“I’ve been searching my whole life for a diet that can explain and reverse all manner of chronic health problems including serious mental health problems. This is as close as it gets.”
I can’t remember who said it. It could’ve been a medical doctor, could’ve been a naturopathic doctor, massage therapist, acupuncturist, nutritional therapist or the many psychotherapists that were in the room. It was during a break, over a casual conversation that someone said it and it stuck with me because it’s a sentiment that a growing number of health practitioners express when they come across the GAPS diet.
A few weekends back I became a certified GAPS practitioner at a weekend long training in New York taught by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, a British physician who developed the GAPS diet. GAPS is an acronym that stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome. It’s a nutritional program that is gaining worldwide attention for its ability to improve and in some cases completely reverse autism and other serious psychological problems such as depression, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, schizophrenia and behavioral problems in children.
GAPS is designed to heal the gut. You may ask, “What does that have to deal with mental health?”
Turns out, a lot.
Talk to anyone with serious depression and ask them about their gut health. I can almost guarantee you will hear some form of digestive complaints as well. You probably won’t even have to ask. Whether it’s the bottle of Tums or Prilosec they’re carrying around, the frequent trips to the bathroom or the complaints of intestinal pain, it probably won’t be hard to notice.
Dr. Natasha (as she’s referred to) has found the same thing in the thousands of patients that have come to her through the years seeking help for serious health issues. That includes the parents of children suffering with all manner of mental health issues including autism.
Dr. Natasha realized early on that when she questioned parents about their children’s digestive status they would almost universally complain of severe diarrhea and/or constipation, discolored stools, foul smelling stools and stools with undigested food. She found that conventional doctors were not connecting the digestive problems to the mental health problems. They either didn’t know what to do or simply excused them away as “normal”.
In the Introduction to her book, Dr. Natasha states, “I have yet to meet a child with autism, ADHD, asthma, eczema, allergies, dyspraxia or dyslexia, who does not have digestive abnormalities.”
The purpose of this blog isn’t to delve into the inner workings of the digestive system and explain how it’s connected to our mental health. The purpose is to make you aware that if you or someone you know is suffering with a chronic, debilitating health condition, in particular a severe digestive problem or a severe mental health challenge, that there is hope.
Start with the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It’s a simple, down to earth read. It will explain how when our digestive system suffers, our body and mind suffer as well. It will explain why millions of Americans, in particular children our dealing with psychological issues at epidemic levels.
Let’s just touch on this real quick.
It wasn’t long ago that autism was diagnosed in 1 out of about 10,000 children. Today, that number stands at about 1 out 150. Why?
Many like to excuse this away as genetics. But genetics doesn’t work like that. This is environmental. In fact, the latest field of genetics, called epigenetics, has proven that our environment affects our genes. It has proven that our thoughts and emotions can affect our genes and that yes, the very food we put in our body affects our genes as well.
And if you’ve been paying attention lately, you know that our food supply is toxic. It’s been toxic for the better part of the last 100 years and it’s catching up to us. Each generation is getting sicker. This is not hard to see anymore. The rates of chronic disease are always higher in industrialized countries. The frankenfoods that line our supermarket shelves, replete with sugar, preservatives and chemicals do not support health. These foods when eaten regularly destroy health. We have an entire generation of children growing up on these foods. We are slowly waking up to this now due to the well-publicized and much needed grassroots movement back to real, sustainably grown foods.
And this is a central theme of the GAPS diet. The GAPS diet is not just about a gimmicky low carb or low fat approach. It’s about food as nourishment. It’s about real food with all the minerals, vitamins, healthy fats and all the basic building blocks our body needs to heal, replenish and nourish itself.
Those who follow the GAPS diet must seek out the best quality food they can. Organic produce, grass fed animal products, pastured eggs and wild fish form the foundation.
All damaging, refined and processed foods must be removed. All grains must be removed as well. And yes, even whole grains. The frequently repeated nutritional mantra to “eat more whole grains” can be quite damaging for many people. Yes, whole grains are nutritionally superior to refined ones. But whole grains are hard on the human digestive system. There’s a reason every supermarket now has a gluten-free section. Gluten, the main protein in wheat, rye and barley is difficult for the human body to digest. For those with already compromised digestion, they need to be removed to give the digestive lining a chance to heal.
Grains are also quite overrated nutritionally speaking. There is nothing in grains that you can’t get more efficiently from other foods. Fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy (if no sensitivity exists) and meats supply everything grains do but in a much more digestible form.
Obviously, removing grains from one’s diet is not easy as the standard American diet revolves around grains. It means removing breakfast cereals, bagels, pastries, cake, cookies, breads, pasta and so on. So yes, the GAPS diet is difficult to follow. But not impossible. Those that commit to it report remarkable results. It just takes a little more planning and preparation.
And this is why as a newly certified GAPS practitioner I have decided NOT to work with people with the GAPS diet…yet. It’s because I have not tried it for myself. If I’m going to help people with it, I know I need to do it for myself so that I can more skillfully guide people through its challenges.
So for the next several months I will be following it so I can better help and guide those in the future.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.