How The GAPs diet helped me heal from chronic pain (and a leaky gut)

I am very excited to share my journey on the GAPs diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet) in this post.  I want to document my story (ups and downs included), so that someone, somewhere may benefit from it.

The past 2-3 years of my life has been a complete struggle to heal my low back pain.  I have seen endless physiciens, doctors, and tried anthing under the sun.  Every time I see a new practitioner I get a new diagnosis. Some o them were accurate but nothing was helping me come up with a definite cure.


I started experiencing some pain in my right buttock about 2-3 years ago. At first, it would come and go. I found relief in anti-inflammatory pills and pain killer. I never paid attention to it. However, the periods of pain started to last longer than usual. I experienced extreme spasms and pain that would affect my ability to move my whole hip and leg.  Of course, on those days I couldn’t go to work, or do anything.


Searching my symptoms on google, showed that I may be suffering from Piriformis syndrome. The symptoms mentioned online sounded like exactly what was going on with me, so I started doing physiotherapy and massage therapy to release the muscle and spasms. I posted about my experience with Piriformis Syndrome here.  The treatment did bring me relief, but only for a short period of time.


I was doing acupuncture as well and both helped me tremendously. I switched to athletic therapy after that to also work on strengthening the muscle so that I can go back to training like I used to be (at this stage, I could barely do any leg workout, even bodyweight. Upper body workouts that involved twisting were painful as well).

A couple of months after I started feeling better, I had another bad flare-up. I could not understand what happened. I was doing all of my exercises. I never skipped a treatment. It was driving me insane. I went back again to google university to try to find another cause for this.  At this stage, I wanted to try chiropractic and see if this would help me.  I am very grateful I did give it a try because my chiropractor advised me to get an MRI scan done, as it can show more details about what can be going on.

*At this stage, I took several x-rays that showed nothing. I went ahead and scheduled an MRI with my general doctor. The wait time was very long that I asked the pain management specialist I was referred to if she can get me in sooner for an MRI scan.


I ended up with two appointments but each had different body parts (lower back, and pelvis). The first MRI showed a small disc herniation (that should not be causing me all this excruciating pain). At this point, again I was convinced that this was Piriformis syndrome and sciatica caused by a disc herniation.  As usual, the disc presses on the sciatic nerve.  I continued with all my treatments with short term relief.


My nutrition has always been super clean. I supplemented with a high-quality protein, ate mostly organic whole foods and exercised (when I could). The second MRI was scheduled 8 months after and I am very thankful I did not cancel it after getting the first one’s results.  This one showed an abnormal pelvic inflammation.


Throughout this whole time, I was experiencing bloating almost every day.  I was always feeling fatigued and would wake up feeling exhausted even after sleeping for 8 hours. I was addicted to my mid-day coffee and milk to give me the boost to carry on with my days.  Of course, being in pain all the time can take a huge toll on you, but my digestive issues were just not helping.  The other thing I was noticing was that stress always made the pain worse and caused flare-ups.  When I travel or take a few days off, I always felt better.


The doctor referred me to a Rheumatologist to see if this was all due to an auto-immune disease.  It turns out that my symptoms are very similar to rheumatoid condition: ankylosing spondylitis.  



I was at a very confusing point of my life. I had all of these diagnoses and I still don’t know what’s up with me. I talked to a close friend of mine and she introduced me to the GAPs diet.


The GAPs (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) is a short-term diet that you go through in stages. Each stage can last from 3-5 days.  You eat very easy to digest foods that include a lot of bone broth and fermented veggies..   The GAPs book is a must read to understand the “why” behind each stage.


You start introducing new foods at every stage until you complete all 6 of them. Once you complete the first 6 introductory stages, you can move to the full protocol that is very similar to a Paleo style diet with an emphasis on fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt).


The diet is a gut healing protocol. The objective is to heal and seal the gut lining to improve digestion and restore your body back to its optimum performance.  Poor gut health can cause a myriad of other symptoms and autoimmune disorders. When I first learned about this protocol it sounded almost impossible. The first stage includes drinking bone broth, soup, and tea all day.  I was mostly just scared to quit after the first day and face my cravings. The fear of failure made me not want to start in the first place.


A month ago, I had another flare-up. This time it was on the left side. I started seeing a new chiropractor who actually took the time to listen to me and had a plan worked out to work on my nervous system and spine and joint alignment.

I was at two fingers away from a total break down. I was in pain 24/7, I would wake up several times at night due to the pain as I try to roll or twist. I could only sleep if I stayed in one position all the time.  My training suffered again and I was just observing this situation as it takes over my life. I really felt like I have done it all. What else was there to try.

“WAIT…I have yet to try that diet thing..”

I made the decision to go full in it when I couldn’t take it anymore.  I did not care if I had to fast for days.  All I wanted is to be back to 100%. Of course, I had no idea how to make this bone broth thing so I had to search around. Thankfully there were tons of bloggers who have gone through the GAPs diet, have seen so much success from it and also have shared their recipes.

I purchased this amazing GAPs diet cookbook to help me out, as I was clueless about what to eat: The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet

As soon as I started the diet (a few hours after breakfast where I would usually have rice based gluten free bread, coffee and milk, and eggs) I started feeling relief.  I thought it was a placebo effect but I didn’t care.  I had the BEST sleep in those first two nights starting on the GAPs diet. I did not have any nightmares and no pain.


This gave me more strength and motivation to go through each day. I have to say that it is challenging; you really need to be at that point where you are willing to do anything, come hell or high water to heal yourself.  I was at that point.  So, saying NO to few social events was a no-brainer for me. I also brought my food to other family gatherings. If somebody tries to tell me to eat something else, I simply said that I was following my doctor’s orders.


The first 3 days were very challenging. I experienced cravings at 8 am in the morning as I had to wait until noon to have my soup and broth. You could eat soup and broth in the morning but I just couldn’t. I was able to eat honey when I had energy slumps in the middle of the afternoons. After the first couple of stages, you can introduce stews and pancakes made with pumpkin. That felt like heaven. After a few days of just soup, you want to chew anything.

I also put together a simple recipe for pumpkin, almond butter cookies that you can try out 🙂 – I made this almost everyday as I moved to stage 4.

Low carb almond butter pumpkin cookies (Paleo, grain free, gluten free, Gaps) |low carb | cookies

Overall, I have seen an amazing relief not just from pelvic and low back pain, but also from bloating, digestion and nightmares at night. I am now 3 weeks in and ready to move to the final two stages.  The pain subsided by 85%, and some days it’s completely gone. If I get stressed out, I notice mild flareups so I have to figure out a better way to manage daily stress.  I practice meditation everyday and that helps tremendously.

I will be sharing my experience with this protocol every month.  I believe that this protocol can benefit anyone. You don’t have to follow it strictly as I did, but simply incorporating few principles from it can immensely improve your health and reduce inflammation in your body.


  • I have to try this! Back pain is a crazy thing & most of the time you are stressed because of it. The more you are stressed, the more the pain & vice versa ! Thank you, maybe this is the answer to my back problem.

    • Yes!! It can be a very frustrating this to figure out, especially if you have tried many treatments and nothing worked. I also feel that stress has a huge impact on me. The days where I stress the most are usually the worst for me. Whenever I go on vacation I feel much better..I fantasise about moving to Hawaii everyday 🙂 Try lowering your grains and starch intakes and see how you feel..keep me posted

  • I’m so proud of you for sticking it out – it’s a freakin’ hard diet, for sure! But pain is a powerful motivator…

    I’m happy you found relief so fast! You go, girl!!! <3

    • Thank you Kristi 🙂 I seriously thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it but I’m through week 4 now almost and still doing it. I think my body has adapted by now. I appreciate your support 🙂

  • Hi Sofia, I am going through a very similar struggle as you. It’s been 2 years since my pain started. I have been to chiropractors, massage therapists, neurologists, orthopedic doctors, and pain management doctors. I have a coworker who has AS. I am having to wait a couple months before seeing a rheumatologist to confirm that I have AS. I have been researching a lot about the GAPS diet and how it might help. How is your pain now? Did the diet help to heal you?

    • Hi Joshua! I highly recommend this short term diet if you have inflammation or an autoimmune condition. It helped me SO MUCH. I went from having flareups every 2 months to maybe once a year. This year I haven’t had any flareups. I followed the GAPs diet religiously for 5 weeks, and after that I started introducing foods BUT I still don’t eat any beans, processed grains, wheat and fried foods. I eat brown rice (only grain I eat) and I’ve included some starches now. So my diet is pretty much back to normal. Oh I also kept the bone broth and juicing which I have about 2-3 times a week. AS can be very tricky and you need to know what triggers it. So the GAPs diet is awesome for that. You give your body a break and time to heal, and once you start introducing foods you start noticing your body’s response. For me, I found that beans, and nightshades (spec. tomatoes and eggplants) gives me a lot of bloating and some inflammation. I know there is a great book about the GAPs diet and you can find a lot of amazing success stories on a lot of blogs out there. One advice I’d give you is to not let AS (if you end up being diagnosed) define you. I still don’t really label myself as having AS. I believed strongly that it’s a response from my body that something is off, and I need to find the reason why and help my body heal. Once you take on that mindset you’ll feel very empowered in your healing journey and you start doing better you completely even forget you’ve once had that diagnoses. All the best in your healing!

  • Hi Sofia,

    I just want to thank you for your post.
    I’ve followed a similar, lonely journey over the past year, and this was so validating.

    My lower back pain started about 2 years ago after a difficult divorce. I attributed it to sciatica, which I’d had in the past.
    Then my knee got inflamed to the point that I had to to the ER to drain it. From there I went to a rheumatologist who told me it must be something auto-immune. I filled out a detailed form about the nature of the pain, and everything was pointing to AS. Which terrified me. I’m a 36 yr old single mom with 3 kids under 8… So as per the doctor’s advice, I started taking Advil. I was afraid of it destroying my stomach so I took 1 dose a day instead of the 4 doses the rheumatologist said I should take.

    That was OK for a while until my entire digestive system rebelled – completely out of whack from one day to the next, confining me to the bathroom for hours a day, doubled over in pain and so many other pleasant symptoms. I couldn’t function anymore, and I knew the NSAIDS had done it. That’s when I decided I was done with the rheumatologist; she had nothing to offer me except more advil, and then steroids, and then TNF inhibitors… and then surgery. When I asked her if diet can help, she smiled sweetly and said there’s no harm in trying BUT….

    That was April 2018.

    In desperation I went online and found GAPS. I was skeptical but absolutely willing to do anything. I cut everything out except for soup broth. Within 2 days, I found relief. No more cramps, no more living in the bathroom. I had to go through the stages very very slowly over the next 6 months. Every time I cheated, I regretted it sorely. I lived on chicken and meat soup and coconut-flour peanut butter cookies. Yes I became a sociopath 🙂 But I had my energy and my life back, despite the questionable diet and its lack of nutrients.

    Until last week, I was still not eating any nuts, raw fruits or raw vegetables – only soups, grilled chicken, my cookies, scrambled eggs and calcium fortified orange juice.
    And then this week I tried some fresh salad…. with no reaction 🙂 I finally feel like I’m getting back to normal.

    My back pain is still there – it’s traveled up my back – can’t twist or turn in bed without excruciating pain which is really hard when you have a 4 year old and 5 year old crawling into your bed in the middle of the night because of a bad dream. But it’s definitely eased up. I don’t limp around anymore with an inflamed hip.

    Now that my digestion is more normal it’s tempting to ditch the diet… but my gut tells me that the cause of the back pain is the leaky gut, and staying on GAPS (or general SCD) for another year is the best thing I can do.

    I never did get a diagnosis of AS nor do I want to know if I have it or not. Conventional medicine has nothing to offer in any case (except things that will destroy your immune system even further…) and it would just depress me…

    Thank you so much for your inspiration!

  • Hi Sofia, thanks for posting this! My story sounds very similar to yours. Have gone a few years thinking it is a sciatic pain from a slipped disc and then sciatic pain from piriformis syndrome. I was recently told AS and I am at the same desperate try anything stage that you got to. I am just curious – when you were following this diet, were you taking any medications as well to reduce inflammation and control pain or you did not take any meds at the time you started the diet? Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Hi Alyssa,

      When I started the diet I didn’t take any medications (I stopped even before the diet because they were making me worse). And In the first week of Stage 1 of the GAPs the inflammation was completely gone so that was a good sign and I continued through. The only things I started taking through the diet were probiotics and some other natural supplements. Hope this helps 🙂

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