When I was first diagnosed with leaky gut, I was told that I needed to go on a diet to heal the damage. Put very simply, leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability) is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged, allowing particles that are meant to remain in the gut to escape and enter the blood stream, manifesting as various health issues. For a full and thorough explanation of leaky gut, please see this post.
My doctor gave me a sheet of paper that said “leaky gut diet” and after having a look at it I realized that it was pretty close in line with the paleo diet. This basic leaky gut diet was my first phase of healing diets and lasted about 6 weeks. It was a difficult transition at first, but not as hard as I thought it was going to be. My eating with this diet was pretty repetitive: breakfast was always a fruit smoothie with chia seeds and coconut milk, lunch and dinner was mostly meat and salads and my snacks were homemade date-based energy balls and dried fruit. Not only was my diet lacking in any and all variety, but I was clearly over-consuming fruit and sugar in general.
Once I had gotten comfortable with the paleo-way of eating and realized I wasn’t doing my body much good with the pattern I had adopted, I did my research and decided to give the auto-immune paleo protocol (AIP) a try. If you are unfamiliar with the diet- it is like the paleo diet on steroids. The initial phase of AIP, which lasts at least 1 month, is really, really restrictive, but it is a lot easier if you transition into it by spending some time going just paleo first.
I spent a month on AIP, but ran into the same issue as before. My diet lacked variety and I was over-doing sugar, this time in the form of AIP-compliant baked goods. During this time I discovered the abundance of AIP (and other special diet) recipes on the internet and went a bit nuts. I was baking every other day, because I had convinced myself that I needed diet-friendly snacks and that it was okay because it was all good for me. I also wasn’t consuming nearly enough of the healing foods my diet needed, like bone broth. Bone broth once a week in a soup isn’t enough when you are working on healing your gut. All of this was my fault- I wasn’t putting enough effort or discipline into this diet that was meant to heal me and so I did some more research on the GAPS diet.
I looked into the GAPS diet for 2 reasons: I had a very good friend of mine successfully manage and treat her colitis with the GAPS diet and I knew it had an introduction phase that included very specific rules. See, I knew if I had a specific diet that dictated exactly what needed to be consumed and in what quantities I would succeed and so I started the GAPS intro diet. I ended up staying on the intro diet much longer than I had planned on because I could literally feel my body healing and it was a good feeling. After about 7 weeks I transitioned to full GAPS, which I strictly followed for about 6 months. The intro diet got me used to the having bone broth and fermented veggies daily, having much less fruit, and now I only bake for special occasion desserts, not for snacks.
Where am I now? I consider myself to be on the GAPS diet, but I have made a couple exceptions:
- GAPS only advocates the use of raw honey as a sweetener. I have expanded my sweeteners of choice to include those compliant with AIP- namely coconut sugar and pure maple syrup. I find these to be nutritious sweeteners, just like honey, and so decided to include them in my diet.
- I now include some non-GAPS starches in my diet. Around the 5th month of full GAPS I noticed a marked drop in my energy levels and general wellness. My intuition was telling me that I wasn’t consuming enough starch and after some research into the safe starch controversy, I decided I wanted to reintroduce sweet potatoes into my diet. Within a few weeks of eating sweet potatoes again my energy levels got better. I now include sweet potatoes and parsnips in my diet and am very happy I chose to do so.
The bottom line- find the diet that works for you, even if that means it doesn’t perfectly fit into one of the diets out there. There are so many ways to heal leaky gut- paleo, GAPS, AIP, SCD, whole30, etc- that there is no reason to force yourself to stick with one if its not working for you or doesn’t feel right. Listen to your body every step of the way and the healing diet process will be a lot more effective.