My husband and I aren't even a month into our GAPS journey, and already I can think of a number of things that I would have done to better prepare. Because we are often more "talk" than "action," I decided to set a firm date and we dove right in. While that wasn't necessarily a bad idea, we found that we weren't quite prepared by our deadline to do things right.
What is GAPS?
GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. The GAPS Diet was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who found that there was a close connection between gut health and symptoms such as anxiety, autism, ADHD, and number of other mood and biochemical disorders. The purpose of the diet is to heal the gut lining and restore the gut flora so that one can properly digest food and absorb the necessary nutrients, thereby healing a vast array of symptoms ranging from allergies to bloating to mental conditions. The diet itself is meant to last on average two years, and during that time you consume large quantities of bone broth and naturally fermented foods. New foods are gradually introduced through the multi-stage diet, and as your gut lining heals, your body can eventually tolerate foods that once were problematic.
The specifics of the GAPS diet protocol are beyond the scope of this writing, but I highly recommend Dr. Campbell-McBride's book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome for detailed information. For those already familiar with the diet looking for preparation tips, this is for you!
Tips on Preparing for the GAPS Diet
1. Time Your Start Date with the Seasons
The first stage of the GAPS Intro diet involves consuming only bone broth and soups. I was so excited to get started on the diet, that I didn't really consider my start date very carefully. I inconveniently chose the dead of summer, August 1, to begin cooking and consuming hot broths and soups. Hindsight is 20/20! While you can certainly start in the summertime, as my husband and I did, do remember that you will be consuming lots of hot soups, and cooking your own bone broth, which means you will have the stove top or slow cooker running almost constantly.
By way of contrast, since you will also need lots of fermented vegetables, such as naturally fermented sauerkraut or pickles, summertime is perfect for preparing these. No cooking is required, and most produce is in season. The warmer temperatures are also ideal for having your ferments "work" properly.
If I were to do it over again, I would have used the rest of summer to get ahead on preparing fermented vegetables, and waited until fall or winter to officially begin the diet. If your digestive symptoms are severe and you're unable to push off your start date until winter, of course start whenever you need to. But if your start date isn't a pressing factor, I do recommend choosing a time in the winter!
2. Stock up on Mason Jars, Thermoses, and Insulated Food Jars
You will be using lots of mason jars for fermenting your vegetables and storing soups and bone broth in the fridge and freezer. Be prepared. Make sure you have plenty of lids for your jars as well. I like the plastic screw top lids when I use the jars for storage or freezing, as they are a little easier to take on and off than the separate metal lids and caps.
Thermoses and insulated food containers are especially critical if you, like many people, are away from the house most of the day, either at work or school. You can pack hot soups and broths to take along and have it ready to go all day. Microwaving is very much discouraged, as it destroys food quality, so you will need to heat your food on the stove in the morning before you head out and take it along. I recommend having at least 2 or 3 for each person in your family participating in the GAPS diet. Consider how long each person will typically be away from the house, and how much they will likely eat during that time.
3. Invest in a Large Capacity Slow Cooker or Multi-cooker
These items will be invaluable for making bone broth, homemade yogurt, soups, and stews, all of which are biggies on the GAPS diet. Since you will need a constant supply of bone broth on this diet, you'll need to be making it almost continuously. Bone broth can take a good 12-72 hours to make properly, and most people aren't comfortable having their stove going that long, especially if they aren't home.
I have a hand-me-down slow cooker from my mother-in-law, but I also recently purchased an 8-quart multi-cooker that has functions for pressure cooking, slow cooking, simmering, yogurt, etc. I like it because it holds a lot, and it doesn't output a lot of heat, so it's great for making stocks and broths in the summer. There have been days where I have had bone broth cooking away in both my slow cooker and my multi-cooker at the same time!
4. Learn From Multiple Sources
Dr. Campbell-McBride's GAPS book is great, and despite being fairly technical in detailed information about the digestive system, I found it very easy to read and understand. However, this book is packed full of so much information, it can feel overwhelming to keep straight, remember, and apply.
Because of this, I found it helpful to supplement Dr. Campbell-McBride's book with other resources, such as books and guides by other authors and blog sites containing recipes and people's experiences. I have found that reading the information presented by multiple sources really helped to solidify the information in my brain, and has helped me know better where to start and how to progress throughout the stages of the diet. The more you learn, read, and hear the information, the more confident you will be getting started.
5. Source Good Quality Meats and Bones
Since this is a healing diet, the better quality foods and ingredients you use, the better your results will be. You'll want to aim for organic and grass-fed meats, eggs, and bones whenever possible. Check to see what your local grocery stores carry, and then check around for local butcher shops, farms, and farmers markets to find the best prices. Depending on your budget, you may not always be able to afford organic and grass fed, but if you keep hunting around, you may find a source that is reasonably priced. I was surprised to find local pasture-raised eggs at an Asian grocery store in our area that were about half the price as our regular grocery store!
6. Rid Your House of All Non-GAPS Food
The GAPS Intro diet can be challenging to stick to, since it's fairly limited at first, so if you have other food around that looks appetizing and is more convenient to eat, guess what you're probably going to eat? It's best to just get rid of it all, whether that means planning your start date after your other food has all been eaten, giving some away to family and friends, or donating to a food bank. If you have fresh produce that you don't want to go to waste, take a weekend and preserve it through a natural fermenting process. You will be able to use the produce this way when you start GAPS.
7. Educate All Members of the Family
There is a lot to learn when starting GAPS, so the more your family knows about why you're doing it and specifically what they'll be allowed to eat, the easier it will be. Try printing out a bullet-point list of allowed foods for each stage of the diet to post on the fridge for everyone to see. Or if it better suits members of your family, take photos and post those for easier understanding.
While this diet will certainly be easier to implement if everyone in your household is on board, if you find yourself doing this alone, it will still be helpful for others to know about what you're doing so they can support you (and not offer you temping foods that will slow down your progress!)
8. Freeze broth, soups, and stews in advance
Work ahead on making your broth, soups, and stews and tuck them away in the freezer for when you're too tired to cook, or when life gets busy, as it inevitably does. Be sure to label everything you freeze including the specific ingredients and the date, as you won't remember once it's frozen.
You may find that you have sensitivities to certain ingredients at first, so you will want to know everything that is included in the jar or container. For example, my husband found that he had digestive difficulties with any broth made from bones with cartilage (the joint bones). He would have severe bloating issues and abdominal discomfort when he consumed it. We had to work on healing that problem first, and he started out with stock made with center cut marrow bones only. That meant that any stock I had made containing any cartilage had to be properly labeled in the freezer so I didn't accidentally give it to him.
9. Don't Go Too Fast
One mistake I made in starting the GAPS diet was starting too many foods at once. Technically the intro phase of diet allows you to have well cooked non-fibrous vegetables in a soup, so I started making soups with a variety of these vegetables. Unfortunately, we discovered that my hubby was very sensitive to any fiber at all, which meant that we actually had to cut out all vegetables for a time to give his system a chance to heal. We cut back to soups made with just boiled meat in bone broth, and then slowly started adding vegetables back in, one at a time to watch for any reactions.
I recommend starting off very simply with the bare minimum, and as your digestive symptoms improve, slowly add in new foods. Just because a variety of foods are "legal" doesn't mean you should start them all at once!
10. Do What You Can
You probably won't do things perfectly, and while it's great to shoot for perfection, show yourself a little grace. You will continue to learn as you go along.
If your budget won't allow you to rid your house of all the non-GAPS food you have in order to start fresh, phase it out slowly. Eat up what you have, and slowly work into the diet as you cycle through food. Eventually you will get there.
If you don't have access to grass fed and organic meats and eggs, buy the best that you can find, or the best that you can afford. While the non-organic versions may not be as nutritious, you will still benefit from eating them.
While the first stages of GAPS can be tiring and hard to get through, keep focused on all the positive effects it will have on your body. Make a list of all the reasons why you are committed to following the GAPS diet, and what you hope to attain, so that you can remind yourself of these reasons when the going gets tough. Keep a journal as you go along documenting the foods you've been able to add in and how you have been feeling. Later down the road if you feel discouraged, you can look back and see how far you have come.
Happy healing, and may God bless your journey to better health and a better life!