autism Food intolerances Gut health gut microbiome

The 5 biggest GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet mistakes.

When people read success stories about those that have use the GAPS protocol to improve their mental and physical health, it’s easy to get excited and jump straight in. I have worked with hundreds of GAPS clients since training with Dr Natasha Campbell McBride in 2012. In this time I have seen lots of people struggle in the early stages of the programme because of ¬†five common mistakes. I’m going to share them with you here.

1. Starting ‘Intro’ when constipated

So often people are so motivated after having read the Gut and Psychology Syndrome book that they are ready to jump in feet first. They understand that a large amount of healing occurs on the ‘Introduction Diet’ and decide that this is where they will start.

Although this might work for some people it doesn’t suit everyone. If you have chronic constipation it is a good idea to wait until it has resolved before embarking on the Intro diet. The problem is that too little fibre coupled with intense die-off can make constipation much worse.

Often clients will want to start Intro at a time that works for them, maybe the school holidays or when there is more downtime for them to rest, but I recommend waiting until constipation resolves before going down this route.

The bowel is the main route out for toxins and if it is not functioning regularly these toxins will re-circulate causing re-intoxication. This can be uncomfortable and sometimes fruitless, as toxins may settle back into body tissues instead of being eliminated. In children with autism this can manifest itself as increased stimming and behavioural issues – regression.

2. Detoxing too quickly

The Gaps Protocol is heavy duty. Just think of all those additives, problem foods, sugars, chemicals that are being removed from your diet and environment. Many of us have exposed our bodies to these elements for years, this damage will take some undoing.

Likewise, our children with gaps-issues, it is likely they have faulty detox mechanisms that have made them more susceptible to these elements in a shorter space of time.

There are a fair amount of toxins in your bodies already and there is plenty of detoxing to do on the full gaps diet. You are already doing a lot to help yourself or your child. Take your time. Give your body a chance to catch up before considering extra supplements, additional probiotics, more juicing, deep parasite cleanse, etc, etc. Yes, there is a lot you can do to support your health, but you cant do it all at once.

Detoxing too fast, too soon can lead to what we call ‘aggravations’, where toxins are disturbed by the detox, they circulate, but phase 2 detox is compromised or routes of elimination are overwhelmed and so the toxins end up settling back in he body tissues again. All this would have been quite uncomfortable with no real gain at the end.

3. Eating foods you are intolerant to.

Many people are happy to see dairy listed in the allowed foods on gaps. However, I find initially, a large number of people cannot tolerate it at all. It is one of the main foods that people develop intolerances to.

If there are indications in someone’s health history that may have a problem with dairy – food intolerances, autism, auto-immune disorders, ear infections, tonsillitis then I recommend a period without dairy and we re-introduce it when they are ready. The length of the period of absteining is different in each individual.

Other commons that people might have problems with are eggs and nuts. Everybody is individual and it’s possible you might have an intolerance to something less obvious in the diet. If you have an intolerance to a food that you are eating regularly it is possible that your progress could stall.

I didn’t use to recommend food intolerance testing to my clients as I felt that the elimination and challenge approach was the most effective way of identifying problem foods. I still believe this but I think food intolerance testing has it’s place if you are failing to progress.

4. Not eating enough therapeutic foods

The foods I find that some clients struggle to include enough of in their diets are meat stocks and liver. These are crucial elements of the gaps protocol as they provide nutrient dense meals vital for re-building the gut.

Most people with gaps-syndrome tend to have stomach acid issues, over time this can lead to deficiencies in vital nutrients. These include B12, iron and zinc. Eating liver is the way to rectify these deficiencies quickly and efficiently. Including it twice a week is a powerful therapeutic tool.

We all know the important role stock plays in this protocol. The problems with not having enough tends to stem from a supply problem (can’t make enough for a hungry family or five on gaps!) or an unwillingness to drink it or eat soup made with it. Ideally, you would drink a cup of stock with each meal. If your child isn’t keen you might be cooking with it and adding it to sauces where possible, but if you find they are not making progress you might want to consult with a practitioner to find out what other options are available to you.

Probiotic foods are without doubt an important part of the protocol. I find most people manage to include regular amounts of these in their diets.

If you would like advice of the GAPS protocol, get in touch.


    Sarah is a clinical nutritionist specialising in mental wellbeing and the gut-brain connection.

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