The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is a diet used to manage symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis) and other conditions such as coeliac diease and diverticulitis. The bible of SCD was written by the late Elaine Gottschall entitled: “Breaking The Vicious Cycle”. The basic premise of the book is that people with the above bowel conditions cannot digest carbohydrates well and so recommends a diet free from: gluten, grains, lactose and refined-sugar. As a trained biochemist, Elaine describes in detail in the book why certain foods are difficult for those with IBD to digest. For more information on the book and how to order it, click here. I’ve made a list of ten important steps you can take when beginning the diet as I would have found this helpful myself. Starting SCD can be a lonely place. Hopefully, this blog will help you feel supported.
1. Order the book “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” by Elaine Gottschall, and read it in full. This is a great starting point as it gives you background information on the diet and has some lovely recipes to try. It’s helpful to understand the science behind how the diet works so you can explain it to people, which brings me nicely to my next point.
2. You should also talk to your doctor before undertaking SCD and should aim to have their full support. Many doctors are skeptical about the diet at first. Due to a lack of scientific studies regarding it’s effects on IBD patients, SCD is still viewed with suspicion by the medical world. Under no circumstances should anyone ever come off any medication unless under your doctor’s supervision. It could be very dangerous. Many IBD medications require weaning rather than stopping abruptly.
3. Start gathering the ingredients you need for the intro diet. The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to stick to the diet. As most likely you will not find all the products you need in local stores, order them online. I ordered the gelatin from Amazon (use either Great Lakes or Vital Proteins as they are good quality). In Ireland and the UK, you will find dry curd cottage cheese either in Tesco or in Polish shops under the name “twarog”. Make sure to get the one in red packet which is the full fat one. Don Simon 100% grape juice is suitable for making the grape gelatin and is available in Ireland and the UK also. In the US, Welch’s 100% grape juice has been verified and is scd-legal.
4. Make a meal plan for the intro diet. If you plan what you are going to eat for the few days you are on the intro diet, it will be less overwhelming.
5. Batch cook the food for your intro diet. This includes making a large amount of the following:
- chicken broth
- grape gelatin
- SCD cheesecake
- beef patties (just ground beef and salt)
The above foods along with the eggs allowed in the intro diet will sustain you for the few days. Remember, that Elaine Gottschall says that quantity is not important. So, if you are hungry eat more of all the foods allowed on the intro to keep your calories up.
6. Stay within the limits of the intro diet as per Elaine Gottschall’s guidelines. It is not sustainable to stay on it for more than a few days.
7. Once you move beyond the intro diet, introduce new foods gradually. SCD Lifestyle is a great resource for information on how to properly start eating a variety of foods. Another good resource for introducing new foods is pecan bread’s list of stages. I used this a guide only but didn’t follow and didn’t follow the stages strictly. Instead, I listened to my body and observed my symptoms. I introduced new foods, one at a time, when I felt I was ready. The SCD community regards the “stages” as a controversial issue. Apparently, Elaine Gottschall herself believed there was no need to make a difficult diet even more difficult. I have to agree with that advice.
8. Keep a food diary. This is especially important when you begin SCD. When you begin to take note of new foods and your symptoms, you might be surprised at the foods that cause you problems. I was convinced I could tolerate tomatoes well and I thought onions were my enemy. Boy, was I wrong! There is no one size diet that fits all for inflammatory bowel disease so it’s really important to customise SCD for yourself. Just because a food is SCD-legal, doesn’t mean you can tolerate it. SCD lifestyle give good advice on this when they discuss the four horsemen.
9. It’s a good idea to see a dietitian when you start SCD so they can monitor your weight. My doctor was ok with me starting the diet provided I didn’t lose a lot of weight, which I didn’t thankfully! I agreed to see a dietitian every few months for the first year to make sure I was consuming enough calories.
10. The last point but certainly not the least is to eat everything in moderation. In my opinion, balance is the key to success with SCD. If you each too much fruit, too many nuts. too much yoghurt, you won’t do well. Eat a little of everything – except vegetables, you can eat LOTS of vegetables! It’s tempting when you start the diet to overeat the almond flour cookies or delicious fruity smoothies but try your hardest to exercise some self-control. Even now, two years on I won’t consume too many nut products or sugar (albeit natural). If I do overdo a food group, which let’s face it, happens sometimes – I give my body a rest for a few days.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is by no means a quick fix. It requires perseverance, steely determination and a great amount of willpower. I had so many moments of doubt and frustration particularly in the first year and was tempted to give it up many times. What kept me going was reminding myself how far I had come in terms of Crohn’s symptoms, even if the progress was very slow. Don’t expect flares to disappear overnight. Remember, healing is not linear. You may feel like you’ve taken two steps forward then ten steps back at some stages but ANY improvement in your symptoms and overall health should be enough motivation to keep going. When the going gets tough, remind yourself how strong you are. You live with a chronic illness which takes strength and courage. You’ve got this!!!!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and am in no way offering medical advice – just my own story. You should talk to your doctor before making ANY changes to your diet or to medications.