Please enjoy this entertaining and honest interview with Starlene Stewart, Founder of the GAPS Journey Diet blog, and author of Beyond Grain and Dairy and many other informative titles. Enjoy her Paleo Pumpkin Pie Coconut Milk Custard before you head elsewhere.
1) You began your journey to health through nutrition at the end of 2009.
Yes. I started on the GAPS Diet to help my husband heal from Ulcerative Colitis.
2) What is your background and how did you learn about the GAPS diet?
I was naturally slender until the birth of my first son. For many years I assumed pregnancy changed my metabolism. I was 20 pounds heavier after the birth of my second son and I decided to try the low fat diet. I was 29 and managed to get down to my pre-pregnancy weight but I felt as if I ended up with an eating disorder as I became obsessed with sweets for the first time in my life. Up until that time I always felt I’d had a good relationship with food. I ate when hungry, ate whatever I wanted and did not worry about portion control. But after the low fat dieting that all changed. I started to have cravings like I’d never experienced before. I continued with low fat for several years until it just became too much. Soon I learned about Intuitive Eating, and then body acceptance came onto my radar. I gained about ten pounds a year for several years and tried to love the fluffier me but honestly I was not happy about that large woman I’d see in the window reflections. I could not believe that was me.
I had heard about GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) on a Yahoo group. I didn’t think it was for me since I didn’t have diarrhea all the time, and didn’t have a child with autism, so I never paid much attention to it.
After I started GAPS, it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t the pregnancy. Instead I suspect my gut dysbiosis had worsened due to a number of things which had occurred in the year prior to my pregnancy which can alter/diminish gut bacteria: being on birth control pills, having several amalgam fillings placed, being on antibiotics four times for tonsillitis.
3) What is the main reason you decided to make this change?
My husband was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in January 2009. The doctor told him there was nothing he could do, except to eat less red meat. In November, he confessed to me that his symptoms were worsening and in spite of his doctor saying nothing could be done, he wanted to try changing his diet. He’d read a book that suggested a vegetarian diet. I didn’t feel that was the right way to go since at that time I was attempting to eat a Traditional style diet. I knew that GAPS could address Ulcerative Colitis. After I started reading Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, I began to see myself in the pages of the book. My low energy, depression… I also learned that the opposite of diarrhea (which I’d been experiencing more and more) can be a dead giveaway sign of gut dysbiosis. I decided for the first time in 15 years I was willing to make a change. http://gapsdietjourney.com/2012/03/7-reasons-i-wish-i-had-been-willing-to-change/
4) How do you feel about the Paleo diet?
I think it would be a great diet to switch to when I feel that I’m ready to transition away from GAPS. I choose to stay on GAPS for the time being because I know what I can eat and it’s just easier to stick with these foods. I suspect I would gain back my weight and end up with aching feet again if I went back to the way I used to eat. My son is benefiting from being on GAPS and my mother recently moved in and I think she needs to be on GAPS. I’m happy with the foods so I am fine staying on it for now.
5) How does the Paleo diet relate to GAPS?
Paleo and GAPS are pretty close, from what I can tell. I don’t think Paleo does much with fermented foods, at least I don’t see that there is a focus like we have on GAPS, and we can’t have sweet potatoes on GAPS.
6) What are some of the greatest benefits that you and your family have experienced on the GAPS diet?
The first thing that happened within two weeks was my feet and back stopped hurting. I was diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis and my feet ached so horribly that I had to wear shoes at all times. I even had to wear flip-flops in the shower to cushion my feet. My Grandpa hobbled rather than walked due to the excruciating pain in his feet, and I just figured it was something I’d inherited and would have to live with for the rest of my life. I managed to find a pair of men’s casual wear shoes that had a very thick insole and that is all I could stand to wear. I had to buy a new pair of shoes every month as the cushioning would wear down just enough that my feet would begin to ache again. I used to wonder how people wore regular shoes with no cushioning in the soles. 13 days on GAPS, the foot pain subsided and has never returned. I can wear heels, go barefoot, stand up for hours. No pain. The other thing that cleared up within 2 weeks was my back. After a month long bout with pneumonia in 2002, my back would stiffen when I had been in bed for 7 hours. I’m one of those people that needs more than 7 hours sleep each night and I also love to read before I go to sleep. Two weeks on GAPS and that symptom vanished. Now I can lie in bed and read for a couple of hours and then sleep 8-9 hours, no pain, no stiffening of my back. Those two things were so powerful and life changing that I was persuaded to stay on GAPS for the rest of my life if that’s the only benefit I ever got. More good changes happened though within the first six months of being on GAPS. I have a post here where I detail everything: http://gapsdietjourney.com/2010/06/day-183-my-six-month-anniversary-on-gaps/
My husband only did GAPS long enough to discover that our raw goat’s milk was the cause of most of his symptoms. My oldest son has Down Syndrome and had gained quite a lot of weight. Over the past few years of slowly moving his diet to GAPS I’ve helped him to lose over 70 pounds. I also have lost about 60 pounds. I am easily maintaining my weight – that makes me happy because I don’t like counting calories and I hate worrying about portion control. It makes me feel deprived. Right now I eat pretty much what I want as long as it is allowed on GAPS.
7) You have been blogging about nutrition and health for some years now. What made you decide to chronicle your health and diet journey online?
I had been so determined to not ever diet, no matter what… but when I started GAPS, I just knew this was it. This was going to be the answer. And I wanted to make myself accountable, and I figured in the process I could share my journey with anyone who would listen. I was one of the lucky ones, actually, as most people don’t see changes within two weeks.
8) You are a contributing writer for the Nourished Living Network discussing the GAPS diet. Can you tell me a little bit about the Nourished Living Network?
The Nourished Living Network was founded by KerryAnn Foster who blogs at Intentionally Domestic (formerly Cooking Traditional Foods). I joined a couple of years ago and love being part of NLN. Everyone helps each other out and it is really nice to have someplace you can go to ask questions about blogging. We promote each other’s recipes, blog posts and it is a great place to network and find others who are of the same mindset.
9) In 2012, you started a blog talk radio show. What do you discuss on the show?
Actually I started my Blog Talk Radio show April 2011, after I’d been on GAPS just over a year. My first guest was the founder of the GAPS Diet, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. On my show I interview people who have been on GAPS for at least six months, and I have also interviewed Dr. Benjamin Lynch about the genetic mutation MTHFR. I have interviewed 25 people who have found success on the GAPS Diet.
10) Do you ever have callers or guests that are also Paleo? I have not.
11) Your eldest son has Down Syndrome. In your research and your experience, have you found a connection between his diet and his health?
Yes, very much so. Before GAPS he was steadily gaining weight. I was so worried about him because I knew that diets didn’t work… I knew that people just gained back the weight. So it was a relief for me to see him begin to lose weight slowly on GAPS.
12) You have written a number of cookbooks. Where do you find the time to develop the recipes you create for your books?
Lately it has been more difficult with my mom staying with us because I need to spend time with her. I am lucky that my “day” job is only four days a week, so I have three days at home. I don’t get a lot of housework done, I can tell you that right off the bat. 😉 I have been cooking from scratch since I was 10 years old and cooking is my main creative outlet so I have to find the time to create or I start feeling antsy.
13) What is your process for developing a recipe from start to end? How often do you work on recipes?
It depends on what type of recipe I am developing. Soup is simple. I have a knack for what goes well together so I just start putting ingredients into the pot. I keep a notepad and pen handy to jot down ingredients and amounts.
Baking with coconut flour is more of a challenge. I’ve found a method for converting recipes which I share in my e-book “Baking with Coconut Flour”, and that is the easiest way to come up with a new recipe because I write the conversion based on the wheat flour version, then try it out. Very often I get what I’m looking for on the first try. When I’m happy with the recipe, I make it a second time and sometimes a third, to make sure I have ingredients down in the right proportions, and have the instructions correct.
When I’m developing a recipe from scratch it takes longer. Typically 3-4 times to get what I’m looking for, and then I’ll make the recipe at least one more time to make sure it’s right. Sometimes I’ll have a happy mistake where I thought I was making one thing, but it turned out to be something else altogether so I’ll just go in that direction instead.
I find myself in a conundrum because I would like to lose 20-30 more pounds, but creating baked goods tends to keep me where I am or a few pounds heavier. I can’t just throw the failed batches away because they usually taste yummy and the ingredients are expensive! So I tend to eat what I’ve created, even though it’s not what I envisioned it would be. The texture may be gummy, for example. But it still tastes good.
When I was new to GAPS I was creating a lot of new recipes. Sometimes a brand new one every night of the week. Sometimes I feel more creative than other times but lately with having less spare time I have settled into a bit of a rut and have been preparing the same few meals. It is just easier that way when my time is limited.
14) I noticed that you use beans in some of your soups. Can you tell us why you incorporate beans into your diet?
We are allowed to have white beans on GAPS. We can have Great Northern Beans and navy beans. I have recently discovered a way to make navy beans that taste creamy, and are so delicious. I grew up on beans. My mom learned to make flour tortillas and one of my favorite meals growing up was pinto beans and flour tortillas, or corn bread. I love beans, and we are allowed to have them on GAPS. Those would be the main reasons why I incorporate them into my diet. I don’t have them very often since they are fairly high in carbohydrates and I tend to overeat on higher carbohydrate foods. If I eat too many of them I can tell that my blood sugar is affected. So it’s just easier for me to make them only occasionally.
15) As you know I am Paleo and many people do not eat many beans, yet this is a controversial subject. What are your feelings about the scientific Paleo theory which is against beans?
Interesting theory. I did not know why Paleo doesn’t advocate eating beans so I went and looked it up. I see at one Paleo source that beans are considered to have toxins in small amounts, have a high glycemic index and are considered to be “empty calories”. I was not aware of the toxins, but I would agree about the high glycemic index. I guess you could say I could go for the Paleo theory. I don’t think I’ll give up beans altogether though. I feel like I’ve given up a lot already and I guess beans will be my “junk food” for the time being. 🙂
16) “Beyond Grain & Dairy” has recipes made without grain, dairy, gluten, soy, corn or sugar. What inspired you to write this cookbook?
My friend’s mom had recently been told she should stop eating grain and dairy products. Her mother was devastated and felt like there was nothing to eat. Having been on GAPS for a couple of years, and also having people around me every day telling me how I have so much willpower and they could never, ever eat this way… they just didn’t understand. It really isn’t that hard once you eliminate those foods that cause cravings. At least it has worked pretty easily for me. In addition, I want people to know there are meals to eat that are delicious and mouthwatering in spite of not containing grain or dairy. Blogs are great for when you want to search for one recipe, but it does not compare to being able to open a book and read a Table of Contents and flip from page to page. In Beyond Grain & Dairy, 85 of my recipes are present at the blog and 28 are brand new. There were times when I wanted to make one of my recipes and had to go sit down at the computer, which is a huge distraction. Placing them in book format means I can print out my recipes and have them in a binder right in my kitchen. Not to mention my mother and my boss do not use computers and wanted my recipes. So it just made sense to put them into a cookbook. Beyond Grain & Dairy is in the hands of over 8,000 people since I launched it last December and I’m pretty excited to know that my recipes are with that many people.
17) What are your views about grains in general?
Well, first you should know that before I started GAPS I used to say that I loved pasta more than my own mother. If you would have told me ten years ago that I would give up grains I would have fallen down laughing at you. But then in reading Gut and Psychology Syndrome I learned how grains and gluten can affect our body and mind, and it made sense to me that going off these foods for a period of healing would be a good idea. I also learned that sometimes the foods that we crave can often be foods to which we are actually allergic! In the beginning, I thought I would do GAPS for two years and that would be that. But then I had some testing done, and discovered that I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Some sources suggest that people with this autoimmune disease should avoid gluten. I also learned that I have the two copies of C677T of the genetic mutation MTHFR. Sources also suggest that folks with this mutation should avoid gluten and dairy. I know that I would always overeat on grain-type foods in the past and it is so pleasant to no longer experience that overfull feeling after eating. When I was into body acceptance, I tried to eat less food, but it didn’t seem to help. I ate like I was starving hungry, and had to eat frequently throughout the day. I had to carry food with me wherever I went since I did not like eating fast food. Now I’m able to eat three meals a day, sometimes only two. There is a definite freedom in being able to leave the house without carting along a bag full of food.
I’ve read that grains are not the grains that our ancestors may have eaten. They’ve been bred to be something different and there are just so many problems people can have, I just feel it’s best to stay away from them. I have found substitutes for most of the foods I used to eat. . For example, tamales were one of my favorites but since I no longer eat corn, I managed to create a substitute using almond flour.
18) Do you have any new projects or cookbooks coming up?
I have a folder on my computer with several book ideas! If there were only more hours in the day, or if I could retire from my day job! 🙂 I’ve had to slow down though since as I mentioned earlier my mom has come to live with me. I definitely enjoy having her here, it’s a good thing… I was working myself too hard for too many hours. Now I cook breakfast and sit with mom and eat and enjoy the food. Same with dinner. I’ve actually lost weight since she’s moved in and I attribute that partially to eating in a more relaxed manner.
19) Is there anything else you would like to say or contribute?
I would just like to say that I think most people could benefit from trying GAPS for a period of time. I’m not necessarily talking to those doing Paleo as that’s like speaking to the choir, I’m talking about folks that aren’t feeling all that great. You may find that you start feeling better. GAPS isn’t meant to be a forever diet, the recommendation is two years. Some have suggested it can take one month of healing for every year you’ve been unwell so it could take longer. Or try Paleo. Cleaning up one’s diet can really have a great effect on one’s quality of life. Thanks for interviewing me and having me as a guest at your blog, Tina.
Thank YOU Starlene! It was my pleasure, Tina Turbin
Please read more about Starlene, visit her website and listen to her shows:
Blog Talk Radio Show: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/gapsjourney
If you have any questions or suggestions just email me at Tina (at) Paleomazing.com.