I’ve been thinking a lot about my energy levels on SCD. Obviously during intro, I experienced a major dearth of energy and could easily have spent the three days lying on my couch in a puddle of drool. But now, almost three weeks in, I can’t deny that my energy levels aren’t what they were. Turns out, this is totally normal and to be expected with SCD.
It’s not something I’m actively aware of all the time. I don’t have any trouble (or any more trouble than usual) getting out of bed, and all my daily tasks are carried out just as before. But it’s when I exercise – particularly when I pick up my dumbbells – that I really feel the difference.
During my research, I came across an SCD Wiki (yes, they exist!) called The SCD Athlete. I’m by no means an athlete – I’m just a girl who likes to work out with Jillian Michaels – but that’s exactly the point. If athletes can find sufficient energy resources on SCD to train and compete professionally, then I should definitely be able to.
The one thing that immediately stood out for me was this:
“Give the digestive tract first priority. You will get there. Some will feel their old energy or even more energy as early as in six months. For others, it may take longer, perhaps a year; however, sooner or later, your old zing will return.”
Okay, so I guess 18 days is a bit too soon to be expecting miracles, and I feel reassured by this information. The writer also added, “Elaine counselled that exercise should be limited to walking and to avoid strenuous exercise in the early months.”
Oh. Oops. Well, I am not in an active flare and I feel completely healthy. Moreover, my blood work last week showed zero inflammation, so I’m definitely in remission. BUT if you’re still bleeding, experiencing diarrhoea, anaemia, dehydration – basically, if you’re still in a flare and aren’t feeling 110% fighting fit – cut out the exercise or limit it to gentle walks only. Your number one priority is to heal your gut, and remember that if you exercise too vigorously at this stage, your body will have to use all its resources to heal your muscles, which really deprives your gut of the attention it needs.
So how can you increase your energy levels right now?
Boosting your energy levels naturally starts with knowing exactly which foods we get our energy from – and which we can safely eat on SCD. Who wants to lie around like a listless slug for six months? Not me, that’s for sure. We know that we get our energy from carbs, but that many carbs are not allowed on this diet. After all, it’s not called specific carbohydrate diet for nothing!
Types of carbohydrates
Before SCD, what did you do when you wanted a quick energy boost? You probably reached for a sandwich or heated up some leftover pasta. Most people are used to consuming these complex starchy carbohydrates – the most well-known carbs, which include grains like rice, pasta, flour and bread (most of these are highly refined), certain fruit and veg like bananas, winter squash, carrots, and pumpkin, and legumes, lentils and peanuts.
When we switch to an SCD lifestyle, we cut out the grains and consume only the fruit and veg in this category. We also mainly eat simple carbohydrates, such as honey, fruit and fruit juice. Sugar is also a simple carbohydrate, but it is not advocated on SCD, as it can fuel the growth of bad bacteria and fungi like candida, which is what’s causing serious problems for many of us.
The third group of carbohydrates is complex fibrous carbohydrates, which are extremely healthy and an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients, but can cause a lot of problems for people with digestive diseases. Yup, many of us (myself included) hear sirens anytime the word ‘fibre’ is mentioned.
While fibrous carbs can be added at later stages of the diet, they are not recommended in the beginning due to the difficulty in digesting them, and the fact that they can irritate the gut. It’s also advisable to eat them with caution when you’re in a flare. They include eggplant, artichoke, nuts and nut butters, bran, broccoli and raspberries. On SCD, it’s recommended that you introduce some of these (like nuts and nut butters) only after at least three months on the diet.
5-Minute science class: The chemical structure of carbohydrates
Now, to make matters even more confusing, carbohydrates can also be classified by their chemical structure. Here, I’m going to let the SCDLifestyle.com guys explain:
“The diet’s guidelines are based on the fact that not everyone’s digestive tract has evolved to optimally digest complex carbohydrates and other man-made food products like sugar.
The main principle of the diet is that carbohydrates are classified by their chemical structure; they are monosaccharide, disaccharide, or polysaccharide. On the diet, only monosaccharide carbohydrates are allowed to be eaten, as all others require extra digestion steps to break the chemical bonds down to monosaccharide carbohydrates.”
PHEW! Did you catch all that?
Basically, on SCD, what we’re left with is a diet of some complex carbs, many simple carbs, and legal fibrous carbs to boost our energy levels, all of which are monosaccharides.
So which of the legal carbs should we use to improve our energy levels?
Since carbs are where we get our energy from, any of the legal carbs will give you a boost when you need it. Bananas, honey and fruit are a good bet for a quick yet sustained energy lift. Bananas are especially beneficial before exercising.
Essentially, if you feel that your energy levels are flagging on this diet, try to add as many legal carbohydrates to your diet as you can comfortably manage, as you work through the phases. As with every other type of food, phase them in one at a time.
In an earlier blog post, I mentioned that not everyone does well with fruit. It can cause bloating and discomfort, or even worsen your symptoms. But because everybody’s reactions are different, you might be fine with fruit – but struggle with carrots, for example.
Does your body prefer fruit or veg?
I’ve just discovered SCDKat.com, a great blog all about the author’s experiences on the SCD. She’s a real veteran, having been on the diet since 2008! Kat says that she can’t tolerate carrots and starchy veg, but fares well on fruit and honey. Check out her post about gaining weight and increasing energy on SCD.
What it boils down to is finding the carbs that agree with you, and eating more of them. For me, at the moment, I’m eating lots of starchy veg and bananas, as I’m still in the early phases. I seem to be fine on starchy veg, though bananas sometimes cause bloating.
Of course, try to make your meals as balanced as possible – protein and fat are just as important to healing, although fat is limited in these early stages as it can be hard to digest.
And don’t fret about your energy levels. They WILL return to normal, but you have to give yourself time to heal.