day is exactly as it was meant to be. I’m happier now than I have ever been and am at peace with the life I have been given. I would love to be well, but if I never am, God is still good and can be trusted to know and give me what I need the most. –Jennie”
Jennie also shared these links, 3/18/14:
Mast Cell Activation Disorder:
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