Isaac’s Story, and Quirky Cooking for Gut Health

How to make haloumi, Quirky Cooking
How to Make Your Own Halloumi, with Step by Step Photos!
June 11, 2016
Jo Whitton & Fouad Kassab podcast awards
Podcast Awards, and an Interview with Kim Morrison
September 23, 2016

foods

Well, here I am, finally sitting down to write the story of why I developed my online program, Quirky Cooking for Gut Health. Maybe you’re wondering if it was just something I did because, you know, programs are the ‘in thing’ for bloggers and stuff… Nope. I actually fought it and whinged about how hard it was to do and put it off and struggled with it for the past year – just ask my friends! But I knew I had to do it, because so many people were writing to me, going through many of the same things we had been through the year before, and desperate for help. I knew that I had to do more than just say, ‘Hey, just do GAPS, it worked for us’! So much overwhelm. Been there, know the feeling. So here’s the story of why I put together this program…

Isaac’s Story

Quirky Cooking, Isaac's StoryTwo years ago, my son Isaac seemed to be just like any other happy, healthy 13 year old boy. He loved to hang out with his friends, he played futsal, climbed trees, road bikes, worked hard on his schoolwork (mostly), ate well, and was a bit obsessed by Minecraft, like a lot of kids his age. He had occasional bouts of worrying or needing to be talked through odd fears, he was very claustrophobic, and sometimes washed his hands too much, but I thought that was just his sensitive, pedantic personality. Once, about a year before, he’d gone through a few weeks of feeling very stressed and crying a lot, but with lots of ‘mum time’ and being strict with how he ate for a while, it had passed and he seemed fine again. Sometimes he reacted to foods, so we were careful with his diet, keeping him mostly dairy and wheat free, with plenty of veggies and wholefoods, and not too much sugar. Except when he was out and about, as it was hard to monitor that, so I pretty much just told him to do the best he could at those times. 80/20, you know?

Everything was going fine, then one day Isaac came and told me that he was worried he was too attached to Minecraft. In fact, he was thinking it was taking over all his thoughts, and it kind of scared him. He said that even though he was only supposed to play it for one hour a day, he never stopped thinking about it, and he couldn’t seem to think about anything else. So he wanted me to know that he had decided to stop playing it. I said ok, good idea, best to have a break from it… and was pleased he’d made the decision himself. 

The Downhill Spiral

The next day it all began. Isaac began obsessing over the strangest things. It was like he switched from an obsession with Minecraft to lots of other obsessions, adding more and more every day. All his small fears and worries from the past grew into gigantic ogres overnight. He began having weird visions of rocks closing in on him, and he was scared he was going to be crushed. He’d scream and cry and flail his arms about in the middle of the lounge room, trying to ward off invisible rocks. He thought he was going to die. He thought his family was going to die. He thought he was getting diseases. He thought snakes were biting him in his bed. He had to walk a certain way, talk a certain way, think a certain way, get in and out of cars a certain way, get dressed a certain way… the list was endless.

If he did anything slightly wrong, or had the wrong thought while doing something, he would have to start over, or he might die. He couldn’t dress himself – something might happen if he changed into another shirt, especially a grey shirt as that was dangerous! He couldn’t go to the toilet or have a shower without shutting and opening the door many times over, flushing the toilet constantly, turning the taps on and off, on and off… He finally refused to shower at all. He couldn’t feed himself, because he was scared of the spoon touching his teeth. I had to feed him, and if I accidentally bumped the spoon on his teeth he’d try to fling it across the room. He couldn’t hang out with his friends, he needed to stay near mum at all times, as I was the only one who could (sometimes) calm him. Thankfully we homeschool, so I could keep him close by me, but he couldn’t do his schoolwork at all. He found it very hard to go anywhere – he had to repeatedly put the seatbelt off and on, off and on, so it took a long time to get in and out of the car. He would take ten minutes to climb the ladder to his bed, going up and down, over and over, trying to do it ‘right’. Then he couldn’t get the covers on ‘right’ and would put them off and on for another ten minutes or more. Then he’d lay there holding them off his chest, because they were actually ‘rocks’ which could crush him… until he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion an hour or two later. He cried constantly, bursting out into loud sobs for no reason that we could see, waking up his brother and sisters at night, making them cry with the strangeness of it all. What had happened to their brother?? We were all so stressed.

When Desperation Set In

I didn’t know what to do. All I could think of was to hold him, rock him, talk to him in a soft voice, pray with him, reason with him about his fears. In moments of lucidity, Isaac told me that he felt like he was living in another world. He knew it was not rational, that it didn’t make sense, but there was nothing he could do – he was stuck in a nightmare world, and he had to do everything his mind told him to do or he would die there.

Quirky Cooking, Isaac's Story

Holding a crying son – a photo I took and never shared at the time

I began desperately searching the internet, trying to work out what was wrong with him. It seemed to be more than just anxiety or depression – it was like he was going crazy! It scared me so much. One day while researching online I felt like a voice in my head said, ‘Maybe it’s OCD?’ I hardly knew what OCD was. Actually, I thought it was being scared of germs, washing your hands a lot, and cleaning all the time. But I remember someone on my Facebook page once commenting that it was a lot more than that, and not something to joke about, and something in me said, ‘look it up’. So I did. And he had every, single, one of the symptoms. Fear of germs, fear of dying, obsessions, compulsive behaviour, phobias of certain people, paranoia… it was all there.

So first thing the next morning, I took him to the doctor and told her what had been going on. Just talking about it was tough, Isaac and I were both crying, and I was so desperate for help. The doctor confirmed my thoughts about OCD, and said we needed to get him to a psychologist, and onto medication. I said, ‘Give us the medication now, we can’t cope another day.’ Just so you know, I’m not the medicating type – I’ll take a natural approach above pharmaceuticals any day – but I was so stressed out I didn’t think we could cope for another day without something to dampen Isaac’s fears and phobias and calm his crying. I was at the end of my rope. So we got the medication, Isaac started on that, we began counselling, and I continued researching to work out what else I could possibly do to help him.

The Search Continues

Now if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s this: I’m persistant. My husband calls it stubborn. Whatever. I don’t give in easily, and if something needs fixing, I’m going to work on it til it’s fixed, or die trying. So the last thought on my mind was ‘just get him on medication and it’ll all be fine’. It was, ‘Ok, we’ll use medication at first if we have to, so we can all cope, but something is rong and I won’t rest until we fix it’! Medication was only ever going to be a short term thing, something to temporarily calm him while I worked out what to do, but the long term approach was to work out what was causing the problems and fix that, no matter how hard it was or how long it took to fix.  

Quirky Cooking, Isaac's Story

My first thought, of course, was diet. I knew Isaac was the one in our family most likely to react to foods, and I remembered how dairy had made him constipated and lethargic and anxious as a child. I’d heard that anxiety and mental health issues were linked to gut health. And I knew there was a diet out there called the ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ diet (GAPS for short) for healing the gut, but I’d always thought, ‘we don’t need that, we don’t have gut issues’. Ha. Again I heard that little voice inside of me, telling me which direction to look. So I started researching GAPS. I rang friends in the health world and asked what they thought, and they agreed it was rooted in gut health issues. After talking to them, I realised that not only did Isaac have the classic symptoms of gut dysbiosis, so also did the rest of the family, in varying degrees.  

 

 

 

And so… We began GAPS

Sounds simple. You just go back to really basic foods – broths, soft cooked meats and veggies – and then you slowly add foods back in as the gut heals. Reality hit after a few days. This was actually a lot of work if you didn’t know what you were doing, and you hadn’t prepared! I needed to stop and reassess! I took everyone back to full GAPS (which was close to how we’d been eating before, but without the starches and grains) and Quirky Cooking, Isaac's Storystarted reading all I could find on GAPS. (Especially the GAPS book, “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” by Dr Natasha Campbell McBride.) We had a busy month, with a wedding to fly to, a youth camp, parties, etc, so we just did the best we could with full GAPS until we were back home and things had settled. Thankfully, the medication had calmed down Isaac’s symptoms, and although he was a bit like a zombie, at least he wasn’t screaming and crying and could sleep at night.

On October 1st, 2014, we began Intro GAPS. I downloaded a program from the internet to help with recipes, but that only lasted a week or so as I found the recipes boring, so I struck out on my own. I decided to record what I was cooking, and write down any recipes I made up as I went along. Some I shared on the blog and Facebook, some just got shoved into a folder or stored on the notepad on my phone. (I really didn’t have much time for blogging that year.) I started to really enjoy the food, and so did the family. Even the kid’s friends would comment on how delicious it was, and say, ‘I wish we ate GAPS food!’ (Until I reminded them they wouldn’t be able to have bread – ha ha!)

The Road to Recovery

As the first few weeks went by, I realised Isaac was already so much better. I asked the psychologist, ‘Could it just be the medication? Or do you think the diet is helping?’ She said, ‘It’s definitely much more than the medication – he’s getting better so quickly. And usually the doctor has doubled the dose by now!’ So that was very encouraging!

Quirky Cooking, changes in 1 year on GAPS

The changes in my face in one year

The kids had been upset about starting GAPS at first, but as they began to see the improvements not just in Isaac’s health, but in their own, they stopped seeing it as an imposition on their lives and began to thank me for making the changes. My daughter’s candida issues and problems with cramps, dizziness and skin tingling went away. Her moods improved. My older son’s sinus problems, snoring, and hay fever decreased. My skin looked healthier, my legs stopped itching, I finally gained some weight (I’ve always struggled with being underweight), my husband lost weight (which he needed to do), and our eyes looked brighter.

And most importantly, Isaac’s OCD, anxiety and depression disappeared. He was back to his happy, bright self, and if anything was even better and brighter than before! He had started teaching himself to solve the Rubik’s Cube and before too long he could solve it in less than ten seconds. His school work took off, he began learning the piano, he started growing (he is very small for his age), and he became very confident and outgoing. Before a year was up, he got a job at the local supermarket working at the checkouts, he began speaking with me at seminars in front of hundreds of people (including on stage with Chef Pete Evans), and – best of all – he was able to go off his medication. Completely. In Isaac’s words, ‘My greatest accomplishment has been to get off my medication’. He is so happy to be medication-free, and says he feels like his mind is so much clearer now, and the brain fog has gone.

Where We Are Now

We are now two years down the track from beginning to change over to the GAPS diet, and we are so glad we bit the bullet and just DID it! We don’t feel deprived, the food is delicious, and it has helped us all so much. And best of all, Isaac’s terrible symptoms of OCD, anxiety and depression have not come back.

Quirky Cooking, Isaac's Story

We still feel like we are working on improving – I don’t think anyone ever reaches perfect health in this world – but we have learnt so much about our bodies and how to have better health; what makes us feel well and what doesn’t; and we aim to keep learning, and sharing what we learn as we go.

To listen to Isaac’s story in his own words, listen to this interview with Fouad Kassab, on our podcast, ‘A Quirky Journey’.

Isaac is now an ambassador for Youth Mental Health for the MINDD Foundation.

You can connect with Isaac on Facebook and watch his cooking videos on YouTube.   

 

 

So now you can see why I want to share Isaac’s story, and the foods that helped to him to heal! Food really is medicine. And gut health really is super important for anyone struggling with health – whether physical or mental. If you are stressed out and overwhelmed like I was, even thinking about what to cook for dinner can be too hard, especially if you have to change the way your family is eating. I totally understand. That is why I have put together everything I wished I had when starting the GAPS Protocol into one place.

The Quirky Cooking for Gut Health program includes:

  • cooking videos
  • bulk buying tips
  • kitchen set up videos
  • fact sheets & tips
  • allowed foods lists
  • 6 weeks of meal plans
  • 6 recipe ebooks
  • helpful resources
  • a support group
  • plus a podcast documenting our journey from the beginning, with lots of interviews from parents and professionals who I found helpful. 

Below you will find a video to tell you more about the program, and some reviews from program members. I will be posting a page with answers to the FAQs soon. If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact us at help@quirkycooking.com.au and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Thanks for listening to our story, and I hope for you a similar story of healing in your own family.

Blessings,

Jo xx

 

What program members are saying about Quirky Cooking for Gut Health:

“Jo Whitton, you are a star! Today we started intro again (for my husband who has an autoimmune disease called Myasthenia). We did intro as a family back in January but probably moved through it too quickly to keep the kids happy. It was stressful trawling through pages and books finding recipes and coming up with yummy meals. This time around it is wonderful, just being able to look at what we are eating day to day and know all the planning and thinking is taken care of is such an enormous relief! I also love that we have options for stovetop, thermomix and slow cooker so I can really make the most of using my appliances at once. Thank you so much Jo, your hard work is SO appreciated!!”                                                       

– Heather Streatfeild

“The quirky GAPS program is a unique and easy guide to reduce the stress and anxiety of positive change for long term gut health, healing and wellbeing. It acts as a blueprint to assist in planning with easy to utilise recipes which are simple, delicious and easily adaptable to a wide range of dietary requirements, preferences and age groups. Thanks Jo for holding our hand and teaching us so much on this journey towards long term health and wellness with your awesome program!”

– Tamara Taylor

“Before I had Jo’s GAPS recipes life on the protocol was very tedious. It was too time consuming trawlling through new recipes regularly with all of our ever-changing food exclusions, which meant I cooked the same few safe dishes over and over. Once we began Jo’s program eating felt normal again. I could cook all of the meals we used to enjoy without the stress of working out how to adapt them. Everything tasted great with plenty of flavour and variety of ingredients. More importantly for a hectic Mum they are straight-forward, uncomplicated recipes laid out for each stage. It was a complete relief to have the program for me. We are now past the Intro stage of GAPS but Jo’s basic, beginner meals still make up our standard weekly menu. Everyone loves them.”

– Katie Payne

“If you’re considering doing GAPS, Jo Whitton’s ‘Quirky Cooking for Gut Health’ eBook series is a must!  These eBooks give you the recipes and the meal planners to make a busy time in your healing journey that much simpler.  You need someone who has been there and done that before you and these eBooks will guide you and quickly become your GAPS bible.  We printed them out as soon as we got our hands on them and we refer to them everyday!  We can’t emphasise enough how much time, effort and energy this e-book has saved us… thank you Jo!

– Andrea & Bryce Holdaway

“What I love so much about our new way of eating is the simplicity.. Thank you Jo Whitton my days are very busy and to have dinner in the slow cooker in the morning and on the table at 630pm with all the family at home, what a blessing!…. I absolutely love to cook and have eaten a whole food diet for many years, however watching my teenagers … become less tired, less cranky (one HSC student) and filled is amazing … thank you Jo Whitton a success in our home … finally an eating plan we all love … Tonight we had the Slow cooked Lamb Dinner with veg and Cauliflower and Leek Mash … that was a real hit.”

– Glen Mitchell

25 Comments

  1. Susie says:

    Thank you for sharing this very personal story. It must have been horrific to experience. I’m so glad you did share it as I was a little perplexed as to why you promoted so many recipes in your book that you clearly no longer ate. I love your book by the way and would love to explore some of your GAPS recipes. (I’m coeliac and am sure they would benefit me). Fortunately I don’t feel the need to so much – more out of curiosity. However knowledge is power and I’m so glad everything is working out for you all. Thank you.

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Thanks Susie! Yes I’m sorry for the confusion – I have explained here and there but needed to get it up on the blog. I feel my first book and older recipes are great for those just beginning on their health journey, or not needing to do GAPS. We worked up to GAPS by using mostly gluten free and dairy free recipes, then slowly reducing grains and sugars until we were ready to start Intro. Once we finish GAPS we will slowly add in some of the foods we used to eat, but not gluten, and not refined sugars. Our next book continues the journey past GAPS with a few starches and grains added back in now and then (like red rice, quinoa, buckwheat, tapioca – but not too often). Hope that helps! 🙂

  2. Kelly says:

    Hi Jo
    Could I do GAPS with IBS? I can’t eat onion honey or apples and I’m sure there are other foods.

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Yes, for sure!! It’s very helpful for people with IBS. You can leave out the foods you can’t have and bring things in slowly as you heal.

  3. Jo says:

    Such a beautiful post Jo! I have been following your journey on the peripheries for so many years and this brought tears to me eyes. Go Isaac! 🙂

  4. Vanessa says:

    I’ve heard your story many times before but you have managed to put in even more details in this account. Good on you for persisting in turning Isaac’s life around and helping all your family in the process to achieve better health. Your gut health program is truly a Godsend.

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Thank you, Vanessa, I’ve been wanting to write it all out for a long time, and there’s still so much more I want to explain – but little by little! xx

  5. Sarah says:

    Such an inspiring story.. I’d be the same I’d research everything before accepting meds as the answer! What a journey you’ve been on and now you must feel so proud and relieved and even healthier! would you recommend gaps to anyone who wants to just heal their gut or reboot? Do you need specific reason to go onto the GAPS protocol?

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Thanks Sarah! I’d recommend it to anyone – we all suffer from way too much overload on our systems in our society, with pesticides, antibiotics, medications, chemicals in our water, stress, lack of sleep, reduced nutrient dense foods, etc… Some may find a few weeks of eating this way will just give them a good pick me up, clear up skin issues, and help them to listen to their body. It’s great for anyone. 🙂

  6. Nina Waenerberg says:

    Hi Jo
    Thank you for sharing your personal GAPS journey, thank
    You thank you thank you! What an amazing approach and outcome!!

    I’m a quirky cook 80 percent of the time and eat anything and everything the rest of the time. (My version of 80-20)
    We do milk kefir, beet kvass and bone broth already and try and keep grains to minimum. We do have dairy but rather minimal.
    I’m interested in your GAPS program. I never really feel ready for it but I guess my biggest concern is, will I have the time to make those recipes if there are zero shortcuts?
    I’m a single mother so not only is money limited but also time. There’s just this voice inside me telling me I’ve got to jump.
    How achievable are the recipes for a working, studying single mom? I already don’t do a lots of quirky cooking recipes as the cooking or prepping time is too long – it’s got to be ready in 15-30 minutes or it won’t be fast enough ???

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Hi Nina, the actual prep time of slow cooked recipes is very quick – the first few weeks of meal plans you’ll find very simple! You will need to increase the amount of time you spend chopping veggies though – that’s what I found. If your kids are old enough to help that’s perfect – if not you may want to find a teenager who is willing to help you do some prep on the weekends for some pocket money! But yes, it’s definitely achievable, and if you need to do it just bite the bullet and do it!! xx

  7. Ilona says:

    Hi Jo, I think I am ready to try the program in August (we are currently overseas). One son has eczema and bad farts, two sons have dark circles and now the third son has just developed a rash behind his knees. I know we are not eating properly while travelling, but it’s time to start. Thank you for your story and making it less scary.

  8. Steph says:

    Bravo Jo! My 18 year old son needs convincing of this but unfortunately his (recently discovered) spectrum issues are such that he is oppositional to getting ANY help. He lives (with his dad) in chronic pain, social isolation, disordered sleep, poor executive function, addictions, as well as unhealthy genes from both sides of the family going a couple of generations back (bi-polar, schizophrenia, downs syndrome, cancer, allergies). I wish I could just take him to somewhere lovely where we could heal internally and externally – just to get past the feeling of deprivation that comes from a restricted diet. Long enough for him to see improvement in his health and functioning. That he could have a life instead of just existing. As you would appreciate, its so incredibly hard to see your child suffer. I’m thinking along the lines of Bali . . or am I just desperately clutching at straws. Food for thought.

    Jo, would you mind advising me if your gut healing protocol is possible to do whilst avoiding histamine foods as I believe that may be an issue for me.

    Thanks for listening.

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Hi Steph, so sorry I’ve just seen this – I find it hard to keep up with blog comments! I think it would definitely help your son to do GAPS. We’re looking at running a GAPS retreat sometime, but it would only be a few days – it would be good to take him somewhere for a month and help him really get a good start with it. And yes you can heal histamine issues with GAPS – it takes time though and you have to tweak the diet to reduce histamines. I would recommend getting a GAPS practitioner on board to help you!!

      Jo x

  9. Jaye Williams says:

    Hi Jo, this program looks perfect for our family, particularly for my daughter who has ADHD and anxiety. We are currently travelling Australia in a caravan, but when we settle, I would be very keen to start your program. I couldn’t seem to find anywhere that mentions what the cost of the program is? Thank you, Jaye Williams

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Hi Jaye! It’s on the actual program site, gaps.quirkycooking.com.au – the usual price is $199, and sometimes there’s specials. Happy travelling!!

  10. Louise says:

    Hi Jo, I’ve recently been to see a paediatrician regarding my 6 year old daughters anxiety. Between that, my eldests Aspergers diagnosis, my youngest showing strong signs on being on the spectrum, and my own history with depression, anxiety, IBS, and non-coeliac gluten intolerance, she strongly recommended GAPS. Her family are a GAPS family, and everything she explained, and everything I see written here is so unbelievably familiar to me. Our life is chaos right now, and I have to say the change to GAPS diet both excites and scares me, but to have a program such as yours with it all set out is a god-send. Even with the program, I do feel a bit alone; I know I will get resistance from extended family and friends. I am determined to do what is right for my family though. I truly believe food is making my family sick, and it’s time to turn it around.

    • QuirkyJo says:

      Hi Louise, first of all BIG HUGS, I know what you’re feeling!!! You’re doing a great job, mama, good on you for making the changes your family needs, even thought it’s hard. Secondly, are you in the program support group? You’ll find so many like-minded mums in there working hard to heal their families, and they will offer you lots of encouragement which is sometimes desperately needed. Feel free to email via the blog if you need help with the program or with getting into the support group if you’re not in yet. All the best with it, Jo xx

  11. Janelle says:

    Thank you for sharing Jo. I have learnt so much from following you over the years. I’m so glad everything is going well for you and your family.

  12. […] The unbelievable impact from eating food for gut health that we’ve personally experienced (see Isaac’s story here) is what led me to create my online program, Quirky Cooking for Gut Health, where get into the […]

  13. Jessica Gordon says:

    Hi Jo,
    Did you ever consider that your son might have PANDAS? My daughter is very similar to your son and was diagnosed with this recently. I’m hoping this GAPS diets might help her as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest