GAPS vs AIP vs SCD. How do you know which gut healing protocol to follow?
A reader emailed me about the three protocols. She wanted my thoughts on which would be best to address her chronic food intolerances, poor digestion, chronic constipation, hormonal issues and overall poor digestion and absorption.
Since this post has been a long time in the making, I figured I’d just lay it all out here from the perspective of someone who has studied all three of them in detail for many years, has been on each of them at one point or another, and who has healed the gut in some pretty fantastic ways.
In the images below, you can see that I have all 3 protocol books. Each book has a ton of writing, highlighting, bookmarking, etc. because I have read and then re-read them all several times.)
GAPS vs AIP vs SCD
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Here is a brief overview of each, to help get us started.
GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome)
- Stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome
- Created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
- You move through healing “stages” (6 of them in the beginning, each stage might last only a day or two, depending on your circumstances) and end at the full GAPS Diet for up to 2 years
- Inspired by the SCD (also part of this post)
- The main book is better and more comprehensive than the SCD one, in my opinion
- Avoid processed foods, refined oils and sugars, grains, gluten, some lentils, soy
- Still allowed to have things like nuts, peanuts, some sweeteners, some dairy (in fact it’s encouraged)
- A lot of emphasis on bone broth and fermented foods
GAPS Resources: Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet, GAPS Guide, GAPS Diet, and other places on my blog I’ve written about the GAPS Diet.
AIP (Autoimmune Protocol)
- Stands for Autoimmune Protocol
- Some call it Autoimmune Paleo because it’s essentially the Paleo diet on steroids
- This book, by Sarah Ballantyne PhD is, by far, the best and most comprehensive of the 3. Seriously….killer!
- Originally developed by Loren Cordain PhD, popularized by Sarah Ballantyne PhD
- Avoid processed foods, refined oils and sugars, grains and pseudo-grains (like quinoa), gluten, legumes, soy, dairy, nightshades, non-nutritive sweeteners (like Stevia), eggs, nuts, seeds, alcohol
- 30-day elimination period, and then you begin reintroducing things
AIP Resources: The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body, The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, and other places on my blog I’ve written about AIP.
SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet)
- Created by Dr. Sidney Haas, but popularized by Elaine Gottschall
- SCD is, “based on the theory that by eliminating most carbs (primarily grains, starches, dairy, and sugars) and allowing only specific carbs that require minimal digestion, it can reduce inflammation and make eating enjoyable for people with gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.”
- Avoid all grains, beans, legumes, sugar, most dairy, starchy vegetables and non-grain flours, fermented beverages, and even chocolate/cacao
SCD Resources: Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, SCD Lifestyle, Pecan Bread, and other places on my blog I’ve written about SCD.
Should I Choose GAPS, AIP, or SCD?
You will hate my answer, but I have to be honest: It depends.
In fact, despite what I’m about to tell you, you might be better off choosing none of the above.
In 2009, when I began my healing journey and my gut was the worst it had ever been, I went on a strict GAPS diet for a very long time.
I stayed on the Intro Diet for a short while and instantly felt better. As I got better, though, I didn’t move in an appropriate manner to new GAPS stages.
Ultimately, I ate too little, with too few nutrients, for too long that it lead to “adrenal fatigue” and hormonal problems.
I got worse (my gut got worse) again and then was also diagnosed with SIBO, which is a bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine where a strict GAPS, SCD, and/or AIP just would not do.
To make a long story short, what I learned during these past 8+ years about diets, healing and following any one protocol is that they simply do not work.
You can, however, take the diet healing protocol that *best* fits your current circumstances (with the understanding that these circumstances can change quickly), and then 100% customize it for you.
Questions to Ask Yourself
I put together 5 questions that you should answer in order to start honing in on what might be best for you.
- What have you been diagnosed with? Note: I said diagnosed, not guessed by Dr. Google.
- What are you allergic to? Or what are you certain you don’t tolerate? (A custom food journal might help realize these.)
- Are you bloated and constipated or do you have diarrhea? (For example, if you are super bloated, sometimes GAPS is not right for you because the intro stages really have nothing to make you “go.”)
- Are you not active at all, somewhat active, or very active?
- Do you have the ability to easily navigate GAPS, AIP, SCD, and/or any other intensive protocol? (The one is huge!)
I know it’s frustrating when you are dealing with so many internal gut and other issues.
I’ve been there, so I know the pain and discontentment they bring to life. But I also know that the promise of any one diet to heal all your problems and make everything perfect is false. It will not work now, and it will not ever work. (Also because healing involves more than just diet – sleep, stress reduction, etc.)
Start where you are, make the best possible decisions, do what you can, and get ready to reap some real benefits not merely dictated by any one diet protocol.
Questions about any of them? Have you tried any or all of GAPS, AIP, SCD? What are your thoughts on GAPS vs AIP vs SCD?
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
- The Elimination Diet
- What is the Best Gut Healing Diet
- How to Reintroduce Foods After an Elimination Diet
You will heal. I will help.
Am now totally confused. I have done starting in Jan 2017 whole30, Fodmap, and now SCD for 40 plus days. I have just been diagnosed with total ulcerative colitis. The entire colon. The doctor has me on Ensure for this last week. Now what? Think I should see a nutritionist? What do start eating or not eating tomorrow. 8/8/2017
Hi, Beverly! Yes, I think you should absolutely work with someone to try to figure out what is best for YOUR body. It can be very frustrating, but my website has a ton of resources that should help!
I too am trying to get up the gumption to start an auto -immune diet gut healing diet. I was on the strictest formof AIP for 3 months. Results were: reduction in scalp itching, less water retention and weight loss. Did not experience any change in pain or fatique, which is severe. Then I went off the diet, and gained 40 lbs..gained the 20 I lost and an added an additional 20….mainly because of stress eating and too many bad carbs. My diagnosis: fibromyalgia, mold illness ( for 35 yrs) and lichen planis polaris, which has caused my hair follicles to die, so I’m bald for life. lichen planis is suspected to be an auto- immune disorder, but doctors are not sure? Every day for the past 30 years I have felt like I am poisoned. I always feel like I have the flu, ache and hurt from head to toe, nauseated and have no energy. I can move around for about 5 hrs per day, then in bed. I have acid reflux, restless leg syndrome, trygeminal neuralgia, rashes, dry skin, low thyroid. I am very over weight. I have a background in nutrition, and have stayed away from processed food for decades, but I do have an addiction to sugar, and when overwhelmed/depressed, i turn to ice cream and carbs like oatmeal and bread. I have always been constipated, since I was a child.
Just filling you in…I am seeing a doctor to detoxify from the mold found in my body….which could be causing much of my pain, brain fog, fatigue. Just not sure if I need to go on a full auto-immune diet? I am not sure I have an auto-immune disorder. Does run in my family..diabetes, psoriasis, thyroid, etc. i have low blood sugar. The strictness is so hard..and all the cooking and food prep when you are as sick as I amis tough. I can onlu stand in the kitchen for 20 minutes and then my pain is so bad I am in tears. I am not a pain wimp..had 2 sons, each 9 lbs at home, no painkiller. I am62 now. I want to get well. As a person with fibromyalgia, i have tried every diet and food protocol overthe past 30 years with no luck. Recently diagnoses with mold illness, so mybethats my main problem.
So…should I do Wahl’s, Gap’s , AIP? Which is the best purely for Gut healing? Maybe I should focus on that and just eliminate sugar and grains for awhile, rather than a super strict version like AIP? Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks
Hi Ruth – It’s so hard to say which one exactly you should follow without working very closely with you. If you want my honest opinion, if you haven’t even begun eliminating sugar and grains, just start there – today. And then, 30-days later re-evaluate. How are you feeling? Ask yourself, “Is this working?” If it is, stay put. If not, consider Wahl’s, GAPS, AIP, Paleo, etc. All my best, Ruth. xox
What do you recommend if i hace bloating AND constipation
Same question here… anybody can help ?
Same question. I have been on GAPS for over 30 days and the bloating has not subsided. Any suggestions????
There could be MANY reasons for it. My exclusive and private health coaching service is launching later this week for spots open starting April, 2020. Consider getting on the wait list here –> https://a-gutsy-girl.ck.page/af457db946
Hi, I have had Crohns Disease for 15 years (symptoms for 20 years). I have always had a sensitive gut but 20 years ago I went to a farm and drank unpasteurised milk and have had bigger issues since…I think this triggered my autoimmunity. Anyway, usually I feel great after eating home made chicken and vegetable soup (root veg, squash and spinach), rice, oats, potatoes and eggs. I AM TOTALLY ADDICTED TO CARBS! I feel awful after eating high fibre veg, especially any cabbage and most salads (raw spinach is fine). Currently I am on an immune modulating drug and an anti-inflammatory drug that targets the gut and have an almost gluten free (I eat oats), dairy free, preservative free, low fodmap (except for bananas) diet. I grow a heap of vegetables and make chicken vegetable soup often. Most days I snack on apples, bananas, dates and cashews (I have wondered if cashews and bananas are a problem for me though). To many this seems an ok diet BUT I have continuous rectal inflammation and my calprotectin levels are 2915 (anything over 50 shows inflammation, over 600 is considered VERY BAD). I am functioning quite well considering, but then kids don’t really give you a choice! Also, I am on my EIGTH cause of antibiotics this year as my impaired immune system means that I am CONSTANTLY sick with viral infections and regularly get secondary bacterial chest infections and pneumonia.
So where to from here? I think planning on making a few soups for lunch and dinner and finding some sort of carb I can have at breakfast time and 4pm of the day would work but I am confused as to which veg to put in my soups and what to have for breakfast and which carbohydrates are ok? Also, should I eat eggs or not (we have chickens). I thought following a very simple daily menu for 30 days before reassessing would be good. I also have started supplements and I am taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement that is gentle on the gut, probiotics (saccharomyces cerevisiae, bifidobacterium longum, lactobacillus rhamnosus), zinc and vitamin c.
Any advice would be great as my doctor will just want to add more drugs and the local “experts” I have consulted are not familiar with autoimmune disease diets and just tell me to eat low fodmap and low GI.
I was diagnosed with gastritis 3 years ago. During that time I have avoided all sugar, flour, processed foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes. I was able to stay off my medication for almost a year following this diet. Then it started flaring up again. I went back on my medication. Eliminated onions, eggs, dairy with the exception of plain yogurt. I have only had brief periods (days) where I could without omeprizol. Over the summer I followed the AIP. I had been feeling very good. I found during the reintroduction that I could not tolerate beans, lentils, quinoa and rice. Last week I added back eggs and onion. I had a tremendous flare up. I think it was the onions. I had had them several days and it was the day after I had eaten onion that I flared up. That day I had to also take OTC med. It was such a terrible attack. Not just acid in my chest, it feels like shock waves through my entire body. I read in the GAPS information that if the gut is not healed completely it will not tolerate most any foods. I am finding this to be true. I am afraid to go on the strict GAPS diet because I am very active, I have 6 kids and am a fitness instructor. I also fear adrenal fatigue. My doctors haven’t been willing to discuss the food route so I have been using them only for scopes, lab work and medication. I feel like they are putting a band aid on a festering wound and that diet is the real method for true healing – but I am getting to the point where I feel defeated. I would appreciate any feedback or suggestions. Thank you!
I appreciate the honesty and balance of this post. It is overwhelming to navigate all the info out there regarding diets (specifically for gut and immune health). I think those who claim their way can heal and is THE way are taking advantage of many desperate people. So, I continue my journey to find what works for me through study, trial, and error. Thanks.
You are most welcome! BTW – if you liked this post, check out my latest –> Creating Your Own FODMAP Diet Plan 🙂 Xox