Adopting the Specific Carbohydate Diet (SCD) can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, with the explosion of grain-free and gluten-free diets and lifestyles gaining popularity and media exposure, SCD doesn’t seem so foreign and unattainable.
But making the change can still seem daunting at first, especially when one is ill. Some links I often share with readers starting out is this one from the Breaking the Vicious Cycle website, this one, and this one. Even more valuable is a health professional with first-hand experience on how to start SCD. I’d like to introduce you to Julia Tinkham-Ray.
Julia is an occupational therapist who has a passion for helping others with digestive ailments. She focuses on therapy for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which was inspired by her determination to control her Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and her son’s Crohn’s disease. After many unsuccessful attempts to control her son’s disease with a variety of conventional medications, she turned to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). You can read the full story of Julia and her son Lauchlan’s battle with IBD here.
Since Julia has successfully used the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to control her disease and assisted many others in doing so, I’ve asked her a few questions about how to start SCD. She also shared one of her favorite recipes with us at the end!
What would you suggest to someone starting on SCD for the first time?
My suggestions for those just beginning to navigate SCD involve being prepared to run the marathon, versus participating in the short race. If you really want your health back in your control, my suggestions are as follows:
1. BE MENTALLY PREPARED
- Write a short-term (3 mos) and long-term (8-12 mos) goal and keep goals visible
- Begin SCD only after reading Gottschall’s BTVC book – twice!
- Commit “fanatically” to a new habit of eating to live; inflammation does not decrease with a 95% commitment. There will be more freedom with diet after establishing what foods cause reactions and what foods can be safely eaten.
- Focus on today; no need to worry about tomorrow until tomorrow
- Stay in the positive; know that what you eat does matter when it comes to digestion and the health of your colon.
2. BE PHYSICALLY PREPARED
- Have a variety of all intro foods prepared ahead of start date; some frozen
- Complete a food & symptom journal DAILY to monitor reactions and small progress. List Mood, Body Symptoms (headaches, brain fog, joint pain, etc.), BMs (# per day, Bristol Stool Rating, and other related symptoms like gas, cramping, mucus, etc.). Review your journal often for patterns that may reveal reasons for reactions.
- Eat variety of allowable food often to stay nourished, maintain stamina, and weight
- Get your magic number of sleep hours at all costs.
- Ask for support; changing habits takes discipline, energy, perseverance, and, TIME.
Can you suggest some good resources for starting out?
- Print out the SCD Legal/Illegal Food List and 5 Stages of SCD from Pecanbread.com.
- Join an SCD Support Group or partner with someone who is successfully following SCD.
- Join the BTVC-SCD on-line Yahoo group.
- Make a journal template to complete daily (print Bristol Stool Chart for BM reference).
- Get a knowledgeable ND on your team for support with adrenals, parasites, SIBO, etc.
For a better chance of success, keep things very simple the first 6-8 months and, overall, remember the science behind SCD and why you’ve committed to making dynamic dietary changes. SCD…
- eliminates food that feeds overgrowth of bacteria that damages intestinal lining
- creates a nourishing, basic safe food list you can return to during symptoms or flare
- builds healthy eating habits and re-establishes balanced gut flora to eliminate symptoms, begin healing the colon, and, maintain remission for self-management of a chronic illness
In your experience, is it possible to hop on and off SCD only when symptoms arise, or is SCD a life-long “lifestyle”?
As we know, IBD is a chronic autoimmune disease for which there is no cure. Most of the pharmaceuticals produced to manage symptoms and inflammation often have more damaging short and long-term side effects than the disease itself. Keeping this in mind, I am now eating to live, versus in the past when I lived to eat.
I am so grateful that I can manage a disease with food alone that once sucked the personality and life from my son and slammed me in the hospital for a month. How crazy is that? So simple, yet so challenging! A magic drug available to us all, yet so many of us don’t want to compromise our lifestyle to be healthy. It’s only human to give into the abundant, immediately gratifying, and crave-inducing lifestyle that is so readily available to many of us via fast and highly processed food. But given a choice, I chose health, and to maintain it, I am in it for the long run. SCD is not a brief diet to eliminate symptoms. SCD is a slow food, lifestyle choice to manage a chronic illness. I know of no one personally, or through people I follow virtually, that can “hop on and off SCD” and maintain remission from their disease.
It seems like a cruel twist for you to be diagnosed with UC after spending so much effort on your son’s health challenges with Crohn’s. Do you have any insight into how this happened or why?
The mind-gut connection is far more powerful than most of us give thought or credit. Stress is a strong force to be reckoned with! I believe that our bodies are all genetically predisposed to some weakness, and the immune system can only withstand so much before giving into genetics.
Ever notice that you get ill during your break, the weekend, or on vacation and not during your stressful event? My immune system carried me through several years of very stressful times navigating doctors, specialists, drugs, tests, etc., in an effort to get my son back on his feet and into life again. Despite eating 95% SCD and exercising, the long hours I spent at work and outside of work researching and cooking for my son’s illness caught up with me. Once I took a breath and it looked like I had him on a healthy road, my immune system hit me in the Achilles ankle of my genetic tree – IBD.
My parents and 5 siblings have all lived very healthy lives, but my father was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 89. Others may be predisposed to cancer or other autoimmune diseases given their family genetics. Our family’s weakness is our digestive tract. During those stressful years of abusing my immune system, I gave it the advantage over my health. Cruel twist? No. I feel very lucky to have successfully navigated my son’s path so that my own journey was lightened. All things for a reason.
It’s always great to hear first-hand how people are successfully managing digestive issues with nutrition and healthy living. Can you share your top tips for keeping yourself healthy and flare-free?
My top tips for staying healthy and flare-free are:
1. Prioritize an SCD Lifestyle – What those who have not navigated SCD successfully may not realize, is that SCD is the vehicle to health and my reason for continued success in self-managing symptoms and preventing flares. Given the totality of that statement, I must say that we cannot expect this journey to be quick and easy. By thoughtfully and patiently adding one food/ingredient every 4th day to my dietary regimen through the 5 Stages of SCD, I learned that garlic can cause me to be flu-ishly ill, avocado will cause anal fissures if I eat enough, cheese causes brain fog and makes words disappear from my memory before I can speak them, and peanut butter and several other nuts bring on painful arthritic symptoms in my thumbs and joints. Things that help me day-to-day are:
- Having an SCD equivalent food that satisfies cravings readily available
- Keeping a variety of favorite SCD food available to avoid temptations
- Removing any legal/non-legal SCD foods that you can’t resist from home
- If symptoms arise, I revert back to intro diet or basic safe foods until symptoms calm
2. Supplements – I take good quality supplements to support my immune system. I have labs drawn approximately every 6 months to make sure my levels of D, Ferritin, B12, hormones, etc., are where they should be as well as to monitor inflammation markers like Sed Rate and CRP (blood tests) and/or Lactoferrin and Calprotectin (stool tests). My son also does this as well as checking cortisol levels and/or adrenal function, but more often (every 3 months) since his college life is stressful.
3. Prioritize sleep – my magic sleep number is 9-10 hours. I do what I can to get the most.
4. De-stress – This means exercising 3-5 times/week for me. Running, Yoga, Weights, etc. Knowing what keeps me on track and healthy along with diet is essential.
What are your favorite foods and do you have a favorite recipe?
Before my diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis, I loved food so much, that I exercised so I could eat. Now eating a strict SCDiet, (I am highly sensitive to eggs, dairy, cow/goat SCD yogurt, most nuts, avocado, garlic, beef, and more), I still love my food and have found that I enjoy what I eat, but I am not a slave to my cravings. I have created some staples for myself without eggs and almond flour that satisfy my sweet tooth and many favorite recipes that I make for my family. One of our favorites is BBQ Ribs. I hope you like it too.
Simply the BEST BBQ RIBS
Rub Ingredients ESSENTIALS
8 Tbls Paprika 2 to 3 racks Baby Back Ribs
3 Tbls Cayenne *Favorite BBQ Sauce
5 Tbls freshly ground Black Pepper -11 ozs + more to serve
6 ½ Tbls Salt
2 tsp Celery Salt
2 ½ Tbls dried Oregano
2 ½ Tbls dried Thyme
Combine above rub ingredients in small bowl (you will have extra – easily enough for another rib dinner or more, depending on how thick you like your rub – I sprinkle enough to coat all meat well)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
-line large rimmed baking sheet with enough aluminum foil to cover the pan and fold over the ribs and seal for cooking
-sprinkle rub on boney side of ribs, then lay rib racks meaty side up on rimmed baking sheet; Sprinkle rub evenly on meaty side of ribs
-fold the extra aluminum foil over the ribs and seal on all sides
-place in preheated oven, undisturbed, for 3 to 3 ½ hours, or until meat is very tender and appears to be ready to fall off the bone
-remove from oven and peel back foil to expose ribs
-carefully cut ribs about every 4th rib, and with tongs, turn boney side up
-brush boney side lightly with *favorite BBQ Sauce,
-turn carefully to meaty side up, brushing more heavily with BBQ Sauce
-return ribs to oven uncovered for 20 minutes
-remove and cool slightly before cutting to serve
*For those following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) or avoiding sugars, grains, starches, and lactose…try www.Digestivewellness.com for a fantastic, healthy, BBQ Sauce OR use your home made sauce.
Specific Choices, LLC
Julia Tinkham-Ray, OTR/L 2012