Editor’s Note: I met Gina Rieg at the Fourfold Path to Healing Conference in Baltimore. Her story of healing from Ulcerative Colitis using the GAPS Diet was so compelling to me that I asked her to write her detailed story so that others in a similar situation might be inspired to heal through a change of diet.
Thank you, Gina, for sharing your long and difficult but ultimately triumphant journey with all of us.
The Webster dictionary defines the word “gap” as “a pass or way through a range of hills.” I am writing my story on March 1, 2012, after following the GAPS diet program for one full year. I decided to write on this day to share my story of healing – my path through the hills.
For those of you who are not familiar, GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, the bestselling book written by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD. It is a natural digestive healing program. It has been used to successfully treat many diseases/conditions including Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, IBS, Autism, ADHD/ADD, Allergies, Depression, Anxiety, Asthma, Eczema, Schizophrenia and more. The GAPS program rebuilds the gut by healing the damaged gut lining, which is the root cause of the mentioned diseases. I learned about the GAPS diet program from a friend while attending the Weston A Price Foundation Conference in 2010.
My Life: Managing Ulcerative Colitis With Drugs
At the time, I was receiving Remicade infusions for the managing of the Ulcerative Colitis condition that I had been dealing with for over 10 years. Ulcerative Colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease characterized by abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea. Remicade is not a “treatment; it only manages the symptoms; therefore, it does not address the root problem.
To give you some history, I had been dealing with digestive issues since 1999 when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. To manage and “hide” symptoms throughout those years, I went through the typical pyramid of conventional medications, beginning with Asacol, Colazol and Prednisone. Finally, Remicade was prescribed in 2006 when a major flare-up landed me in the ER. In the hospital, I was first given the highest dosage of IV Prednisone possible in attempts to stop the bleeding and cramping. When that wasn’t successful, they told me the only other option besides surgery was Remicade, an intravenous drug that suppresses the immune system. It had just recently been approved for Ulcerative Colitis when previously it was only approved for Crohn’s Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
At the time, I had never heard of Remicade but I desperately wanted to stop the pain and bleeding so I started infusions in the hospital. I was soon released with directions for further Remicade infusions and a very high dosage of oral prednisone. In about three weeks surrounding my hospital stay, I lost about 15 pounds but I was encouraged by my doctors that the Remicade would get me better. In time, I slowly tapered off prednisone and per the advice of my gastro-intestinal (GI) doctor, I began taking Mercaptopurine/6MP (another immuno-suppressant drug). The Remicade indeed “managed” and hid my Ulcerative Colitis symptoms. I was able to wean off the Mercaptopurine/6MP (this medication is not safe for fetuses and I eventually planned to have a child) and I remained on the Remicade infusions (a 3- hour intravenous process administered in an outpatient hospital setting). I received these infusions every 8-9 weeks, continuing without any signs of symptoms.
According to the world of conventional medicine, it appeared that I was doing well with my health and Ulcerative Colitis. I had no signs whatsoever of my disease and I went through college and early adulthood “healthy”. Unfortunately, this is the typical approach by our conventional healthcare system today – give the drug that hides the symptoms to make you forget that your body is at war underneath. And so, I was only reminded of my disease when I went in for my infusions, the drug that disguised my body’s ill state.
Remicade managed my symptoms, bleeding, and abdominal pain. However, I soon realized that I wanted out of the “managing symptoms cycle”. You may be wondering why would I want to risk flaring, risk spending more time in a hospital, risk more pain and bleeding, and risk facing many health uncertainties.
There were several reasons that surfaced. First, I usually felt “uneasy” during infusions. It’s a difficult feeling to describe. I never had any allergic reactions to Remicade and so I never needed to prep the infusion by taking other medications that other patients required. Following infusions, I usually felt a little “out of it” and I usually didn’t plan much for the remainder of the day. So although I never had any direct reactions to the infusion, throughout the years, I became even more troubled at infusion times. I also had the “uneasy” feeling (it sort of felt like a string was being pulled within my stomach) when I thought about my hidden disease and what my body was going through underneath the Remicade mask. I guess that was my gut giving me a sign that something wasn’t right. This wasn’t the way to deal with my body’s ill state for the rest of my life.
I tried explaining my feelings when my Gastro-Intestinal (GI) doctor asked me “Why?” in June 2010 when I approached him regarding my desire to heal myself naturally and get off drugs. I had just begun the health coaching certification program through The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I wanted to jump on the right track and embark on my own journey for true health. In addition to the “uneasy gut feeling,” the possible effects of Remicade are very serious. They can include a weakened immune system, infection, liver damage, tuberculosis, and lymphoma (cancer); not to mention the unknown long-term side effects since Remicade was only approved in 1998.
My answer to his question was that I wanted to address the core problem and heal the chaos that my body was experiencing while hidden under the meds. I also was extremely terrified of all the side effects and the unknown future ramifications of the medications. Remicade is classified as chemo-therapy when billed to an insurance company (each infusion costs about $5,000!) My GI doctor seriously recommended that I continue Remicade. He cautioned that if I were to stop infusions, I could build resistance and it would not be effective the next time. He questioned why I would want to stop a “treatment” that was successful. He shared that as long as his patients don’t develop an immediate reaction, he keeps his patients on Remicade. Well, I don’t consider that successful. He also said that he didn’t know about any natural treatments. He then said that IF I chose to stop Remicade, he wanted me to transition to another oral anti-inflammatory medication.
Of course, that medication came along with another list of side effects. Obviously, we weren’t on the same page and not even in the same book! My objective was to heal my disease without the dangerous medications that are pushed upon patients too quickly every day. I wasn’t worried about building resistance to Remicade because I knew I wanted to stop putting that poison in my body and never go back. I decided that I wasn’t going to receive the support that I needed from him. That was the last time that I saw a GI “specialist.”
My Search for Natural Healing
So, that brought me to my search for natural healing. The role of food, which passes through our digestive system several times a day, was NEVER discussed during the 10 plus years dealing with Ulcerative Colitis. I was told that I would have to manage the disease by taking medicines for the rest of my life. My former GI doctor mentioned that certain foods may trigger a flare-up but it is different for everyone. I was never questioned about my regular food intake. Gluten is a well-known digestive irritant but I was never tested for a gluten allergy until I requested the test in 2010. (The test came back negative but that didn’t matter to me. I suspected gluten sensitivity in my body. I removed gluten from my diet in December 2010, and the chronic knee pain that I experienced for years dramatically decreased).
I found it very hard to believe that all food didn’t play a major role in our gut health. But that is what we are told by most physicians. Through the program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I was introduced to the teachings of Weston A. Price and the true meaning of health with traditional, nutrient-dense and real foods. I immersed myself in that lifestyle and approach to life and health. It resonated very deeply with me and my body. Even though I did not return to my GI doctor, I decided to continue with infusions until I had a clear plan for healing. It was during the Weston A. Price Foundation Conference in November 2010 that a good friend talked to me about the GAPS program. She was about to begin it for her own personal healing.
After the conference, I read and learned more and more about it and decided that it would be my path for healing. In January 2011, I consulted with Dr. Thomas Cowan, a doctor who utilizes the GAPS healing program in his practice. We determined how I would taper off Remicade meanwhile implementing the GAPS diet program.
GAPS Heals Ulcerative Colitis
So, I prepared for GAPS. Fortunately, I was living the traditional food lifestyle already, so the transition wasn’t as shocking as I can imagine it could be. However, there were still many procedures, routines, and foods which the GAPS diet highly stresses and I needed time to consistently incorporate them into my life. After a few months of preparing, I started the GAPS Introduction phase on March 1st, 2011. There, my GAPS journey began.
As I look back at this year on GAPS, the food aspect was of course challenging. Obstacles, trials and of days of utter frustrations with food were always present. It wasn’t easy. I remember staring often into my refrigerator thinking “I have nothing to eat!” even though I just spent HOURS preparing food ahead for several days. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, I just got tired of stock and ferments. I specifically remember a time when I had a minor breakdown over acorn squash! I couldn’t find jars full of acorn squash that I had roasted over the weekend. I prepared them ahead of time so that I would have some ready for meals during my busy work week. Oh, that was a fun morning, when I realized that I would just need to cook and prepare even MORE food that I already had in the previous days.
I remember bawling to my cat, Lewis, saying “I just don’t want to MAKE any MORE food!” That happened often in the beginning. Also, a GAPS girl always has to be prepared! Traveling with lunch bags/coolers, thermoses full of homemade stocks and soups, and my trusty mini-crockpot to reheat homemade meals in hotels were (and still are) a must! There were many times when I just wanted to have sprouted gluten-free bread (being grain bread, it’s a big GAPS no-no). I often thought, what would happen if I just had one piece? Or what if I just had some roasted sweet potatoes? Those thoughts definitely flew around in my mind. It was in those times, I had to dig even deeper, envision my life healed and free of medications. I refocused kept on.
I have to say the most challenging aspect of GAPS, especially during the first 8 months, was my body’s unknown reaction in reference to my previous symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis. I had NO clue what to expect while tapering off Remicade in addition to introducing a limited food regimen. Questions such as “Will my symptoms return?”, “What will I do if they return?”, “Am I ready to possibly go through those severe symptoms again?”, “Will I be able to work?” Since I had not experienced any symptoms since being on Remicade in the summer of 2006, this was scary, very scary for me. I had read several successful testimonials about healing digestive disease with the GAPS program.
I even found a new friend, a former patient of Dr. Cowan, who healed her Crohn’s disease with GAPS. She was and still is a great support throughout my GAPS journey. However, I was unable to find someone that decided to completely forgo “successful conventional treatment” (which was managing the symptoms of digestive disease) and choose natural healing when symptoms weren’t at all present. All of the testimonies and stories that I encountered thus far were about taking on the GAPS program while symptoms were present and conventional medications were not managing symptoms. It was scary and I was in the dark.
While I began to taper off Remicade and starting the GAPS program, I was also finishing up my health coaching program from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I was working on building my health coaching business. I had a lot on my plate, literally! At the same time, I knew I needed to rest and let my body figure out how to heal. I remember countless days on end (I called them “healing weekends”) when I experienced setbacks. I stayed in the house, wore my pajamas for days, looked a wreck, slept, drank stock, sat in the sun and didn’t do much at all. My energy was greatly affected and I lost about 14 pounds; definitely not weight I needed to lose! However, I kept on with my journey, one day at a time, keeping my heart on true healing. I continued on and I began to see improvement.
While I once managed symptoms with the icy cold Remicade infusions, I was now finding true health through the warmth of the deeply nourishing homemade stocks.
Drug Free And Colitis Healed At Last
It has been quite a year on GAPS. With any natural healing process, there are ups and downs, plateaus and hills. It’s a long road. So far, through it all, I can say today that I am doing very well and I trust in my heart and gut, that this is the path for me. I have regained most of my lost weight — a sign of healing.
From the extra nourishing GAPS diet, my triglycerides are a record low! By the way, I am consuming a ton of fats! My energy has also increased. I remain on GAPS and I plan to do so in order to heal completely. I know that I have come a long way but I have more healing to go. In addition to more gut healing, loads of pharmaceutical drugs throughout the years took a toll on other aspects of my health and GAPS will help in regaining balance with those aspects as well.
As I look forward, I am positive and full of thankfulness. I am so appreciative of all the support from my friends and family this past year. Their continued love and support have been a tremendous reason for my success so far. In addition, Dr. Cowan’s continuous guidance has been nothing short of supportive and genuine care.
I hope that my story has inspired you to take a step towards natural healing. I truly believe that anyone can take back their health. If you or anyone you know is dealing with any of the conditions I mentioned at the beginning of my story, I encourage you to read the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha McBride. It has changed my life and I can feel my body healing. It is slow progress but it is REAL progress and TRUE healing. It is extremely worthwhile. I wake up and I know that pharmaceuticals aren’t masking my body’s signs and feelings. We all deserve to be well and to experience optimal health. We CAN get to that place naturally, without pharmaceuticals, with the strength of our bodies and heart, and with REAL, nourishing foods Let your healing journey begin!
For an update on this inspiring story, click here!
More Information on the GAPS Diet
GAPS Diet: Heal Your Autoimmune Disease Now
Overwhelmed by the GAPS Diet? Help Has Arrived
FPIES: Resolving the “Other” Food Allergy
How to Speed Healing and Shorten Time on the GAPS Diet
The Five Most Common GAPS Diet Mistakes
Hannah’s Story: 2 Years on GAPS Diet Heals Autism
Chronic Stomach Pain and Bloating Gone!