My child isn’t growing on the GAPS Diet. What am I doing wrong?

Two or three times a year a worried parent reaches out to me with this question. Their kids range in age from babies to preteens.

Of course, falling behind on the growth charts happens with all ways of eating. It’s just that parents worry more when their child is already on a therapeutic diet. Especially when those around them don’t understand GAPS, or don’t believe that dietary changes can matter for a child. In some cases, well-meaning people believe that GAPS is the cause of poor growth and criticize the parents, insisting that bread will help the kid grow.

The truth about childhood nutrition is that grains aren’t very nutrient-dense and they should be eaten in a limited way, and prepared in a traditional manner, for all kids who happen to tolerate them. I’ve had worried parents return their kids to eating some traditionally prepared grains or starches and it hasn’t turned around their growth. They often put on some weight, but it’s inflammatory, or water weight.  

Human bodies are structurally made out of protein, fat, minerals, and water. That’s it. There are micronutrient contributions from plant foods that can support organ function and detoxification, but they do not contribute to structure.

If your child isn’t growing on the GAPS Diet, it means there’s something going on internally with the kid.

Here are my insights after 11 years as a GAPS Practitioner:

  1. Nutrient density matters. Your body structure is built from protein, fat, and minerals. Include loads of meat, animal fats, eggs, organ meat, bone marrow, raw fermented dairy, and locally grown produce for the highest nutrient availability.
  2. Support digestive function. Sometimes stomach acid boosting, enzymes, or bile flow supplements are needed. It’s one thing to eat nutrient-dense, it’s another to absorb those body building foods.
  3. It may just take time – commonly 2-3 years. You’ll see major improvements along the way, as the body prioritizes other things ahead of physical growth.

Consult with an endocrinologist and have pituitary testing done if you’re worried that there may be a more serious issue with growth hormone. Parents I work with usually do this testing, and no problems have been found, but it gives them peace of mind that they’ve checked everything.

Two kids I’ve worked with who just needed time

One case I worked with was Sebastian, a 4-year-old boy on the autism spectrum with severe food sensitivities to all plants, and a SIBO diagnosis. While poor growth wasn’t the family’s primary reason for beginning the GAPS Diet, they expected that he’d easily gain weight and height as he began eating lots of meat, stock, and other animal foods on a No-plant GAPS Diet. His body had other priorities.

In his case, introducing plants and fermented foods literally happened one drop at a time. It took eight months of repairing digestive function for notable tolerance of plants.

Over the next 2 ½ years he made significant gains in learning, communication, sleep, and playing with peers. He was able to enroll in mainstream school classrooms and outsiders wouldn’t have known he had a diagnosis of autism (although mom could always spot little things). He looked bright eyed, with good color, but growth was still lagging. It wasn’t until nearly 3 years on GAPS that he finally hit a growth spurt. The combination of internal healing, nourishment, and detoxification eventually resulted in getting back on track with height and weight. He’s stayed on track since.

Another case I worked with was a 9-year-old boy with a host of GAPS symptoms including digestive issues, skin rashes, hyperactivity, and yeast symptoms. In addition to pituitary testing, the family did comprehensive nutritional testing and added targeted supplements to address the few things that still showed deficient after a year and a half on GAPS. Again, all of his symptoms improved dramatically, but growth was stalled for over 3 years. They decided not to worry over it and continued on with a nutrient-dense Full GAPS Diet. We lost touch for a few years and when I saw him again, he was a teenager and had grown rapidly into a normal adolescent body.

Slow growth can definitely indicate a problem, but if you’re fully addressing the areas above and your child isn’t growing on the GAPS Diet, I hope these experiences will bring you some peace of mind.


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