Our Diet

 In July 2011, our family went grain-free on the GAPS diet to heal food allergies & autism in our son. This page is a resource page for links that helped us and a journal of how healing worked for us in the first year. The whole family stayed on the diet for 18 months, and James is still thriving on it, now for three years.

Disclaimer: If you are a diet connaisseur, you may notice that SCD/GAPS are similar diets to the Body Ecology Diet, Paleo/Primal, Maker's Diet, Honey Diet and several others that have brought health and healing through similar means.
It doesn't matter what you call it, eating whole healthy foods is good for us!

If you are considering GAPS, Paleo or SCD, it might help to check out some of the Moms blogging their recipes (they have been an invaluable resource to me!). 

Family-friendly Paleo diet recipes from:


I truly believe drastic changes in diet will help most people of every age suffering from allergies, asthma, eczema, arthritis, chronic fatigue, autism, or anything related to a weakened immune system. But I also recognize that not every parent or child is up to that. Everyone does their best. 


More and more doctors and psychologists seems to agree that diet change helps autistic kids. When James was diagnosed, a trial GFCF diet (gluten-free, casein-free; like an extreme version of wheat and dairy-free) was recommended. Some families say it 'just didn't help them'. But it can't help them unless followed with 'fanatical adherence' for 6-9 months. Yes it takes 6-9 MONTHS for gluten to fully leave the body! I found the GFCF diet difficult to do 'fanatically' (gluten can hide in everything from vanilla essence to powdered sugar to grape jelly). I doubt most parents stick it out long enough. I didn't! We didn't see any positive changes.

After 2 months on a GFCF diet and a bucketload of research, we decided to take the diet 'up a notch' and pull out all complex sugars and other grains. I had read a copy of Elaine Gottschall's book 'Breaking the Vicious Cycle' and wanted to try it for myself, nevermind for James!

What Mom doesn't want the quickest benefit possible? Once I learned that James body could not digest normal foods, that the byproducts were actually causing him bodily harm, I couldn't in clear conscience continue to feed him those foods. Elaine writes in her book that if SCD, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, will work for you, it will start to benefit you within 4 weeks. One month! Results in 4 weeks sounded great to me.

I continued research online and ordered tons of books on amazon. I was puzzled that autism was in our family for the first time. No one else had it. As I read more about SCD, I ran across the GAPS diet, Gut And Psychology Syndrome, which links brain chemistry to the immune system and gut function. The more I read, the more it dawned on me that if these things were all linked, then James had what the rest of us had, just manifested differently. My body develops food allergies like there's no tomorrow. I have a gajillion and growing list of allergies, and GAPS can often help allergies. ADHD runs in our families. One book says ADHD, allergies, asthma and autism are running in the same families. But until reading about GAPS, I hadn't connected the dots. I became convinced that this diet would be beneficial for us all!

After months of doctors telling me all the foods James could NOT eat, I loved that GAPS focused on getting the most nutrient-dense, healing foods: bone broths, fermented vegetables, gelatin (you mean there is actually science behind hospital jello??!), and organic fruits and veggies. I liked that it told me for the first time what was GOOD for James to eat!

When James was younger we used to joke around that he was the 'kid who got everything'. If there was a cold going around, he would get it. He not only had the chicken pox as a toddler. He had them twice. He got viral arthritis, filaria, eczema, baby measles and repeated eye infections... all before the age of 3. Strong immune system? Notsomuch. So a few weeks of anything that can bolster his immune system couldn't hurt!


We decided to got for it. As a family, we started the GAPS Introduction Diet July 1st. The purpose is the same as SCD, to starve out harmful bacteria in the gut, increase probiotics and heal the lining of the small intestine. Some researchers believe this is the key to bolstering a weak immune system. Some say about 70% of our immune system is in our gut. With a faulty lining, problems with digestion, allergies, attention, even brain chemistry or some of the autism symptoms we've seen (regression, difficulty in auditory processing, executive function, sensory processing, etc. and hyperfocus). GAPS pretty much described us all to one degree or another. 

Do I believe that this diet will make all my allergies go away forever? Will James be 100% recovered from Asperger's? Probably not 'all' or 100%, but I will hope, pray and strengthen our bodies by eating right. Believe it or not, I began making my own sauerkraut and pickles (lactofermentation) to get James dairy-free probiotics. (Background note: When I married after college I was an expert at cooking Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies and Kraft Macaroni N Cheese; and a novice at anything else.) Me and raw sauerkraut? That's right up there with pigs flying!

With research done, recipes planned, July 1st came around. I made the kids a bunch of ginger-honey popsicles for snacktimes and we dove in. We found GAPS Intro. very difficult (broth, ginger tea, stewed peeled vegetables), so we moved through the next Stage each day. Within the week we were on full-GAPS/SCD, adding in a new food each day. We were in sugar-withdrawl for a week, as well as what is called 'dye-off'. I really struggled to function on broth and tea all day! We all felt good on SCD. Actually, we felt better each week. 

Within the 4-week 'trial', James regained his auditory processing, followed 3-step directions again, began organizing his own schedule and shrunk down a pants size or two (last year he ballooned from a size 8 to a 14 in less than 12 months; it looked like a malnourished kid's pot belly, which some call 'gluten gut'). After 6 weeks, he began to feel more often when he had to use the potty or when he had injured himself (he never noticed injuries before). After 8 weeks, he had almost potty-trained himself and was back to a size 8 or 10!

After 3 months now, he gains more sense of touch everyday. A few weeks back, he scored at the 2 percentile for feeling touch. Can you imagine living in a numb world? No wonder he stopped giving hugs. No wonder he didn't flinch watching a needle in his arm. He wasn't 'tough'. He was numb. It is so much fun to watch him hold his stomach in shock and yell:

"Wait! I feel something!"

What do you think it is son?

"I don't know."

Are you hungry? Thirsty? Have to go?

"I'm not sure. But I DO know I need something!"

We are so thankful for SCD and GAPS. We all feel stronger. And walking this path together is the right thing to do. James knows we are all on his team. His siblings turn down candy without complaint. I no longer react to eating eggs. For the first time in my life I am crossing off allergies instead of adding them! And James can feel. Let me just write that again. James. Can. Feel. He is less and less numb to the world. He started giving the sweetest hugs. Hugs we waited for years to feel. That to me, friends, is worth giving up all my favorite foods!!

GAPS 6-month UPDATE - JANUARY 2012:  ----------------------------------

We did GAPS Intro very quickly in July 2011. So we have been on GAPS - scroll down for links -  (or SCD, which allows some dairy for the girls) for over 6 months now. Kim's allergies to egg and almond are completely gone, and she can eat them everyday without any reaction at all. Her occasional insomnia and heartburn are also completely gone. She is able to take fewer antihistamines for airborne allergies. Our family has only had one cold in 6 mos and none of us needed antibiotics.

James' initial strides in regaining auditory processing, appropriate focus, and some executive function have remained unparalleled. His progress is steady but much more subtle. He continues to feel more and more each week. He has regained the ability to hop on one foot easily, and the coordination to run faster than his brother again! He got a trampoline for Christmas and spends time on it everyday. His eczema is 95% gone. He has grown 3 inches, lost 12 lbs. and has much more energy. He is also much less 'stuck' in routine. If we change the schedule for our school day, he doesn't mind - just goes with the flow (which hasn't happened for about 6 years!).

When he has quiet, stable days and takes all his vitamins, he acts no different than his peers or siblings. We continue to notice within a day or two if he skips his supplements, that we have more accidents, more trouble focusing in school and more emotional meltdowns. But those days are not our 'normal' anymore. There are no words to thank God enough for James' progress this year!

Last night I held him wrapped tightly in a blanket (still loves deep pressure!) next to the Christmas lights one last time before we put them away for the year. 
He began to tear up. 
Such a sweet spirit. 
He said he was just so happy. 
And so sad at the same time. 
I asked what the sad part was. 
He said, "I'm sad that I didn't feel this or like [being held] for so many years." 
So we have a few years of cuddling to catch up on now!

And we all feel so much healthier and stronger on GAPS, that we're going to stay on it. In a few months we will begin adding in soaked beans of various sorts, and eventually starchy vegetables. Bread and potatoes are the only foods we miss. None of us miss candy. In another year, I hope we can tolerate adding back in sprouted flours and learn about sourdoughs. But I hope the refined sugar, white flour and hydrogenated vegetable oils are never coming back!

GAPS ONE-YEAR UPDATE - JULY 2012:  -----------------------------------

We spent our GAPS-Diet anniversary on vacation at the beach. Somehow it is hard to believe we have been grain-free for a whole year! In the spring we were all able to tolerate without trouble well-soaked beans and 24-hr yogurt (which meant yogurt cheese for James!). Cheese was the hardest thing for James to give up, so being able to do a sort of cream cheese at 9 mos. on GAPS for him was glorious! He also now tolerates butter (but not yet whipped cream), where ghee was the only thing tolerated before. We have started making milk and water kefir each day too, which is so yummy!

We originally started GAPS for the health of James and I, but the other three have seen benefits too. Kent, Joel and Anna were never feeling sick, but they are healthier and stronger now for having gone through GAPS. They have better focus in work and school. In June, the three of them added potatoes back in without any trouble, so they are officially coming off GAPS gradually. Next will be sweet potatoes, fermented millet porridge, sourdough and eventually rice and sprouted grains (maybe by Christmas?!).

James and I have a bit more healing to do yet. We may try potatoes in a couple weeks, but need to feel strong first. I tried rice at a friend's party, where manners left me little choice, in May and felt very ill for 2-3 days. So we're not done yet, but still making great progress!

Since the last update I have been able to discontinue blood pressure medication and daily antihistamines. For the past 20 years I have taken daily antihistamines to control my running nose. These are no longer necessary. I have allergy-induced asthma and was needing a steroid-based inhaler 1-4x daily since we moved to Congo (very dusty). In the past 6 months I have used it only a few times during bronchitis.

Yes, that's right! I had bronchitis in June. Bronchitis is like an old family friend to me. My allergy-journey started at the age of 14 with 6 mos. of chronic bronchitis - turned walking pneumonia - which led to allergy testing revealing allergies of every kind. My scratch test reacted to more than 60 things! I have been prone to bronchitis ever since. For the past 20 yrs every cold turned quickly into a case of bronchitis. And as a primary schoolteacher with a weak immune system, there were many colds. My second year teaching I think I took 12 different courses of antibiotics. I was on antibiotics more than half of that year! Ten years later, our GAPS journey has changed all that completely!

During our 2nd month on GAPS, I got a cold I couldn't kick. As usual, it turned into bronchitis, and I took antibiotics as usual. The 5th month on GAPS, I got a cold and was able to fight it off a few days later without getting infected! (This had probably happened twice in my living memory.) The 9th month on GAPS I got a cold, but fought it off within 48 hrs. The 11th month on GAPS we traveled internationally (gets me every time!) and as expected, I got bronchitis a few days later. I doused myself in bone broth and slept lots. I upped my doses of probiotics and FCLO (fermented cod liver oil - in capsules!). And 8-10 days later it was gone! Finally I don't have to be envious of people with an immune system! Just last week (after the return international flights), I broke out with boils. I decided not to fill the prescribed antibiotics right away. And today - they are gone! I have been free of antibiotics of any sort for 11 months! And you know this is not due to fabulous hygiene where we bathe in rainwater that runs off our dusty, rusty roof.

The biggest gains in James' healing happened in the first 4 mos. on GAPS. But the more subtle changes we see a year later are just as significant. He has very few Asperger's meltdowns - maybe 1-2/mo. where they were daily or more often than that a year ago. He regained all his auditory processing in the first 2 mos. His allergies seem gone. He hasn't needed antibiotics of any kind in 14 months. His sensory processing troubles with tactile under-responsiveness are gone, fading gradually over the past year. They have left in their wake a few gross motor issues we can now address (basically re-learning to keep your balance when you've been mostly numb for 4-5 yrs or longer). The last pieces of tactile numbness have faded in the past month or two. He can now feel things happening in his gut, which seemed to be the last of the feelings to return. Alleluia!

James is able to tolerate last minute changes in routine and disappointments like never before. We just crossed three countries overland and had to change bookings multiple times and he was able to go with the flow. We stayed at a resort where he had to sit with friends eating chocolate crepes and wait for someone to bring him fresh-cut mangoes instead. He said 'the diet' makes him feel better. He was diving with the rest of them to the bottom of the pool!

This week we're preparing for another homeschool year. I found myself taking down his workboxes labels. I made them in desperation, searching for answers, 3 years ago. We haven't needed that familiar structure and routine for months. Like the nostalgia of putting away the last of the baby's pacifiers, I got teary. My baby (10-yr-old baby) has outgrown his Asperger's supports. Whether we technically still qualify for a diagnosis is really not important. James is feeling and doing great! The bulk of the work we have left to do is in social skills and organizational skills, but I can't think of too many 10-yr-old boys who have mastered both of those already...

We are so thankful for the healing protocol of the GAPS Diet (and for SCD too!). They have served us well. I am a bit nervous about re-introducing starches and sugars, but we'll get there as they say in Swahili: "pole-pole" (step by step, or slowly, carefully).

If you are a diet connaisseur, you may notice that SCD/GAPS are similar diets to the Body Ecology Diet, Paleo, Maker's Diet, Honey Diet and several others that have brought health and healing through similar means. It doesn't matter what you call it, eating whole healthy foods is good for us!