When it comes to healing diets, there are a number of popular options that have proved effective for people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or various digestive complaints. If you’re looking to help heal your gut through diet, it’s a great idea to pick one of these tried-and-tested options – but which one?
Here’s a (very high-level) run-down of each of the main healing diets to help you decide. Bear in mind that, just like medication, different diets work for different people, and you’ll have to try them yourself to discover which one works best for you. Also remember that you’ll need to tweak and ‘engineer’ whichever diet you end up selecting – that means adding, removing or limiting things based on your own unique set of food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies. Each of these diets provides a great path towards health – you just need to pinpoint your exact route!
SCD – specific carbohydrate diet (long-term/indefinite)
I started this blog to document my 100 days on SCD – a diet aimed at helping to heal IBD and other GI complaints by removing grains, starches, processed sugar and processed food from the diet – food that are known to irritate the gut and promote inflammation. Many people claim to be medication-free and in remission thanks to SCD, which is why I initially attempted it. It works in phases: You start by removing virtually everything from your diet except for eggs, meat and carrots, and gradually re-introduce foods slowly, week by week, month by month, until you know what your body can and can’t handle. It is an extremely slow process that gives your gut a chance to heal and recover from months or years of damage. SCD offers amazing results for some people and ‘meh’ results for others – simply proving that every ‘body’ is different and requires different approaches.
SCD wasn’t the perfect solution for me, but I’m very glad I did it, if only for 100 days. Here’s a summary of my experience on the SCD diet. You can visit the SCDLifestyle.com site for loads of info about the diet, or view the stages of the SCD diet here.
Paleo wasn’t intended to be healing diet per se, but many IBD sufferers have adopted it due to the fact that it cuts out many foods known to cause inflammation and aggravate the gut. Like SCD, paleo focuses on ‘clean’ eating that is free of refined/processed foods, sugar and grains, but unlike SCD, it also prohibits dairy and, depending on how strictly you follow it, honey. Like SCD, the paleo diet consists mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, unprocessed/organic meat and eggs, as healthy oils. Unlike SCD, you don’t have to take a phased approach to the diet, which has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you can enjoy all these foods right from the get-go, but the disadvantage is that if certain foods on the paleo ‘legal’ list are causing you gastric distress, you won’t know which ones they are due to the fact that you aren’t testing them individually.
Paleo has gained massive popularity around the world in recent years, because more and more people are wanting to remove unhealthy processed foods from their diets. This also means that more restaurants and grocery shops are catering to this diet and it’s easier to change to a paleo lifestyle.
AIP – Autoimmune Paleo diet/protocol (short-term/indefinite)
AIP is a healing diet aimed at restoring the gut and immune system. It’s based on the same principles of the paleo diet, but it has the added bonus of having many of the problematic foods removed, as well as the opportunity to test these foods and either reintroduce them slowly or cut them out altogether if your body doesn’t like them.
AIP is not intended to be a lifelong diet. It’s recommended that you follow it for a maximum of 60 to 90 days to help repair intestinal damage, which should theoretically give your body enough time to recover sufficiently for you to progress to a paleo diet. Things that aren’t allowed (particularly at first) include nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, many spices, dairy, eggs and various other foods.
I have followed the AIP protocol and I can tell you that it is very, very hard, but worth the effort. Knowing that it’s only temporary does make it easier, and from my experience, I do believe that it can be effective in the healing process. Here is a full list of foods you can and can’t eat during AIP. You can also take a phased approach to reintroducing them to see what your body can and can’t tolerate.
GAPS – Gut And Psychology Syndrome diet (long-term/indefinite)
GAPS isn’t as well known as SCD but its principles are similar, in that the underlying belief is that diet can aid in not only digestive disorders, but conditions like autism too. The foods consumed are almost the same as on SCD, but often dairy is excluded. It also takes a phased approach by removing and then reintroducing foods, and it is recommended that you follow it for at least two years, if not longer. Read more about GAPS here.
FODMAPS – Fermentable Oligo, Di, and Mono-saccharides And Polyols (long-term/indefinite)
This is another healing diet that you’ve probably come across during your research, but it’s less well-known than SCD or paleo. It’s also been designed to help relieve chronic digestive complaints, and many people swear by its effectiveness (I’ve never tried it). As with the other diets, it’s worth researching it and reading about the experience of others to figure out whether it might help you too. Get an overview of FODMAPs here.
A lot of people don’t have a digestive disease but do suffer from food intolerances – the most common of which include dairy, wheat, gluten and/or eggs. I am lactose intolerant and after discovering this fact, the only thing I removed from my diet was, obviously, dairy. I only later discovered that I had ulcerative colitis and that led me to change lots of other things too.
If you don’t have IBD or a digestive disorder, it might not be necessary for you to follow a healing diet, but simply to remove allergens/irritants from your diet. I have friends who, based on their intolerances, have removed those foods from their diets without actually following a specific eating plan. They’ve found a way of eating that works for them, and that’s great! They don’t need to follow an actual healing diet. If you don’t have IBD but suffer from something like IBS, for example, it’s well worth having yourself checked for common food intolerances. You might find that removing just one thing from your diet – like dairy for me, or wheat or eggs – might be a big part of the solution.
‘Rice’/‘White food’ diet (temporary)
This goes against every other diet I’ve covered above and it’s not even a ‘real’ diet. Plus, it’s also meant to be very, very temporary! Basically, this is my flair diet. When I’m flaring (which hasn’t happened in a year!), the only foods that seem to agree with me are white rice (with a bit of lemon juice), white bread, white pasta – all that icky refined stuff that I usually avoid. Plus starchier, low fibre veg like peas and carrots (cooked).
It’s well documented (maybe not scientifically, but certainly among sufferers!) that highly refined starches can actually help soothe aggravated GI tracts. That said, it should only be temporary solution because you can’t live on white rice, pasta and bread! I remember going through a phase some years ago when that’s exactly what I did – and I thought it was okay; that my body just ‘preferred’ these foods. It should in fact have been a HUGE red flag. If you have chronic diarrhoea and bleeding, white foods are NOT the solution. Get to a doctor!
That said, if you’re flaring, white rice and pasta can be very soothing, so if you can’t keep anything down/in, give it a bash. It works for me.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the healing diets out there, and as I mentioned at the beginning, any of these (or others that you choose) should be altered and tweaked over time to suit your body’s specific needs and sensitivities.
Please feel free to share your healing diet experiences, tips or advice in the comments 🙂