GAPS- First two weeks

It’s been a chock-full two plus weeks! It seems we have experienced all of the emotions and physical symptoms we’ve had in the past two years in these past 16 days.


In preparation for GAPS, I read a lot about other people’s experiences, and I can totally see how many people have had to start and restart this multiple times. It. Is. Intense.


The first couple of days, the kids reluctantly ate their soups for meals. And we realized how quickly we would go through soups and the homemade yogurt. Though we were technically allowed to add vegetables from day one, we tried to give everyone a day or two of just plain broth and meat with salt in case anything else would aggravate the very reactive gut linings. Georgia was cool with the chicken broth, but on the second round of plain beef soup, she made it known that she was done. I couldn’t blame her.


James was never happy to see soup, but we’ve been working with him to eat broth for about four months in preparation for this. Though James ate foods with all kinds of tastes and textures as a baby, he started to become picky around 15 months, and when the gut issues became more pronounced, so did the pickiness. Unfortunately, we usually have to play kid music videos to get him to eat the soup. This drives me bonkers. I can feel generations past and present and any childhood expert shaking their heads at me. But I tell myself that most of them probably don’t have a malnourished child who is reactive to a million foods and has sensory issues with foods on top of it. So youtube it is-for now.


On the second and third day, James refused to eat soup at dinner and then vomited. The third day, it was projectile vomit. (Fun fact- it was also directly on my MacBook. He’s an excellent shot.)


That third day dinner, he then refused to eat any yogurt, and he was extremely lethargic. When I took his temperature, it had actually dropped significantly, which scared me enough to find the contraband Cheerios and force feed them to him until he started to get his energy back, all while I stress ate raw honey.


GAPS pantry
This was what we did to our pantry before we started GAPS. Thankfully, there were still just a few Cheerios that hadn’t been thrown away!


We spoke with his doctor the next day, and she wondered if it was a histamine reaction since broth could be a high histamine food. His skin had actually completely cleared from any eczema, and when we did some blood work shortly after, his histamine levels were within normal range, so we weren’t sure if that was the case. Obviously it’s a bit hard to tell after the fact.


Dr. Natasha Campbell, the creator of GAPS, had mentioned on her FAQs that vomiting can be a sign of hypoglycemia when a patient’s carb intake is significantly cut. Though James was already gluten free, his limited diet still consisted mainly of carbs with Cheerios, quinoa pasta, and bananas. So in consulting with his doctor, we moved him to a modified ketogenic diet, which is essentially the same thing as the full GAPS diet, just without the more intense intro stages. It’s still completely grain free, all whole foods, and avoiding certain inflammatory foods. This made us feel a little defeated, as the introduction stages of GAPS are set up for more intense healing of the gut lining. But maybe we can go back to the intro once his body starts to adapt to low carb ways and he becomes less picky, God-willing!


After making this change, James was much better. His skin was still clear, he was happier, more verbal, singing more songs than usual in their entirety, more aware of his surroundings and more interested in the activities of the people around him.


He even tried a couple of new foods!! We’ve read about this happening for kids who are picky eaters. We tend to be attracted to the foods that our bodies don’t process well. When we take them out, we become more open to other things.

James eating “pancakes!”

James pancakes

“Pancakes”- Four eggs and a cooked chicken breast blended in the food processor. Fry up the batter in ghee like pancakes! Recipe courtesy of Julie Matthews




The kids were nuts about these things. Fry little shreds of chicken in ghee until they get crispy like chips. Thomas came up with name and method- reminiscent of the crispy pieces of chicken his mom used to make for him.


James eating mixed vegetables??

James eating vegetables


This was the most beautiful and bizarre sight. These were made by my very talented mother-in-law in one of the soups. They were in Georgia’s plate, and he just went for them. And ate the whole plate.


So of course we got excited and also gave him a birthday cupcake for Georgia’s 2nd birthday….twice. It was a GAPS-approved recipe with all healthy ingredients, but definitely not something his body was ready for. The eczema started to come back. So did the edginess. And so did the pickiness.

Georgia's gaps cupcakes
Though we were silly to give this to James, I’m obsessed with this recipe for strawberry coconut flour cupcakes! So yummy!


He hasn’t touched a cooked vegetable since then, and the “pancakes” are now licked (still some serious progress!), but he never takes a bite. We are going back to plain broth, homemade yogurt, avocados, blueberries, and bananas for a few days to get his body back to where it was.


Thomas had a rough couple of weeks. Headaches, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, shortness of breath, all of the fun symptoms you can imagine. The second day, he actually broke out in a fever and chills! Apparently this can happen from bacteria die off. He hid the scale the first two weeks, so he wouldn’t be able to see how much weight he lost.


Some people try to start this diet during time off from work or an easy period of time. Being the sacrificial father that he is, he started it when he had a million things going on at work so James could start it during a school break. Somehow the man survived.


During the second week, his mom came to help us cook and take care of the kids. Though I am generally a good recipe follower, I don’t know food well enough to know what herbs, etc, work together well. So she made our soups into gourmet soups, which helped a ton. Thomas’ weight loss has seemed to hit a plateau, so hopefully regaining it soon follows.


He’s sticking out the introduction stages of GAPS and is currently on stage two! And the past couple of days, he’s started to feel much better. Just really tired. Making progress.


Georgia and I moved with James to the full GAPS diet. She was much happier to see blueberries, eggs, mangos, and avocados back in her life. She’s also been asking for birthday cake for a couple of months, so she was thrilled when her own birthday cupcake came. Her digestion has been a little off, but hoping that’s just because she had probably more sweet things than recommended for her family birthday party (Though we managed to make it almost all completely GAPS recipes! Thanks, Internet!)

Georgia's bday
Georgia and her much anticipated birthday cupcake ❤
Georgia's gaps bday
Almost completely GAPS-approved! We threw feta into one of the dishes. And cacao powder in the chocolate avocado pudding is okay in moderation. 🙂

And for me- I actually feel great physically. The first couple of days, I had a headache and felt really weak in the morning until I ate. But my body has adapted to the grain-free lifestyle, and I definitely have more energy than I normally would on not a lot of sleep. I’m hoping the boys follow soon.


So, some first two week reflections:


Lessons that were/are hard to learn for us—


  1. Don’t rush foods when you have food sensitivities. Just don’t. Even if it’s a sibling’s birthday party, and the parent guilt starts to take over. Give the body a chance to adapt and heal with each new food introduction.
  2. Nothing is going to be perfect. Really appreciate and be grateful for those wins when you get them.
  3. Time. So much time in the kitchen and away from the not super independent little children. It’s not their favorite or mine. I’m hoping we become more efficient as time goes on. We try to make things in big quantities, but we also seem to eat them in large quantities? Working on a better plan.
  4. Social situations- navigating these is pretty tricky. James is generally used to eating separate food, but Georgia is not. We try to bring along snacks that they both love, so they don’t get too much snack envy.


Big positives—

  1. James trying three new foods in a week?? Though we had a bit of regression these past few days, we can’t forget that. That’s pretty much a year’s progress, considering his history.
  2. Even though it’s so much time, I love cooking like this. I love feeding my family whole, organic foods and nothing processed. It’s been an intimidating goal for us for a long time, so in many ways, it’s a blessing that the issue was forced on us.
  3. The bit of progress we’ve seen in these past two weeks is so very promising. Makes it all worth it!
  4. We are so, so, SO blessed to have so many supportive, loving friends and family. There were so many encouraging messages. And we could feel all of the prayers lifting us up!


Thank you for following. Here’s to the next couple of weeks!

Our Story

On February 22, 2013, a beautiful baby boy completely rocked our world.


He was our perfect little angel face who brought us so much joy. We had read and heard the stories of many others who had children who had Down syndrome, and we were ready to embrace this journey, both with its challenges and its innumerable blessings.

James newborn

During his first year and a half of life, we had moments, like all parents, when we wondered if he was progressing as expected, not necessarily compared to his typical peers, but compared to his peers who had Down syndrome. He used to cry through entire sessions of physical therapy, and we found this wasn’t everyone else’s experience in Down syndrome groups. He seemed to struggle more with gross motor skills than most babies who had Down syndrome. As the months went on, he started to blow raspberries while staring at his hands for prolonged periods of time and shake burp cloths and socks back and forth in front of his face. These were his early self-stimulatory behaviors.


He also was very sensitive to loud, sudden noises, not uncommon to children who had Down syndrome or just children in general. Nevertheless, I found myself looking up signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and worrying off and on if this was an additional challenge he might face. He was making progress with communication and in all of his therapies, so I tried my best to ignore the stress of an additional concern. The occurrence of ASD with Down syndrome seemed to be something that the medical community was trying to understand, and it was confusing since some symptoms of autism could be found in children who had Down syndrome but not necessarily ASD.


During these times of worry, his natural charm and uniqueness would ease any fears. We were so thankful that he was ours.




At around a year and a half, he started developing eczema on his cheeks, which we were never able to fully heal. We tried prescription creams given by his pediatrician and dermatologist (one we saw had a side effect of increased risk of skin cancer with sun exposure, so we quickly stopped that one), homeopathic remedies, and any over-the-counter creams we could get our hands on. We looked up all of our household products and switched to safer and milder soaps and detergents. Nothing seemed to work consistently. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to bother him, and he carried on in his usual happy, calm, and content way.

The beginning of the eczema
Big flare ups, which had spread to arms, legs, and back


Six months later, we were in the process of moving homes, and I was pregnant with our second child. During all of the fun, my husband, Thomas, became sick with the flu, which resulted in two infections and two courses of antibiotics. He always had a bit of a sensitive stomach, but all of a sudden, things had departed greatly from the norm. He was having trouble sleeping, trouble with digestion, and almost any food you could think of started becoming a trigger food to make him sick. This often resulted in an increased heart rate, abdominal pains, indigestion, and weeks of being sick to his stomach. Things were definitely off. He began losing weight without trying.


Six more months later, we had a new beautiful baby girl named Georgia, and life was very different for all of us, including big brother.


James was also starting school for the first time and was exposed all of the various germs that come along with that. One of the viruses he caught turned into an ear infection and then later a sinus infection, which we fixed with two rounds of antibiotics only about a month apart. Around the time he first became sick, things started changing for James. He started having more outbursts when Georgia first came home, understandably, but they really picked up steam after he became sick.


All of a sudden, we couldn’t finish songs that he enjoyed or favorite parts of books- two of his most favorite activities- without screaming and shutting the books as fast as possible. Stimming behaviors went way up. Any excessive noise, especially from Georgia, would put him over the edge. And on bad days, he could become mildly aggressive toward me and do some self-injurious behaviors. On top of the newborn stress, we were beside ourselves with what had happened to our sweet boy.

James dressed as his hero for Halloween, 2015


We did our best each day to adjust to our new normal, and we also decided with the school transition, it would be a good idea to get him an aide. I took him to an agency to sit down with a psychiatrist and see if he qualified for the aide service. During the visit, I spoke with the psychiatrist, and James gave a great babbling monologue that only he understood while turning a block from side to side to look at its reflections.


With insurance changes, we found out later we were unable to go with that agency, but we did receive a report in the mail about a month later.


I read through the report with interest and disdain, as my own words seemed to be turned against my son. Most anyone who has a child with special needs understands the pain of reading about your child and perceived challenges in black and white and feeling like whoever wrote the report completely missed the point and has no idea who your child actually is. Then at the bottom of the report, I saw that the psychiatrist had assigned him a new diagnosis- moderate autism spectrum disorder.


My world stopped a bit, as I felt the stabbing pain in my chest. How could he so freely just assign that to James? He didn’t know him. Hadn’t even interacted with him for more than three seconds. If he had actually gotten on the floor and tried to play with him, he would have heard the words he’d worked so hard to have, see his ear-to-ear grin, and witness his comedic personality.


In speaking to the people who knew James the best, they were in disbelief with the additional diagnosis. It had never crossed their minds. With ASD given out more frequently, especially when trying to get more services, we decided to ignore the report.


I actually physically ripped it up, but it obviously didn’t leave my head and my heart. More and more I saw the symptoms that I wanted to ignore. Though he interacted with adults and older children, he didn’t seem to care where his peers were or what they were doing, he didn’t play with toys appropriately for his age, he had lots of sensory sensitivities, and he never pointed to things he was interested in. All of these things were magnified with his new heightened emotional state. Yet I did my best to put it all in the back of my mind and write it off to a new sibling, his age, or all of the recent changes.


I couldn’t keep it in the back of my mind for too long, as he needed to be evaluated for his transition from at-home therapies to integrated preschool.


After he was observed in his preschool setting, the evaluator wanted to speak with me. She was concerned. James had inconsistencies. Why was he fine sitting on his teacher’s lap but then crawling away from her and every other adult in the room? He wasn’t participating the way she would have expected someone with Down syndrome to. He couldn’t stand up for himself or ask for help when a peer took away each of the toy cars he had carefully collected. She didn’t say ASD, but we both knew what she meant.


That conversation was a turning point for me. When James was first diagnosed with Down syndrome, we at first thought of the challenges that he might face. But instead we learned of stories of the inherent joy and the social and emotional intelligence many of these children had. We heard stories of people who had Down syndrome comforting those in need and easily connecting with people. The things many told us would be so great with Down syndrome might now be challenges for James. Our world had just been flipped upside down. I sobbed the rest of that day.


That was the start of our dark days. I probably cried just about every day for the next few months. I missed my calm, happy boy and every scream he gave took away a piece of me. To make things worse, my sweet baby girl had an infection that put her in the hospital with heavy-duty antibiotics for nine days and prophylactic antibiotics for a few months after. (Thankfully, at that time, we at least knew to pump her up with probiotics!)


My husband couldn’t eat anything and was dropping weight like crazy. My son was an emotional wreck. I was an emotional wreck. We had no idea how we got here.


Putting the pieces together

Around James’ third birthday, his stools became awful every single day. A few times, I wondered if I should keep him home from school in case he had a virus. But they persisted way past the course of a typical virus. We started wondering about the eczema, the stools, and if James’ situation was anything like Thomas’. Maybe he wasn’t tolerating a lot of the foods he was eating. After a lot of Internet searching and speaking with others who had battled eczema, we decided to implement some diet changes, starting with eliminating dairy.


That same week of no dairy, his teachers told me he wasn’t crawling away from them. He was more willing to try the activities at school and was more focused and receptive. WHOA. Just from dairy? This was the first real sign to us that showed how much of an impact food can have.


We had him tested for all of the typical allergies, but nothing popped up. This was a bit frustrating, as it would have been great to have a definitive answer. We did some more testing through an integrative health dietician and found that he had an extreme case of leaky gut. Leaky gut is basically when food permeates through damaged intestinal lining and gets into the blood stream, which causes an immune reaction in your body. This helped to explain the eczema, terrible stools, and extreme irritability. We did a food sensitivity test for him, and just about everything under the sun proved to be problematic. No wonder he was so miserable. Thomas was the same.


Food sensitivity test


We went through a long stage of eliminating just about every food, literally only giving him six or seven foods that he could tolerate. This is probably the worse thing you can do for someone with leaky gut, since the safe foods can turn into problematic foods. However, the fear of the reactions to problematic foods (eczema flare ups, bad stools, more outbursts) outweighed the promise of a long-term plan.



Somewhere during this process, God guided us toward the wonderful world of functional medicine and its potential for healing. Each practitioner in this world had their own story of how they landed there, and we were hopeful that we could really get to the root cause of why these boys were struggling. We drove to Florida to see a renowned physician for Thomas, and we found a brilliant, caring physician in New Jersey for James.


If you have to drive to Florida to see the doc, you might as well see Mickey, too!


We’ve started to learn about genetics, toxins, and how it’s possible to control gene expression with a healthy diet and environment. We’ve experimented with all kinds of supplements and foods, had a lot of failure, and had some pretty amazing successes.


For James, every time we’ve had a breakthrough in supplements or diet changes, we were reminded of his natural calm and joyful self, and without fail, his teachers couldn’t get over the unbelievable progress he was making at school. We realized that our number one therapy was his food. When his nutrition was appropriate, and he wasn’t rejecting specific foods, everything worked better.


Next steps-

The past couple of years have been extremely humbling and enlightening. In many ways, we are thankful to be on this journey, as it has allowed us to see and begin to understand more clearly the health struggles of others. Thomas started to see a pattern in his own physical therapy patients through this journey. Many of his patients unable to heal from chronic pain were also dealing with GI issues. All of this has prompted him to pursue further education in nutrition to better his own skills as a practitioner.


For our personal journey thus far, any past breakthroughs never seem to go the distance in terms of healing. And diets are still extremely limited and unsustainable for the long haul.


So with encouragement from some families who have gone before us and a whole lot of faith, we have decided to start the GAPS (Gut and Psychology syndrome) diet as a family, which is a gut-healing protocol. It’s completely grain free, and you start with only meat stock and certain veggies, yogurt/kefir, and sauerkraut juice, all homemade, to starve out bad bacteria and work to rebuild the intestinal lining. Slowly, you add additional foods, as you are able to tolerate them, and work up to the full diet (still completely grain free).


Dr. Natasha Campbell, a neurologist and neurosurgeon who moved into the world of nutrition when her son was diagnosed with autism, created this diet and moved her son off of the spectrum. She has since helped many others significantly reduce symptoms of IBS, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other conditions, and for some, essentially eliminate symptoms.

Gaps book


The primary reason we are doing this diet is to heal the boys’ (and girls’!) guts, but with the established gut-brain connection, we are super curious about what happens with everything else.


We’re going to document the fun and the crazy, so follow along if you would like 🙂

Let’s get this party started!