Diarrhea on the GAPS Diet is more common than people expect.
When you start the GAPS Intro Diet you might have a bout of diarrhea, even when it’s something you’ve never experienced before – especially if constipation is the norm for you. I don’t worry over an instance of diarrhea, or even a couple of days of loose stools. This is a natural cleansing reaction.
If diarrhea is your main symptom and primary reason for doing GAPS, then you need to pay special attention to what helps and what triggers you. You might be triggered by FODMAPS foods, oxalate dumping, an allergen, or it may just be a detox reaction.
Whether diarrhea is common or a new thing for you, if you experience loose stools after trying something fermented, you can generally consider that a detox or die-off reaction. Beet kvass for example, contains probiotics and stimulates the liver so it can cause both, and you’ll need to adjust your “dose” accordingly.
Diarrhea is a cleansing reaction because blood that’s been circulating throughout your body (and your liver) delivers toxins to the bowel wall, and as they cross through the wall into the lumen (open space) of the colon, they cause irritation and inflammation to the wall. The natural defense reaction of our intestinal tract is to pull salt and water into the bowel to cause diarrhea in an attempt to move the toxins out of our body quickly.
In some people with GAPS diarrhea is combined with fecal compaction, which means the bowel is full of old hard feces that are glued to the colon wall. The compacted feces produce toxins, causing the bowel to draw water and salt, resulting in loose stools. It might even come out in strange shapes like ribbons, due to squeezing past the hard masses. Even though you may pass loose or soft stools every day, this is actually a combination of constipation and diarrhea. Unfortunately passing the stool doesn’t shift the compacted masses and doesn’t completely empty the bowel.
Following GAPS resolves this in the majority of people over time. However, some people still have fecal compaction after following the diet for a year or longer, which can be confirmed with an x-ray. In these cases a course of enemas or colonic hydrotherapy can be very helpful. I don’t recommend enemas for people with diarrhea at the beginning of GAPS because we have to initiate healing in the gut first, but after about a year of following the GAPS Diet enema can be safely introduced.
In order to heal watery diarrhea it’s essential to remove fiber from your diet because it irritates your already inflamed intestines. In the first two stages of the Intro Diet we remove all fruit, nuts, and raw veggies. We focus on foods that are very gentle and soothing for your gut and provide nutrients that heal your gut lining, like meat stock, soups, and stews.
Healing can’t happen in the intestines without probiotic microbes, so we also include homemade fermented dairy products and the juice from fermented vegetables from the beginning.
Fermented dairy products, especially higher-protein kinds, like yogurt and kefir, are very helpful in resolving diarrhea. I recommend introducing them right from the beginning of GAPS, unless you have an anaphylactic allergy. If you’re sensitive to dairy you can start with 1 teaspoon a day of whey dripped from homemade goat’s milk yogurt.
These are the same recommendations I make to people well in to GAPS who catch a tummy bug or traveler’s diarrhea. When the diarrhea is over, go back to the foods you were eating before.
In times of profuse watery diarrhea, take all vegetables out of your diet. Drink warm meat stock every hour with probiotic foods added to it. Eat well-cooked gelatinous meats and add egg yolks gradually. Don’t introduce vegetables of any kind until your diarrhea has calmed down. Contrary to popular belief, it’s totally fine to go without vegetables for a short time.
The GAPS Intro Diet is low fiber in order to be gentle and healing, and foods are introduced gradually over the 6 Stages to help you figure out what your body’s ready for now. The Intro Diet relieves diarrhea and food intolerances, but it requires patience and listening to the needs of your body as it heals itself in its own order. This means you won’t be completely healed overnight, but the overall trend should be that you’re getting better as the months go by.
If your diarrhea isn’t resolving at all within the first couple of weeks of following these suggestions, make an appointment with a practitioner who can help you dig a little deeper.