Our GAPS Case Study, and my Picky Eating Manifesto

The Pickiest Eater on the Block
by Sarabeth Matilsky

[This essay was published under a pseudonym in "GAPS Stories," a book consisting of "Personal Accounts of Improvement and Recovery Though the GAPS Nutritional Protocol."]

There's a cliché about parenting that a _lot_ of people will happily parrot: “It's _so_ much work!” they'll say in this chipper, reminiscing sort of voice. “But it's all worth it!” Presumably, these people mean that the joy/work equation has worked out in the proper way for them, and that child(ren) have mathematically improved the speaker's life to a much greater degree than if the parent had pursued any possible alternate career, like for instance deep sea ecology or professional skydiving or cabbage farming.

This line of thinking--that parenting can make a person's life more or less “worth it,” and that children are absolute mirrors of their parents' skill at parenting--is something I believed for a very long time.

I believed it all the way through my pregnancy, which was a very smug time indeed, because I knew _everything._ My baby was growing perfectly, fed by my meticulous vegetarian diet consisting of _only_ whole foods. I exercised every day, and walked on back streets to avoid excessive auto exhaust. My baby would be born at home, we would use no drugs or antibiotics or vaccinations, s/he would breastfeed on demand, and co-sleep, and later on would homeschool; mine would be the happiest baby in the whole, wide world.

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Ben Starling was indeed born at home, a beautiful, normal birth, with no interventions or drugs, and this fit right in with my plan. Only thing was, he arrived three weeks before his due date. At 6 lbs. 10 oz., he seemed just fine, although he _was_ really sleepy. He would barely nurse at all for the first few days, and as I began to explode painfully with milk (I remained engorged for the better part of six months), the sheer volume would choke him whenever he did latch on.

I kind of sat in around in a daze for those first weeks, wondering when I'd be able to get the house clean, admiring “my” baby's perfect, round, hairless head. He napped, and my hormones surged, and I also wondered when the bonding would kick in.

At about two weeks old, he started waking up five or six or more times per night, and developed horrible “colic” that would cause him to scream for hours at a stretch. I was so exhausted that I could barely function. Ben was gaining weight okay (and he continued to gain, for his first year of life), but nursing was horribly painful, as were the bizarre shooting pelvic cramps I'd developed. Post-partum depression was terrible, although I didn't call it that, or even know what it was that made me wake up crying in the night along with my baby. Colic is often due to an “immature digestive tract,” the books said. But when would it mature?!? ….Parenting was _not_ fitting in with my fantasies.

For six months, Ben threw up all the time, and screamed a lot, and slept very little. I knew that lots of babies did this, some worse than ours. But Ben's reflux was just a _little_ bit worse than normal, his screaming just a _little_ louder than many, and now some of his development (sitting, walking, talking) was coming along just a _little_ slower than the other babies we knew. And that's how lots of Ben's challenges continued to evolve--just a _little_ bit more than normal.

Nursing was uncomfortable and painful for years, although I managed to keep at it until just after Ben's third birthday. It seemed necessary, since he barely ate any solid food till he was two. Once he started eating, he craved bread, and starch. I'd heard that this was normal, but Ben craved these things just a _little_ more intensely and exclusively than all my friends' babies, especially considering that we never ate refined sugar or flour or “junk food.” Where did these particular tastes come from??

Weird little behaviors started popping up out of nowhere, around when Ben was 22 months: he stopped hugging anyone but me (and even these hugs weren't very cuddly), and he developed anti-social tendencies (crying when people were around; shrinking back from friendly touches; averting his eyes when folks talked; refusing to respond to questions; ignoring people entirely). He got obsessive about things: he hated dust, and he wanted others to repeat activities over and over, and would get more and more agitated when they lost interest in his favorite things (trucks, backhoe loaders, and later storm drains, sewers, puddles, and downspouts...and drawing pictures of all of the above). At around two and a half, he developed an intermittent and sometimes intense aversion to crowds, sometimes even crowds as small as his two parents.

His gastrointestinal state hit a low around his third birthday, when he hadn't gained weight in two years, was having diarrhea eight times a day, and was waking up at 4:00am with tummy cramps that made him cry. Removing gluten and dairy from his diet helped somewhat, but it wasn't a cure, and his peculiar eating habits got even more exclusive and peculiar, despite my constant attempts to normalize his food intake and non-coercively encourage him to try new things. After age three, he _never_ tried anything new.

Over the next three and a half years, Ben's “attacks” of gastrointestinal distress grew increasingly severe, and sometimes lasted for weeks. These consisted of listlessness and lethargy (he'd lie in bed and stare at the wall, not moving), even further loss of his already small appetite, and unmentionable distress and purging (sometimes vomiting, sometimes diarrhea, sometimes even while he was asleep).

Each attack was scary, and each time I would research another hazy “syndrome” about which nobody seemed to know that much, when you got right down to it: Crohn's, Celiac, “food intolerance,” Irritable Bowel Syndrome. None of the potential diagnoses or their treatments provided many helpful ideas. Usually when I told the pediatrician about the latest Attack, she would mention that a stomach bug was Going Around. Once we got a stool test, but it showed nothing conclusive. A few weeks after each attack, I'd generally take a break from medical researching; it would take Ben a month to get back to “normal,” which wasn't very good to begin with.

Jeff or I had to be with him at all times, to avoid meltdowns, which were often unavoidable these days anyway. The screaming was intense, long-lasting, and sometimes severe. Between the ages of 3.25 and 6.5, he logged countless hours throwing “fits.” “Tantrums are normal!” everyone (including child psychologists) assured me. But were _these?_ I couldn't help wondering: was it _really_ normal for a child to scream over tiny little problems for contiguous hours at a stretch?

Ben was growing and developing _almost_ entirely “normally”...except for all the ways in which he Wasn't. The behaviors were growing harder to ignore, and they didn't make sense. There was his non-acceptance of physical affection, varying levels of rigidity and inflexibility (often culminating the aforementioned hours' worth of explosive screaming fits), near inability to interact with people outside the home, speech delays and bizarre speech patterns and repetitive questioning, having no apparent desire for peer interaction, obsessive toileting habits, inability to play independently, apparent lethargy/depression, tiny stature, bloated belly, compulsive smelling of objects, shirt-chewing, anxiety attacks, pale appearance, very skinny except for a bloated tummy, wanting to be next to a family member at all times, skin rashes...

All these symptoms and many more made it pretty difficult to get through many days. But sometimes there would be marginal improvements--or genuine maturation--just enough so that we could say, “Oh, it's just a stage. He'll just grow out of it.” The pediatricians said, inconclusively, Some kids take longer than others. (Ben's “percentile” on the weight/height chart went from high-normal at age one, down to the 10th percentile by age three. Definitely not a big child, but still on the charts.) And I agreed, sort of. Jeff and I would watch, and try to appreciate his intelligence and artistic creativity, which, while substantial, were often overshadowed by his incredibly challenging “disposition.” And then he'd regress again. “We need accept Ben where he's at,” I'd think, “and not try to turn him into somebody he isn't.” And onward we would stumble.

But: Something Was Wrong. I shoved this intuition away as often as I could, since he was my first kid and I was in denial. How could so much be wrong when I was trying so hard to do everything right?? Everything developed so insidiously, slowly, and non-dramatically. It took me a long time to stop thinking that my life was awful, or that I was a crappy mother, or that Ben was doing all these things to spite me or manipulate me. Things just ramped up until Jeff and I didn't even realize how much our family life was centered around compensating for Ben's explosions and dealing with Ben's behaviors and trying to pretend that everything was okay.

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Even once I started noticing the Not-Rightness, it was unclear: what to do about it? Many people suggested that we get a Diagnosis for Ben. But I didn't see exactly how this would help. Maybe Ben would have been called “Asperger's,” or “Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified,” or as suffering from “Social Anxiety” or “A Paranoid, Overparenting Mother.” But what's the use of getting him a label, I always asked, if even these most-legitimate-sounding Syndromes have no cures, only therapy to help “manage” the symptoms? In what ways do the labels help a parent address the complexity of a child's mental and physical health?

Diagnoses of mental illness sometimes help parents get taken seriously. Maybe, in our case, it might have absolved me of vast amounts of guilt, somewhat sooner than later. But currently popular treatments for “psychiatric” disorders are, at best, notoriously challenging to get “just right” to positively affect a patient's brain chemistry; and often, at worse, they are completely ineffective or actually make the problems worse. Drugs cause side effects, often very terrible ones. Occupational therapy might make sense for some, to offer basic compensatory strategies to help a person's brain iron out a few quirks. But an effective healing protocol for mental illness? Stories about complete recovery are mighty hard to come by...

Those are some of the reasons I never pursued a diagnosis.

I am an unschooler, born and bred. I don't believe in “normal,” in putting people into little boxes, and labeling them, and trying to make children into another person's idea of what a Child Should Be.

And then I heard about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. This was in April 2010. We started the diet the next day.

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At this point, Ben was doing extremely not okay. He was so anxious that he'd scream if I left the house. He spent a lot of time screaming even when I _was_ in the house. He was in the midst of a terrible Attack, which was lasting for weeks. He was barely eating anything, he complained about leg cramps, and didn't want to go out.

Prior to the Attack, his diet had already dwindled to the point where Ben would only eat these foods: home made sourdough gluten-free grain products, eggs, hummus, some fruits, and to a much lesser degree (<1x week), potatoes, pesto, and sometimes a dairy-free smoothie--and VERY occasionally (<1x month), broccoli or raw carrots. That's it. He never ate anything else. No vegetables, no soup, no dessert, no broth, no tea, not even chocolate-gluten-free-cake--nothing. Not even if he went for 24 hours without eating would he _ever_ try anything new, unless it was a new kind of bread. The smell, the texture, even the sight of “new” foods (that he'd been offered dozens of times before) would make him gag.

So, beginning a new diet was a daunting prospect. But I didn't see another choice. He was barely eating anything as it was.

For the first seven days of the SCD, all Ben would eat was almond bread and eggs. (To complicate an already disordered eating scenario, I was a lifelong vegetarian, and although I had never forbidden my children meat, we'd never had any in the house--until now.) Then he fasted for three days, and had a massive vomiting/diarrhea/purging extravaganza.

After this stressful introduction to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Ben was like a changed child. Happy, vivacious (!), talkative (!!), and hungry (!!!). My child who had _always_ had such terrible “sensory” issues that he couldn't even chew, was eating chunks, and textures, and tastes. I could barely keep up with his appetite. I had barely just read the GAPS book, so I made him soups, and tried to come up with other options in between. But on day four of this crazy eating, I--not understanding _at all_ how long healing takes--let him have a little fruit in between his bowls of soup. By the end of the week, he was practically psychotic, at least compared to the happy, hungry little boy I'd had at the table a few days earlier. He wanted more fruit, less soup, and finally no soup at all.

I started freaking out, and--after reading more about GAPS--decided to put our whole family on the Intro Diet. Thing was, Ben was fasting again. He absolutely, positively refused to eat anything but eggs, for about the next seven days.

Jeff now started freaking out with me. Ben's a small child. He'd just finished ten days of near-fasting. He _had_ to eat! We spent the following three weeks in absolute hell, trying to force Ben to eat the three (delicious! I'm a _chef!_) meals that we served him each day. At this point, he stopped wanting even the foods he'd previously liked. It was unbelievably awful.

At this point, I spoke with Dr. Thomas Cowan, by phone. There were other details, but the basic premise of his advice was: you can't force a child to eat. Eating is all about autonomy. You choose what to feed him, but he chooses what to consume.

I thought, great! Yay! That makes so much sense! No more force-feeding, just serve Ben good, wholesome foods, and wait till he's hungry again, and he'll eat them. I mean, I could still remember that time in April when, for four days, I watched him eating like there was no tomorrow...

Except that this time, when we stopped with the Food Coercion, and instead simply served tasty, nutritious meals three times a day, Ben didn't start eating. Not at all, for a week, nothing but the eggs at breakfast. By day seven, the screaming fits were awful. By day eight, it was getting really, really bad. By day nine, he had stopped throwing fits only because, I think, he was too tired to scream.

I cannot exactly explain what it is like to see your child actually weaken in hunger, and yet refuse to eat the foods that you are offering, with love and intention, to make him well. Come to think of it, I remember feeling this kind of despair when Ben was newborn and wouldn't nurse for the first two weeks. Then and now, I was slightly terrified--why wouldn't he eat?! This is what _dying_ people do!

Finally, on Day #12 of the current fast, Dr. Cowan informed me that Ben had broken the record for anorexic eating among his entire pediatric clientele. This was not a trend that I wanted to continue, so my resolve broke down. I basically began serving Ben eggs for every single meal. I tried to blend up meats and veggies and fats and put them in, too--but essentially what Ben ate for the next several months was eggs.

He revived a bit on this egg diet, definitely. But he wasn't doing spectacularly. And by the time the end of August rolled around, he was starting to refuse even his “egg things.”

Hearing so many good things about coconut kefir, I started giving this to him, about ¼ cup the first time. (Strangely, although he would refuse delicious food at every meal, he would--very grudgingly--take supplements like kefir and green juice.) He went ballistic for a week after the kefir, and threw so many tantrums that I stopped it for a few days. And all the time, his appetite seemed to be slipping away. There was not enough food going in. I felt pretty strongly that non-food supplements would be a complicated, expensive rabbit hole that rarely cure children fully of anxiety/autism/etc (especially in the absence of enough nourishing foods). And it didn't make sense to stop the kefir, because it's got all these _probiotics_. Any reaction should be a healing one, since it's definitely not some terrible, indigestible food. He'd stopped pooping, so we started doing enemas every day...

This is when I truly began to examine my child's eating habits. Will take supplements. Won't eat meat, any at all, nor cooked veggies. Will eat fermented veggies (proving that chewing isn't entirely the issue). Cuts food into tiny, infinitesimal pieces (¼ of an avocado into 72 pieces, for example). Picks out “chunks” and arranges them decoratively on his plate. Eats incredibly small bites. Almost seems to reduce his portion size progressively, at every meal. Tells me he's full when he hasn't eaten all day. Craves sweets, nut breads, anything that looks like food he used to eat. Isn't growing, hardly at all. Goes at his preferred food with an obsession that just doesn't make sense, given how often he spurns super-delicious meals (even when he's hungry) which his brother gobbles down with relish...

I looked up “anorexia” in the dictionary. ...and then I slammed the figurative dictionary closed. My son needed to get over this eating disorder--preferably tomorrow, but definitely soon.

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I again researched supplementation, and pyrruluria, and deficiencies caused by long-term vegetarian diets. Zinc seemed like a good thing to try in the short term, if only for the placebo effect (“You can take this, honey, and it'll help your tastes to change...). And eggs, the one obsessive food that Ben was hanging onto for dear life, had to go. (Mind you, I'm writing flippantly about this in retrospect. At the time, I was so, so incredibly worried and stressed and unsure that removing his One Nourishing Food was the right choice...)

What next? Well, for ten days, Ben ate: fermented veggies, green juice, and 1/4-teaspoonfuls of coconut kefir. Oh, and his zinc. That is it. He absolutely refused the meals I set before us. Once again, he got weaker and weaker. Once again, after the first week, he stopped screaming, and just sort of sat around listlessly. By the tenth day, he was so hungry, and so hurting, and so little, that I just wanted _so_ badly to feed him waffles, and pancakes, and fruit, and everything his body was craving the way heroin addicts long for their fix...

On that tenth night, he couldn't fall asleep. His mind was racing, he said, and he was so anxious that he just wanted to lie on top of me. I offered, for the hundredth time, a bowl of soup.

And the miracle was that on this night he said: I'll try it.

My husband and I sat there, spoon-feeding him, and crying. He gagged some, and had trouble chewing, but he ate the first bowl. Then he wanted another. Then he said he was full, but that he wished he wasn't because it tasted _so_ good. And then he fell asleep.

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We were not yet out of the woods. For five days, Ben continued to gag and mostly refuse food and sit, in a withered state, on the couch. He was losing weight, and not eating enough, and sometimes accepting soup and other times saying he would not eat unless it was the _same_ soup we had yesterday, and not eating meat, and...and...and. It was more of the same obsessions, just with some soup going in every so often.

I imagine that every child is different, some more and many less extremely picky than ours. But in our case, my husband and I felt like we had to get more nourishing food in, and we couldn't rely on Ben's hunger mechanisms that were, for all intents and purposes, broken. All that we could think of was to appeal to what cognition Ben could muster, and use our status as amateur psychologists. Starting that day, Coaching Ben became a full-time task. One of us had to take Ben's younger brother, and the other one of us had to sit at the table, solidly, patiently, for _hours._

Jeff was incredibly, amazingly, persistent and kind. The script went kind of like this. “Ben, it's so hard right now. Your brain is playing tricks on you, and those Bad Microbes are telling your body not to eat these foods. But we know that these foods will heal you. These are the foods that will help you. They don't taste good to you now, but that's okay. It's okay to eat them even though they don't taste good, because sometime soon they will. For now, you need to make yourself eat them. It might make you gag, and your brain will tell you to eat tiny pieces, but you can do it. You can take normal bites. We're here to help you. That's our job. We could take you to a doctor and have them put in an IV to feed you through a tube in your arm, but that is not what is going to get you better. Nobody has all the answers, but this is our best shot. We know that these foods can heal you, but they're not doing your body any good on the plate. You need to take a bite, and chew it, and swallow it. It's okay if you don't like it. Someday, you will....”

And on, and on, and on, and on. I was beat, from trying to do this during the week with Ben and his younger brother. So Jeff mostly sat with him that first weekend, for hours. It was probably four days, but it felt like two years, at least.

Once he finally ate hamburger for the first time, it felt like we had reached a new point of progress. He was eating meat!! Soon after, Ben began eating two pounds of meat per day, all dipped in extra fat. He gained 5.5 pounds in 13 days. We didn't bring eggs back into his diet for another several weeks. When he'd been eating solidly, for ten days or so, he finally was able to poop by himself (I'd done 60 consecutive days of enemas, by this time). There was lots of diarrhea, and also lots of normal poops, and also lots of weird ones.

Here we were in October, six months after starting the diet--and this was the real beginning of GAPS. True, we'd strictly avoided all “illegal” foods before. But now the nourishment was finally going to go in, as many different foods as we could, no matter what it took.

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It's so hard to know, with our kids, what is “best.” Most of the time, we can never know. But it was increasingly clear to Jeff and me that _once Ben's hunger kicked in_ (i.e., with the soup that night, not just his hunger all along for eggs, or his cravings for starch), he also had to _keep_ eating, and on our terms. This may sound cruel, but it also felt like a matter of life and death. A six-year-old who has just been fasting for ten days needs to not do that anymore--and not only that, we had to prevent another slide backwards into his bizarrely easy default of Mostly Not Eating.

It started to get a bit clearer (although the lines are always fuzzy) that often when Ben says that he's “full,” he really means he's in discomfort, or that something's actually hurting, or that he Just Doesn't Want To Eat, with all of his messed-up-microbes, with every GAPS fiber of his little being.

I have this theory that when adults are starting GAPS, and they feel really horrible, with die-off, etc., they analyze their health to the max. They discover that various foods feel better or worse than others, or they realize how their fat absorption is compromised, and they figure out ways to get nourishment from the few foods that currently work for them, while trying to heal the gut and be able to comfortably tolerate more variety. I wonder if, for our kids, they have all this discomfort, too, but mostly no way to articulate what they're feeling. With Ben, I'm _sure_ he was reacting to foods, and all that fat, and maybe _everything_ that we were pushing him to eat. But in our case, I had no way to know, and no time to be choosy. We needed to trust that he could push through maybe dozens of these initial unpleasant reactions, and push through, in order to get to a point where we were stable. Perhaps this is more messy than the reasoned-adult-patient approach, but I'm hopeful that it has the same result, eventually: healing the gut.

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So. Once he'd started eating lots of meat (our particular personal challenge), we coasted for a few days--but I also realized, we had to keep pushing. This had been the third time Ben had fasted, and I didn't want to make the mistakes I'd made last time. I tried to imagine: what do we want our meals to consist of? And then I tried to make our meals look like that. I know that at some point, we'll be able to follow all of our intuitions and just eat when we're hungry; but for now, Jeff and I had to come up with A Plan. Once all the “required” items were consumed at a meal, Ben could have seconds or thirds on whatever part of the meal he was enjoying most (meat or veggies).

Here was our basic menu:
--Breakfast: Some kind of meat, some kind of veggie, lots of fat, cup of broth, a fermented vegetable, Young Coconut Kefir (YCK).

Lunch: Fermented vegetable, large bowl of soup with veggies and broth, sometimes meat and sometimes not, YCK.

Snack: Green juice (celery, cucumber, lettuce, and sometimes cabbage).

Dinner: Some kind of meat, some kind of veggie, lots of fat, a fermented vegetable, YCK, sometimes more broth.

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Toward a More Comprehensive Theory of GAPS Picky Eaters (Or, what I wished I known the first time Ben practiced “self-starvation,” back in April):

1. They can go, these kids, for a LONG time without eating. Obviously, we'd rather they eat, but I'm starting to think that this fasting has therapeutic benefits that we can't quite fathom, yet. If I had it to do over, I wouldn't have given myself the additional stress (on top of all that I already had!) of panicking when Ben went for weeks without eating. I think we need to trust that eventually they will eat, when the cleansing, or whatever it is, has run its course--_if_ we're there to give them psychological coaching as well.

2. Once they start eating, we're often so relieved and shaky from what just happened, that we let them eat whatever they want. But GAPS kids are not healed enough to make their own choices yet.

3. Progress won't be linear. The first night when they start eating, maybe, they'll eat the soup--the next day, they might refuse it, and want chicken, and we'll rush to make it for them. I think it's so, so, incredibly important that we _don't_ let them dictate their own food choices. I never thought I'd say this, but I have to trust that their sensory issues, and obsessions, and habits, are GAPS symptoms, and the only way we're going to heal these things is by making sure that the Pillars of our diet go in (veggies, fats, meats, broths, ferments). We have to be compassionate, and parental, and change the dynamics of the dictatorship: from now on, _we_ decide what to serve, and tell them how important it is that _they make themselves_ eat it.

4. I think one of the most important things we can do, once they start eating, is to _stand firm in the foods we serve_, and _constantly_ mix it up. Different meats. Different veggies. Different cooking techniques. Different ferments. Nothing the same, from one day to next, as their bodies adapt to the new foods and they try to latch onto a new obsessive items. Breaking the obsessive patterns probably takes a different amount of time for every child, but I know that at the two-month-mark, we are far from healed. (We have to give ourselves and our kids compassion with this whole process! After all, in our case we spent _years_ eating eggs on gluten-free toast for breakfast every single day, because if we missed a day there would be hell to pay... Don't underestimate what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can do to people...)

5. We need to up the ferments gradually, because these will keep fighting the battle with the bad microbes in our kids' guts.

6. Expect that they will regress. Decide how to deal with this _when_ it happens, not if. Ben has had many episodes, since he started eating, where we've had to sit with him, and talk him through taking a bite of food. We tell him, we know your tastes haven't changed right now, for this particular food, but it's okay. Remember the hamburger? The tastes will change. These foods will heal you. These foods need to go in. It's one of the most important things you can possibly do. We will never force you to eat, ever again, but you need to force yourself... These episodes are draining and awful and confusing and sad, and they keep happening. But less. I'm am sure he will get over them, in time. For now, we have to budget many hours per week to counseling him through.

7. Try to keep in our sights, the way that we eventually want mealtimes to be. _Eventually_ it won't be this crazy. Eventually our kids will eat. Eventually, there will be joy in food, and the lack right now is not because of the food, anyway--it's because of this darn leaky gut...

8. We are incredible parents. We don't hear it very often, because our kids can't say it, and most of the rest of the world thinks we're nuts (plus, they notice our often-obnoxious children). But we have to know this, and keep telling each other, because otherwise, hardly anyone will. I so appreciated all the encouragement folks sent (and are sending!) my way, and it's helping me through the rough spots. And the most important thing is that I believe in myself and my family and my kid.

9. Know that we'll never know enough to be _sure_ about all this. We have to hone our intuition and our intellect and then plunge in. We'll be learning every second, as we go along.

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Here are some things I think are true:

--GAPS is a healing diet, requiring the consumption of what I think of as the pillars of our diet: meats, broths, non-sweet cooked veggies, fats, fermented vegetables (and pure green juice, with no sweet ingredients); optionally, eggs and fermented dairy.

--Optional on GAPS: sweet veggies, raw veggies, nuts, fruits, honey.

--Many GAPS kids, once started on the diet, almost miraculously find that their “tastes change,” allowing them to enjoy almost every new food that's put in front of them (with minimal, normal-style taste preferences).

--Many other GAPS kids are extremely picky to start; and once on the diet, they either fast at the beginning, refuse to eat until some favored food is served, or latch onto new favorite foods with the same obsessive fervor they had for their former, now-illegal foods.

We GAPS parents are already dealing with huge to massive behavior/health challenges with our kids, and it might seem easy to discount picky eating as something that isn't pertinent to the whole GAPS pathology. But I think that the picky eating is a huge symptom, which presents because of the GAPS' brain's toxicity, much like other autistic, depressive, ADHD, etc. symptoms.

Of course, we all know that we can't heal our kids with a healing diet if the kids won't eat. So the question becomes, if we have one of these picky to super-picky eaters, _how do we get the food in??_

Options:
--ABA techniques.
--Force feeding.
--Letting them eat whatever legal foods they want, whenever they want, on the theory that At Least They're Eating.
--Serving them the good foods their bodies need, knowing that while we can't know _exactly_ what they need, it's pretty darn close. And if they don't eat these foods, tough--this is what's for dinner...

1. ABA does not work for many kids. If it did for yours, great. Read no further. (It did not work, no way no how, for my son. If you tried to get one spoonful of broth into him in exchange for a bite of another food, well, then he could and would scream for two hours straight in protest--and not ever eat the broth.)

2. Force-feeding might work for some kids, but it sure didn't work for mine. Encouragement, threats, rewards, punishments: these complicated our lives for three solid weeks of trying and I wanted to die. Plus, my son wasn't eating measurably more--one day he sat at the table for 8 hours rather than eat breakfast.

3. Letting kids eat whatever legal foods they want--usually a few foods that resemble their previous diet, like eggs, almond bread, certain meats, smoothies--might work for some people. But usually there is at least one food group missing: ferments, maybe veggies, or lots of fats. And nuts are a pretty advanced food for a weakened digestive system, and seem like they could really slow down the healing process, especially if there's yeast in our kids' bodies.

Many kids can probably continue on this limited diet pretty indefinitely. We went for six months. But my son is small, and he wasn't gaining weight. He wasn't making huge cognitive gains, although there were small ones. He was marginally less anxious, but extremely difficult to live with. Was he getting better? All in all, he wasn't progressing very far or fast. Could he have healed this way? Maybe, but I didn't want to wait until he was twenty five to find out. More and more, I think that we have to overcome this picky eating, as a fundamental GAPS symptom, before our kids can heal.

4. So now we come to the final option, which I now believe might be our _only_ chance at healing our kids relatively quickly. Their little systems are resilient, but _we need to get the foods in there._ All of the foods. The meats are important. The broths are healing. The fats are essential, especially for their little toxic brains. The cooked vegetables help balance out all these flesh-based healing foods. I'm pretty convinced we need the ferments to go in, at most every meal, for the rest of our lives (this is the only sustainable, affordable, and complete way of introducing enough probiotics for our kids to both fight the bad bugs, and heal up their insides, and then actually feel well). The green juice, depending upon the child, might be nearly a requirement, for detoxifying all the crazy stuff that the die-off will stir up.

ALL THE OTHER GAPS FOODS--fermented dairy, fruit, nuts, sweet veggies, etc.--are non-essentials. Our kids could go for years eating just ferments, meat, fats,broths, cooked veggies, and green juice. These are incredibly nutritious, and can heal them, and maybe in a couple of years, we can add the other stuff in.

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What is going on with our kids and their near-anorexic tendencies? You might say that your picky child isn't as bad as mine. But what happens when you take away their obsession foods, the ones they “like”? What happens if you serve your kids chunks, instead of a smoothie? What happens if you give them chicken instead of pork? If they're anything like my son, they will refuse to eat it. And they can hold out. And hold out. _Definitely,_ they can wait to eat until the next meal, they can often wait for 24 hours, and--I know from experience--sometimes they can go for at least 12 days.

I have a theory that we've got two issues to deal with: GAPS toxicity symptoms (pickyness, “sensory” stuff like gagging, wanting smooth/crispy foods, food refusal/obsession behaviors), and then the habits that form around these symptoms. You've got a kid who before GAPS ate PB&J on white bread, with the bread cut into hexagons, plus ice cream and potato chips and scrambled eggs. You put this kid on GAPS, and even if the sensory issues are subsiding, you'd never know it, because he's not healed enough to let go of his obsessions, and he's already latched onto GAPS-legal almond bread (or carrots, or whatever), plus scrambled eggs and smoothies....and this is now all he'll eat. GAPS-legal, but definitely not a nourishing-enough diet. Certainly not enough to support their bodies in dealing with heightened die-off if we introduce healing foods like kefir, cod liver oil, raw fermented dairy, etc.

We have to shift both the foods that our kids are eating _and_ the behaviors that accompany them...

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Helping my child learn how to eat, in order to institute the protocol that will heal everything else, has been the hardest thing I have ever begun--and our journey is (12/2010) far from over. The most amazing, wild, and awesome sight is my formerly-food-addicted, super-super-picky eater, _learning to like food._ And by this I mean, Food, in all its varied forms, not just the two or three “acceptable” items to which he used to cling for dear life and not really enjoy at all.

For so long, I felt so bad about the idea of "taking away" his "favorite foods." I thought: how could I make my child's diet even more restricted??

And now...I feel like such a great mother (definitely with flaws, but great nonetheless), simply because Jeff and I have given Ben this gift, to learn to eat a _less_ restricted diet than he's ever eaten in his life. The restrictions used to be imposed by himself, and his toxic brain. Now, he's eating foods that are healing him, and _enjoying_ such a wide range of foods that it almost breaks my heart. On the good days we keep a close eye on him, to sort of make sure it's not Cinderella at Midnight.

Meanwhile, Ben's got amnesia. “What did I eat, before I first started eating meat?” Ben asked me recently, a few weeks after he Started Eating.

“Well, not much!” I told him. “Remember? You used to eat eggs, and 'egg things,' pretty much.”

“Nothing else?” Ben asked, amazed, like he was remembering something that happened years and years ago, only just vaguely. “Did I eat any vegetables?”

I remembered back, over all those years and years' worth of refused meals--and quickly quenched that thought. “Hardly any,” I said. “Remember? You'd started eating sauerkraut, but no other vegetables, really.”

“Why?” Ben asked, wonderingly. “Why didn't I? If I was hungry, could I? If I'd _wanted_ to, couldn't I eat meat and vegetables? Could I eat soup?”

I looked at his little face, so confused by these strange memories, and I took advantage of the way he lets me kiss him now, most of the time, right on the top of his fuzzy blond head...

Yes, my kiddo. Let this fade. I can't tell you how thrilled I am, every day that we get farther away from all the thousands of times I've watched my baby, sitting in his chair, refusing food. As you keep eating, I am so much less fearful of the painful symptoms that still wrack your body. This time, I know that you can kick these microbes out on their asses, because you are eating. Goddamn it, you are EATING! These foods will nourish you, and make you well, and someday you won't remember these early years at all. You won't remember your anxiety, because it won't possess you anymore. You won't need to chew your shirt and smell everything and hide your face from people, because your brain won't make you do it anymore. You won't have horrible and crippling stomach pains. You won't remember all the ways we've had to learn and grow and work like crazy in order to heal a six-and-a-half-year-old anorexic.

And for this, I am utterly and weepily thankful.