Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) is a restrictive diet that aims to restore gut health by eliminating foods that may be harmful to the gut, like gluten and processed foods, and by introducing foods that may help to support gut health, like bone broth and fermented foods.
What Is the GAPS Diet?
The GAPS diet was founded by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a doctor who utilized her experience to find a natural and nutritional treatment to help her son with learning disabilities.
Her research led her to create the GAPS diet, which theorizes that certain health conditions such as autism, ADHD, and Crohn’s disease can be treated by restricting certain food groups.
How the GAPS Diet Works
There are three phases to the GAPS diet: the introduction phase, the full GAPS diet, and a reintroduction phase. Each phase can last up to two years.
Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends starting with the introduction diet before moving to the full GAPS diet. This is particularly important for people with digestive conditions such as food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
In addition to focusing on and maintaining the GAPS diet, Dr. Campbell-McBride also recommends gentle and “natural” forms of exercise such as walking or swimming.
The Diet Plan
The introduction phase is the first step that eases you into the full GAPS diet. It consists of six stages, lasting anywhere from three days to six weeks or more. The introductory phase should be tailored according to individual and biochemical differences. An extensive list of foods can be found on their website.
Stage One – Homemade soups and stocks using meat or fish, cooked vegetables, probiotic foods, raw honey, and herbal teas
Stage Two – Stage one foods, additional probiotic foods, raw organic egg yolks, cod liver oil, homemade ghee, fermented fish, stews, and casseroles
Stage Three – Stages one and two foods, ripe avocados, nut butter, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, and scrambled eggs
Stage Four – All foods from previous stages, fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices, roasted or grilled meats, nut flours, and cold-pressed olive oils
Stage Five – Slowly introduce apples, raw vegetables, and fresh-pressed fruit juice
Stage Six – Incorporate foods from all stages in addition to raw fruits and baked goods
Full GAPS Diet
The full GAPS diet is the second phase, expanding upon the introduction phase. Taking inspiration from the specific carbohydrate diet, the GAPS diet eliminates grains, sugars, and simple starches. It is recommended to follow the GAPS diet for 18-24 months, with 85% of the diet consisting of:
- Fresh meat
- Fermented foods and dairy products
Other recommendations to maximize the benefits of the GAPS protocol include:
- Using organic and fresh foods where possible
- Avoid canned, smoked, or processed meats
- Only cook meals with animal fats, coconut oil, or ghee
- Only heat food on a stove or oven
This is the final phase that intends to return to your “normal” diet by reintroducing restricted foods. The reintroduction phase can begin after six months of normal digestion and bowel movements.
Over several months, you will reintroduce restricted food groups for several days at a time. If you have no reactions to the foods, you can increase the portions. A general recommendation is to begin with reintroducing potatoes and grains, with no order for other restricted foods.
During and after the reintroduction phase, continue to avoid highly processed foods.
The cost of the GAPS diet will depend on the resources purchased and whether you are making meals for others. The cost adds up when you buy organic vegetables, fresh meats, and high-quality supplements to aid your diet.
In addition to consultation with consultants specializing in the GAPS protocol, the monthly cost of sustaining a GAPS diet is approximately $1000 or more.
Dos and Don’ts
Consider the following points to maximize chances of success on the GAPS diet:
- Do consult a registered health professional (e.g. a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist) before beginning the GAPS diet
- Don’t skip the introduction diet, as it will help you become adjusted to restrictions in the GAPS diet
- Do take vitamins and nutritional supplements to make up for nutrients lost from food restrictions. Make sure you consult a health professional beforehand
- Don’t over-indulge in baked goods or fruits as they should be consumed in moderation
Sample Diet Plan
A sample diet plan may look include:
Before Breakfast: One cup of filtered water with a slice of lemon, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, or fresh-pressed juice
Breakfast: Eggs your way cooked in ghee/animal fat with GAPS-style pancakes
Lunch: Homemade soup or stew with one serving of fermented vegetables
Dinner: Meat or fish with vegetables (fresh or fermented)
Snack: Baked goods, nuts, seeds, or fruits
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
Encourages the Formation of Healthy Habits
Many of the dishes in the GAPS diet will be homemade and made with fresh produce, meaning the GAPS diet may help you save money from restaurant meals and takeouts. This would be nutritional while allowing you to customize meals to your liking.
May Help with Gut Health
The GAPS diet emphasizes a mixture of fresh vegetables and fermented foods, which may help maintain the population of healthy gut bacteria. A 2018 review has shown that consuming fermented dairy products may also benefit overall health by maintaining weight and reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, further research is needed to support these findings.
Lack of Scientific Evidence
While a few studies support the relationship between autism and gut health, evidence remains limited. Further findings are needed to support the effectiveness and recommendations of the GAPS diet and its role in treating various health conditions.
Difficult to Maintain
Sticking to the diet may be difficult for people with demanding lifestyles. Because the diet requires you to prepare and cook all meals from scratch, you may spend more time in the kitchen. The diet may also be particularly time-consuming if you spend a lot of time planning.
The Bottom Line: Is the GAPS Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The GAPS diet was developed as a “natural treatment” to help specific health conditions. Although it meets the USDA’s recommendations for fruit, vegetable, dairy, and protein, it restricts many healthy carbohydrates and starches. It may result in nutritional deficiencies and unsustainable weight loss, so caution is advised.
If you are looking for healthy and sustainable weight loss methods, consider consulting your doctor or a dietitian who can provide personalized advice and food plans suited for your needs and lifestyle.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.