I’m so happy to be able to share our story of healing with our son, Arthur, through the GAPS Diet. While I’m not a nutritionist & have no training in holistic medicine whatsoever, I just consider myself a well-researched & thoughtful mother who knew there must be a better way to get to the root of our son’s issues. At this time, over 2 years after Arthur was first placed on GAPS, he is no longer following the GAPS Diet. His diet has evolved over the past couple of years to be completely reflective of his particular body, immune & digestive system. We have learned the foods he tolerates well, the foods he tolerates less well & the foods he cannot tolerate at all. We were lead through this journey, in part by working with a holistic doctor as well as a nutritionist, but for the most part we have done most of this ourselves. However, I always recommend that parents new to GAPS research & choose a practitioner they not only feel comfortable with, one who is well versed in dealing with children & also one who will keep their child’s best interests at the forefront of the journey.
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. 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 mucous-y 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 the 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 gastroenterologist & 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 celiac, 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. 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.
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 gluten sensitivity & we were thrilled that his constipation completely went away.
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?
I eventually heard about the GAPS Diet while attending a local fermentations class. It was through this discovery that I realized Arthur had a leaky gut, which is why a traditional elimination diet didn’t work for him. Simply eliminating foods wasn’t enough.
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’.
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. We’ve definitely experienced setbacks over the past couple of years but I’ve learned that even those are an integral part of his healing process.
Often we are asked how quickly we saw healing in Arthur & while I don’t think it’s typical, after two weeks on GAPS Arthur had already 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.
As of now, Arthur is a very typical 3-year-old boy who loves school, telling knock-knock jokes, wrestling with his brothers & has a very big appetite! We’ve learned how to manage his symptoms well & keep him healthy.
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