by Abby Scharbach
In my house last week, we ate a lot of soup and broth. For every meal. For every snack. In fact, we were only allowed to eat soups that had meats, five “allowable” vegetables, and lots of homemade stock and broths. It was all part of a diet my family started called GAPS (the Gut And Psychology Syndrome diet).
After going gluten- and dairy-free for six months, we finally decided to take the plunge and follow the complete GAPS healing protocol for a healthy gut (we began with the Intro diet). Pioneered by a neurologist in the UK who claims to have cured her own child of autism with the diet, the basic idea of Dr. Natasha Campbell-MacBride’s program is that, by eating specific healing foods, you can cure yourself of a variety ills.
The testimonials I’ve read are nothing short of miraculous, but the diet itself is intense. After the Intro period, you can expect to be on the full GAPS diet for two years or more. You can’t have any starch (no grains, no potatoes) and no refined sugars or processed foods, which can be hard for kids (and their parents!).
Any diet change can be difficult to stick to — particularly where there are children involved (mine range in age from one to fifteen) — so I thought I’d share a few tips we’ve learned for making it through an intense diet change as a family:
1. Take time to ease into the full diet so that your kids can get excited about the benefits. Convince, persuade, encourage — but don’t force. We used our gluten- and dairy-free period to come up with new favorite recipes and new ways of thinking about food, and to read parts of Dr. Campbell-MacBride’s book together.
Also, choose carefully when picking a time to start the diet. For us, it was Lent — a time when our family usually fasts from sweets and other treats and we’re ready for some self-denial and discipline. We had the biggest Fat Tuesday ever this year, as we literally cleared our pantry of all the things that aren’t GAPS legal: pancakes, pasta, ice cream, cookies, rice, quinoa, coffee, etc. Our last hurrah was a lot of fun!
2. Once you begin an intense diet, take some time off from your other responsibilities and activities. When starting the Intro part of the diet, I knew life was going to change for a while, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be. That first week, I had a bunch of lifeless, miserable kids. You’d think that eating the most wholesome foods on the planet would produce kids with lots of energy! Well, it will eventually…but as it turns out, my kids are used to eating a lot of carbs, and their bodies have had a difficult (but typical) transition to a new energy source: protein and fat.
Also, as with all detox diets and cleanses, we’ve experienced some standard “die-off” symptoms, like nausea and fatigue. So we took the week very slowly, taking a trip to the library for extra books and making plans for a family movie night (which we watched while eating dinner, instead of our usual popcorn and sweet treats). We didn’t do a lot of schoolwork, and we cut back on some of our extracurricular activities and chores for the week. Their little bodies were healing; they needed all of their energy for that work. And I needed a lot of time for the kitchen!
3. When your kids get upset (and they will), encourage and empathize, but don’t give in. Of course you need to monitor your children’s health carefully and track their reactions to your diet change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean throwing in the towel just because the going gets tough. You have to be the coach and the cheerleader, so resist the temptation to jump in the stands and “boo” with them. Each of my children has struggled with the diet in characteristic ways, but in just seven short days, I’ve already seen the beginning of good changes in all of us — and I can’t wait to write my own victory post when we cross the finish line.
4. Take some time with your spouse to regroup. My husband and I took a welcome reprieve from the intensity of that first week with an early-morning trip to a farmers’ market together. He keeps me on the straight and narrow, and I help him to relax, so we’re good team. All coaches need to take some time to strategize, plan, and assess; our quiet car ride together gave us an opportunity to do that.
5. Bring your kids into the process. Now that they’re beginning to feel better, my kids are ready and eager to help in the kitchen and look up recipes for future GAPS-legal treats on Pinterest. This past weekend, some of my kids made pickles (we’ll get to eat them next week in Stage 3); one child is writing a calendar showing when we get to add new things into our diet, and another helped pound our own homemade sauerkraut. They’ve all been helping to puree soups and chop vegetables, too. By participating, they can own the results, and they’re doing a great job. Week two, here we come!
What have you done to help your kids ease into new habits, or to embrace something difficult? Any tips to share?
Images: Abby Scharbach. Abby is a homeschooling mama of seven based in Baltimore, MD.