In Which I Decide to Forgo Grains (Kinda)


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.


12 thoughts on “In Which I Decide to Forgo Grains (Kinda)

  1. David G says:

    What does it say about Kefir? It seems to me that it it is the ultimate probiotic drink. There are also water kefir grains, to make fruity probiotic drinks.

    • leahkathlyn says:

      Thumbs-up to kefir, which I haven’t actually tried yet, being a kombucha person myself. The book recommends doing an introduction diet where you start with little more than broth and gradually add things back in, and kefir and homemade yogurt are like, stage 3 of adding-back-in. (Or something. It’s all presented in a rather complicated manner.)

  2. kim_f says:

    Have you already discovered Making Love in the Kitchen? ; I don’t think GAPS is her deal, but it sounds pretty similar. She’s a holistic nutritionist who battled Crohns several years ago and has achieved amazing resolution through diet and other lifestyle changes– and none of the biomedical intervention she was told was her only option.

    Though I don’t 100% agree with all her ideas or philosophies, I sure do agree with and appreciate a lot of them. She does a lot of workshops, most of which are local to where she is in Canada (Toronto, if I remember correctly) but occasionally travels and does online workshops too. Anyway, if you haven’t already, you should check her out– I suspect she’d be right up your ally right now.

  3. kim_f says:

    Whoa, hello not closing tags the right way… I’d edit that comment, but it doesn’t look like I can. Sorry about that! πŸ™‚

  4. Anna says:

    Doug gave up wheat (apparently it’s by far the worst of all the grains) for a few months, as well as sugar, when he was having strange allergic reactions to things, on the advice of a nutritionist. It did wonders. Your autoimmune stuff is worse but it still goes to show that picking your battles is a viable option. (Said nutritionist was awesome, btw – 2 consultations, a few supplements recommended etc – totalled maybe like $2-300 for the whole shebang. May be worth consulting one?)

    Also: at least you can have wine! In France, I mean. πŸ™‚

    You could also try seeing a nutritionist (which is often like 1 or 2 consultations, not a bazillion) –

  5. lahancock says:

    I saw this thread. You’ll have to join to read it, but they had some interesting comments about it. I hope it works well for your autoimmune issues. πŸ™‚

    • leahkathlyn says:

      Definitely some good info. Thanks! I also saw that there is now a GAPS iPhone app I can download for $3.99 that will tell me what is allowed at each stage of the diet. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t find that the book is that easy to get a handle on (there are all these “stages” of an introductory diet you can do to heal faster but there’s no standard time line, no helpful little graphics or charts… wow, I sound whiny), so I might go the high-tech route.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Great post and good luck with grain free in Europe. In regards to the thyroid issue, I have to chime in. I went grain free (sort of paleo) a couple months ago and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve learned to bake with coconut flour and whey protein powder. My Hashimoto’s thyroid disease isn’t reversed (yet!) but I’m off medication and I feel better than I’ve felt in years. I read half a dozen thyroid books trying to fugure out if there was anything I could do nutritionwise and by far the best and most helpful one is the Datis Kharrazian book. Google him to find his ridiculously long-titled-book. It is finally what made me understand the autoimmune connection and stop feeling like my body was simply betraying me. Also wanted to add a note about how your gut flora is responsible for up to 25% of your T3 to T4 conversion and so is another reason for having a good, strong colony.

    Bon chance!!

    • Elizabeth says:

      figure, not fugure. But you knew that!

      • Thanks for the encouragement! I was just sitting here wondering how things that are so tasty (bread…yum) could really be making me sick. I’ll check out that book recommendation, too – I’ve also felt like my body was betraying me thanks to this autoimmune diagnosis, so it sounds really good.

  7. […] for error (perhaps we should call it “uniqueness”) among yogurt batches. Also, the GAPS diet called for yogurt to be fermented for at least 24 hours in order for all the dairy proteins to be […]

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