Tips to Keep in Mind when Starting a New Restrictive Diet (GAPS, gluten-free, etc.)

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Starting a new diet, like GAPS or even just gluten-free? There's a lot you need to do before day one, especially if your kids are involved

We told the kids this was going to be our “weird food week” – luckily none of them are quite old enough to crack sarcastically, “You mean weirder than normal?”

I thought our family might do the GAPS diet this Lent to see what it would do with my husband’s Crohn’s and my kids’ cradle cap/eczema, but I wasn’t really pulling it together in the weeks before Ash Wednesday. Since nobody’s symptoms are very bad (DH has no symptoms right now), our motivation for undertaking such a massive dietary change – which begins to sound much more difficult the closer you get to making it a reality – wasn’t very high.

Since we were grain-free (and I am sugar-free) for Lent anyway, I decided we’d take 7-10 days and do a “family detox,” like a pseudo made-up GAPS attempt. We started Monday of this week to make it fall between events where we had to be at other people’s houses eating food.

Here’s what we are doing (and remember, this isn’t a “real” diet, just something we’re totally making up as we go in hopes that it gives our guts a little “vacation” and does some good, somehow):

  1. Day One: no grains, legumes, corn, dairy, potatoes, nuts, raw fruits or veggies, or sweetener of any kind. We did eat eggs, coconut flour, cooked vegs, applesauce, and meats. We had probiotics, although sadly not at every meal. We had lots of bone broth (a mug in the morning and the soup pictured above at dinner).
  2. Day Two: same as day one except we added 24-hour fermented dairy (yogurt) back in, and some raw fruit and raw veggies.
  3. Day Three: That’s today. We’ll see what shakes out, but it should be much like yesterday. I figure three days off all sweeteners, nuts, and most dairy are a good thing. I think? Again, just making this up!
  4. Days Four through Ten: Continue with no grains, legumes, corn or refined sweeteners. Try to not rely on potatoes every day. Continue emphasizing bone broth as much as possible. Bring back lentils first, then other legumes, then gluten-free grains.

I am sharing this, by the way, not so that you can imitate our made-up elimination diet. There’s no science behind it, really, but it has turned out to be the equivalent of training for a big race, in a way.

I learned a LOT the first day about what I would need to do to actually make GAPS happen successfully in our home, if the time comes that we ever feel called to do that diet. It’s like when you’re training for a 5K and folks say that as long as you’ve run half the distance in practice, you’ll make the whole thing when the rubber hits the road. This is our 2.5K training.

Lessons Learned in Starting an Elimination Diet with Kids

Benefits of Drinking Bone Broth (6) (475x356)

We have been mentioning off and on for a few weeks that we were going to take a week as a family to choose to eat no grains, no sweets, no corn – so that people were ready for, “No, crackers aren’t an option with your egg salad,” and “We’re not having any desserts this week.”

My kids were really pretty cool with the idea, which surprised me, and I thought we were mostly ready to go.

What I learned on Monday was that I didn’t prepare them nearly enough.

Next time, I need to explain every part to the children:

  • that we’re drinking bone broth all week, even for breakfast, and how it’s important that they finish it all
  • that there will be no milk or yogurt or raw fruit for an entire day
  • that I’ll still say no to milk the second day
  • that we will get to eat applesauce – this was very exciting for the kids simply because we haven’t had a jar open for a while, so it was a fun treat

They were shocked when I said yogurt wasn’t a choice for snack, because our homemade yogurt is always a choice for snack. I just needed to be more specific with the kids about what we were going to do.

To make it easier on everyone, other preparations and changes I’d make in the way we went about this include:

  • Start on a Saturday – it was quite difficult packing lunches for my husband and second grade son, so I quickly realized that for the first few days of something like GAPS, when you really should just be having soup at every meal, it would be a ton easier for the whole family to be together all day long.
  • Plan every meal, every snack down to each morsel and beverage – What in the world do you make for snacks on GAPS? Seriously soup all day??? That will take some serious explaining to the kids so I don’t have anarchy on my hands if we ever try GAPS. I found that by day two, I had made a few things we could eat, but I just wasn’t prepared for all the things we were cutting out on day one.
  • Plan ahead – make some basic soup the day before – a huge batch if you’re smart! Then you don’t have to worry about lunches.
  • Make a big batch of beef jerky – one of the few snacks my husband could pack for work when raw fruit and nuts were off the table. Plus some other snacky things we can eat, like coconut flour muffins with date sugar instead of honey and Butternut Spice Bars from Healthy Snacks to Go, without the maple syrup.
  • Figure out how to get rid of or store your regular leftovers that you can’t eat, like cut fruit, leftover suppers, opened cheese, etc. The five days before you begin and your shopping trip that week need to be planned out pretty well, too, so that you don’t have a whole bunch of food staring at your that you can’t eat, and then let it go to waste.
  • Brainstorm things to do that don’t involve food and that don’t make people think about food (like sitting and watching a show in the morning, which is often accompanied by some before-breakfast trail mix for my kids).
  • In “What Can I Eat Now? 30 Days on GAPS” Cara has a shopping list, exact meals that you can eat, and even ideas for what to do as a family that won’t make you think about food. I relied on that book to help me out, but I only cracked it open briefly last week for 5 minutes to help me shop for veggies correctly. I didn’t really read it until the night before we were starting. (That’s dumb, by the way, hence all my “planning” lessons above, learned the hard way.)Confession: I skipped over the “activities” page thinking, “Yada, yada, I don’t need that….” and then thought about it all day Monday when we started. She was right, I was wrong. Her book is a super resource for the practical side of the GAPS Diet book (and she even tells you exactly what pages in the GAPS book you must read if you’re too short on time to read the whole thing. Love that!).
  • Also from Cara – a brand-new GAPS Starter Package that rolls together all of her resources. It’s the closest you’ll get to having a chef come prepare all your food 😉 At least you’ll have everything you’ll need to get started, in one neat package.
Have you ever done an elimination diet with kids? What makes it successful and not so painful?

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19 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    The biggest thing I’ve learned when on a diet like this is to make sure I am still eating enough. When restricting foods it is easy to accidentally restrict calories as well! Even if you eat the same stuff over and over, a full tummy makes everyone happier, have more energy, etc. Hope you get the results you are wanting!

  2. says

    When we did GAPS intro for my 2-year-old son, I billed it as “Super Silly Soup Week” to my older kids, 5 and 4. Each kid got a new mug, bowl, and straw for soups, and we made sure to clear out or hide all non-legal food before we started. We did not have severe symptoms, so my plan was to stick to intro for a minimum of one week (basically a stage a day) and we made it about ten days, which I thought was pretty good! Activities were definitely key – we had a lot of special outings planned, and the applesauce and ginger tea were a big hit for snacks. I also shamelessly bribed my older two, and told them that if they stayed positive about the food and did not complain for the first half of the week, then they could go on a special outing with Daddy and get a treat while their little brother was napping (my older girls had no food-related symptoms as far as I could tell). It worked, and the whole week was a *lot* less traumatic than I had envisioned, and helped my son a lot. After intro week, all the new foods as we transitioned to full GAPS seemed like Christmas! We stayed with full GAPS for about 8 months, and are now slowly reintroducing some properly prepared grains etc. Overall, not a single day has been “easy”, but the work was well worth the results.

  3. Sharon says

    Just on a tangent– it’s a really bad idea to do a race, whether 5k or marathon– having never run more than half that distance recently. You may make it to the finish line but it’ll be painful. If you want that 5k to be easy (or fast) you’ll be running a lot further than that most days…

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Don’t worry – I hate running even a 1K! 😉 This is just what a friend who was doing her very first 5K told me was in the race prep packet.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      No, I haven’t yet tried fish broth, so we just didn’t do the soup part. We’ve had a lot of eggs, fish, cream of potato with veggie broth. ??? Not really GAPS, so I make my own rules! 😉 Katie

  4. Amy says

    I cut out dairy for lent. I’m trying to be fairly strict with myself. (But I did give in and have some cookies that may have come into contact with dairy.. and certainly were pretty processed)
    The thing that it taunting me is Pizza. Oh man!

  5. says

    My family eats a primal diet. No grains and no added sugar with the exception of high quality dark chocolate, and we have seen significant benefits. Different benefits for each of us. My son who is 10 has a much better temperament since we switched over 11 months ago. Both my kids had cradle cap since they were babies and after eating primal for a week or so I found that the cradle cap released from their scalps. It was kind of gross for a couple days but we combed it out of the hair and even though my daughter eats grains when we eat out or at a friends we have not seen the problem return. My husband has suffered with dermatitis for decades and since cutting out grains and switching to wine instead of beer his skin is so much better. I have had ibs and other stomach issues for years but have found I only have problems if I accidentally eat something with gluten in it. So after 11 month we have it down pat. I bake grain free items on the weekends (most have dates as the sweetener or I use a very small amount of honey or maple syrup). At one point a few months ago my kids were bummed out about being primal because all their friends had great snacks in their lunches so I decided that baking grain free, low sweetened snacks was a must, to keep everyone happy and on track. I pack up meat about once a month so I am prepared to cook each day. I boil eggs on sunday night and I make sure to always have a variety of fruits , vegis, cheese sticks and nuts on hand. I do not make separate meals for anyone. I just find that more often then not the kids end up liking most meals after a few tries, or at least not complaining about them. It is a lot of work but I feel the benefits out weigh the work. I hope anyone trying to eliminate things from their diet that make them feel bad will really give it a shot because it may cure what ails them and give them a whole new way of life!

  6. Wendy C says

    I am gearing my family on the GAPS diet. My 10-month-old baby has eczema and it has gotten pretty bad the past couple of weeks. I am also putting my 2-year-old on the diet because he is eating way too much carbs. I would like my husband on it, too, but he will be the hardest to convince. I would love to stop eating gluten, because I know I will benefit from it in the long run. But I know I will miss it! I’ve been off of dairy for the past two weeks and I also miss it, especially since we switched to raw milk not too long before that and my 2-year-old loves it.

    I am going to grab “What can I eat now?” right now! and also break open my water kefir grains from Cultures for Health. I also will be roasting chickens and making bone broth tomorrow.

    Baby steps! I hope this will get rid of the eczema once and for all, and replace my family’s diet into something healthier.

  7. says

    Hey Katie! My two kiddos also have cradle cap and mild eczema. After trying all kinds of things and making myself miserable after restricting diets, I finally broke down and started with allergy/sensitivity testing this week. We are going through our chiropractor who is certified in NAET. Have you heard of it? It’s a pretty comprehensive list of allergies and sensitivities that they are tested for. My kids had a TON of sensitivities even to things like calcium and egg mix which includes chicken. I never could understand why we weren’t getting anywhere with elimination diets and bone broth. I couldn’t figure out their allergies because there were so many and still included in the foods we were trying to heal them with, like kefir and broth, etc. I do not have any interest in cutting out foods for good. That is not sustainable for us and frankly not very healthy, in my opinion. I don’t want my kids to learn to resent food or have negative feelings towards it. Food is food and should be nourishing. Anyway, with NAET, you go through treatment over a 25 hour period and your body is “cleared” of that sensitivity. Yeast was my 4 year old’s first clearing. She had a major detox (runny nose, slept for 2 hours when we got home, slight fever) and was fine the next day. My son was even reactive to his own body, which makes sense because he is always throwing fits and sleeps horribly at night. After his treatment, he is now sleeping much better, fits have decreased, and said 5 new words the night of his treatment. I’m excited to see the progress we make from the therapy. I asked out doctor how one develops so many allergies/sensitivities. She said most people have a lot and just don’t know it. They just think that’s how life is. It is usually passed down from previous generations, like from grandparents. What they ate and their lifestyle as well as bad gut flora, gets compounded in future generations. Like epigenetics. It was all very interesting. Just wanted to pass this along to you and see if you had ever heard of it or had experience with it. I will admit, it seems very strange. It’s not modern medicine, that’s for sure, but it does seem to be doing something. God bless you, Katie! Keep up the good work on the blog! Your heart for people and your family shine through your writing. :)

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I’m totally fascinated. I have heard of NAET but have never done it. Someday, we’ll probably get there! I can’t even believe how many different ways there are to tackle sensitivities and general digestive issues. The trickiest part is figuring out which one!! And plenty of people ahve great success with just vitamin supplementation, chiropractics, etc. Phew! Lots to learn, lots to learn – thank you so much for sharing your story! :) Katie

  8. says

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I want at least some of my family to go on GAPS for a while, but am so intimidated!
    I decided to just ease us into it, so we’re going grain-free this month. Even though we eat a “real foods” diet anyway, the grain-free feels drastic enough for now.
    I’ll be referring back to your blog and the other resources you mentioned as we continue on our little journey! :) Thank you for the tips!!

  9. Leah G says

    We started GAPS intro on Christmas. HA to 16 mo has been gaps since she started solids at 9mo so no change for her but the 3yo was very upset. After being on intro for over 45 days it gets boring! And how do we continue to afford the meat? hmmm.. we have begun slipping lately. sourdough crust pizza. oops. but still no sugar except a tsp of honey when I bake coconut bread. we eat a ton of ferments too. my 3yo developed a massive staph infection rather than healing her eczema and overall I am very tired of cooking so I am not sure if this was the “cure” its touted to be.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I’m so sorry it sounds like you’re h aving an awful experience! You’ve really put a lot of time and energy into this, and I hear you on the meat thing. Hear. You. Phew.

      Did you see the comment above about NAET? Maybe that’s something to look into instead? I hope something good comes of your dedication when you look back on it!!

  10. says

    My two-year-old had issues with the no cheese part. We did carrot sticks cooked in broth if you are ever on it and need a snack. I took them out and salted them (add melted butter if you’re doing it for a dipping sauce). They were pretty good.

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