If you suffer from irritable bowel disease or any other ailment related to the digestive tract and have spent time researching alternative treatments to help alleviate and prevent symptoms and flare-ups, you’ve probably heard of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD).
We were first introduced to The SCD Diet after my husband’s ulcerative colitis diagnosis 10 years ago, and while we were skeptical at first, none of the other things we were trying were working. He was in constant pain and willing to do anything at that point, and after tons of research, we decided to give it a go. It was a steep learning curve with many challenges along the way, but it was worth it. The SCD Diet has been life-changing for us, and I’m excited to share some of the tips and hacks that have helped us remain motivated and committed.
What Is the SCD Diet?
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet was developed by Elaine Gottschall – whose own daughter was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis at the age of 4 – and has helped people all over the world manage the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, celiac, diverticulitis, autism, cystic fibrosis, and other ailments rooted in the digestive tract.
The SCD Diet allows specific foods based on their chemical structure. It limits the use of complex carbohydrates (disaccharides and polysaccharides) and focuses primarily on monosaccharides. Foods that are not properly digested, such as grains, sugars, starches, and processed foods, are banned on the SCD Diet as they cause bacterial and yeast overgrowth, irritation of the small intestine, and challenges with food absorption. The SCD Diet is designed to restore gut flora and stop the vicious cycle of bacteria and yeast overgrowth by eliminating the foods they feed on, thereby allowing the intestinal tract to repair and heal.
You can find an extensive list of the foods that are and are not allowed on the SCD Diet HERE, and I urge you to read Elaine’s book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle, in its entirety as she does such a great job of describing the role diet plays in the treatment of the disorders listed above. If you decide to give her approach a try, there are heaps of great SCD-friendly cookbooks you can purchase. Cooking for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Erica Kerwien and Recipes for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Raman Prasad are two of our favorites!
Does the SCD Diet Work?
In our experience, yes, but I say this with caution.
While my husband and many others have benefitted greatly from the SCD Diet, it’s important to note that it isn’t intended to replace medical treatment. We use the SCD Diet to keep my husband’s UC symptoms under control, and while we feel strongly that diet plays a huge role in irritable bowel disease, we know firsthand that dietary changes aren’t always enough. Medication is often necessary to get symptoms under control and prevent future flares.
The SCD Diet is also very restrictive and can deprive your body of essential nutrients and minerals. Many dieticians and nutritionists are well-versed in the SCD Diet and can work closely with you to ensure you are supplementing your diet appropriately.
The SCD Diet for Beginners: 8 Tips to Get Started
1) Read Breaking the Vicious Cycle. If you’re considering trying the SCD Diet to help manage symptoms of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, celiac, diverticulitis, autism, cystic fibrosis, or other ailments rooted in the digestive tract, the first thing you should do is order yourself a copy of Elaine Gottschall’s book and read it from cover to cover. As tempting as it is to flip ahead to the Intro Diet and jump in at full force, educating yourself about the science behind the diet will help you understand Elaine’s approach and why it works, which will (hopefully) make you more motivated and committed.
2) Find your motivation. I know this may sound silly, but take the time to write down all the reasons you want to try the SCD Diet, such as reducing pain, alleviating the symptoms of your disease, improving the quality of your life, and allowing you to enjoy things with your friends and family. Clearly articulating your WHY will give you the motivation not just to get started, but to keep going.
3) Talk to your doctor. Not all health professionals are well-versed in the SCD Diet, and many refuse to believe there is a link between diet and conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, but you still need to be transparent with your doctor if you intend to try the SCD Diet. As mentioned previously, the SCD Diet is very restrictive and can deprive your body of essential nutrients and minerals, so you want to be sure you’re working with someone who can advise you on how to appropriately supplement your diet.
4) Clear your schedule. Once you’ve made the commitment to try the SCD Diet, you will probably want to dig right in, but I suggest waiting until you have a couple of days where you can fully commit. Instead of starting on a Wednesday evening after work when you’re already tired and overwhelmed, use that time to research and prepare, and make a commitment to start first thing Saturday morning when you have the time, energy, and mental clarity.
5) Invest in the necessary tools and equipment. When we first began the SCD Diet, we did not have the right kitchen tools and improvised for several months before investing in the things we needed. If I could go back in time, I would’ve purchased all of those items right at the get-go as they ended up saving us HEAPS of time and made it easier to experiment with different recipes. Here are the items we found most useful during the Intro Diet:
- Yogurt maker. SCD yogurt is one of the most important parts of the Intro Diet as it helps bring the overgrowth of bad bacteria under control, and since lots of SCD recipes use yogurt, you’ll use it often. I made yogurt the old school way, which was really tedious (and it didn’t taste great). Investing in a yogurt maker was life-changing! The only catch? You have to use a yogurt maker that has a 24-hour timer (and not many of them do). The Luvele Pure Plus Yogurt Maker is a great investment.
- Stock pot. You’ll be making chicken soup during the Intro Diet, as well as when you’re experiencing a flare. A stock pot will allow you to make a huge batch, which is great as you can freeze some to ensure you have soup on hand when you need it most. If you’re looking for something cheap and cheery, this stock post is a great option.
- Food processor and hand mixer. Hamilton Beach sells an inexpensive food processor and hand mixer, both of which will come in handy.
You may also consider a crockpot and blender down the road, but the 3 items above are the ones I feel are most essential during the beginning stages of the SCD Diet.
6) Find a retailer that sells the ingredients you need. Before you get started with the SCD Diet, take the time to review the recipes and foods allowed during the Intro Diet and find retailers in your area that stock the items you need. I had the most difficulty finding SCD compliant yogurt starter and dry curd cottage cheese, both of which were staples during those first few months! Once I found retailers that stocked them, I made sure to buy in bulk so we never ran out.
7) Start a food/symptom journal. I know it sounds tedious and time-consuming, but keeping a food journal in which you document everything you eat as well as your symptoms will make a world of difference. This will give you a basis from which to measure your progress, and it will also help you evaluate how you react to foods as you re-introduce them into your diet. It can also be helpful (and reassuring) to go back through your notes if you have a flare to remind yourself what did and did not work and remind yourself that things will get better.
8) Print out a copy of the legal/illegal foods. You will reference this A LOT, and having a copy on hand at all times can be extremely helpful.
The SCD Diet for Beginners: 8 Tips to Stay Motivated
1) Educate your friends and family. If you’re looking for tips to help you stay motivated with the SCD Diet long-term, one of my best pieces of advice is to own it and educate your family, friends, and coworkers. The symptoms of irritable bowel disease can be embarrassing, and while you may be inclined to suffer in silence, this doesn’t allow the ones you love to help and support you. Being open and honest and educating the ones you love about the SCD Diet and why you’ve committed to it will make your life so much easier! It will take the stress out of social situations that involve food, and rather than missing out on important events, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how accommodating others will be.
2) Find a support group. While family and friends can be very supportive, it’s difficult for them to truly understand what you’re going through unless they’ve been through it themselves. There are tons of great resources online – Facebook support groups, forums, etc. – where you can connect with others and read about their experiences, which will help you feel less alone.
3) Refer to your food/symptom journal. On the days you feel like giving up, spend some time reading over your food/symptom journal to remind yourself why you started, and how far you’ve come.
4) Don’t go off plan. It can be difficult to stick with the SCD Diet long-term, especially during holidays and vacations, but a wise person once reminded me that, ‘if you want to see big results, you need to be willing to do big things.’ Take the time to plan ahead for the times you know it will be difficult to stay on track and remember why you started so you aren’t tempted.
5) Introduce new foods gradually. Once you’re past the Intro Diet and your symptoms have subsided and you’re ready to introduce additional foods, remember to take it slow. Only introduce one new food at a time, pay attention to how your body responds, and make notes in your food/symptom journal. The trouble with introducing multiple foods at one time is that there’s a higher degree of probability you’ll have a reaction, and it will be impossible to confirm which food(s) caused your symptoms to return.
6) Invest in SCD cookbooks. While the Intro Diet is boring and restrictive, there are heaps of great SCD-friendly cookbooks you can purchase. Cooking for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Erica Kerwien and Recipes for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Raman Prasad are two of our favorites, and there are tons of great recipes you can find online.
7) Designate days/times for meal prep. Setting aside a few hours a couple of times a week to plan your meals and snacks, create shopping lists, and cook in bulk can go a long way in reducing overwhelm and help you stick to the SCD Diet long-term. Here are some of our favorite meal prep hacks to help you save time (and money)!
8) Remember: each meal is a chance to start again. As with any healthy eating plan, there will be times when temptation gets the best of you and you make poor eating choices. Of course, the stakes are a lot higher if you’re on the SCD Diet to help manage the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, celiac, diverticulitis, etc., but if and when you get off plan, remind yourself that you are in control and have the power to pick up where you left off at your next meal.
If you’re thinking of starting the SCD Diet, I hope these tips and hacks help make the process easier for you. Remember to do your research, invest in the right tools, and start at a time you know you can fully commit, and take the time to educate family and friends so they can offer help and support. And when you feel like giving up, remember why you started!