Disclaimer: I am not a certified GAPS practitioner or coach and this is not medical advice. My son has severe eczema, through my own research I have found that following the GAPS protocol is beneficial for his long term healing. These are the steps I have taken, however everybody’s healing and health journey is different.
What is the GAPS Diet?
The GAPS™ Diet is more appropriately called a “protocol” and includes three parts:
- Healing diet
GAPS™ stands for the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, or Gut and Physiology Syndrome, and the protocol designed by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, a U.K. neurologist. She has used the protocol to heal everything from autism, eczema, & migraines — to depression & hormone issues.
Here is what GAPS™ does:
- Removes complex carbs, which are difficult to digest and feed pathogenic organisms.
- Includes fermented foods & high-quality probiotic supplements to restore gut flora.
- Prioritizes meat stocks/bone broths to heal the lining of the intestinal tract.
- Focuses on nutrient-dense, traditional foods to restore nutrient deficiencies.
- Carefully reintroduces foods in order of digestibility & absorption.
- Includes lifestyle changes that bring in detox and immune-boosting practices.
Why I am following the GAPS protocol
My son (10) has eczema, it covers the majority of his body. It makes his skin incredibly itchy to the point of bleeding and weeping. His skin is inflamed and looks dry and tight. He scratches all the time.
The eczema ebbs and flows – it is always present – it is usually worse on his face. Sometimes parts of his skin are clear, other times it flares up and is especially horrid. He has had eczema for around three years. I don’t know why it appeared, one day it started as a tiny patch next to his mouth and has since spread. Over the years I have consulted with traditional doctors – they do not have an understanding of the cause of eczema. The advice is to apply a combination of hydrocortisone and emoillent creams. Whilst this may temporarily decrease or even stop eczema it does not find or cure the root problem and fix the internal problems.
Eczema is not a skin issue – yes the disorder manifests itself on the skin, but the root cause is an internal gut imbalance. The GAPS protocol fixes the gut issue by healing from the inside to the outside of the body. In time, the skin will heal as the gut has done so.
How I am following the GAPS protocol
The GAPS protocol can be started in two ways
- The Introduction Diet
- The Full GAPS Diet
The Introduction Diet
The Introduction Diet is designed for individuals with a severely damaged and inflamed gut lining resulting in chronic digestive issues. The Introduction Diet is a six part process which provides the body with large amounts of nourishing & essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals, collagen, gelatin, amino acids, and healthy fats to bring inflammation down quickly. The time scale for the Introduction Diet varies depending on the response from the individual. New foods are added one at a time and checked for a reaction. If there is not a reaction, the patient can continue to add more foods.
The Full GAPS Diet
The Full GAPS Diet includes all the nutrient dense, healing foods included in the Introduction Diet but expands the food choices according to the allowed and non-allowed foods list. The GAPS Diet should be tailored to support individual health and lifestyle needs. The majority of what is consumed daily on the Full GAPS Diet should be made out of meats (including organ meats), fish, stocks/broths, eggs, fermented dairy (if well tolerated), and vegetables (well cooked, raw, and fermented). Baked goods made from nut and/or seed flours and fruit are allowed on Full GAPS but should be consumed in moderation.
My son has been following the Full GAPS diet for around a year and whilst there have been improvements in his skin, mood and energy it has not eradicated the issues completely. I believe he still has internal damage to his gut and this has not properly healed. The Full GAPS Diet did allow a degree of healing, but to obtain perfect health we are now starting from the beginning and following the Introduction Diet.
When you are ten, eating this way can be tough. It’s tough to have eczema, it makes life hard to be constantly uncomfortable and itchy. My son is very sensitive to certain fabrics, some just make the itching worse. Everything and anything can be a trigger.
I have decided to do the GAPS protocol with him, in solidarity so he isn’t the ‘odd one out’. As a family we generally follow the Nourishing Traditions way of eating and Full GAPS isn’t a massive jump to get there. For now though, he and I are munching our way through soup for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between.
If you have any of these symptoms, starting the GAPS diet at Stage One is best
- Diarrhea (of any origin), abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, etc. Diarrhea indicates that there is significant damage to the gut lining, which needs slow, methodical healing
- Health issues that aren’t resolving on Full GAPS
- “Leaky gut” and inflammatory bowel conditions
- Autistic children, and all children on the spectrum or with learning disabilities, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc
- Kids and adults diagnosed with diabetes type 1 or celiac disease
- Some cases of stubborn constipation (children in particular)
- Multiple food allergies and intolerances, as the gut lining is very damaged and needs slow healing
What are we actually Eating during GAPS Intro Stage 1?
So what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Soup, soup, soup! That is the main component of the Stage One menu. This way you get lots of healing meat stock in your gut, as well as meats and vegetables that are simmered, making them easy to digest.
I have decided to approach the GAPS diet slowly. Slow and steady is the key to healing. We are currently on day three of Stage One. We have eaten a lot of soup! At the moment, my son is eating around 5-6 bowls of soup a day. I’m not following a meal plan or a recipe for the soup. I just make stock (either chicken or beef) and add vegetables that he likes from the approved food list.
A batch of stock / soup lasts for a day. Each morning I make a fresh batch of stock, once the stock is ready I remove the bones then add vegetables and put the meat back in.
The stock should be very gelatinous and solid when it has gone cold. It is the gelatinous meat stock that will really help to reseal the gut and begin the healing process.
What can I eat on the GAPS Introduction Diet, Stage 1?
Meat stock: consume at least 5-6 cups per day for adults, 3 cups per day for children. Make soups made with meat stock and the vegetables listed here:
- Naturally or organically sourced is best
- Scaled fish
- Wild game
- Fowl (duck, pheasant, etc.)
- Fresh herbs cooked in stock & removed (bouquet garni)
- Raw apple cider vinegar in stock
- Unrefined natural salt in stock
- Herbal teas
- Mineral water
- Coconut water – fermented
- Apple cider vinegar in stock
- Meat stock for sipping
Ferments – I am adding 1tsp of sauerkraut juice to every bowl of soup:
- 24-hr cultured dairy yogurt or whey from yogurt
- Cultured vegetable brines or their “juice.”
- Beet kvass
- Kombucha (long-ferment, all sugar consumed)
- Fermented garlic
- Sauerkraut juice
Vegetables – boiled, with stems, stalks, seeds, & skins removed:
- Artichokes (not Jerusalem)
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Green onion
- Kohlrabi (& leaves)
- Mustard greens
- Onions (red, yellow, white)
- Pattypan squash
- Pumpkin (fresh)
- Radishes (& tops)
- Rutabaga leaves
- Yellow squash
Everything highlighted in green is what we have actually eaten, some of the other ingredients are difficult to get hold of or my son doesn’t like them. He loves carrots and turnips so they have been in every soup we have eaten for the past three days.
Tomorrow will be the fourth day of Stage One, we are excited to move onto Stage Two as we can add egg yolks to the soup! I have also found a recipe for meatball soup which we are looking forward to trying. The skin on his face is looking a little less red, although it is still dry and scaly and the itching is ever present.
I don’t know how long this road is going to be, but we are taking it slowly, one step at a time together.