Growing up I could hardly wait to be a mom and have children. On the way toward that goal, I fulfilled  my dream of teaching elementary school, married a wonderful and supportive husband, and I was looking forward to having kids so that I could feed them hot dogs and Kool-Aid on warm summer days. Life was going to be good. Our first child, a girl, arrived in 1997. She quickly challenged our sanity with three months of colic, and another six months of severe constipation. But then she got “better.” We thought that our life as parents would be smooth sailing from then on. Little did we realize the magnitude of the storm that was still to come.

Our second child, a boy, was born two and a half years later. At two weeks old, he cried 18 hours a day due to severe abdominal pain. It was only after seeing four medical doctors that we found one that suggested that our son could be reacting to my breast milk. Indeed, he was, and he was put on a very expensive “designer” soy formula. He had severe constipation and was given daily suppositories along with a prescription to keep him regular. My mom, husband, and I each took 4-hour shifts holding and rocking him around the clock for many months. The multiple pediatricians and specialists we went to could not figure out anything physically wrong with him. One doctor put him on high doses of Karo Syrup (pure high fructose corn syrup) for his constipation. He had every test imaginable (most of them very invasive), each one leaving us with no answers. In desperation, I asked our state’s top pediatric gastroenterologist, “If he were your child where would you go from here?” He simply shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “I have no idea.” I whispered, “Then we are done.” I could hardly drive home through the tears. By now (at about 18 months) my son’s immune system was taking a turn for the worse. His ear infections were becoming chronic and each time he was prescribed a stronger antibiotic. He eventually ended up with tubes in his ears. But things were going to get worse. A lot worse. At this time he started to exhibit unusual behaviors. (Three months after his first MMR vaccination, interestingly enough). His tantrums were frequent and lasted longer than the “typical two year old.” He would hit me up to 200 times a day leaving bruises on my legs and arms. He made constant noises with his mouth and constantly craved pressure against his body. Whenever he would stand next to me he would press so hard with his body I would lose my balance. He began exhibiting repetitive actions such as kicking walls and touching someone’s face over and over again. He also had adverse reactions to strong sounds and smells. He would wear shorts in the winter and and sweatpants in the summer. When he was a little older he began to leap frog around the house. Through all of this, I could tell by looking into his eyes that he was suffering inside too. This little boy had an internal “engine” that would not shut off. His mind and body were constantly in a state of anxiety. I knew something was not right, but the pediatrician said he was too young for any sort of diagnosis. Each night I would cry myself to sleep. I had to find some answers. I would find some answers. I was his mother! Thus began my long and lonely journey.Then one day, while in a bookstore, I came across a book titled, The Sensory Sensitive Child by Karen A.

Smith, Ph.D., and Karen R. Gouze, Ph.D. I sat down on the floor and opened the book. I immediately knew they were talking about my son! Tears began to stream down my cheeks and since they splashed on the pages of the book I knew I was destined to purchase it. Now I knew what was wrong with him, but I had few accurate ideas about what to do about it. Our confusion and tribulation would continue for three more years before I would find the answers we were looking for. My son’s diet was already what I thought was “dairy free,” but then I began to learn about casein and whey (I wish I had know about this while breastfeeding). After educating myself on dairy, gluten was removed next. Removing these two things from his diet provided some improvement, but it was not enough. His symptoms seemed to be multiplying. By this time he had been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and was exhibiting a number of other behaviors: hyperactivity, obsessive compulsive behavior (OCD), ticking, severe anxiety, anger, self-destructive behavior, and night terrors. He was seeing a children’s psychologist for the anxiety and an occupational therapist for his sensory processing. And then, our challenges were about to increase. I was pregnant again. Our third child, another little girl, was a wonderful, healthy baby—until we started to feed her baby cereal around six months old. Her pain and constipation were so severe we were taking her into the emergency room! Could our life be any more complicated? In desperation, we went to a recommended chiropractor. Having grown up with traditional western medicine, we did not know what to expect and
were a bit skeptical. But he helped our daughter’s constipation problem within the week by using magnesium.

He had an audience.

He suggested having some lab work done on her (and subsequently our son, then age seven). Their blood work showed many food intolerances. To our surprise our son showed a high reaction to almost every possible grain, many we had never heard of before, such as quinoa and amaranth. Ah-ha! Food sensitivities and something called “leaky gut” as well as mild ulcerative colitis. Leaky gut occurs when the digestive system is compromised to a point where individuals are not breaking down their proteins in the stomach, so the gut becomes too permeable. The proteins begin crossing the G.I. barrier into the blood stream, inappropriately, and our body creates an antibody in response and the proteins now become an antigen.

We ended up taking our son off of all grains and other offending foods for 3 months, but again, only noticed slight improvement. What I did not realize was that we were missing the mark. Gluten free/casein free was not enough, nor was being grain free. I had pieces of the puzzle, but I still did not have the whole picture. While working at our food coop in customer service I began noticing the number of individuals coming in with food sensitivities. I was well known as the go-to person throughout our store, because I had two children with limited diets as well. As I read more and more labels, I came to realize that all I was giving the customers was the same prepackaged junk from the conventional grocery stores, only organic, and perhaps a little healthier. A light bulb came on for me. It was all about the food. Our bodies need nourishing foods, not prepackaged foods with the offending allergens taken out!

I reasoned that if I was actually going to wrap my mind around all of this I needed an education in nutrition, but not just any nutrition. A co-worker at the coop told me about a program through the Nutritional Therapy Association. The next day I spent time pouring over the website and contacting the NTA office. The registration deadline was in 3 days. It was an absolute whirlwind. How would I find time to study? How would we afford this? But I knew that I needed this course (and so did my son). In the next 48 hours I was registered for the next class, and reading about my first NTA conference. The conference was entitled: “Thinking about Food: Nutrition and Mental Health.” After learning more about one of the speakers, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, I knew I had to go. I had never heard about Dr. Campbell-McBride or her Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, but she would change our lives in ways we would never have imagined. The diet removes all grains and offending sugars to heal digestive disorders. Her diet heavily focuses on the benefits of fermented dairy and vegetables, healing bone broths, and only freshly pressed juices for natural detoxification. Hearing Dr. Campbell-McBride was such a privilege. Having had an autistic child she understood what it was like to truly be an advocate for her child and never giving up until she found answers. As a neurologist, with a Master’s degree in nutrition, she unveiled the connection between what we eat, the state of the digestive system, and learning disabilities. She was warm, kind and humble. Her message and knowledge gave me hope, and finally– a plan.

The next 6 months were dedicated to my studies as a NTA student, and reading as much as I could about the GAPS diet. After graduating from the NTA program I had the time to implement the diet with our family. Before starting the diet in earnest we went on a modified version of the full GAPS diet. I am pleased that we did, because even with the modified version we experienced some die-off. After a couple of months we were ready to begin the “introduction diet”. Each stage gradually added in new foods so we could easily see if one of us was reacting to something. It was one of the most challenging things we have done as a family. There were tears and laughter, resentment and forgiveness, and a lot of time as a family in the kitchen. However, it was a year’s worth of healing that we would not trade for the world.

My 3-year old daughter‘s severe constipation cleared up completely, her eczema cleared up by 90%, and her fatigue disappeared. My 12 year old daughter’s Candida (with minimal supplementation) went away as well as her adrenal fatigue which she had been experiencing for years. My son, 10 at the time, had no more night terrors, his anxiety was all but gone, and his energy was that of a “normal” 10 year old boy. He discontinued his psychological and occupational therapy. The psychologist said, “This is clearly
biological,” and asked for my business cards after I graduated from the NTA program. The occupational therapist said, “Whatever you are doing is working. I would rather have you spend your time in the kitchen for your son rather than spend two hours a week bringing him here!”

We are in our second year of the GAPS diet and are committed to the two year minimum and beyond. We have seen great results in our children, and my chronic migraines of 30 years are almost gone. But our biggest success has been to truly have our son returned to us. He is calmer, happier, and has a wonderful sense of humor. He once told me, “It used to feel like things were crawling all over inside my body and I couldn’t make it stop.” I think any of us would exhibit very different behavior if we felt something similar. He is very good at sports, has progressed through many belts in karate, and has won multiple first place trophies. He is a very bright and tenderhearted child and well liked by his peers. Dr. Campbell-McBride claims that the following conditions can significantly improve or be alleviated by using the GAPS diet: autism, dyslexia, depression, dyspraxia, A.D.D, A.D.H.D, schizophrenia, etc. Many of these GAPS individuals have severely impaired digestive systems. The purpose of the diet is to heal
the digestive tract while repopulating with beneficial bacteria.

Because my passion has always been with children, my practice is steadily growing with pediatric clients and their families, which undoubtedly include severely compromised digestive systems. My heart breaks when I see parents screaming at their kids in frustration as they bounce off the walls, and then give them the very toxin to snack on that is contributing to the problem. It is extremely rewarding to educate families towards hope and healing and it is never a one size fits all protocol. Our journey is still
not without trials, but it is through these times which we grow the most. My goal is to help others who may be experiencing the turmoil associated with families who are suffering from compromised health; to let them know they do not need to do this alone. Everyone deserves a chance. My intention is to offer help and hope to as many as I can.

Copyright 2013-2017 Kris Gustafson Nutritional Therapy Practitioner/Certified GAPS Practitioner/Certified Healing Food Specialist
612-964-3894 Twin-Cities, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN