Cheating on the GAPS Diet is almost inevitable. While I’m not encouraging it, I acknowledge the reality of it and I’d like to offer you some advice on how to cheat on the GAPS Diet with less consequences.
If you’re new to GAPS, I propose that you to stick with the protocol entirely for three months to bring down the most vicious cravings and experience how deeply the nourishment rebuilds you.
The bulk of the healing you experience on GAPS will be through your daily choices. Repeated cheating or even daily desserts will hold you back – especially early on. You’re more likely to experience digestive upset, increased anxiety or depression, symptom regression, and rebound cravings. You’ll recover from all of it, but the low may feel very low in the moment. Only you can be honest with yourself to give GAPS a fair chance and see what it holds for you.
Through the pressures of travel, holidays, special events, eating at restaurants, or just undeniable cravings, most of us (and our kids) will cheat on the GAPS Diet at some point. I’m offering general tips for how to cheat on the GAPS Diet for sugary, salty, crunchy, and caffeine cravings, with suggestions both on and off GAPS.
If you’ve been on GAPS for several months without cheats, sweets, or baked goods, you might be surprised by what you tolerate now. The longer you’re on GAPS the more resilience you build. The only way to know is to try new things, then note in your journal how things went.
How to Cheat on the GAPS Diet
Take digestive enzymes
My go-to strategy for eating outside of home and avoiding tummy discomfort is to take two digestive enzymes in advance of the meal or treat. This heads off the consequences of low-quality ingredients and other weird stuff that your body doesn’t digest well.
The best and safest option to cheat on the GAPS Intro Diet is to choose a cheat from a later Stage, or Full GAPS. There are cookbooks and internet recipes offering a GAPS version of almost every food you love. For the lowest risk of reactions and negative consequences, seek out these recipes and put in the effort to make the GAPS version.
If you’ve been on the Intro Diet for an extended length of time, a nut flour baked treat or fruit dessert on a special occasion is unlikely to set you back dramatically.
Make it yourself
When you’re craving something sweet, crunchy, or caffeinated, make it yourself. You’ll use the best quality ingredients and you can cut down on the sugar in any recipe by half, or add extra fat to keep your blood sugar balanced.
Keep it real
The simpler the ingredients, in the form closest to the way nature made them, will be recognized by your body as food, even if it’s not ideal for your gut. Choose the whole fruit, fries cooked in tallow, beans soaked and slow-cooked, or traditional sourdough bread.
Read the ingredients
When you’re set on a store-bought cheat, turn the package over and read the ingredients list.
For example, there are hundreds of brands of crackers. A gluten-free or organic sprouted wheat option is going to be dramatically less inflammatory than a typical “thin” cracker made with “whole grain wheat flour, canola oil, sugar, cornstarch, malt syrup (from corn and barley), salt, refiner’s syrup, leavening (calcium phosphate and baking soda), and BHT added to packaging material to preserve freshness.”
Reading the back of label will help you compare brands, make a better choice, and will talk you out of eating the junkiest of junk food in most cases. That’s a win.
Choose sweets with a low-glycemic sweetener
If you’re looking for a sweet treat and don’t find store-bought options sweetened with honey or fruit, look for coconut sugar, maple syrup, yacon, or stevia for less of a blood sugar spike. Steer clear of the sugar alcohols, like erythritol (or anything ending in -ol), as they cause a lot of digestive upset in those with gut issues.
Choose chips cooked in coconut or avocado oil
If you’re opting for store-bought chips, look for organic versions that are cooked in coconut oil for the least rancid oil option, followed by avocado oil. Or consider pork rinds – they might satisfy you and they’re closer to GAPS.
This is a tricky area because coffee is such a beloved beverage for many, but can wreak so much havoc on our hormones and mood. I encourage you to avoid it completely for at least the first six month of GAPS, while your nervous system and hormones are regenerating. In addition to the stress of the caffeine and other chemicals in coffee, it’s heavily sprayed with pesticides, and decaf is processed with terrible chemicals. Consider Dandy Blend as an alternative.
If coffee is a cheat you can’t live without, keep it very occasional and make it weak. Dr. Natasha advises that you should be able to read the newspaper through it, if it were in a clear mug. Purchase the best quality organic option, or choose a Swiss Water Process version for decaf without chemicals.
Skip the standard coffee shop options with the added processed sugar and milk – the inflammatory trade off will not be worth it. (I learned this the hard way. Twice.)
If you’ve decided to cheat on GAPS, whether cheating forward or outside of the GAPS Diet, do it intentionally and give it your full attention. Shame leads us to rush through the experience, and makes it more likely that we’ll repeat it. Gather every bit of satisfaction you’re looking for from this food!
Keep all the good GAPS stuff in
Don’t make a GAPS cheat an all-or-nothing experience. Give yourself the benefit of meat stock, fermented foods, and densely nourishing meals. You’ll face less consequences if your treat is in-addition-to GAPS, rather than instead-of GAPS.
Overcoming the consequences
If you have a big reaction to your cheat, there are a couple of activities that can help ease it. The first is taking a detox bath, which is calming and can ease inflammation. If you experience constipation, major digestive upset, or all-over inflammation, use a water enema to clear the toxicity more quickly.
Write it down
Keep a detailed GAPS journal to track what you do and connect it to how you feel. Write down when you cheat on the GAPS Diet so you can record what the consequence was. Maybe there won’t be one? It’s great to know when you’ve found a safe cheat!
If you experience a big reaction, you’ll have a written reminder that might deter you from making that choice again. This alone will help you choose the best GAPS cheats for you by helping you decide what’s really worth it.
If you find yourself cheating on GAPS repeatedly, think back on what you really needed in that moment and record that in your journal too. Were you looking for pleasure? Were you overwhelmed and needed to set a boundary around your time or energy? Could you have used alone time, a nap, more fat in your prior meal, the novelty of a new food, or some time in nature to ground yourself?
You might recognize a pattern in those needs. Then you can create a plan to meet them that doesn’t require food.