May 3, 2011 by Leah
I’ve been thinking more about this GAPS diet and my thyroid issues – not so much the underactive gland as my discomfort with the treatment option (singular) presented. It seems to me that if I’m so uncomfortable taking drugs that I just stop taking them (to my detriment), it might be a good idea to look into other options. I’ve been researching naturopaths in the area who are willing to look into alternative treatments like iodine supplementation (something I definitely don’t want to do without consulting a professional), but I just discovered that naturopaths don’t take insurance, at least not in California. Moving from my $10-every-90-days synthetic thyroid drug to a bazillion consultations with and supplements from someone who doesn’t take insurance? In Orange County, where rich people live? Not frugal.
I’ve read most of Gut and Psychology Syndrome by now, though, and following that diet IS seeming like a fairly attractive option. The general idea behind the diet is that something like 85% of your immune system (and 95% of your serotonin production) is located in your gut. If your gut isn’t healthy, then neither is your brain – or anything else. Gut health is regulated by having the proper mix of gut flora (the systemic, symbiotic bacteria that can make up a few pounds of our body weight). The modern Western lifestyle, particularly a diet heavy on sugar and processed food, totally screws up normal gut flora. There’s a lot more information in the book (about childbirth and breastfeeding and detoxification and goofy little pictures of enterocytes even though the book is surprisingly technical), but that’s the general concept. I’ve come across the idea of a gut-brain connection before (even Harvard says it’s real, although for some reason recommends talk therapy for an upset stomach), having struggled with depression and anxiety like everyone else.
So, what’s the catch? Well, the diet itself calls for no grains, no dairy (except homemade yogurt), no sugar, no starchy veggies (including potatoes, sweet potatoes, and even Jerusalem artichokes), and absolutely no processed foods. (It also includes taking probiotic supplements and avoiding chemicals.) And Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (the author of the book, who kind of terrifies me as she is a mother and an MD with two post-docs) recommends doing the GAPS diet for one and a half to two years and says cheating is absolutely verboten. That’s pretty intimidating.
I spent my whole walk this morning turning this over in my head. My big concern isn’t with willpower, it’s with social situations. I’ve always felt that I can do whatever weird thing I want when it comes to eating, but if I go to someone’s house, I’ll eat what’s put in front of me. I’d rather be a decent, disease-ridden person than an uber-healthy bitch.* So, if I do this, how am I going to handle dinner parties, family visits, a three-week European vacation, and a backpacking trip? (At least the occasional glass of dry wine, whiskey, or vodka is allowed.)
When I got home I poked around the internet, checked some blogs where people are following or have followed the GAPS diet and discovered that there’s actually a lot of wiggle room here. Quite a few “GAPS families” only followed the diet for a few months and found that their various problems had cleared up after that. Other families follow the diet during the week and cheat and eat (healthy, whole foods, but grains and potatoes) on the weekends. Sometimes I need a reminder that one is rarely faced with all-or-nothing propositions in life, and this was a good one.
I’ve got a big blank spot from mid-May to mid-June that looks like a really good time to test this out and see what happens. (A blogger I follow did much the same thing by giving up grains for the month of May a couple of years ago.) The goal is for my autoimmune stuff to go away, but I’m generally pretty healthy otherwise, so I would guess that visiting family and going to Europe (where I expect the food to be much higher quality than what we find here, anyway) won’t be a big strain on the old system, even if I do take a complete break from the diet while I’m away.
*Caveat: I totally don’t mind and actually enjoy cooking for friends with different dietary requirements, but then I like cooking – and advance notice is also good. What’s not so good is when people accept an invitation to a dinner party and then breezily notify you that they happen to be following some severely exclusive diet you have never heard of, especially when you’re already trying to put together a kosher vegan meal based on the other invitees. Oy. Know thy friends, I guess.