PSA: Don't forget to enter this week's Back to School giveaway where we're sharing stories from the good ol' days (jk those days were not so great haha). Also, our Costa Rica yoga retreat is happening in November! I'd love for you to join us! And, we're down to our last few YBC Holiday Mantra Boxes - our awesome discovery box - so order now if you'd like one! Lastly, if you have the YBC App and take a min to review it, send a screenshot of your review to Lauren and we'll send you a little something in thanks.
Two years ago, I started the GAPS diet (here's my 5 months update, 9 month update, 1 year update, and 1 year 6 months update). The diet is a healing, short-term (2 year max) diet that is meant to heal and seal the gut lining, improve digestion and therefore improve a number of other symptoms because many health issues stem from poor gut health.
How I discovered GAPS
When I saw my doctor, she suggested going back on antibiotics but I knew that wasn't the answer. After longterm antibiotic use for Lyme disease, I had healed from the Lyme but my health continued to rapidly decline. When I had initially come to her, I had 22 symptoms and she diagnosed me with Lyme disease. When I came back to her after taking myself off the antibiotics, I had just two symptoms - joint pain and painfully distended stomach after eating basically anything. So I parted ways with her, and sought my own help.
I had painful breakouts across my forehead, and googling lead me to the Chinese face map. The Chinese face map is based on Eastern medicine and says that breakouts on certain parts of the face offer a telling sign of what's going on internally. Breakouts across the forehead indicate an interruption in gut health. This wasn't a surprise to me because my stomach was a mess after I'd eat literally anything, but I was impressed that my body was showing me signs that I needed to heal my gut through not only my upset stomach but through the breakouts as well, if that makes any sense.
So I knew I needed to heal my gut, but how? Googling lead me to the GAPS book. I ordered it and read it with a pencil in one hands to underline all the important bits. According to the doctor who wrote the book, the gut gets damaged from things like antibiotic use, birth control, a typical Western diet, lack of animal fats, etc. A number of issues can pop up when the gut is damaged including joint pain, stomach issues, depression, anxiety, hormonal imbalances, etc. Once the gut is healed, she says, the body typically balances itself out and returns to its normal, healthy state.
I figured I'd give it a try.
What exactly is the GAPS diet?
It's a short-term diet that goes in stages. In the first stage, you eat very easily digestible foods. In the second stage, you add a little more, until you move through all the stages. It's imperative to read the book and follow the science behind it, and how to move through each stage.
The full GAPS diet - when you've moved through all the stages - is sort of like a Paleo diet but with an emphasis on healing foods like sauerkraut, bone broth and homemade yogurt. Unlike Paleo, you can't have any quinoa, sweet potato or other starchy vegetables. The diet also doesn't allow for any legumes. Like Paleo, you can have veggies and a variety of meats. No processed foods, no refined sugars.
My experience with the GAPS diet
It hasn't been easy, particularly because so many social events revolve around food, and sometimes people aren't the friendliest when you're doing something different from what they're doing. Sometimes people would say, "Oh come on, live a little! Have some wings, it won't kill you."
Comments like that felt like such a slap in the face. They didn't understand how damaged my gut was, and just how sick I was because I physically looked fine. But I would be in tears before having to go teach my Sunday morning yoga class in Germany because I was in so much pain after eating breakfast. Buffalo wings did make a difference, you know? So I kind of withdrew from social events (not recommended!) unless I knew it would be with close friends who wouldn't care what I did or didn't eat.
Other than that, it was fine for me. I didn't have any temptations around the house because my husband did the diet with me (#lucky). It was so close to what he'd been following for years (a somewhat Paleo-ish diet) that it wasn't too different from what he was already eating. I'm so grateful to him for that, because he did a lot of the cooking, and approached the entire thing with a "can do" attitude. He read up on fermentation and made all our fermented foods which was required on the diet. He read up on how to make your own yogurt and sour cream (also required on the diet for good fats and probiotics) and made them.
Almost immediately on the diet, my stomach stopped distending after eating. My digestion improved, and my joint pain started going away. It took about six weeks for my skin to clear up. My hair stopped falling out. My sleep improved. My energy levels improved. My hormones balanced out. I felt so much better.
But I noticed that any time I would eat a lot of fruit or nuts, my joint pain would come back. My skin was also very sensitive. Any little cheat off the diet (and I'm talking raw veggies cheat, not pizza cheat) and my skin would flare up.
Stress was also a major factor in how I felt and how my body reacted. This summer, I traveled to Morocco and Greece and I got home and just crashed. Between the travel, stress of moving again, and just feeling overwhelmed with work, I felt my health rapidly declining. I was feeling anxious, stressed, depressed and my skin started breaking out. I want to point out that I don't care about a zit here and there once in a while - that's normal - but I think that breakouts are a telltale sign that something isn't right within the body. When I consulted the Chinese face map, I realized my breakouts were corresponding to liver health. But I was spent. I'd been on the diet for over a year and a half, I didn't know what to do differently.
So I consulted one of my best friends Carley, aka Fairy Gut Mother, who is a certified GAPS practitioner and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. She did a long intake with over one hundred not-so-typical intake questions like is your skin dry (yes), and is your coloring off (yes). Based on the results, she said it looked like my digestion was just fine (woop!) but that my liver numbers were off. "Did you ever do a liver cleanse after your antibiotics treatment?" she asked.
Remember that everything we take - from birth control pills to antibiotics to tylenol needs to be processed through the liver. Having been on antibiotics for over a year and a half, my liver was probably shot. The liver, she said, can get clogged up from having to work so hard, so it doesn't matter how well you eat - if your liver is messed up, it won't be able to function at its best. The liver plays a central role in the metabolic process and aids in breaking down fat. So the dry skin I was experiencing? That was a result of the fats I was eating not being able to be properly absorbed by the body. It didn't matter what I was feeding myself - my liver was compromised, I wasn't able to properly absorb the nutrients.
Couple that with added major stress (raised cortisol levels) and my whole body felt out of whack. I felt just as bad as I did when I started the GAPS diet, and I was feeling really, really bummed out because of it all.
So I took a break from work to try to get my stress levels down. And I began a gentle liver cleanse by incorporating beet kvass (a fermented beet drink) into my diet. After about four weeks, I didn't notice too much of an improvement, so Carley recommended a stronger liver support with Beta TCP and support for the adrenals with ABD5. I also added in milk thistle and started doing cod liver oil compresses (will report back soon, I just started those). My skin got worse, which Carley said was to be expected as the liver detoxed, and then it got a lot better. My skin was also no longer dry, and overall my coloring was better (it was kind of grey before - I swear I kind of looked like I was dead haha). My jaw pain from the stress had finally subsided after about two months, and I was feeling like new!
Buuuut then I traveled. Why does travel kill me so? With recent travel to Baltimore and Michigan, my stress levels were raised and I noticed an impact in how I physically felt, as well as how my skin reacted (it's not bad now, but it's touchy when I'm stressed).
So this is where I'm at. In the middle of a liver detox, and since my digestion is doing well, I'll start to incorporate foods off the GAPS diet. My plan is to ease into a Paleo diet to incorporate things like quinoa, sweet potato, and the like. I will still keep certain GAPS things up like including fermented foods with every meal and drinking a variety of bone broths each week since they're so easy to make and so good for you (and delish!).
I feel really grateful for this struggle. I had not been easy, but now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I feel that I've learned so much about health and nutrition, and so much about my own body. It was a great lesson for me to learn that sometimes I need to look at the underlying root of my problems. Joint pain wasn't just genetics. Hair loss wasn't just a fluke thing. My breakouts weren't caused from the fact that I'd eat chocolate once in a blue moon. All these things were stemming from my gut health and liver health.
I am in awe of how amazing our bodies are, and just how much they can endure and heal when given the proper foods, attention and love. I mean five years ago, I was literally unable to walk from Lyme Disease. Then I was unable to eat anything without looking like I was 9 months pregnant (and the pain from that! Ugh). And now I am almost all better. It's amazing to me. I am so grateful for the support I've had from my husband, my close friends and family, and from you guys. I am looking forward to the day when I can close the door to this whole thing, but for now I am grateful to be on my journey, closer towards 100% healthy.