For the rest of the world, today is October 25. For me, it’s just Day 47.
It’s been 47 days since I’ve had a French fry. Forty-seven days since I’ve had a chip or a cracker. Forty-seven days since I’ve had a sandwich, a roll, or a tortilla. Why? Because 47 days ago, I started the GAPS diet.
The Paleo-esque Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet is the innovation of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. In a nutshell, she believes that by cutting out complex carbs (grains, starches, and sugar) and adopting a diet of lots of fermented food and broth, the good bacteria in the gut can be restored and the body healed of a laundry list of problems, from ulcerative colitis to depression to autism.
Well, I don’t have schizophrenia, Tourette’s, gout, or Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome (which I imagine is as horrible as it sounds), but I have had some nagging stomach pain that’s lingered for years that neither internists, naturopaths, chiropractors, nor acupuncturists have been able to cure or even diagnose. So at my wife’s suggestion, I agreed to give GAPS a shot, on one condition: she would do all the research and I would just eat what she told me to eat. This is about my third major diet lifestyle change, and I just can’t read any more health stuff.
And that brings me to my single biggest piece of advice for anyone considering this diet: Don’t try it alone. Long before we even started, Kelly–my wife–was poring over GAPS books, perusing recipes online, getting up early to hit the farmer’s market, picking up dairy orders from the farm, and planning meals. The weekend we started, I don’t think she left the kitchen. All the broth has to be homemade from whole chickens or meat, strained, and stored in jars, butter has to be made into ghee, and if you want to have more than one soup to eat all week (and trust me, you do), that just means more cooking.
At first, I supported this process with backrubs and verbal praise. But as this diet involves virtually abandoning packaged food, you’ll be making nearly everything you eat. And that means dirty dishes. So many dirty dishes. Dishwashing has always been my chore, but now it has become my Waterloo. The dishes are always there now, slowly draining my time on this earth. I literally unload the dishwasher and refill it immediately with a new load. But on this diet, you’re constantly using dishes that can’t fit in the dishwasher — giant pots you could fry a 20-pound turkey in, heavy Crock-Pots thick enough to stop a bullet.
On Sept. 9 we started the diet, Stage One. You progress through six stages, slowly adding in foods until you hit the full GAPS diet, which for some people apparently could take years. For me, the first week was a slow descent into hell. By the third day of eating little else but soup and honey, my head would spin when I got out of bed in the morning. By the sixth day, I barely had the energy to change the channel. Kelly was hoping we could drive out and join some friends at the beach; she may as well have suggested I climb K2.
That was the low point. We decided that morning to skip Stage Two (adding raw egg yolk to soups) and go right to Stage Three. With the promise of real food, I crawled to the store for supplies, and we feasted on a hash of scrambled eggs with ground beef and diced avocados. It was glorious. A few days later we discovered GAPS pancakes, an egg-and-sausage breakfast casserole, and these little muffins with sausage baked into the middle. Things had definitely taken a turn for the better.
We weren’t nearly as strict with the next stages. Pretty soon we started eating grilled salmon again (Stage Four) and making lettuce wraps (Stage Five). Despite the diet’s suggestion to “gradually introduce raw fruit” in Stage Six, I’ve been enjoying a massive fruit smoothie every morning for weeks, so I guess we’re in Stage Six now.
We’ve gotten to where the diet is manageable, although there are absolutely still negatives, like having to pack a lunch every single day, and a dinner if you want to join friends at a restaurant. Our grocery bill is absolutely ungodly. (On the other hand, our dining-out bill is nonexistent.) It took a good three weeks before we spent weekends doing much other than prepping meals. And I’ve had some of the most excruciating headaches of my life since starting GAPS.
On the bright side, after being off dairy for years, I’m eating as much yogurt, butter, milk, and cheese as I can stand. I can’t say I’ve been totally cured yet, but I feel pretty good, and after all — it’s only been 47 days.