GAPS Diet: The missing link in positive discipline

July 11, 2011 · 27 comments

mother and son

mother and son

I am all about positive discipline, but I don’t think I’m alone in acknowledging how difficult it can be. Raising young children is hard work and emotional, and it’s not easy to keep a clear head.

It’s even harder when you’re sleep deprived and you have a child (or multiple children) who test you. Constantly.

There have been many times where I’ve had to walk out of the room and throw something in order to stifle my urge to throw something at my children. Sometimes I just can’t take it.

But that is changing.

Last month I discovered I have a gluten intolerance. That simple realization changed my life.

The most profound way is that it made me look even more closely at what my family eats and how that effects us. I learned about the GAPS diet, and my family is now working through the GAPS Intro Diet.

We started a week ago, and I could write a years worth of posts (and maybe I will) on the ways it has changed us.

One of the amazing changes is in my older son.

He has always been sweet, charming, hilarious, and cuddly. But he also has a side of him that troubles me. He takes toys, habitually. He is impulsive. He hits, kicks, throws things, and yells.

I know these are common toddler behaviors, but I always had a sense that in him it was a bit different. It’s one of the reasons that positive discipline resonated so much with me, because it was so clear to me that punishment was no use (in fact, it made almost all these behaviors worse).

I worried and hoped he’d grow out of it, and we had good days and bad. But they never showed signs of changing, even on my best discipline days, when I was patient and firm and understanding.

As I learned about how our diets can affect our behavior, I found hope that I could change it, and we decided as a family to try.

I’d cut gluten, dairy, and most sugar from our diets about a month before starting the GAPS intro diet, and it was a difficult time. My behavior was worse, and so was my children’s. It wasn’t until I learned about die-off and how changing conditions in the gut can release toxins, did I realize that behavioral changes almost always get worse before they get better.

We’ve seen that since starting the GAPS intro diet.

But most promising, we’ve seen amazing progress. My son is waking up cheerful (very rare before). He no longer hits. He’s stopped throwing things. I can see him thinking about his actions before he does them, and suppressing his impulses.

It is nothing short of miraculous.

There are other more subtle changes, too. He stopped asking to watch television. He’s able to entertain himself with toys for a much longer period of time. He eats his meals in one sitting, neatly, without spilling or getting up (we’ve worked on this for a looooong time).

He responds when I tell him something hurts, or makes his brother sad. I feel like I’m suddenly able to reach a part of him that I never could before.

All the things I couldn’t do with my interactions with him have been achieved by changing what I feed him.

Yes, the diet is restrictive (no processed foods, no starches, no grains), and a hefty protocol to begin.

But for us it’s freeing.

For me, no migraines and more energy. I can be present with my children like I’ve never been able to before. It’s tempered my own aggressive tendencies, so I have much more patience and empathy. I no longer have those feelings of anger or dread that need to be tempered when there’s a middle-of-the-night wake-up or sibling tussle that needs my attention.

For my son, it’s what I hope is an increased ability to empathize, to socialize, and to relate. He’s showing a lot more interest in people around him, and a desire to spend time with friends. And of all the silly things, he started dancing again . . . something he used to do all the time but stopped (I think out of concern for what other people would think).

The GAPS diet is changing our life. It’s making the possibilities with positive discipline absolutely endless, and it has me so excited to see what will come as we work through the rest of the intro diet and start eating more foods. I feel like we’ve finally found the solution to what’s been troubling us, and I can’t wait for what comes next.

Photo credit: Chris. P on Flickr

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chelsea July 12, 2011

I feel as though this is an amazing coincidence. I read your blog often, and very recently (roughly 3 weeks ago) went gluten free while attempting to cure myself of my life long anxiety issues. I agree with you… nothing short of miraculous.

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2 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 12, 2011

Chelsea, good for you! I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life as well, and can’t believe how my diet changes have helped me. I’m still working through everything I feel about it though . . . it’s frustrating for me to look back at past experiences and know it could have been different if only I’d known . . . but I’m trying to concentrate on looking ahead and knowing there are so many wonderful things in store for me!

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3 Chelsea July 12, 2011

I’ve felt the same way, thinking of all the times I felt debilitated and knowing it would be possible to have been fully functioning my entire life. Mostly though, I’m thrilled to think I can live my life without anxiety. Every time I crave that piece of bread or sweet, I think about how much better off I am without anxiety.

Was your husband receptive to the change? My husband and my son are not gluten free at all and still eat the occasional sugars. Neither have any major psychological or physical struggles, but I feel guilty giving my son bread knowing how much better off I am without it.

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4 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 13, 2011

I’ve been super-fortunate that my husband was ready to join in for this. He’s struggled with his weight his whole life, and over the last couple of years gained a lot and hasn’t been feeling well in general. He was really ready to make a change. I’m going to write a post about changing diets for the whole family and why it can be important. I’m glad I found this while my kiddos are still young and it’s just easier for us to do it all together.

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5 Anastasia July 12, 2011

Wow! Just amazing!

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6 Brenda July 12, 2011

I am so glad that you found GAPS & it’s making changes for your family already! :) We’ve been on the diet for a year and a half. We also have kids with challenging behaviors (Reactive Attachment Disorder–we’ve adopted). We have seen big (negative) changes in behaviors when we decided to let them “cheat” on the diet and eat chips at a Mexican restaurant, for example. I believe in this diet! Good luck as you continue the intro & move on to full GAPS! :)

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7 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 12, 2011

Brenda, that’s fantastic! At this point I’m scared to eat outside the home. I just don’t know how I’ll make it work yet. But if other people can stick with it long-term, I know we can too. Honestly, I tear up when I think about how much good it’s done for us in this short amount of time, and I’m not terribly tempted to eat other foods. I don’t want to go back to the way we were.

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8 Anastasia July 12, 2011

Lol, I guess my whole comment didn’t post. I was just saying I am very interested in changing my family’s diet because I’ve noticed Pipers behavior changes depending on what we’ve eaten throughout the day. Not to mention how low my energy seems to be the past few months. Maybe you are on to something that would work for our family too!

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9 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 12, 2011

Anastasia, one of the most fascinating things I learned from the GAPS book is that it can take days for food reactions to show up, so it’s not always easy to see how different foods affect behavior. You’re very fortunate that you can see the corroboration and know what her triggers are. I can’t recommend this diet enough. As I’m going through her book it just makes more and more sense. I need to write a whole other post on our physical changes, too — which are absolutely astounding. My husband is losing a lot of weight, but it’s not like he’s deflating. His muscle tone is actually improving (even though he’s not working out any more than usual), so that his overall shape just looks healthier and stronger every day. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s completely convinced me how good for us this plan is.

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10 Erica July 12, 2011

We found out Anna had allergies to soy, peanuts and wheat. Since we’ve eliminated all those from her diet things have been easier for us too. It’s good to think about all the things that make us who we are – including our food!

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11 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 12, 2011

Erica, you might want to look into the GAPS book. The author spends quite a bit of time discussing multiple allergies and the causes of them. The diet it also a healing one, so there’s the possibility that the allergies aren’t permanent, and a person can begin eating the offending foods occasionally without any ill effects. To me it sounds quite promising!

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12 Sylvia@MaMammalia July 12, 2011

Great to hear this is working so well for you. I look forward to hearing more about it!

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13 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 13, 2011

Sylvia, I have a lot more to write about it . . . I’m kind of blown away that it hasn’t received more attention. It has been so profound for our family that I wasn’t even sure where to start talking about it, and it’s going to be a big topic for a while.

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14 Terri July 12, 2011

This sounds really interesting and was getting me excited! However I looked at the link to discover it’s a primarily meat based diet…wonder if there is a vegan version!! However I know the ‘evils’ of bread and sugar and am dismayed that I have allowed them to creep into our lives, even in small amounts. I am going to look at what alternatives I can find for my children and really delve into the optimal way we can eat here in the tropics. Thanks for sharing your experiences and I really wish you all the best with it.

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15 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 13, 2011

Thank you Terri! I plan to devote a post to vegetarianism and how it works with this diet. Obviously, it doesn’t . . . since it’s meat-based. But the creator makes some really interesting points about vegetarianism and how our bodies are designed. I think for healthy adults, there are cleansing diets and routines (such as eating lots of saturated fats, like coconut, and adding lots of probiotic foods) that will provide many of the same benefits. For children with health issues, though, I think this diet is worth considering, even for vegetarian families. Allergies and behavioral problems are clear symptoms that the body is sick, and needs healing. Bone broths and fatty meats provide the most available healing nutrients. The GAPS diet is a healing diet — meant to restore health. Once true health is restored to a sick child, vegetarianism or veganism could be an option if it’s done responsibly (keeping in mind that GAPS patients will always need to pay special attention to their diets). There are still ways to make sure you receive humane meat — we’re doing all organic from a local source, and feel good about our decision.

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16 Kelly July 13, 2011

Suchada – thank you for sharing on this – I hope you continue to share!

You’ve certainly inspired me to look into doing this – I look forward to hearing more from you…

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17 Summer Davis July 13, 2011

This is fantastic! How did you get diagnosed with gluten intolerance? I wonder if I have the same. I am suffering with PPD but depression has never been part of my life before and I wonder how much of it is diet? Plus, I gained SO much weight when I was pregnant with Madilyn and I need to lose about 80lbs. I’m going to look into this for my family. Styles has severe ADHD and I wonder how it would help him. We tried diet before we did drugs with him and it didn’t seem to help but we didn’t restrict whole grains so if it is a gluten issue, then it wouldn’t have helped either way.

Sorry I’ve been absent since Grady was born. You know I <3 you and your site and I still read from my email every day :)

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18 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 13, 2011

Summer, don’t ever apologize for being too busy! You have two children! I took months off after my second was born :)

I found out about my gluten intolerance after I asked my readers what might cause my life-long eczema. I cut it out of my diet and had amazing results — the best being NO MORE MIGRAINES. I’m sure this diet would benefit you. If you’re nursing you won’t be able to start the intro diet, but you can go straight into the full diet, which is a lot yummier anyways :)

The GAPS diet was developed for children with autism, ADHD, and other behavioral problems, so I’m sure it would help your son. It is truly amazing. Please let me know if you try it and how it goes for you!

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19 Missy October 10, 2011

My little ladies have crazy allergies that result in skin issues and always thought about GAPS…Do you modify it for your children? Is there a book specifically for kids? I am sorry if I am repeating a questions already asked. I haven’t read any books on it and know very little about it. Thanks!

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20 Bethany April 6, 2012

Amazing. I don’t even know what to say to this. I cut out wheat last year and started reducing how much my kids got… noticed a pretty significant difference in one of my daughters that acts a lot like what you were saying. Some times it’s almost like her emotions are completely in control and and then suddenly she will be crying, completely devastated because she dropped a toy on the ground. Doesn’t pay attention to anything, and she’s a very very stubborn child. THis post is really resonating with me – I have been thinking about going GAPS but I have a hard time imagining it without my whole family doing it. My husband did agree to give up the wheat which is good… I think I need to switch my kids to GAPS too, but I’ve got some opposition that I need to get through. My husband is one of those enviable people who has great health and isn’t overweight and eats everything and so he doesn’t understand why I think eliminating food groups is important.

Maybe if I ask him to give it a trial run for the kid’s sake for a month or two and then see if that converts him. It’s how I got him to give up the wheat, which was a big step for the guy. He does love fermented foods :)

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21 Vikas December 22, 2012

Suchada – thank you for sharing the helpful details about GAPS Diet..

I am from India. My child is three years old. He is a cute little child. He looks like other normal child but has behavioral problem. He does not speak and does not walk also properly. Doctors suggested for Gluten Free Diet, but, it didnt work.

I ll appreciate if you could spare some time on the plan for my childs diet. Doctors says that he is Autistic but my heart says he will be a normal child one day.

If you can suggest how to proceed with this diet .. I ll be thankful to you..

Right now he is on normal diet.

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22 Suchada @ Mama Eve December 27, 2012

Vikas, I’m not an expert on the GAPS diet — just a practitioner. I recommend going to http://www.gap.me and purchasing the book or contacting the author for more in-depth information. Good luck!

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23 Janisse Ray December 17, 2013

I am convinced from the GAPS book that a lot of behavioral problems we see in young children are connected to their guts. We’re in the middle of the Intro diet, precipitated by our daughter’s attachment disorder and intense behavioral problems. I found your blog by googling RAD & GAPS. I’m wondering if other moms of RAD kids have found lasting success on the GAPS diet. (We’re in the die-off stage & it’s not easy here.) Thanks for your success story.

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