Over decades of eating for optimal health, Charlotte Nuessle never thought of her morning oatmeal as an "addiction."

Over decades of eating for optimal health, Charlotte Nuessle never thought of her morning oatmeal as an "addiction."

Nor would Nuessle have considered chicken soup a remedy before attending a lecture on Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

"There's a real correlation between a healthy gut and strong immune system," says the 55-year-old yoga therapist.

That's one of the principles of GAPS, devised more than a decade ago by British neurologist Natasha Campbell-McBride to treat neurological and psychiatric disorders in hundreds of patients, including her autistic son. Detailed in Campbell-McBride's book, the approach piqued the interest of nutritional therapist Summer Waters, who tried it herself for two years, became a certified GAPS practitioner and began teaching classes locally.

"For people who need it, it's life-changing," says Waters, explaining that unlike many diets touted as "healing," GAPS detoxifies and nourishes the body simultaneously. Eventually, beneficial microorganisms repopulate the gastrointestinal tract, improving its function and the body's health overall.

Familiar with the "emptiness" arising from most types of dietary cleanses, Nuessle was surprised how "nourished" she felt from the first day that she and her husband tried GAPS.

"There was more a feeling of being sustained," says Nuessle, who struggled with inflammation and hormonal fluctuations, while her husband needed to boost his immune system.

"We've explored macrobiotics; we've explored raw foods ... we've been gluten-free."

Under GAPS, the Ashland couple immediately restructured their diets around bone broth and fermented vegetables. The former has been cited for centuries as a digestive aid because it soothes inflammation in the gut, according to Campbell-McBride.

The GAPS recipe for a slow-cooked chicken stew introduced the Nuessles to their new way of eating.

"We ate that for breakfast, lunch and dinner," says Nuessle.

Like most whole-foods diets, GAPS emphasizes the best-quality animal proteins from organic, free-range and humane sources. It has much in common, says Waters, with teachings of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which also promotes home cooking from scratch. A Price chapter leader, Waters also recommends its diet for clients.

"It's really about that nose-to-tail eating — utilizing all the gifts of the animal."

Neither GAPS nor Price meals are necessarily labor-intensive or expensive, says Waters, explaining that the cheap leftovers of butchering — organs and bones — are prominent ingredients. And while hours can pass before a meal is ready, it's largely hands-off for cooks, she says. Waters' monthly classes delve into GAPS cooking techniques, as well as strategies for shopping on a budget. She also teaches a "Nourishing Foods" series at Wise Women Care Associates in Medford.

"To me, it's not harder than any real foods that are out there."

Processed foods are off the GAPS plate, along with all grains, even in their whole forms. The best GAPS foods, according to the diet's website, are eggs, fresh meats, fish, shellfish, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, garlic and olive oil. Fruit should be consumed on its own between meals. Plenty of natural fats should be included in every meal.

Contemplating the contents of her pantry on the way to a GAPS meeting, Nuessle realized how far her diet had skewed toward grains. After testing her blood-glucose levels at Waters' suggestion, Nuessle was surprised to see wide fluctuations throughout the day.

"We had a snack habit," she says. "Chips and cookies; those were our downfalls."

Waters has a similar story and confessed that she tried the diet "with much reluctance" although she knew for several years that her blood-glucose levels were climbing toward the diabetic range. Soaking and sprouting grains as directed by Price practitioners didn't seem to change the response in her body, wracked with digestive difficulties and fatigue.

"I literally could not keep my eyes open in the afternoon," says Waters. "I was ready to break free of that pattern."

Alleviating severe gastrointestinal symptoms and food allergies is a main focus of GAPS. The psychological benefits can range from the "inner peace" Waters says she felt, to one client's report that it eased the majority of his anxiety symptoms, including stress-induced vomiting. GAPS experts cite its therapeutic effect on autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD), schizophrenia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar and other mood disorders.

Her moods "much steadier" after a few months of following the GAPS diet, Nuessle says she has regained the ability to concentrate that she first discovered through yoga.

"My mental focus is more sustained," she says. "It's kind of like coming out of a haze."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or slemon@mailtribune.com.