GAPS Diet Days 21-23: The Revenge of the Bad Bacteria

Bad Bacteria Die Off
Bad Bacteria Die Off

There’s a war going on inside my gut.  It’s the age-old battle of good versus evil.  Like any traditional American storyteller, I’m rooting for the good guys.  But the bad guys aren’t going down without a fight.  Just when I think good has prevailed, the bad guys throw a curve ball and add another layer of challenges for the good guys to overcome. I’m calling this epic battle raging inside me the “Revenge of the Bad Bacteria.”  It’s a story that I imagine has been told by every person who has ever embarked on the GAPS Introduction Diet, or any similar elimination diet.  As I work towards healing my gut and re-populating my digestive system with healthy bacteria through nutrient-dense foods (no processed sugar, no dairy, no grains) and probiotics (sauerkraut, yogurt), the bad bacteria are dying.  They are being starved of their fuel (sugar and simple carbohydrates).  But the bad bacteria are not going quietly.  No. They are taking their vengeance through a whole host of detox symptoms.

This process has been described by scientists, doctors and naturopaths as the Herxheimer Reaction, also known as a healing crisis, detox reaction or die-off symptoms. Getting worse before you get better.  As the bad bacteria die off, they release a lot of toxins that the body must process and eliminate before it can begin to rebuild and heal.

What does this look like?

For me, these die-off symptoms have been coming in waves for the past three weeks.  I will shift from feeling comfortable to a sudden flair up of red and itchy skin, sharp headache, fatigue, acne breakouts, and bloating and constipation.  Not to mention the intense cravings for sugar (bad bacteria's and candida’s favorite food). The rapid rise in physical symptoms seems to be correlated, at least in part, with the traditional Chinese Medicine daily organ cycles.  The most intense symptoms of bloating and fatigue are coming up from 1-3 p.m. during the small intestine hours.

My most interesting detox symptom, however, is feeling clumsy and off-balance, especially while handling healing foods such as probiotic supplements and bone broth.  I have spilled my bone broth almost every single day for the past two weeks.  On multiple occasions I have knocked an entire glass of broth all over my kitchen counter and down my cabinets.  Same goes for my probiotic supplements.  I have dropped a number of them on the floor only to watch them roll under the fridge.  And this past Wednesday, I got distracted filling up my water cup and let an entire glass of water overflow onto the floor.  I can’t help but roll my eyes at these messy shenanigans.  It’s as though the bad bacteria are creating an evil plot against me.  I feel like my bone broth and probiotics are literally jumping out of my hands, with the bad bacteria silently screaming, “No, don’t drink that, I don’t want to die!!!”

I know; it’s quite the melodrama.  On the bright side, my kitchen floors are the cleanest they’ve ever been with the daily post-broth-spill scrub down.

More challenging than the annoyance of the physical symptoms, however, is the intensity of the negative emotions that have been coming up for the past couple of weeks.  One minute I’ll be sitting at work relaxed and focused, and then all of a sudden a wave of sadness will wash over me.  I lose focus, feeling antisocial and stuck. Washes of negativity, impatience and frustration have been all too common - telltale signs of imbalance and detoxification.  My family and friends must think I’m a crazy person - I’ve been swinging so intensely from giddiness to grief.  A clear reminder of the connection between the body and mind.  One cannot heal the physical body without also processing the corresponding negative emotions.

When the physical and emotional symptoms get really intense, I try to remind myself that they are only temporary.  Bentonite clay (or Epsom salt) baths and detoxifying green juice (made with all organic kale, dandelion, celery, cucumber, parsley, and lime) have also been helpful for pulling out some of the toxins and alleviating discomfort.

Crazy or not, the physical discomfort and emotional roller-coaster are no match for the overall sense of joy and gratitude that is creeping up from somewhere deep within me.  The strength of my good bacteria army is building.  I am helping to repopulate it with probiotics, nourish it with bone broth and support it with more mindful eating.

I am confident that the good bacteria will eventually prevail, and a healthy gut and happy outlook will be my reward.  In the meantime, I am trying to be patient and as gentle on my body as possible.  GAPS Diet-approved foods, healing mediations and sufficient sleep certainly help.  I am grateful for all the good bacteria inside me who are on my side, fighting for my health and happiness.  It’s nice to know that I don’t have to do it alone, even if my support network consists of a  100 trillion tiny microorganisms.  Strength in numbers, right?

Day 21 Foods

Probiotic, bone broth, eggs scrambled in ghee, avocado with raw olive oil and sea salt, sauerkraut, organic green juice, steamed beets with olive oil, boiled chicken, Paleo Shepherd’s Pie, ginger tea

Day 21 Symptoms

  • Restful sleep
  • Woke up feeling happy with clear thoughts, slow to get out of bed
  • Bloating and constipation
  • Speckled skin on legs and arms
  • Productive and positive
  • Hot flashes after exposure to cleaning supplies
  • Heavy sweating with exercise
  • Brain fog and lethargic from 2-4 p.m.
  • Itchy scalp
  • Improved skin
  • Feelings of gratitude from 5-7 p.m.
  • Clumsy and off-balance
  • Sugar and salt cravings from 8-11 p.m.

Day 22 Foods

Probiotic, bone broth, soft boiled eggs, avocado, beet sauerkraut, chicken soup, raw oysters, baked fish, dried organic mangoes, dehydrated organic carrot chips, Paleo Shepherd’s Pie

Day 22 Symptoms

  • Slept well with calming dreams
  • Woke up feeling energized
  • Focused and clear-headed
  • Minor bloating and constipation
  • Relaxed, mellow and easy-going throughout the day (perhaps stress-reduction meditation from last night?)
  • Bright, clear eyes
  • Feeling alert
  • Itchy skin at 11:45 a.m.
  • Slight congestion in ears after eating raw oysters and grilled fish at a restaurant
  • Sticky, oily skin
  • Off-balance and clumsy at soccer, made a lot of mistakes but felt energized
  • Profuse sweating with exercise
  • Mindless eating, felt bloated after eating raw carrot chips
  • Intense sugar cravings from 10:30-11:30 p.m.

Day 23 Foods

Probiotic, bone broth, soft boiled eggs, avocado, sauerkraut, steamed beets with ghee, chicken soup, boiled chicken, organic green juice, organic blueberry tea

Day 23 Symptoms

  • Slept well but not enough – up late last night feeling manic
  • Woke up feeling energized and motivated
  • Feeling anxious and lacking confidence
  • Clumsy and dropping things
  • Minor headache
  • Dry mouth and sore throat
  • Constipation
  • Brain fog, exhaustion and fatigue
  • Itchy, red and tender skin, hot face
  • Blotchy skin on legs
  • Strong smelling and cloudy urine
  • Soft, luminous hair
  • Feeling positive and improved mood beginning at 10:30 a.m. after bone broth and sauerkraut
  • Focused and relaxed – having a productive, motivated and positive workday
  • Easy going, managing team and stress from a grounded place
  • Feeling empowered and playful
  • Clumsy and off-balance playing soccer – lots of mistakes
  • Nervous and timid meeting new people