By Toni Graff
[This is Toni and Ethan's story, compiled by me (Sarabeth) from their own notes and an interview that you can download at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/gapsjourney/2011/07/03/toni-graff-healing-… . I am most appreciative for their permission to post this story here.]
My journey into Natural Healing began when my first child, then two years old, began having recurrent ear infections. He had tubes put in his ears at age two and a half. As a child, my sibling had had similar problems, and years earlier my father also had recurring ear infections--so many people thought it was “normal” for my child to have these problems too. In fact, when I asked the doctor why my son kept getting sick, I was told, "Children just get ear infections."
Huh? _That_ was the answer?! I wanted to know WHY! And my research began.
This son of mine is now in college, and also now has two younger brothers and a sister. I finally found the beginnings of an answer to the ear infection question only two years ago, as I began learning about the symbiotic relationship between friendly probiotic bacteria and the ecosystem inside the human gut, and how this affects the health of our whole body. Hippocrates said, "Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food." Food indeed is the primary pathway to ensure a healthy population of friendly bacteria in our body...
I embarked on my Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) journey in 2009, to help my youngest son, then eleven. He had been diagnosed with ADHD, with emphasis on the Hyperactivity, and had sensory symptoms as well, including “Auditory Processing Disorder” and “Sensory Integration Disorder.”
My son was always moving, and if it wasn't his body, it was his voice. He liked to talk, so he was never just silent and sitting quietly. If he was doing an activity, he would be talking at the same time, and if he wasn't talking then he was humming, and if he wasn't humming then he was singing. He was a body in absolutely constant motion.
He wouldn’t allow _anyone_ to hug him or touch him. He could not sit, or stay on one task very long before moving to another task, couldn’t follow directions well, he always needed to be reminded of tasks to attend daily, was very rigid with routines, and often had meltdowns at home or in social situations.
He really couldn't participate in groups, because he didn't understand that everybody was looking at him when he couldn't stop talking. I don't know what he thought back then, in these moments...but group situations just didn't work. He also had red cheeks and red ears and other physical symptoms that weren't normal. He would sleep _maybe_ 7 hours a night, was always the first one up and the last to go to sleep. He made no eye contact at all with anyone, he would interrupt every sentence anyone else spoke, and didn't know how to take turns in an activity. Not that we didn't explain these things to him repeatedly! We knew it was some kind of metabolic problem because he has two older brothers, and we had seen how they developed.
By the time Ethan was about seven, I had become a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and I followed their food protocol about 80 % for the next few years. Ethan made a small amount of improvement during this time. Then another WAPF member had Dr Natasha’s 'Gut and Psychology Syndrome' book on his table one day. The cover page caught my eye, especially the part that notes how this diet could address ADD/ADHD.
It took me another year until we started the diet. I spent three months on the Gapshelp yahoo e-list, reading and learning. I purchased the book, then I had to convince my son. I had never felt comfortable with medication for ADHD, but by the time Ethan was ten, I was desperate. Either I was going to need medication, or he was. I had already tried many other alternatives. We had been on a nutrition supplement system for a year, then Weston Price, and I had tried NAET for another year. Trying a stricter food protocol that specifically claimed to work for ADHD felt worth it to me. Dr Natasha’s testimony of her son helped to convince me as well.
It actually wasn't a big jump for us to start GAPS because we were already focused on eating well. The main thing was eliminating grains, and not eating cereal for breakfast, and having to cook breakfast every day (that was a big leap!). For awhile that was very tough, and Ethan would say, “Do I have to have soup for breakfast _again_?!”
The first month of GAPS Intro was very, very difficult. The next two months were almost equally difficult. And then each month got a little bit better, and a little bit better. (Ethan does GAPS food only, with lots of ferments, but he takes no supplements because he always reacts to them.)
We started GAPS when my youngest child was ten months and just learning to eat food, so she went on the diet along with me and Ethan. I had promised Ethan I would do it with him. The rest of the family said they wouldn't. That meant there were (and are) three of us on GAPS in our house, and three of us who are not (my husband and Ethan’s two older brothers).
Having two different diets in the house has been a bit hard. Ethan is a real trooper though. He really hasn't cheated, especially once he could see that the diet helps him so much.
This is the list of improvements I wrote for the GAPShelp yahoo group after we'd been on GAPS for about a year (I wrote at the top of the list, “We celebrate every month--it is very hard sometimes”):
1. He's very calm--I'd say he has calmed down 500%!
2. He allows us to hug him and will reach out to hug us.
3. His eyes work together now quite well (before his left eye didn't work with the right at all, and kind of did its own thing.)
4. Now, almost immediately after he begins speaking to someone, he makes eye contact.
5. He is noticing when it's appropriate to join a conversation and when to wait until it's his turn.
6. His meltdowns are so rare lately that I'm very surprised when they do occur. (Last one was a week ago and I'm still getting over it; I can't wait for these to be _gone_.)
7. He can focus on his school work, and is a great self learner. Math has finally clicked, he's moving along very quickly, and is close to pre-algebra now.
8. Ethan can sit quietly in a group situation!!!
9. He is more flexible when routines change.
10. He can stay on task when working individually with a teacher.
11. He doesn't need to be the center of attention at home or in a group.
“Oh my,” I wrote. “It's hard to think about where we've come from. I don't want to go back there! Go for the diet with your kids. It's so worth it!”
My mantra on GAPS has become, "Stay the Course."
When we started this diet, I convinced Ethan that as we progressed, GAPS would eventually allow him to have more foods again. (I had already noticed over the years that some foods affected him. We called these reactions “allergies”--milk was a big culprit, we noticed, and also sugar. So he was used to some dietary restrictions.)
I told him we would need 18 months for healing, and since he was eleven years old at the beginning, he was planning to be done by the time he was 12 ½. I had already experienced parenting his two older brothers, and I knew Ethan might not be as cooperative when he was close to 13. I knew I had a small window to try a food protocol with him...
When the 18 month anniversary came around, I casually mentioned, “Guess what, we’ve been on GAPS for 18 months!” Ethan looked at me, surprised, and said: Mom, I don’t think we’re done yet.
Looking back after 28 months on GAPS, Ethan now says, “I stayed on the diet after a year and a half, because when I got to that point I just didn't feel like I was strong yet. I just knew that if I tried to go off the diet again, I would get hyper again. ...I just used to get wacko!”
Whew, I got through that one! Now, at almost 28 months, we know we’re in it for 3 years or more.
Today, Ethan's world is opening up so wonderfully. He is successfully taking lots of classes, making new friends, and exploring the social world, something he really didn’t care about much before.
He now takes classes outside our home, and he's opening up and interacting with people, and can sit still in groups like he's “supposed” to. There's still tweaking that we do with the diet, but I can't imagine how much better we could get because everything's so good right now!
When you are doing something for your child, you'll move mountains--you'll do anything! I’m not certain I would have done GAPS if I had been doing it just for me. But this protocol really does become easier when it becomes your lifestyle. And it also becomes easier once you learn how to coexist in a culture that doesn't welcome whole foods. For me, the gratification and rewards are what make it easier and worthwhile to keep going. Mostly I don't think it's hard anymore because now I live with a calm boy who lets me hug him all the time!
I think a common misconception with any diet, and especially the GAPS diet, is that folks think they'll do it for a few months or a year, and then go back to eating the way they did before.
Yet, at this point I can’t imagine going back to how we ate before. My own health has improved so much over the past few years! My asthma went away, as did my constant congestion, as well as my abdominal bloating. This surprised me greatly, as when my Irritable Bowel Syndrome disappeared, along with my general unexplained fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, and mild depression.
I didn't really notice how many problems I had until they were going away! My “age spots” lessened, and I have better skin, and no dry patches. A body is supposed to be repairing itself all the time. It shouldn't be that we look to the future and expect to get blood pressure medications and inhalers and knee replacements.
We humans are hurting ourselves terribly. I watch how it's become so normal: every child in every family has _something_: they have asthma, or ADD, or bi polar, or ADHD, or autism. Every family has something.
There's a lot of cancer in my family, and nearly every member of my extended family needs blood pressure meds, and I refuse to say that this has to be my fate. I have heard over and over about adults doing GAPS for their kid's sake, like I did, and meanwhile discovering better health for themselves. Usually they didn’t even know they need better health, because like me, they were living in denial and thought all was fine.
I am still working on my husband and two older sons. I have a ways to go with them, but I'm pleased that my 20- and 16-year-old tell me that they try to eat healthier foods while away for the summer working at camp, and while at college. (One will call home and say, “Mom, I'm trying to remember to eat salads!”)
GAPS seems so radical, but it's really so much closer to the way we are “supposed” to eat. Some statistics predict that this generation of children will not outlive their parents. A diet like this feels hard, but it's such a simple solution. Just change the foods you eat. Don't eat the starches and sugars. Eat fresh produce. Get healthy meat. I don't think that everyone needs to necessarily eat all the way GAPS, but we all need nutrient-dense foods.
This is the learning curve: reworking recipes, and getting used to being in the kitchen. Once you find new ways to make foods you like, you might start realizing, as Ethan said today, “That old food just doesn't taste good any more!” (I had to ask: Have you tasted it?! ...I'm not with him every moment. And he actually told me that after he'd had a bite of ice cream recently, his stomach started hurting five minutes later. After a long healing, I believe the body begins to react quickly to unhealthy foods.)
I was never a cook. I liked to bake, but I wasn't a cook. What worked for me was to work on one recipe and perfect it, make it over and over until I could make it and it didn't feel hard. And when I had a handful of these recipes that I could make without thinking, the whole kitchen thing wasn't so daunting anymore. Then if I had time, I could look up some new recipes every so often.
Some of these foods seem too expensive, but <span class="pullquote">the truth is, if you don't spend your money on your health, then you'll probably spend it at your doctor sooner or later</span>. And it's really empowering to think that I'm in charge of my body and health, and even if GAPS doesn't extend my life, at the very least I'm more vibrant and alive _during_ my life! I'm approaching fifty, and as you get older things often begin to feel like they're breaking down. And rather than having that happen lately, I feel like I'm getting built back up, and I'm looking forward to aging well, and into the future. Like I can face each day with energy and enthusiasm, rather than feeling like I can't get out of bed.
My advice to those considering this diet is, Just do it! There are lots of people out there to help you, and there is no reason not to start.
Ethan's Personal GAPS Assessment (at age 13, July 2011):
“GAPS makes me feel a lot better. I don't feel hyper anymore, and I feel a lot calmer. It's easier for me to think, too.
“The food is really pretty good. But my least favorite thing on the diet would definitely be broth by itself. Alone in a coffee mug, it's just GROSS!”
His advice to other young people doing GAPS: “Until you really know that you're done with the diet, I'd suggest that you stay on it, no matter how hard it is. Because it's worth it. And 'cause if you're in a situation like a birthday party, when they're serving cake and ice cream, you can ask your mom to make some kind of substitute to bring with you, to eat instead.
“If it's hard to stay on the diet and you want to cheat, just look in the GAPS book or find GAPS-friendly recipes, and that does help. My Mom even makes a homemade ice cream now that's really delicious. ..”
Long before we ever started GAPS, we had tried so very many ways to try help Ethan gain focus and become calm. Each time we tried a new therapy, it failed, and we spent so much time and money with no substantial improvement, which is partly why GAPS ended up being so miraculous. We had been altering our diet using the WAPF principles; we used those NAET treatments for a year; another year we used a supplement system called chembalance.
We started seeing a Neurodevelopment Specialist when Ethan was 8. Of course, when we started she told us that he definitely had ADHD, and she spent several long years working with us: his behavior was so unpredictable, and so very, very hyper! As I mentioned, group settings didn't work well--we had a history of being asked to leave an art class, having children request a different bowling team, and some other troubles with classes, until I finally just didn't put him in these anymore, or I would stay right next to him the whole time.
The ND therapy helped organize Ethan's brain a little, but finally the therapist told us that if Ethan wanted to calm down and gain focus, we would probably have to address whatever underlying metabolic problem was causing these issues in the first place.
It only took one month on GAPS for me to notice he was sitting still and quiet in my home. Big Change.
And then we enrolled him in a drama class this past school year. I would stay close by for about half of every class. I would explain behavior and social skill issues when needed. Finally, in the last few weeks I allowed him to walk into the building alone (this one was a big deal because I've always had to worry what he might do or say on his way to the class).
Anyway, while talking with the teacher after class one day, we discussed GAPS a bit. She knew Ethan was on a special diet and had just heard of GAPS herself. I asked her if she had noticed any improvement this year--which put her on the spot a bit. She did respond with some positive comments, and started asking me about labels, remembering some of those on the front of the GAPS book.
I told her that his “real” label is ADHD.
And the teacher kind of looked at me funny and said, “I don't see any evidence of ADHD.”
I was euphoric! She had met Ethan in September 2010, over six months before, so this was a huge thing for her to say to me. My hope and prayer is that in another year he won't stand out as odd in social situations. Or at least he'll catch up on some of the rest of the skills he needs...
A GAPS friend (who has recovered her ASD son after over three years on strict GAPS; he's now 15) responded to my update on Ethan at the 2-year-mark:
“Hi Toni, I've been following the story of your son's recovery for some time now and I, too, am euphoric, reading about his amazing progress!
“I wanted to encourage you regarding the 'rest' of the healing, and the social catching-up. I always clung to Dr. Natasha's words, that the social skills come absolutely last in the healing. It's true! I would say we are about 1.5 yrs ahead of you [with diet], and my son Robbie [not his real name] has just taken off socially. Don't even worry! Ethan will learn more and more and more about how to act, how to talk, how to get along with others, even how to read body language. A year ago, I, too, was walking Robbie in to classes and hoping he would act appropriately. And now I catch glimpses from afar and he is shockingly adept socially, well-liked, and saying and doing all the 'right' things.
“At the beginning of his healing, we were very slow to introduce Robbie to new social situations. If you recall, he literally had not left our house for nearly 3 years. We tried to pick out 'safe' settings with nice kids where the experience wouldn't be too detrimental for him if it went badly.
“I also consulted with two special ed teachers who knew his history, and they strongly recommended that at that point, we should stop telling teachers and responsible adults about his background. They felt we shouldn't handicap him any longer, and see if he would sink or swim. It wasn't easy for us, but he has survived it little by little and is now, over a year later, so successful...
“I think you can trust that as Ethan's hyperactivity has slipped away, so will the awkward social skills, interrupting, and other symptoms of his illness. What has amazed me so much about Robbie's recovery, is that precisely all the things that people do therapy for in autistic (ADHD, LD, etc.) children, just _stopped happening_, without any coaching, teaching or therapy, as Robbie began healing.
“As his brain has healed, he is able to learn complex concepts and understand proper behaviors and protocols. At his worst, no amount of therapy could have made a difference as he was so far gone and so extreme. And Robbie has learned the most simply by becoming more and more aware of his mess-ups. If he had been younger, it would have been easier in some ways, because at age 13 and 14, parents are just dropping their kids off at places and events and aren't right there to mediate and mitigate. We ended up volunteering (and still do) at a lot of activities, so that we could be close by in case we needed to intervene.
“But the truth is that he has had some unsuccessful situations that were upsetting, and it was so hard for us to watch him struggle. And each time, he learned something valuable - because now he _is_ capable of learning. As much as we wanted to spare him the mistakes, we couldn't totally, and he actually _needed_ the negative interactions to learn from them. He's so so aware now. He has made comments like, 'Last year, I would have done X, but now, I do Y.' It's amazing to see him picking up all these things and it's not so obvious to others as it is to us. Watching my miraculously healed son learn social skills in his adolescence is like watching a baby who falls, dusts himself off, and learns to walk...”
Toni Graff has recently become a board-certified Health Coach, focusing on individuals and families with digestive disorders, allergies, ADHD, and asthma. Her background in dental hygiene and massage therapy, as well as her personal experience with GAPS, give her a wide foundational base to offer those seeking her help. You can get more information about her business, “Healthy Body Naturally,” at tonigraff.com , and she offers consultations in person as well as by phone and skype.