SCD & paleo: The good, the bad and the ugly (an honest post)

large

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.

The good

  • 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!

The bad

  • 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.

The ugly

  • 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.

The verdict

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?

 

Advertisements

What I learnt during 100 days of SCD

l_cd4892d0-57aa-11e1-b50e-9bce11a00003

Now that I’ve reached my personal goal of 100 days on SCD, I thought I’d share my overall thoughts on this diet with all of you who’ve patiently plodded along with me!

First, check out my 90-day SCD post where I reviewed my first three months on this diet – I won’t bore you by repeating myself here.

The 7 greatest benefits of SCD (for me)

1. Reduction in inflammation. Before I started this diet in January, I’d been on Asacol for about 2 months and I still had inflammation. My most recent blood test in March revealed zero inflammation – a first for me in about 18 months. Sure, the Asacol has probably contributed significantly to that, but I have no doubt that diet helped too.

2. Creating a ‘safe’ food zone. For those of us who know that certain foods can send us into a flare (but aren’t always sure which foods they are), SCD creates a priceless safety net. It not only helps you to establish a safe haven of foods that are kind to your gut, but also a way to test, with great accuracy, which foods knock you off balance. And, thanks to our safety net, we’re able to get back on track when we do veer off course.

3. Identifying food intolerances. This is linked to the point above. Over the course of this diet, I’ve learnt that fibrous vegetables simply don’t agree with me, and I need to find a way to incorporate them into my diet in smaller amounts so that I can reap the benefits without the bloating side effects. I’ve learnt that I can’t tolerate large amounts of whole, raw nuts, but that eggs and meat are fine. At any time I can go into the kitchen and cook a meal that won’t leave me bloated, gassy or in pain.

8760d18ed05a4efba1d439066ec64b97cbeff54d3fc1c06a0e4fc400e438137a

4. Kicking my sugar habit. Prior to SCD, I could easily eat a slab (or two) of chocolate in a single sitting. I wish I were exaggerating, but no, I lived for sugar. Rooting it out was easier than I had anticipated, and while I had some cravings in the beginning, they quickly faded and I really don’t miss it. I do however add sweetness with honey.

5. It’s taught me to understand what I’m putting into my body. I always considered myself a fairly nutrition-savvy person, au fait with food labels, kilojoules, ingredients and so on. But it’s only since embarking on SCD that I’ve realised just how damaging processed and packaged foods can be, and I take extra care to put pure, natural ingredients into my body.

6. My skin improved. Multiple people commented on my skin looking clearer and ‘better’. This might also have something to do with the 2 litres of water I’m forcing myself to drink every day!

7. It taught me that there’s more to life than food. Sounds ironic, considering that during SCD, 90% of my time was spent thinking about food, preparing food or eating food. But actually, the diet taught me that it’s possible to go to a social gathering and gave a good time even when you’re not stuffing your face with canapes and cake. That was a true revelation for me – the person who has always asked, “Will there be food?”

540284_403488573018789_298042050230109_1256022_456012833_n

Drawbacks of SCD

1. Completely unpredictable BMs. I kept a food diary throughout this diet, and yet I still struggle to see a pattern. For the first few weeks, I was completely constipated, and after that, my BMs were yellow! (probably all that carrot and butternut – after all, this is like a baby’s diet, so I guess it makes sense!).

Sometimes, I’d go for a week with the most amazing, predictable, satisfactory BMs – twice a day, well formed and complete. Other times, I’d go for days with nary a peep. And other times still, I’d have diarrhoea – but that was usually the result of something I’d eaten and cleared up within a few hours or over night. Even now, I’ve had a good three or four days, followed by a couple of days of serious constipation, and I have no idea why. I haven’t changed anything obvious in my diet, not even since reaching the 100-day mark. I can however tell you that pure, freshly squeezed apple juice seems to be great for alleviating constipation.

2. Lots of gas. I think this is due to my intolerance to so many types of vegetables, and my tendency to overdo it when I eat them. I suspect the gassiness will improve when I change the way I consume vegetables.

3. It’s difficult to maintain a social life. But not impossible. In the early phases, when I was eating such a limited variety of food and not consuming alcohol, it sucked to go out with friends and order a glass of water and no food. And yes, I’ve also packed my own food for social gatherings – trust me, nobody cares, so don’t be self conscious. As I progressed on SCD, I was able to enjoy one or two SCD-legal restaurant meals, but I didn’t actually mind cutting back on eating out – it saved a ton of money!

4. Lots of prep. I needed to put several hours aside each week for shopping and cooking. Especially at the beginning, it was really labour-intensive, with veggies that needed to be peeled, deseeded and cooked until well dead. I usually did my cooking on a Sunday and made enough for the whole week. Also, if the rest of your household isn’t eating SCD, you may find yourself cooking two different meals every night.

5. Always having to think ahead. Because you can’t just go out and grab some food when you get hungry on SCD, you need to plan ahead and always ensure that you either pre-eat (as I call it) before you go out, take food with you, or carry some bananas in your bag.

6. I had less energy than before. I only really noticed this when I worked out – but then I really noticed it, and it’s been difficult to come to terms with my weaker body. Apparently normal energy levels do return within 6 to 12 months.

I’m struggling to think of other drawbacks so I’m going to stop here. Obviously SCD is not an easy diet to do, otherwise everyone would be doing it and you wouldn’t need me to be sitting here telling you what to expect 🙂 For me, it’s definitely had its ups and downs, with BMs being one of the most frustrating factors, and eating clean (and feeling clean on the inside) being one of the highlights.

As I’ve said before, I’ll be transitioning to a more paleo diet once I return from my trip in Mid-may (I can’t get too hung up on diet while I’m in Kuala Lumpur and Bali, BUT I always eat fairly clean and healthily when I’m in the east). The next part of my diet exploration will definitely be targeting the bugbears of SCD and reducing the bloating and gas. Oh, and I’ve had NO bloody stools this entire time!

If you have any specific questions about anything I haven’t covered, please ask! I’m sure I’ve forgotten something important… 🙂

PS: Yes, I cheated – once, at around day 85 or 86. I had two sugary cocktails and a few handfuls of deep-fried onion. I was filled with remorse and vowed never to do it again. I got back on track immediately and have behaved myself ever since!

This is not a cheat day. This is a cheat *year* and you are not allowed

This is not a cheat day. This is a cheat *year* and you are not allowed

Day 14: Something unexpected

Last night I went with my mom and her cousin to the theatre. Pre-show, while enjoying some drinks (and sparkling water for me), the two of them were discussing their skin – I guess as older people do. Suddenly her cousin said, “Debby, you have lovely skin.”

No one has ever said that to me about my face. I had relatively tenacious acne as a teenager and battled with pimples for years – and the resultant scars. I use foundation every day and am very aware of small pock marks and imperfections. But the compliment (from a woman in her 60s) seemed completely genuine. But perhaps just a flook.

Then today, while out shopping with my sister, she turns to me and says, “Your skin looks amazing.” If there’s one thing I know about my sister, it’s that I can trust her implicitly. She’s a straight-talker and always tells it like it is. Plus, the comment was not made in context of any conversation we were having – it really was just a throw-away.

Oh you know, me on an average day

Oh you know, me on an average day

What conclusion can I draw? Well, the only thing I’ve changed lately in my life is my diet. And while it’s undeniably limited, it is extremely healthy. I’m taking more vitamins and I’m eating good quality food that is carefully prepared. Most importantly, it’s helping to heal my gut and, no doubt, flush out my system. Oh, and I drink tons of water each day.

Could SCD really be helping to improve my skin? Just maybe…

Quick note about sparkling water

Water is the only thing I’m drinking at the moment, and it can get a little a LOT monotonous. When I want to ‘treat’ myself, I have sparkling water. But I must say that I am convinced it makes me bloated, so I’d suggest that you test it, just like you test anything else, to find out whether it has the same reaction for you.

We all know what happens when these bubbles hit a belly with the tendency to bloat...

We all know what happens when these bubbles hit a belly with the tendency to bloat…

Testing, testing… come in, Butternut

So today was butternut day. I totally overcooked them (turns out small butternuts can be cooked sufficiently for the SCD over high heat for about an hour, but obviously it will vary based on the size of the butternut). When I took them off the heat, they totally feel apart, rendering it extremely difficult to de-seed and peel them. I had a mini-meltdown in the kitchen, borne of total frustration. It was a complete overreaction brought on my 2 weeks of nothing but eggs, carrots, bananas, meat and more bananas.

K immediately dashed off to the shop and returned with two whole butternuts of different sizes, a bag of pre-chopped butternut (“to make it easier for you”) and a bag of butternut ‘chips’ – raw butternut chopped like fries (“so that when I have chips, you can too”). It was the sweetest thing she could have done – AND on top of me acting like a total loon over a couple of spilt butternuts.

Pretty much how today's butternut experience felt

Pretty much how today’s butternut experience felt

This is why I say that EVERYONE doing the SCD needs to have someone supporting them – even if they’re a phone call away. Your person doesn’t have to run out to the shop every time you overcook a vegetable, but they do need to be understanding, and willing to lend a supportive ear when you need it. There are going to be days when you are sad, frustrated, angry or disappointed – it’s the nature of the diet.

Do you feel like this too?

Some days, like today, I feel like I’ll never get to enjoy food again. Last night I threw most of my dinner away because I just couldn’t stomach the taste of plain chicken any more. Plus today, I’ve been bloated and constipated – the type of constipation when you go but never feel like you’re completely ’empty’ – and I’ve been gassy. It makes me want to throw in the towel because, for fuck’s sake, the reason I’m suffering through bland food and water for dinner when I go to a restaurant is to prevent these symptoms.

... or HELL?

… or HELL?

But when I stop, breathe, and consider why I might be experiencing these symptoms, it’s clear: The bloating is probably thanks to the litre of  sparkling water I drank today. And the constipation is a known side effect in the earlier stages of the diet. I bought some magnesium tablets today so I’ll start taking those (take them with meals) and adding butternut will probably help too.

While researching this post, I came across a blog called eatingscd.com. I’ve bookmarked some pages because I’ll certainly be sharing them with you in the future. For now, though, this is the one sentiment that really stood out. It was from an article that gives tips to new SCDers (give it a read).

Be patient – it took a long time to get sick and you will not get completely well quickly. 

Patience is key on this diet. I’m an extremely IMpatient person, which makes it an even greater challenge. But I’m FOURTEEN days in. Two weeks! That’s pretty good going and things are only going to get better after this (phase two has tomatoes and avocado!).

Keep at it, guys, keep at it. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be worth it. And you know what? Even if it isn’t the right diet for you, at least you’ll prove to yourself that you can commit to something challenging, if only for 90 days.