GAPS-Introduction-Diet

How to *Thrive* on the GAPS INTRODUCTION Diet

Megan Healing Diets, Health & Nutrition 52 Comments

We all know by now that it’s about the journey, right?  But when it comes to healing one does want to arrive.

Ironically, although we are people who like to make progress, to strain forward, to hurry to the finish line, we can not operate on our own time frame when it comes to healing. We can not arrive if we don’t go by the right paths.  I have learned the hard way that to hurry is actually to slow one’s progress.  To stop and eat the metaphorical lollipops that grow by the way will send you back to the “Start” square in the game.

Arriving for me will look like being symptom-free, being able to maintain a whole, slow-food diet without omitting many foods due to their toxic effects.

Thankfully, the most healing diets also keep me satisfied!  I am grateful.  But what I didn’t realize until recently, when I had certain persistent symptoms that just wouldn’t go away, is that I passed through the GAPS Introduction Diet too quickly.

The GAPS Introduction Diet is among the very strictest of the healing diets, it specifying the greatest quantity of  foods to avoid, exact specifications of what foods to eat, and how they need to be prepared… but to great purpose!

The originator of this diet is a British medical doctor, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. The purpose of the GAPS diet is to heal a condition called Leaky Gut and Pathogen Overgrowth, more often diagnosed by naturopaths, but occasionally by medical doctors too.  By starving ones’ pathogens from all sugars and starches and healing the mucosal lining of the gut, largely with bone broths, the goal is to restore one’s proper flora balance and also to heal whatever diseases may have resulted: autoimmune diseases, including diabetes and asthma, ADD, ADHD, IBS, food allergies as well as many others.

While the  Full GAPS Diet consists of eating only homemade whole foods, and eating a starch and sugar-free diet without exception, the Introduction Diet starts out with the simplest healing menu possible: bone broth soups made with well-cooked veggies and slow-simmered meat, adding in fermented veggies and a few other gentle foods over time.  That’s all.  Cheating sabotages the process.

This is a diet for the sick person determined to get well.  It works; but it’s work.

Dr. Natasha’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and cookbook, are worth owning if this is the right path for you or someone in your family.  The diet can be quite a challenge for most people. But I can say from experience that it is effective and in my opinion worth the sacrifices required.  The GAPS Diet website is also excellent and, as I found out recently, more updated than her book, on supplements and products that can help.

After 3 years, that have flown by relatively quickly, I  recently put my whole family back on the GAPS Introduction Diet. Even my husband opted in. The kids heard the news with some initial trepidation.  A bit of the fight or flight instinct kicked in; but amazingly, they were truly soothed by the truth: we can be healed more quickly by going back to do what we should have done in the beginning.

I wish that certain subtle sentences and perhaps a single paragraph in Dr. Natasha’s guiding book could have been accentuated further. These sentences, I now see, need to be underlined and emboldened for the naïve and weak, namely me!  She does emphasize other important principles more than once, like not introducing dairy or probiotics too quickly.  Ultimately, I missed it.  Perhaps back then I wanted to miss it because it was so hard.  Or, more than likely, it is just a book chalk-full of content.  And it is hard to absorb the importance of everything.  Our minds naturally fall on certain details that we follow through on well.  Yet we have to reread a long book many times to catch all of the important details.

Like most families starting out on this diet, the changes felt very dramatic to us, years ago when we first attempted them. I was weak in bed for two weeks with “die off” and not sure if my body needed raw vegetables and the living enzymes therein to regain its strength. In retrospect, in rereading this canon of health and healing, I see what I somehow missed on that first reading.

Dr. Natasha says on pages 143-144,

People with food allergies and intolerances should go through the Introduction Diet in order to heal and seal their gut lining…From my clinical experience, it is best to concentrate on healing the gut wall with the Introduction Diet…Those without serious digestive problems and food intolerances can move through the Introduction Diet quite quickly…However, …the Introduction Diet will give you the best chance to optimize the healing process in the gut and the rest of the body. I see cases where skipping the Introduction Diet leads to long-term, lingering problems, difficult to deal with.

That was me. Autoimmune diseases, food allergies, a daughter with asthma. I realize now that we should have stayed on the Introduction Diet for much longer, not been in such a hurry to progress to the Full GAPS Diet.

The Full GAPS Diet somehow has a feeling of progress about it. You get to eat more foods, feel more freedom, possibly experience less die-off. It felt, at the time, like our unspoken goal as a family was to get off the Intro. Diet. Those first couple of weeks I remember as though in a grey fog, walking around in a blur of fatty soup broth, trying to keep up the morale of kids who did not feel welcomed to a new day by a big mug of turkey back broth with a ¼ inch of fat hanging out on the top.  Poor kiddos! Their mama didn’t yet know how to make GREAT soups and we were just following “orders.”

Dr. Natasha began to be referred to in derogatory terms as “she” and “her,” as in, “Why does she say we have to drink this broth every morning?” We all knew who “she” was and I did my best to vindicate this same woman whom I counted as a hero (and still do), the woman I thought should win some international award for her contributions and insights in the world of health and healing.

Now, three years later, we really know the ropes of the Full GAPS Diet. But in having a friend begin the diet who I thought had a more revised and updated version of the GAPS book, I have recurred to chapters again and again recently, some of which I hadn’t looked at in months or years. This time, within days of rediscovering Dr. Natasha’s exhortations regarding the Intro. Diet, I had gently persuaded our kids to walk the tightrope once again with me. They didn’t really have a choice because I am committed to healing them; but having them understand the big picture makes them motivated and more cheerful. We’re on the same tightrope; so if they rebel too violently we’ll all fall off.

It’s my job this go round to make the soups DELICIOUS! The kids and my husband have remarked so many times that they don’t even feel like we’re on the Intro. Diet when I serve them a meal. The soups now taste so good, and they are so satisfying, that we are all prospering. They do still have moments of missing certain foods, and I feel momentary attractions to non-GAPS foods when I’m working at our healthy ice cream shops and surrounded by beautiful sweets and savories. But when I am at home I never want for more. And my attraction to beautiful ice cream and frozen yogurt is mild enough to not be a craving, as it was the first time we were on the Intro. Diet.

Given that we have this newfound strength and empowerment on the most stringent part of the diet, I am writing to save you time. Be staunch the first go round. Stay on the Intro. Diet longer.

The way the diet is orchestrated is that even on the Introduction Diet there are different stages of progression. Stay with just grass-fed meat, slow cooked in bone broth, with soft-cooked veggies for weeks, if not longer. This is your chance to have dramatic healing take place! The first foods are utterly gentle. You are, thus, giving your body a real break from the starches and scratchy surfaces that have worn it down for so long.

  • Add in raw egg yolks for what Dr. Natasha says amounts to the nutritional power, purity, and easy digestion of mother’s milk.
  • After raw yolks, whole, soft poached eggs can be added, then avocado and eventually the Intro. Diet is lenient enough, while still being gentle and healing, to allow for small pancakes made from sprouted nuts, winter squash, and grass-fed eggs, cooked in lavish amounts of rendered animal fat.
  • Ghee, probiotic juice from fermented veggies, and ginger tea are also healthful elements.
  • Eventually salads are added in, fully cultured dairy for some who can tolerate it, more uniquely made baked goods, and casseroles.

All on the Introduction Diet! Party on, man! Well, maybe not quite, but that’s pretty good. Plenty of progression and variety if you need to stay on the Introduction Diet for a while.

Really, why we rushed beyond those options is hard to remember now. Because currently we feel satisfied. But back then we were coming off of sugar addictions for the first time ever and the switch must have been stark, with false notions of deprivation, and temptation appearing like mirages in our way. It was the juxtaposition of one life to the next that made it so hard. Whereas now the contrast is minimal. We are excited to see the drama of healing more rapidly unfold. And we love our soups!

Where are you coming from? Are you hooked on sugar, processed food, bread, or any other common component of the SAD, (Standard American Diet)? If so, I’ve been there, albeit with a “healthy” twist. (I never liked soda or most processed foods.) So any pep talk from me is sobered by my awareness of how hard that initial transition is.

What was missing in my initial journey was the bold faced, italicized, underlined font of this fact: do not hurry through the Introduction Diet!

GAPS-Introduction-Diet

Find the fun in it somewhere. Enjoy all the fat. Learn to like fat, if you don’t already. Hang out. Heal. If you move forward too quickly, the process will take A LOT longer in the end. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Learn to make great soup. Introduce the next stage s-l-o-w-l-y. Feel joy about what you’re accomplishing. Give yourself permission to not exercise if you are tired. (Adrenal fatigue and thyroid issues often compound leaky gut symptoms, leaving many of us with little strength. They’ll be plenty of time to be in great shape when you’re not drawing on your body’s stores. Focus now on getting your “core” healthy again.) This is a rare moment in your life when you are doing dramatic healing that not even most medical doctors believe is possible. You are part of the great frontier. Speckled all over the map there are individuals just like you, eating soup at their tables, persevering, and sealing up their diseased bodies. There’s a great big community of courageous individuals who are learning to love fat, soup, bone broth, well-cooked veggies, fermented veggie juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and cod liver oil alongside you. Some were gourmets; some were junk food addicts. All must deep down have hope and optimism, a belief that others have healed before us, and we are the next in line to heal. It will take years; but don’t be scared! Like my midwife said to me, before the birth of our first child, just take one contraction at a time. Don’t get worried about the ones to come. Take one day at a time. Focus on joy and quality healing today.

I can tell you from experience how quickly the time goes by. Also, don’t ever cheat. It only sets you back and makes things harder. Stay home and eat soup. Focus. Heal. And when you’re ready, yes, the Full GAPS Diet awaits you and after that, the Weston A. Price or Paleo diets will help you to happily maintain your progress. But in the meantime, find what you love among the Intro. Diet options and make really good broth.

Well, this article would be sorely lacking if I didn’t next pass along to you some of my favorite tips for great bone broth and for great soups! I have outlined a week+ of soups below, ideas for ingredients and methods. They aren’t full-length recipes. But they are ideas for excellence in regard to the textures and flavors of your soups. They are all completely “legal” ideas! And there are plenty of Low-FODMAP veggie options for those of you with that added restriction.  (See my prior article on this issue.)

Onions are optional in all of the following recipes.  They are great for healing with lovely bioflavonoids that benefit the immune and digestive systems; but they are not a Low-FODMAP food.  So I have had to remove them from our diet, (3 out of 5 of us react), and have been surprised and pleased how much easier it is to do without them than I had expected.  Other FODMAP veggies to avoid if you have bloating or other IBS symptoms are beets, cabbage, cauliflower, and green beans.  So in some of the recipes below I have focused more on safe FODMAP veggies like carrots, bok choy, zucchini, eggplant, greens, and winter squash.  Also, wonderfully, the greens of green onions are FODMAP-free and can be substituted in for yellow onions.  (Just share the green onions’ whites with a friend!)

Soup Ideas-

  1. Grate beets and simmer them in bone broth (recipe follows); poach venison steak, cooking it only to medium rare and then cube or slice it prettily; also slow-simmer the beet greens with onions, cool them, and puree them; combine the thick puree with the grated beets for a very thick soup overall; serve the steak fanned out on top.
  2. Make beef meatballs, combining the raw meat with dried basil, white pepper, and sea salt.  Add into the broth that is poaching the meatballs the flesh of baked winter squash and fresh spinach, gently simmering the three together in the broth; puree some of the veggies so the broth is thicker but also leave lots of individual spinach leaves and chunks of satisfying squash.
  3. Poach whole chicken legs in bone broth; add the remains of a winter squash from a prior meal, thyme, and lots of small-cut cauliflower; keep this soup broth-y but full of small cauliflower and a bit of squash so it has creamy components.
  4. Poach shrimp, salmon, white fish, or pork meatballs in Cilantro Broth (recipe follows), with fresh ginger, bok choy, julienned carrots, diagonally cut zucchini, green onions, and garlic; add raw egg yolk or poached whole eggs when you have progressed to the second stage of the Introduction Diet.  For Cilantro Broth, puree warm, not hot, broth with a big handful of the fresh herb, fresh ginger, to taste, and optional garlic.  Add it to the soup and heat it gently.
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    You can see I have poured the puree in separately, keeping some of the hot broth in a separate pot during the soup prep. process. The puree is moderately spicy with fresh ginger; so some like more and some like less. And it’s pretty to see texture variations between the broth and the puree. When you’re only having one thing for dinner, it pays to make it interesting to look at, and interesting to eat.

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    For my biggest eater, my 10-year-old son, you can see winter squash, a whole egg, and multiple meatballs. He actually averages 3 bowls of soup at each meal. And he’s thriving.

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    Here’s how I serve our 4-year-old. Everything is still prettily presented, composed, but chopped into bite-size pieces; and he has less cilantro-ginger puree.

  5. Make lamb meatballs with dried mint and oregano mixed into the raw meat; eggplant, zucchini, red bell peppers, and optional onions are simmered until very soft; cool and puree a portion of the veggies before adding them back into the chunky ones.
  6. Make buffalo meatballs with basil and oregano; simmer carrots, onions, and zucchini, in a winter squash puree.
  7. Poach whole turkey thigh; then allow it to cool and chop or shred the meat; puree some cooled broth with the skin, fat, and dried sage; simmer in the broth cooked winter squash, cauliflower, cubed turnips, chopped kale or spinach, and optional garlic and onions.  This is a great Thanksgiving-flavored soup, comfort food, and well-liked by all.
  8. Harvest beef marrow from yummy beef marrow bones; puree the marrow into cooled fatty stock with winter squash; serve this rich and satisfying base with poached eggs and any slow-cooked beef from the bone.

Okay, serious YUM.  I am really hungry right now.  These soups are really good.  And meatballs were my big epiphany this go round.  I never thought of it three years ago.  But this time the idea popped into my head the second day.  And, wow, meatballs are fun.  Kids love them.  I love them.  And they are really versatile.  You can mix in not only dried or fresh herbs, but also minced ginger or garlic for Asian soups.

Also, the more fat you can puree into your veggie purees and add back into your soups, using the skin, soft cartilage, and rendered fat, the more satisfied you will feel with each bowl of soup.  Well-cooked carrots pureed with lots of fat, broth, and a well-chosen herb is lovely.  Top it with poached meat in a pretty way and you will have a crowd pleaser.

Below I have pictured a few carrot-based soups.  For the few of you who can’t do carrots, zucchini also makes a great creamy base, as do cauliflower, rutabaga, turnips, onions, and of course, winter squash. Just remember the grass-fed, saturated meat fat is largely responsible for healing your gut; so learning to make it really palatable is an important step! 🙂

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Tuna was recently vindicated of the high mercury charges of which it was once convicted. Apparently the ratio of selenium to mercury in ocean-going fish is the real issue. Tuna, therefore, has made a pleasant comeback in our home and is seen here poached to medium-rare, sliced and served on a base of carrot-ginger soup with prawns. We’re really not hurting here, are we? Squeeze a little lemon juice over the fish to counter its tanginess and to compliment the ginger.

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Simple meatball soup, made with any ground meat of high quality, and your favorite spices, is a great and easy meal to fall back on. Use spices like thyme, sage, rosemary, and basil. The meatballs do not need any egg to hold together.

Now, how to make great bone broth?  Firstly, source pasture-raised meat.  Chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, any pasture-raised or wild meat bones will make great broth.  Also, hit up your local fish market for salmon collars or bones.  The collars are super inexpensive, deliciously tender and fresh, and after eating the gently poached meat, the bones can be used to make nourishing broth.

For every gallon of water add 1 1/2 lbs. of bones, (including skin, small bits of meat, giblets, fat, and cartilage) and 1 T. + 1 tsp. sea salt.  Simmer the bones gently for 2-3 hours and then harvest this fattiest of broths for the first use of the bones.  You will then refill the pot with the same salt and water quantities and continue to boil these bones for 24-72 hours to extract minerals, collagen, and gelatin.  But the first 2-3 hour broth is the fattiest and therefore, the most nutritious for the Introduction Diet.  The fat itself is not supposed to boil for days, as it will become rancid.  So harvest and consume it, enjoying the rich flavor of the first batch.

You may steam vegetables or place larger whole vegetables on top of the bones to simmer or steam gently during this process.  It makes one less step some days to cook the veggies and the bones at the same time in the same pot.  Of course there will be other times when you cool the broth, strain in, and then simmer chopped veggies and poach meat in it.  Below you can see the process of me pulling out cooked carrots, fat, and cartilage so that they can cool and be pureed.  It isn’t pretty at this stage but it has a satiny outcome.

I've got the tongs to grab little pieces of hot skin and other useful parts.

I’ve got the tongs to grab little pieces of hot skin and other useful parts.

Let’s look at the next stages of the process.

It's quick and easy to form meatballs, about 5 minutes total for 1 1/2 lbs. of meat.

It’s quick and easy to form meatballs, about 5 minutes total for 1-1/2 lbs. of meat.

Here they are poaching in strained broth and veggies.

Here they are poaching in strained broth and veggies.

Poached red bell peppers and soft cooked carrots get pureed with herbs and cooled broth for a hearty, satisfying base.

Poached red bell peppers and soft cooked carrots get pureed with herbs and cooled broth for a hearty, satisfying base.

See how the soup looked good but too broth-y to satisfy as one's only food for the day? Adding the thick puree changes the whole experience.

See how the soup looked good but too broth-y to satisfy as one’s only food for the day? Adding the thick puree changes the whole experience.

Here's one stage of soup with added puree. I love it like this, with small flecks of fat melted into it. But see the next photo to see what fills up and better satisfies my family.

Here’s one stage of soup with added puree. I love it like this, with small flecks of fat melted into it. But see the next photo to see what fills up and better satisfies my family.

This thick soup has two blender-fulls of veggies pureed into broth and fatty parts. It is very enriching now and will leave hungry eaters feeling happy.

This thick soup has two blender-fulls of veggies pureed into broth and fatty parts. It is very enriching now and will leave hungry eaters feeling happy.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post.  I really wish you well and hope that the specifics of this article, the pep talk, the warning of moving along too quickly, and the recipes will equip you to stick to the Introduction Diet regimen and to find healing sooner, faster.

It’s the turtle mentality.  Win the race not by hurrying, but by slow, thorough progress.

By the way, at last count, I have been on the Intro. Diet now for 6 weeks, still only on Stage 2 of it.  I am happy, doing great, and improving constantly.  By body can not yet handle ghee or raw veggies.  So I’m sticking with my lovely soups, eggs, and small amounts of fermented veggie juice.  My most exciting mark of progress thus far is that my mild, remaining Interstitial Cystitis symptoms (a bladder and urethra disease that is incurable for most) are completely gone.  The disease had improved considerably three years ago, after first going on the GAPS Diet.  But in getting back on the Intro. Diet, I am now free completely of all symptoms, which is a huge indicator that my gut has sealed up considerably more than it was able to on the Full GAPS Diet.  Interstitial Cystitis is basically just Leaky Gut extended down your alimentary canal.  So healing in the bladder and urethra indicate healing in the whole gut!

If you feel you’d benefit from one-on-one counsel, feel free to read about the consulting I do and to email me.