Everything I have done to better fit in this world has always been hard.
My luck was that I didn’t know.
So the first thing I did that was really hard to do was undertake the GAPS diet.
At the time, my guts were very sick, everything I ate hurt and burnt, all the time. Day and night. At some point it was just too much pain and weakness to handle.
So I stopped eating.
In the same time, I heard about that diet, and I had the chance to read the book.
Dr. Campbell-McBride, a neurologist and neuroscientist designed the diet and wrote the book that explains it and helps you follow it.
G.A.P.S. stands for (Guts And Psychology Syndrome).
She did all that work because for her own kids, who have Autism.
So what’s the GAPS diet, in a nutshell ?
Basically, you stop eating everyting you are used to, go down to 5 ingredients in purée like a baby, and start all over again, from there.
And for more details, read below*.
So here are some interesting questions that keep coming up when I talk about it :
→ Is it 2 years of strict diet and then the guts are considered as healed ?
After which you have all the good bacterias and you can eat with less restrictions?
It’s a lifelong diet.
But yes. If you’re lucky, in 1 to 2 years, you are done with the worst part.
I’m not lucky. Introducing foods takes me more time than average, maybe because I was in such a bad shape. Moreover, I have been travelling a lot during the 2d year of the diet, and I couldn’t follow it stricktly and with regularity, and I started hurting again. It has been 19 months, and I still cannot have any grains, or even cooked carrots.
→ So, you always make your own food ? I mean, you don’t find fermented food at the supermarket, unfortunately.
Let me put it another way : When I find in a shop something I can eat, I go crazy and buy 10. And then eat it for 2 whole days.
Here is an exemple : I live in the French region where the food specialty is sauerkraut. It’s not that I cannot eat the one I find here, but it is no use for me, because it’s not alive. So I make my own.
And that’s why I make 5 jars of it when I decide to make some.
Or 6 liters of pickles…
I have been following this diet for 1,5 years. I still spend at least 2 hours a day just making food. Not counting eating it, or cleaning. And that’s on the good days. If I am crazy enough to want some bread, or a cake, then go ahead and double it. And don’t get me started on the bones stock.
It’s also some crazy organisation skills to have. Soak the nuts 8 hours before your eat them or use them in a receipe, because it’s more digestible. Make Kombucha and Kefir constantly, and fit that in your weekly schedule, because those ones are alive, and they won’t forgive you if you neglect them. And good luck finding healthy cultures again if you kill those.
Remember to have that much and that many fermented foods a day. Don’t eat kefir too late in the day or you won’t sleep. Have coffee after your Kefir and you’ll pay dearly for it. Neglect taking stock a couple of days in a raw, and your tummy will silently yell at you for the rest of the week, no matter how much you appologise and have stock again.
Okay, I’ll end it here, but you get the idea. It’s a pretty lonely place…
→ This means that when you travel or go to a festival, you need to carefully organize your meals for the week. You won’t find all you need in a convenient store. Am I right ?
Yep. I pretty much am a kitchen slave.
Here is a sample of my life :
When I went back from New Zealand I decided to go to Nowhere, a festival in the Spanish desert, where I was going to spend a month (I am building and taking down the structures there, too).
I went by my mom’s on the way, to pick up my van (remember : Autistic. No festival happening for me without my safe bubble. My van is that bubble). I spent the whole week making stock and pickles, full time, with my mom. And she bought me 800 euros (1300 NZD) worth of organic food. Because, yes, I am supposed to eat organic.
(Again : autistic. Excessively hard for me to get a job, unthinkable to bear a full-time job. I almost killed myself trying. My diet is based on veggies and nuts ; the most expensive foods. But it is how it is, I have to eat organic if I want my nerves and brains to handle the basics of life. Tell me about everyday magic…)
→ Can you already feel a change in your condition? It must be difficult to explain.
My whole life
I am finally free to be myself. I am not the slave of some crazy-sensitive reaction, or nuts-storm-violent emotion. I do not have to spent 90% of my energy reading people and failing to make sense of it, because it just happens without me trying. I do not have to intellectualise why or how I want to be nice to people in order to actually be nice to them. I just do. Or how to get over this overwhelming need to scream and hide to allow myself to get this cuddle I’m craving for. I do not have to nearly kill myself to be as patient as I want to. Patience is there, plenty of it.
It is not difficult to explain. It’s very clear for me.
But it’s very detailled. It is in every detail of my life.
→ How was it before ? What did you use to do in the grip of unstable emotions ?
Before the diet, my emotions were like tsunamis, like hurricanes : for very little « provocation », I could enter a state of fury, shouting at people, arguing about incidents going back days, months, sometimes decades. My logic is unusual, but implacable. If I got into one of those storms, I couldn’t stop myself until my « oponant » was completely broken in his ways or position. They had no way of countering me : even if they didn’t agree with my point of view, my logic was flawless.
I would shout and shout until they had no further argument to oppose me, untill I felt I had at last been heard.
And then I would realise the damage I had done, and go into a state of prostration, very deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior, incredibly worried about the damage I had done to the person, feeling like I was worth less than nothing for my incapacity of controling my behavior. Secluded, keeping away from litterally everybody, I was busy hating myself and wanting very much to die.
I couldn’t understand how anybody could possibly love me. Or even think anything positive of me.
I’m still finding it quite hard to believe, at times.
I’m only very lucky I never felt like breaking things, or hurting people physically. I inflicted so much pain with my words already…
→ How old were you when you began the diet?
I was 28, it was 2 years ago. Bear in mind that I got diagnosed at 25, and that in France, where I’m from, there is very little information on « high-functioning autism », and even less on alternative ways to help deal with ASD.
→ What did your family think? Are they in agreement that you have changed?
I have very -VERY- little contact with my familly. At the time, I had cut all ties with my sister, had 5 minutes a year phone call with my brother, and had news of my mother around once a month, by email.
My mother had a hard time accepting my diagnosis, but she’s gotten better over the years. She is now my best support in all my unexpected, strong, scary choices . When I started the diet, she was supportive, though probably doubtfull.
When I came back to Europe a year later, I spent a whole 10 days with her, at the end of which, though we had had hard times, she expressed her support to my decision of doing that diet, for the changes she could see in me.
A few weeks later, at the festival, a once very close friend told me after much observation that he found me changed too.
→ How do you get the time to make the stock and the fermented foods?
Ha ! The tricky one.
I don’t. Or more like : I make it.
I tried having a job and going through my changes (I am also doing a very intense work on my mental patterns), and I couldn’t.
Working requires a lot more of me than it does of a NT, because for every hour of socialisation, I need around 1/2h of « decompression ». That means complete solitude, sometimes with total silence. Sleep doesn’t cover that. Doing other useful things, including cooking, doesn’t cover that. I can cumulate over a few days, but if I keep cumulating and not decompressing enough, I break down, usually in the form of depression.
So, when I’m working full time, my life is a mechanism of work, decompression, foor making. And nothing else, really.
So I made a decision earlier this year, to stop working.
I still have 1 student (Guess what ? I’m an english teacher!), because we work well together, and she’s old enough that she knows why she’s there. Appart from that, I take art lessons a few hours a week, and that leaves me free to cook for long hours, decompress, and still have some more art projects.
I couldn’t have it any other way. And most times, it doesn’t make me feel good about myself.
I also learnt to make big amounts of « generic » foods : pre-cook foods I can then use in a variety of different recipies, so I only have to do the bulk of the work once every few days.
→ How did/do you manage to keep up the diet when you were/are travelling?
I explained earler how I did it for the Nowhere festival : I took a whole week prior to the event to make enough stock for a month. I froze it and kept it in the freezer, in my van. Plus, I had a stock of food.
Before that, I had travelled over a month, hitch-hiking and camping under a tarp, on the South Island. During that period, I ate off dried tomatoes and nuts I had bought in bulk, dried meat, beetroots, carrots I had made myself. I would buy fresh veggies whenever I hit town, but it wasn’t every day.
I tried to buy ready-made liquid stock, too, but when I couldn’t I would make myself Jelly (from pure gelatine). It’s not as good as bones stock, but it did sustain my health for a while.
Then I was in too much pain, and I had to hit a backpackers and cook stock for days at a time. It’s always a bit tricky to find an arrangement in those places, because the stock has to simmer for 12 to 36 hours, and you don’t want to have to be closeby for that much time. Then you have to keep it in a freezer untill you use it otherwise it takes up too much space in the shared friges, already taken over by your veggies…
It does get easier as you get further into the diet : you introduce more foods, your body can handle a « mistake » a lot better, and you can even go without stock for a few days and handle the slight sentisivity that comes of it.
On the long run, though, it’s basically the same as when you start out : your body first, everything else second.
GAPS diet is a completely different point of view from “official medicine”. It considers the human being as a complex machinery where every parameter has causes and consequences amongst the others. It sees the body as a system that you need to listen to to find the root of illness and heal it. It is quite the opposite logic to giving a pill that is going to shut down the sign saying what the problem is so you do not have to hear that pain and you can ignore the problem and let it go worse without having to worry about it.
GAPS is actually a variation on the body ecology diet. Speaks for itself.
I understand that as any healing process or medication magic, it doesn’t apply to every body, but I also know the GAPS diet saved my life. Litterally.
And keeps doing it everyday, as I am reminded everytime I step out of it…
Many thanks to Simone Bertossi for his interest and curiosity, that were the starting spark of this article.
* The Science of the GAPS diet :
When you have a « mental illness » (autism does not qualify technically, but the diet works for it too), it seems you have a genetic ground not favourable to all the good bacterias your guts need to keep you healthy.
So eventually, after years of a diet so wrong for your guts balance, you end up with very few strains, and the wrong kind. Even probably a candida albicans overgrowth (that was my case).
As a result of that, your intestines, and eventually your whole digestive system, gets deteriorated. Wounded. Plus more awful symtoms, consequences of the above.
Because the bacterias are the ones building the guts, not the body.
So your guts are wounded, and the food cannot be broken down proprely, because the right bacterias to do that are missing. So the food gets in your bloodstream in much bigger chunks, through the wounds, in a form that is not only useless to the body, but also toxic.
Hence your immune system constantly overruns.
Next is your lympatic system.
Which takes care of your nervous system, that ends up suffering too. All the way to the central nervous system of course.
Add that to the constant pain, that translate into physical stress (added to the chemical stress above explained), and you’ve got a pretty messed up body, that induces a pretty messed-up mind. Depending on your genetics, it’s gonna show differently : foggy brain, depression, panic attacks, hight anxiety, bipolar episods and so on.
And that’s where the GAPS diet comes in.
It’s a bit like being muslim, you’ve got Pillars.
There is phases, too. At the beginning, it’s incredibly strict, to get rid of the bacterias for good, and to avoid hurting the tummy any more. I’ll just explain it roughly, passing on the details.
→ Do not eat any toxins, ever again. Anything on a tin that does not sound like primary product of Mother Nature ? You don’t buy the can. For me, being autistic, it is also never again any gluten or milk product. Shame for a french gourmet.
Eat organic, avoid pork.
→ Detoxify. Eat tons of garlic, thyme and lemon. Amongst other things. That is also why I see a chiropractor, do meditation and a little sport, to alleviate stress and toxins.
And cut off anything that metabolises into sugar (the Candida Albicans feeds on that, and it’s a real nasty). Anyway you probably don’t have any good bacterias to digest them any more.
→ Put good bacterias in your tummy any way you can. Home made fermented foods and drinks, the best probiotics you can find… I have even heard of a stool implant option.
→ Love those bugs. Give them the easiest food for them to rebuild your guts. Which happens to be bones stock. Also, learn about the acid/basic balance, and how and when to acidify or alcalinise your body.
→ When you have completed the 1st phase fo the diet, introduce 1 new ingredient a week. There is a very strict process to follow, depending on what kind of food it is. Process that focuses on helping your gutts accept that new data in the equation.