On October 1 my six-year-old son and I began our own version of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet/GAPS Diet/Paleo eating plan. We made the decision to do it for a few reasons. First, I have Crohn's Disease and over the course of the last five years have been able to wean myself down to the minimum dosage of my maintenance medication, but have never felt completely comfortable with quitting it cold-turkey because I've been either pregnant or nursing at the time. I'm currently nursing a ten-month-old, but feel like it's a good time to try to go off the medication before another potential pregnancy.
The reason we decided to have my son do it is because he is allergic to peanuts and dairy. He turned six years old last August and while he has outgrown many other food allergies over the last few years (eggs, soy, pineapple, and tomato), these two allergies have actually gotten worse according to test results. My son nursed as a baby and never had a reaction to what I ate and was in my milk. He even received pumped milk up to the age of nearly three without reactions to what was in the milk, but when I tried to give him some of my pumped milk for an added probiotic boost last year he reacted to it. Even after avoiding dairy and peanuts for several weeks and trying again, he still had a reaction. Because of this and the fact that very few children outgrow their allergies if they haven't already by Kindergarten age, we knew that it was going to take something drastic, combined with a lot of prayer, to heal his body. Others have had luck with food allergies on the GAPS diet, so we thought we would give it a shot. At this point we have nothing to lose.
I'd had Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the book about the SCD diet, sitting on my bookshelf for years and had been ignoring it despite having people in my life tell me I should try it. It wasn't until a friend told me about her experience with her autistic son and the GAPS diet and then hearing about another woman at a Weston A. Price meeting who had "cured" her Crohn's Disease with the same diet, that I decided I needed to look into it.
The SCD, GAPS and Paleo diets are all very similar. You avoid all grains (not just gluten), including things like rice, oats, quinoa, potatoes, and other foods that people with gluten intolerances can eat. No sugar, preservatives, or other food additives are allowed. Basically, you can eat pastured meats, pastured eggs, raw dairy, organic fruits/vegetables, properly soaked nuts (and nut flours and butters), lentils, split peas, navy beans, honey, oils (we only eat coconut and olive), and a few other things. All of the diets vary a little in what they will and won't allow, but the point is the same - no grains and sugar, a therapeutic probiotic regimen, and clean eating so that your "leaky gut" can heal.
Preparing for the Diet
We spent the month of September preparing for the diet. Since we are already dealing with food allergies, intolerances, and special diets in our home, going on such an intense diet wasn't nearly as scary as it would be for most people. We haven't been able to eat at restaurants or eat processed foods for years now, so we didn't have to worry about adjusting our lifestyles to eat this way. We also already had sources for many of the foods on the plan, like pastured eggs/meat and raw dairy. We have basically been eating this way for years without completely cutting out sugar and grains, so that was going to be the hard part for us. For others who have to completely change the way they look at food, this process would seem much more overwhelming and difficult.
I also think that this diet would be very difficult for the average child. Most of the foods that children enjoy (and that are convenient for parents to feed them), such as breaded chicken nuggets, breads, cookies, crackers, french fries, candy, macaroni and cheese, etc. are not allowed on the diet. We didn't have to deal with a child that was being forced to give up the foods he liked, because our son has never been able to enjoy many of those foods due to his food allergies. He is used to not being allowed to eat what other people around him are enjoying.
There were some foods that were hard for my son to give up, mainly some of his favorite sugary treats. For me it was sourdough bread, bacon, and homemade pancakes with maple syrup. Eventually, we both weaned off of our grain and sugar addictions and I learned how to cook "legal" options that would replace them using nut flours and honey. We used the month of September to wean ourselves off of those foods and for me to refine my skills in cooking with our new staples.
Starting the Diet
On October 1, 2013 we officially began. We followed the GAPS protocol and for the first week we ate nothing but homemade bone broth to allow our digestive systems to heal. On top of this, my son started a new therapeutic dose of probiotics (I was already on a therapeutic dose). He went from taking 12 strains at 3 billion to 12 strains at 10 billion and I continued at 12 strains at 20 billion.
The first week was terrible. We both experienced very severe-die off reactions as our bodies purged the bad bacteria. By the second night we were both waking through the night and vomiting. This lasted about five days before we finally felt better.
I experienced a slight dip in my milk supply during the first few days, so I began eating homemade raw milk yogurt by day three. Since my son cannot have dairy, he was simply on the bone broths. Our next food we introduced was cooked vegetables in the broth and homemade sauerkraut, followed by egg yolks and cooked meats. By week three we were eating nut flours made from nuts that I had properly soaked and dehydrated, along with cooked fruits. The very last things we added were raw fruit and soaked lentils, split peas, and navy beans after the end of the first month.
Six weeks into the diet we were both feeling great and decided to up our probiotic dosage again. My son began taking 12 strains at 13 billion and I upped it to 12 strains at 23 billion. We did not experience a severe die-off the second time.
At the two month mark I hadn't taken my maintenance medication for my Crohn's Disease and was experiencing zero symptoms. In fact, my body was having the opposite reaction and I became very constipated and was only having a bowel movement once a week. Three months out and I'm still having problems with this issue. For years with my Crohn's Disease I have had to avoid trigger foods that would cause symptoms to flare, such as raw peppers, lentils, onions, or broccoli to name a few. I have learned that cutting out the fiber from all grains and then still avoiding those trigger foods makes digestion very difficult. I've had to change the way I eat and allow myself to consume small amounts of the trigger foods in order to stay "regular". It has been wonderful to enjoy a bowl of split pea soup or some raw peppers after avoiding them for nearly a decade.
The Results at Three Months
After three months I feel amazing. My nursing baby still wakes three times a night to eat and with previous babies I was feeling very run-down and could feel my immune system crashing and the Crohn's symptoms beginning to flare by this point. I feel like the diet has given me a tremendous amount of energy and I feel so healthy that the sleep-deprivation isn't as much of an issue. I imagine that I would feel like a million dollars if I were also getting solid sleep on top of this diet.
The effects of the diet on my son have also been amazing. After that first week of die-off he began having formed stools for the very first time in his life. His digestion is now very regular and solid. Another amazing result has been his weight gain. You would think that by cutting out nearly half of the foods he can eat, he would lose a lot of weight (which has been the case for me simply because I'm eating and craving less - I've lost all of my baby weight and then some, a total of 20 pounds in three months), however, he has had the opposite reaction. My son has always been extremely tiny, under the tenth percentile on the growth chart for weight most of the time. At age six he weighed 38 pounds, which was the same weight he had been for over a year. He lost two pounds during the first six weeks of the diet, but right before Christmas he was weighed again and had gained that two back plus another three pounds. Cutting out half of his diet and eating much more nutrient-dense food has resulted in a five pound weight gain after over a year and a half of no growth. This proves to me that his body is now absorbing more of the food he is eating and his digestion is getting more efficient. Since the goal of the diet is to heal the gaps in the intestinal wall, I have faith that this is a sign that something is happening there!
I plan to write more here about our journey, which will last at least two years, and also share some of our favorite recipes and tips for surviving this diet. If you or a family member are suffering from an autoimmune disease, food allergy/intolerance, or other ailment in which traditional medicine is failing you or giving you few options for full healing, this is something that may be an option for you. I won't lie, this diet is extreme and you have to follow it fanatically in order to see any benefit, but there are countless testimonies from people who have done it and have had great outcomes.