Healing Crisis Explained: Detox and Retracing

Detox & Retracing

Why you feel worse when you implement an optimal nutrition program

By Linda Paterson BHSc

The more food is presented in its natural raw state in which it grows, without any modifications made to it, the easier it is to digest.  Food in its natural state maintains all its enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other trace elements, therefore allowing the body to use these resources to replenish and develop healthy tissue.

When people change their diet for the better and eat natural easy to digest foods they often ask “why do I seem to feel worse when I am eating better”?  To answer this question we need to look at what the body is doing when this occurs.  The body starts to identify the lower grade materials and tissues and rids of them in order to make room for the superior ones derived from the higher grade food coming into the body to renew healthier tissues.

During this process, the body goes through a process of ‘retracing’ which presents with a variety of different symptoms that people associate with feeling unwell or worse than they were before they had started.  The new improved diet forces the body to deal with accumulated toxins stored in the tissues of our body by excreting them through the skin, bile and urine.

As these toxins are being discarded from the body, they release their poisons which cause a die off reaction .  The severity of the symptoms depends on the amount of toxins stored in the body and range from headaches, fever, cold/flu, skin eruptions, either constipation or diarrhoea, lethargy, depression, irritability, frequent urination, vomiting, leg cramps and tummy pain.  Although these symptoms can be quite abrupt for some people, it is imperative that the retracing process is not interrupted or stopped by the use of medications or other alternative means.

Many people confuse these symptoms with allergies or food sensitivities within the first two to three days and attempt to stop the healing process before it is concluded and consequently not allowing the first important phase to complete its task to recuperate.  The body should allow at least 10 days for the first phase to complete and this can be longer for others who have more severe conditions.

Dr Campbell-Mc Bride proposes that phenols found in food, act as a natural detoxifier and play their part by cleaning up the toxins throughout the body.  Although it may be true that many GAPS patients are sensitive to phenols, it is imperative not to avoid them unless you have a true allergy (anaphylactic) because they play an important role during detox and retracing.  Whilst the detox reaction from phenols may cause a variety of concerning symptoms, they do subside if the steps are followed through correctly and clinical experience has shown that generally, as the gut heals, the sensitivity to phenols changes and the reaction goes away.

The first stage of detoxification requires plenty of rest so that the body can use all its energy and power to work on reconstructing the injured sites.  If any attempt is made to avoid the body’s signals (lethargy) to rest, the process of retracing will take longer.  Rest and sleep will provide the body with more energy to rebuild the body’s important organs and cells.  The less energy used by the body’s muscles during this phase the better dispersion of power and energy to restore the much needed internal regions.

When a person practices patience during this phase, their strength will progressively return and improve beyond that of which it had been before implementing the diet.  There are two important points here to remember: plenty of rest and avoid the use of drugs to assist in the relief of symptoms during the retracing phase.

During the preceding months, you may experience a ‘recovery regression’ where out of the blue, you develop a rash or become quite irritable.  This flare up is the body’s consistent progression towards healing.  The skin for example, is becoming more stimulated and toxins are released through sweat glands in the skin presenting a rash or igniting a pre-existing state of eczema which could last for ten days or more until it progressively heals.  A few months after this another flare up is experienced but this time it may not be as severe as the last and take less time to recover.  Recovery regressions occur as a part of the recovery cycle.

If you identify that the GAPS patient is particularly sensitive to a certain food, you may take it out for about 4 – 6 weeks and slowly reintroduce it from small progressive amounts.  Worsening of symptoms may also occur during the introduction of new foods or Probiotic foods like sauerkraut or yoghurt/kefir.  The best thing to do is to determine the smallest amount tolerated and slowly increase the amount over time.  Some people attempt to avoid probiotic foods thinking that they make them ill or are sensitive to them and some believe they are not ready for them; however this is generally because they are unaware of how Probiotic foods assist in detoxifying the body.

Probiotic foods are full of beneficial enzymes and friendly bacteria and when consumed they repopulate the gut with beneficial flora that kills the pathogenic flora.  When these pathogens die, they release an accumulation of stored toxins which are then released through the body causing a die off reaction.  This is why fermented Probiotic foods should be introduced gradually and progressively at a pace that the individual can tolerate.

Remember this: successful completion of the first phase of retracing will equip your body with the ammunition to avoid future disease whilst allowing the body to heal from previous conditions that lead you to optimal nutritional changes in the first place.  Whilst the walk through GAPS detox is exhausting to say the least, the trade off in enhanced quality of life is well and truly worth it.

Healing the gut takes time, especially for those with more serious digestive abnormalities.  Some people claim to have noticed more digestive discomfort after sneaking foods from their previous diet like bread or rice.  These people then ask why am I more sensitive now than I was before I started improving my diet?

Basically, the gut wall had not had sufficient enough time to heal and whilst the body was busy focusing on rebuilding the integrity of the gut wall and restoring the microvilli covering the enterocytes, the forbidden food goes back to work in destroying the new enterocytes and disrupts the whole healing process, amounting in subsequent discomfort and return of symptoms.  Most people never noticed their symptoms before they attempted to change their diet and did not realise the full extent of their condition until they attempt to clean it up.

The gut wall began a journey of healing and the duration of this journey will be different for each individual.  A period of 2.5 years is the optimal recommendation for GAPS patients, however this will be dependent on how well the person has adhered to the protocol and how severe their digestive abnormalities were to begin with.


Dr. N. Campbell-McBride MD, MMed Sci (neurology), MMed Sci (nutrition), Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Natural treatments for Autism, Dyslexia, Depression, Dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD, Schizophrenia.

Dr. Stanley S. Bass, Symptoms to Expect When You Improve Your Diet,  3119 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn,  NY 11235
(718) 648-1500.