*I am not a doctor, nor have I had any formal training in nutrition. I have not been advised from any doctors concerning the GAPS diet. Everything I have learned has been through research or trial & error. I am simply a mother who has been searching for answers for our family. This advice is not intended to treat, diagnose or prevent any health concerns you may be experiencing. If you have concerns you should consult your health care professional.
I’d like you to meet Arthur.
Arthur is a playful, creative & lovable 14 month old. He is a happy little guy who loves to give head butts & play peek a boo. But he didn’t used to be this way.
I am doing what no traditional doctor could do.
God is giving me the strength to do what I could never have done alone.
Arthur was exclusively breastfed & when he was about 5 months old he started to develop patches of rough spots on his cheeks.
Our pediatrician told us this was normal since he was probably teething. We believed it to be true since he did always have a stream of drool running out of his mouth. We tried lots of topical things in hopes of soothing his face & clearing up his skin. Our family was also living on an island at the time so we also contributed his skin to ‘the island’. The moisture, the local plant life, the humidity & high mold occurrence. We knew we would be moving soon so we crossed our fingers & hoped his eczema would not follow us off the island.
But it did…
When we left the island, we found his skin condition did not improve. But we had just moved to the midwest during the late fall, where we were all suffering the effects of moving from a moist, humid climate to a cold, dry climate. We met with a new pediatrician who looked at Arthur’s skin & gave us a name: Eczema. He told us it was probably due to a combination of teething & our recent change in climate. He prescribed us a topical steroid cream, which I had concerns over. Anything that close to his mouth he would certainly be ingesting. I had always been particular about lotions & creams I’d used on his face. Anyone who’s had a baby knows that they are always rubbing their hands over their face & into their mouths. When I asked the pediatrician about this he told me just to make sure I only used a light layer on his face & I could use it for no more than 10 days. Over the course of the 10 days, his eczema did start to look better. But it never fully healed & then of course, after the 10 days it returned.
Arthur also had a very difficult time transitioning to solid foods. When I tried to feed him anything, even the thinnest baby purees he would gag & choke, often vomiting an entire stomach of breast milk! He continued to have difficulty eating until he was around 9 or 10 months & could finally tolerate more solid foods.
Over the course of several months we tried literally everything on his skin. Nothing seemed to help but every person we met had a new suggestion. I know they were well intentioned but it was so frustrating hearing everyone say – “But have you tried ___?”
He had also developed eczema spots on his hands, legs & arms.
Even worse was his disposition. He had moments of being happy but for the most part, he was pretty miserable. His face itched & he constantly scratched it. His nose ran, non stop, like a faucet. He commonly had a mucousy cough to the point that I had delayed all his vaccinations because he always seemed ‘sick’. He had also developed a family problem. Constipation. Just like his siblings before him he had terrible bouts of constipation. He would not have a bowel movement for several days & when he would, it would be agonizing for everyone. He would scream in pain, his body would go rigid & he would cling to me when he went. When he was able to have a bowel movement, it would burn his skin & cause open sores to form on his bottom. Sometimes he would wake in the night screaming in pain. I held him, rocked him, soothed him best I could while I prayed that God would help me heal him.
When we next visited his 3rd pediatrician, she was all about action. I discussed with her our family history & Arthur’s current issues & she referred us right out to see both a pediatric gastrointerologist & a dermatologist. I was thrilled. It was what I’d long been hoping for & I was so hopeful they knew the cure for my son.
Our first visit was with the pediatric GI who told me he would be happy to take several biopsies to see if Arthur did perhaps have an underlying condition. Knowing how a change in diet had impacted my other kids so greatly I asked him his opinion. When I inquired about diet (gluten free/grain free, etc) he suggested I give him ‘more fruits & vegetables’ & then said, he’d leave the diet part up to me. I left the appointment with a prescription for Miralax (which I had said I did not want) & feeling more discouraged than ever. It was a reminder to me that while GIs are wonderful surgeons, they are not nutritionists. A week later Arthur was scheduled to be put under & have 3 biopsies taken to test for celiacs, food allergies & Herschsprung’s Disease. As I expected, the results all came back as normal, which reduced me to tears. I was happy to know he didn’t have any of the conditions they’d biopsied for but it left me no closer to an answer for my child.
The next appointment we had was with a dermatologist. When I entered the waiting room, I was surprised to see that Arthur was one of 3 babies there for eczema. I still think back to those babies & wonder how they are doing now. The dermatologist had very little time or patience for me that day. She told me simply that my child had eczema & nothing more. His skin just “lacked the ability to retail moisture”. When I asked her about diet or if she had suggestions on foods to avoid she looked at me like I was an idiot. She curtly told me she didn’t know anything about that & those were questions I should ask the pediatric GI. Then she gave me more prescriptions for steroid creams & samples of special soap. I threw the prescription away & never went back to my follow up appointment.
My final visit was to an allergist. He told me, while he felt very strongly Arthur did not have any allergies, he would still do the standard allergy workup on him. This test involves 10 needles being pricked into the skin on his back, each one containing a particular allergen. After the pricks, you must remain still & make sure your back does not touch anything while you wait to see if you have any reactions. All of the allergy tests came back normal, with a slight allergy to dust. The allergist told me the dust was most likely the reason for Arthur’s constant runny nose & that I could give him a prescription allergy medicine. He also told me Arthur’s condition had nothing to do with anything in his diet.
All three of the doctors I saw gave me prescriptions to treat his symptoms but were never able to discover the root of his problem.
After these doctor’s visits I told my husband we were going back to a strict gluten & dairy free diet for the kids. Eventually I added in gluten free bread, soaked oats & started him on raw cow’s milk. His eczema never totally went away but it did look better at times. I simply assumed he had a gluten sensitivity & we were thrilled that his constipation completely went away.
His constipation was finally cured but his eczema never totally went away.
Sometimes he looked better.
Sometimes he looked worse.
But he usually just looked like this.
Then he got much worse. Fortunately, he was no longer constipated but his disposition got worse. He started crying all day long. If he wasn’t crying he was clinging to me. Sometimes he would cry even if I held him. His cough had returned, his nose poured constantly again & his eczema got worse. His lips would swell & crack. His skin started peeling & scabbing & cracking. Sometimes when I tried to hold him, he would fight me. He would scratch at my face & claw at me. His stomach was so bloated his belly button would pop out. He looked malnourished. His appendages were skinny while his stomach was distended. He would wake some nights shrieking in pain & my husband & I would sit with him for an hour. He usually wouldn’t let us hold him. He would arch his back, flop all over the floor or bang his head. Honestly, we just tried to keep him safe & away from anything he could hurt himself on. His screaming was constant for anywhere from 20 – 45 minutes while he tried to pass the gas trapped in his stomach. On these nights I sat with him, crying, asking God what I could do? How could I help him?
He had moments of happiness where I could see the old Arthur shining through the pain but those moments were rare.
The next thing that happened would be another turning point for us.
I gave him eggplant. I had made some baba ganoush one afternoon & gave him a bit. When I looked over to see how he was doing, I saw him rubbing a cold carrot over his skin. His face was burning hot & flushed. He had had a reaction.
Arthur’s immediate skin reaction to eggplant.
The next morning I heard him hacking with a horrible cough. I went in to find his lips had swollen & his face was hot, red & flushed. He had reacted to the eggplant. This put me into over drive. I had heard of nightshade sensitivities & immediately began to research them. I came to the conclusion that Arthur must react to nightshades so made a plan to remove all of them from his diet. Then, a few days later I made dinner. I made a sun dried tomato chicken dish & without any thought, gave it to him. That night he woke in horrible pain. His stomach was bloated & his body was rigid. Every time we tried to hold him he would shriek in agony & throw himself away from us. My husband & I could only talk to him & try & soothe him until the pain passed. The next morning, exhausted, I called my mom & told her I couldn’t understand why this had happened? I had been so diligent with my grocery list. I had made 5 different vegetables for dinner so he’d have enough variety. And then I remembered the tomatoes. Tomatoes are a nightshade. I was devastated.
Over the next few days we felt like we were watching a ticking time bomb. Literally everything Arthur ate, we would watch him for symptoms or flare ups. I also researched things like auto immune disorders, FODMAPS & salycilates. I considered he might have a slight nut allergy because his skin would flare after eating baked goods made from almond flour. He was left with eating basically bananas & meat.
Even avocado seemed to irritate his skin.
Around this time I had started taking a 3 part class at a local organic market. If I’m totally honest, I took it just so I could learn how to ferment sauerkraut (which I have still not learned how to do properly!). Each portion of the class focused on nutrition (which I told myself I’d reluctantly sit through since I thought I was such a smarty pants) & then making a nourishing, traditional food like bone broth, cultured dairy products & finally fermented vegetables. The catch was, you had to attend the first 2 classes to get to the sauerkraut class.
Meanwhile Arthur never seemed to improve & his skin had taken on a scaly texture, very often peeling.
It was at these classes that I first heard about ‘a diet‘ that could heal your gut. For some reason the teacher wouldn’t reveal the name of the diet (the reason is still unknown to me) but what I did get from the class was that all disease begins in the gut & that even if you are removing potentially troublesome foods, if your gut isn’t healed (& then sealed) you still won’t be able to properly absorb nutrients.
The final straw was when Arthur developed a full body rash, which I believe was lichen planus.
I had read about lichen planus while researching auto immune disorders & came across The Paleo Mom. I remembered hearing, in the class I’d taken, that if you had one auto immune disorder (which now I knew eczema is considered to be) you were more likely to develop another AI disorder. I knew enough to be able to research further online & my research led me to the GAPS diet. I bought a copy of the book & while I waited, I poured over everything I could find online.
I believe Arthur has a leaky gut, which is why a traditional elimination diet did not work for him. Simply eliminating foods wasn’t enough.
I knew GAPS would heal my son.
When my book finally arrived my husband & I sat down (me with my highlighter & pen, him with a glass of whiskey) & we dove right into the book. The information that came out of that book was equally shocking, reaffirming & bittersweet. I will forever wish I could have known what I know now so that I could have helped my other children sooner.
The following are just a few quotes that I highlighted from the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride, that pertained to Arthur (or my other children).
“GAPS children and adults have digestive problems, sometimes quite severe. Colic, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, feeding difficulties & malnourishment…”
“Whether we look at a child or an adult with GAPS, in the majority of cases digestive problems start at weaning time…”
“It is also very rare for parents of GAPS children to describe their child’s stool as normal.”
“…in many cases, undigested food is clearly visible in the stool. Very often the stool would have an extremely strong, unpleasant smell…”
“Sometimes the stool would be very acidic and burn the child’s skin…”
“In many of these cases the child would wake up at night screaming, when the parents do not know what is wrong. As the excessive gas gets released or simply moves to a different place in the bowel the pain would disappear and the child would settle down.”
As I read more it became even more clear why a traditional elimination diet had not been enough for Arthur.
“If the gut flora is damaged, the best foods and supplements in the world may not have a good chance of being broken down and absorbed.”
What I came to understand about Arthur was that, until his gut was healed & sealed, every food would end up being an allergen because his food would not get the chance to be digested properly before it was absorbed, therefore causing the immune system to react to the foods as ‘allergenic’.
“As long as the gut wall is damaged and stays damaged, you can be juggling your diet forever, removing different foods and never getting anywhere.”
Arthur was put on the GAPS diet April 30, 2013. He has spent about 5 weeks on the Intro portion of the diet. It wasn’t easy those first few weeks & it forced me to pray for some much needed strength. During those weeks on the Intro diet we expereinced a couple of setbacks. The first was an eczema flare from almond butter. The second was an eczema flare from banana. Each flare up took about a week to clear from his skin. Along with the Intro diet, he’s been having tons of broth or gelatin & raw milk kefir with almost every meal. I’ve also been using Vintage Tradition’s tallow balm, which cleared up a nasty rash he had on his leg in a couple of days! I will continue to update this page as our journey continues & I hope through our experiences, we can possibly help another family & give encouragement to anyone following GAPS.
Arthur after one week on GAPS.
After two weeks on GAPS Arthur made some very significant progress. The first thing we noticed was his skin cleared. Along with that, he became happy & playful. He played by himself whereas before, he wouldn’t play, but spent most of his day crying. He also started waking up happy instead of waking up cranky & fussing. He started snuggling & giving us hugs & burrowing his face in our necks. He went back to sleeping through the night. His nose stopped running & his cough finally went away. The road to recovery on GAPS is long but I have complete faith that it will heal him.
Here are two recent pictures of Arthur. He’s now walking & has been following the GAPS diet for almost 7 weeks. His favorite eats are eggs, butternut squash, kale chips & carrots. I would consider him to be hovering somewhere between the Intro & the Full GAPS. We have not introduced any nuts or nut products since he had a flare from almond butter a little over a week into GAPS. The only fruit we have given him is grapes, which we just introduced & he loves! We did try a banana a few weeks in but he had a skin reaction & we have yet to try & reintroduce them. He has also had cold olive oil but for now we are also just sticking with ghee for cooking.