When our family started the GAPS diet, we had the best of intentions. We cleaned from top to bottom getting rid of all gluten, and then we got rid of everything we could think of that didn’t fit with our diet.Somehow a little bag of organic, gluten-free, lactose-free chocolate chips escaped this process. They were off limits because of the sugar. TinyHands probably kept them because once you’ve been on the GAPS diet for a good long while you are supposed to be able to occasionally have an off limits food (not gluten, though!). A tiny bit of sugar once we’re all healed up would probably not completely derail our health.
At first, this wasn’t a problem at all. But one day I was looking for dried beans for a kids’ activity and there they were. I wasn’t tempted. I had pride about my emotional commitment to the diet. It was working for me. I was happy with what I had to eat. But their presence got filed away in the back of my mind.
Sugar has always been my biggest challenge, the withdrawals when we first started GAPS affected me like no one else in the family. There had been weeks where I literally thought about sugar every 30 seconds, and my neurological issues were intensified. I was addicted, and kicking my habit was no fun. But when I wasn’t eating sugar outside a touch of honey, I no longer thought of it. I felt great, and really didn’t want to go back to wanting it all the time.
When we reintroduced fruit the trouble started. It wasn’t long before I was looking for sugar whenever I was hungry. Instead of cooking something or waiting for a meal, I’d go for the easiest thing – a piece of fruit. When the fruit was all gone and there wasn’t something for me to snack on, my addictive mind would kick back in…. whispering to me about those chocolate chips. In the past I’d never even really cared for chocolate, but here I was compulsively thinking about it.
This was new for me – I’ve always been an intuitive eater, never struggled with my weight, and never, ever dieted before we decided to make these changes for our family’s health. I never felt guilty about a food choice, no matter how unhealthy it was. I figured if I wanted it that was fine. I’d enjoy it and then go back to my very moderate, mostly whole foods way of eating.
I deeply believe that enjoying food without guilt is the basis of a healthy relationship with food. For the most part, when we started GAPS I kept this same way of eating. The choices were limited, but to me it was like nothing else existed. I’d eat whatever I wanted until I was full, and enjoy it. Now I was obsessing.
I was scared to try the chocolate chips, but I really wanted to. My rationalizations kicked in… you are just doing this diet because of your kid… they’re gluten-free and that’s the most important thing to avoid… let’s just “test” this to see if it really makes a difference…
So, secretly, I tried one. Nothing bad happened. I thought, what’s the harm in one more? From then on, every now and then I’d sneak 5 or 6 chocolate chips. I’d eat them with some nuts, and really enjoy them. One day I had a handful of them, and before I knew it I had developed an itchy rash and some bathroom issues. I swore off them, went back to soup, and felt much better.
I’d like to say that I got rid of them at that point. But I didn’t. Instead, the chocolate chips became a source of emotional consolation from me, and continued to feed my sugar addiction. They didn’t even taste good to me any more, but I couldn’t stop myself. They made me feel awful, and even started to make my moods go off kilter. Finally, when I’d had a really bad day, I decided to finish the whole bag. I ate the rest of them, spending lots of time in the bathroom and covering myself in itchy hives for about a week as a result.
Now that the chocolate chips are gone, though, I haven’t wanted them once. They’re not in the cabinet calling out to me any more. It took over a month for me to feel physically back to my new, healthy normal.
I’m very torn about this. The GAPS diet has been unmistakably positive for our physical and mental health. But it also has created a few issues around food that I never had before. These issues happen to be the most common reasons that people don’t stick with their diets!
It’s clear that relying on simple will power isn’t enough. In order to recover from my chocolate chip fiasco, I’ve had to go further to set myself up for success. I’ve gone back to the basics that worked when we started the diet:
The most obvious thing is to not have easy access to things I don’t want to eat. I’m not the person who runs to the store for a candy bar. When I have to put that level deliberate action into getting the thing I don’t actually want, it stops me. If it’s the easiest thing to find I will eventually slip.
The next thing is to always have better options available. Part of the reason that the chocolate chips and fruit started calling out to me was that I wasn’t full. As we progressed on GAPS I realized that I couldn’t eat some of the foods the rest of the family was able to introduce. Eggs and cheese are both out for me, and nuts are definitely a sometimes food. These are the things that the rest of the family uses for quick snacks. When I was fending for myself and we were out of leftovers, the only quick foods left for me were sugary! Since we’ve figured this out, TinyHands’s been making sure to make bigger batches of main courses, has made beef jerky, and I have gone back to eating more soup when the rest of the family is having anything made with eggs.
Finally, I need to remind myself of the way I felt before the diet and how I feel when it’s going well. At first it was easy to just give it a try. Then, I felt so much better that it was easy to stick with it. But when feeling better becomes the new normal, it’s easy to forget how bad things used to be. Reading what I wrote when we first started, experiencing the return of symptoms when I slip up, and connecting with other people who are going through the same thing are all good ways to keep that commitment fresh.
Every person will run into some sort of challenge on a diet. The things that make it work for them might be different from what works for me. The most important thing, though, is to move on from a mistake. Those chocolate chips didn’t do me any favors, but I’m not eating them any more. I have a renewed commitment to keeping myself healthy. That’s good enough.