Well, here I am, finally sitting down to share Isaac’s story with you all, and to explain why I developed my online program, Quirky Cooking for Gut Health. For the first few months after Isaac’s health went downhill I didn’t want to talk about it much. My blog was neglected, and I was mostly in survival mode. But as he healed and I began to share his story, so many people began writing to me to ask for help. They were going through many of the same things we had, and were desperate for help. I knew I had to find a way to share what we were learning – it wasn’t going to be enough just to say, ‘Hey, do GAPS, it worked for us’! So much overwhelm. Been there, know the feeling. So a team of my friends and I got to work and put this program together to teach you cooking for healing, in the hopes that it would be the support that many families badly needed. And we have seen so much good come out of it.
Here’s our story – may it give you hope for your own healing journey.
Two 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 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.
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.
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.
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 wrong 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.
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.
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 started 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!)
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!
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.
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.
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.
So now you can see why I want to share Isaac’s story, and what we did to help 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:
Below you will find a video to tell you more about the program, and some reviews from program members. If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] 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.
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