Switching from a regular diet to SCD, paleo, autoimmune paleo (AIP) or any other healing diet is a massive adjustment. Not only is it difficult to give up your favourite foods (or even just the foods that are quick and easy to prepare), but it’s also a huge psychological commitment too. In fact, if you don’t have a very clear goal in sight, it’s going to be almost impossible to stick to it.
Every couple of months, I’m hit by a fresh wave of how difficult this diet is. After 100 days on SCD and just under two months (so far) on AIP, I’m mostly used to it. But every now and then, I snap and I’m like, ‘ARGH! I’m so OVER this diet!’. Like last night when I had an ‘egg meltdown’ in the kitchen, and threw a handful of boiled eggs around like a crazy person when I couldn’t peel them. “I’m SO OVER eating EGGGGGGGS!” I shrieked. “I’m so SICK OF THIS DIET! I want to be NORMAL!!”
But after a couple of minutes I simmered down, pulled myself together, and went right back to eating the way I always do – and quite happily too. It got me thinking about all the difficult things about this diet – but also, the things that make it so very worthwhile too. Here’s my list, bearing in mind that’s it’s completely subjective and based on my own experiences.
- Your belly will feel better. Well, mostly. I still get bloated and uncomfortable from time to time, but I have no cramps or diarrhoea – a mercy! A week ago when I cheated, I was reminded of just why I’m on this incredibly wonderful, belly-loving diet.
- Your skin may improve. Cutting out processed and sugar-laden foods can only be good for you. I’ve noticed that my skin is clearer and smoother, and other people have noticed too. It might also be thanks to the 2 litres of water I drink every day 🙂
- You may lose weight. I lost a couple of kilograms while I was on SCD. They’ve come back due to the fact that I can’t seem to stop eating nuts and nut butters, but SCD is an excellent diet for anyone who has a few kilos to shift. By the same token, these diets can also help you to gain weight if you need to, thanks to the inclusion of healthy fats, eggs, nuts, etc.
- You seldom feel hungry. When I was on SCD, I found that I was eating all the time, not gaining weight (and losing in fact) and never feeling hungry.
- The food can be delicious. This is not a diet of twigs and bits of bark. Sure, there’s no McDonald’s, but if you put a bit of thought and creativity into your cooking – especially when you’re eating paleo and have a bit more dietary freedom – you can create the most delicious meals that don’t taste like there’s anything ‘missing’ at all (and really, there isn’t).
- Your bowel movements may improve. This isn’t a given for everyone, especially those with IBD or other GI disorders. You’ll need to tweak your diet carefully to find the foods that promote good BMs for you, but cutting out the processed, unhealthy crap is an excellent place to start.
- You save money. People often think that SCD or paleo can be more expensive than a regular diet. Admittedly, free range, grass-fed meat is more expensive and things like nuts, seeds and grain-free snacks don’t come cheap. But at the same time, you won’t be wasting money on fast food, cooldrinks, beer, chips, chocolate and any other junk you used to eat. Also, you’ll eat out less. Plus, all that fancy ‘superfood’ you find everywhere? The bars and snacks and ‘chocolates’ and other treats? Ignore them. They’re overpriced and faddish. All you need is good, fresh fruit and vegetables, good quality meat and eggs, and raw seeds and nuts.
- You’ll feel better psychologically. I love knowing that I’m putting good, healing food into my body rather than food that’s further aggravating my damaged gut. Psychologically it’s really good for me, and anything that’s healthy for my mind is healthy for my body!
- Goodbye to (many of) your fave foods. If you, like most people, enjoy a good pizza or pasta, love to tuck into the occasional slice of cheesecake or feel soothed by inhaling three slabs of chocolate when you’re PMSing, this diet is going to be hard. There’s no way around it; there’s no substitute for gluten, dairy, processed sugar or Cadbury’s. Accept it and say goodbye. Pizza, pasta, chocolate and fast food – at least as you know them – are OUT.
- Food boredom. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I don’t really get tired of eating the same old foods for weeks or months on end – well, I rarely do! But for some people, this is a real problem, especially if you’re used to eating a wide range of different food all the time.
- Increased food prep time. On SCD especially, and especially in the early phases, you’ll be putting in hours of prep time each week. I used to spend my Sundays cooking up big batches of food for the week. As you progress on the diet, prep time decreases, and for paleo, you can learn to whip up amazing meals in minutes (especially if it’s steak and wilted spinach!).
- Few ‘on the go’ snacks. On SCD and paleo, you always need to think ahead and carry food with you. There’s no more running into the shop to grab a sandwich or a chocolate. It’s very difficult and sometimes impossible to find SCD legal or paleo sacks at convenience stores, so you’ll need to eat ahead or carry food with you.
- It’s difficult to eat out. Whether at a restaurant or a friend’s house for dinner, dining away from home when you’re eating SCD or paleo is hard. Personally, I hate being the person who asks what’s in every dish, or starts explaining my food intolerances to the waiters. I prefer to take my own food (if I go to friends for a meal) or to ‘pre-eat’ if we go to a restaurant that I know won’t serve SCD or paleo-friendly dishes.
- Bye bye booze. Well, most of it anyway. Only dry wines, vodka and tequila are legal on SCD, and on AIP, it’s wine only (in fact, if you’re strictly SCD, paleo or AIP, you shouldn’t be drinking at all).
- Socialising is harder. It’s only when you start eating strictly that you realise just how much of our daily lives involves food. When I walk around markets, I have foods thrust under my nose to taste, and I find it hard to say no. When I meet new people in a setting where we’ll be eating, I inevitably have to explain my diet to them. At any kind of party, event or work function, you’re the one either not eating or having the host fuss around you, making sure there’s something for you to snack on. I know that for many people this isn’t an issue, but I hate being fussed over!
- It’s almost impossible not to cheat. I’ve cheated a couple of times in the six months I’ve been eating SCD and paleo, and while I feel guilty about it, I realise that it was to be expected. Don’t give yourself permission to cheat – you need to commit to doing this properly – but if it happens unexpectedly, forgive yourself and move on. Strive to have longer and longer periods of clean eating between your cheats, until eventually you stop altogether.
- Your energy levels may drop. Before I started the SCD diet, I used to do Jillian Michaels’ workouts about four times a week. I even had the beginnings of little biceps. After changing my diet, my strength plummeted. I couldn’t lift my dumbbells and I had zero energy for working out. Slowly over the months, my energy and strength have returned, and I’m actually, finally, able to complete a Jillian workout once again. I’ve read that it can take up to a year for your former energy levels to return if you’re on SCD.
- Unpredictable bowel movements. On a diet like SCD or paleo, your bowel movements are most likely going to change, especially in the beginning. For me, it meant long stretches of constipation, strangely coloured excretions (yellowy-orange) and a lot of type 1s on the Bristol Stool Chart. For other people it could mean diarrhoea. It really depends on how your body handles the diet, but definitely expect a change in BMs. Also remember that if the diets don’t work for you, move on. The whole point of SCD and paleo is to try to heal your gut, so if they’re not working, find something else that will.
- Bloating. GAH! My old frenemy. This is one of my biggest problems and the great thing about SCD is that it can help you to figure out what messes with your gut. Thanks to SCD, I realised that the only veg I can eat without bloating is butternut and gem squash! That’s all well and good, but I can’t go the rest of my life without greens. SCD in particular is very heavy on fruit and veg, and this can cause bloating, gas and discomfort. If you’re struggling with this, try limiting the amount of fruit, honey, eggs and nuts in your diet (or eliminate one at a time to try identify the culprit) – or give up the gas-producing veg for a while.
- Samples. If you decide to enlist the help of a nutritionalist, you are going to be asked for blood and stool samples. No, it’s not fun or pleasant, but it’s necessary and yes, they’ve seen it all before!
- YOU! Well, me, at least – I can’t speak for you. On days when I’ve become fed up with the diet, I’ve turned into a deranged and ugly monster, sobbing in frustration or yelling about how restrictive ‘this stupid diet’ is. And, on days when I’ve cheated, I’ve spent more time in the loo than out of it, making life somewhat less fun for K, who shares this tiny flat with me! Food plays such an instrumental role in the way we feel, so it’s only natural that a new diet could cause mood swings and a range of emotions.
For me, despite the drawbacks, the good definitely outweighs the bad (and the ugly). I know my diet still isn’t perfect and my gut is far from healed, but I also know I’m making progress (another great reason to enlist the help of a nutritionalist), and that the way I’m eating can only be benefiting my body.
It’s super hard and frustrating a lot of the time, but there are definitely rewards too. Knowing why you’re following the diet and reminding yourself of your goal every day will help you to stick with it. I don’t want to go back to being sick and chained to my toilet every day. And it’s also nice having my pants feeling looser 🙂 Overall, I’m extremely happy with my new way of eating, even if it’s difficult (and boring) at times. I’ve even stopped feeling jealous of people who indulge in junk food because I know what terrible harm it causes.
If you’re following SCD, paleo or AIP, what are the good, the bad and they ugly for you?