Taking Control of my Health: Paleo, Specific Carbohydrate Diet and Next Steps

As you may have heard/seen on my Instagram, I've made quite a change in my eating in order to help heal my gut (aka the Specific Carbohydrate Diet). After some testing, the doctor believes I have a mild case of Crohn's Disease due to inflammation and ulcers in my intestines (we will know for sure in a week or so). Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. As overwhelming as this all is, and a little scary, it feels so good to finally be getting some answers. I've also started seeing a naturopathic doctor and am on the search for a holistic nutritionist by my school. I finally feel like I'm actually taking steps towards feeling better and that makes me unbelievably happy.

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(my meals have been looking a lot like this lately - lots of greens, roasted veggies and poultry or seafood! Never gets old.)

Because I believe food is medicine, I'm hoping to treat these issues mainly through a change in my diet. After a lot of research (and help from my parents), I've decided to start following "SCD" (the specific carbohydrate diet). It's like paleo in the sense that it is a grain-free diet, but there are differences. Essentially, there are foods that are “legal” or “illegal” (I LOL at this wording that many of the lists use) based on the chemical structure of those foods. It’s called “specific carbohydrate” diet because only monosaccharides are “allowed” because they’re more easily absorbed in the intestine. Disaccharides and Polysaccharides can cause problems for individuals with inflammatory issues because they are harder to digest. Because they’re harder to digest they can sit and ferment in our digestive tract, feeding the bad bacteria in our gut, leading to more inflammation. It's been scientifically shown to help individuals with Crohn's disease or other inflammatory issues, so I'm very very hopeful.

I'm feeling so excited and confident that this may truly help after trying it out this past week. I've definitely noticed less bloating, less stomach pain and less "fog-brain." Every day still isn't totally pain free, but I can tell the difference so far and I'm so thankful for that!

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I will note that I’m not following the entire process of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Technically individuals on SCD are supposed to start on an “intro diet” that consists of not much more than eggs and some cuts of meat for about 5 days. For me, I know that wouldn’t make me feel good and I would probably drop too much weight with my running if I couldn’t eat anything else. SO, I know it wouldn’t be a good call.

At first I freaked out about that a little because I wanted to make sure I was doing everything “right,” but I realized there isn’t always a right or wrong, especially not when it comes to your individual health (This is just a quick reminder to do what’s best for YOU). I know my body best and simply following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet illegal/legal food-list and switching to a paleo diet has already seemed to help and I’m excited to see how it continues to make me feel. I’m also hoping when I see a holistic nutritionist near school they will be able to help facilitate me a bit more, helping me know when to add certain foods in, when to wait on others, etc.

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(one of my recent creations - paleo, scd-friendly zucchini waffles! Head over to my Instagram to see the recipe)

So, what CAN I eat/not eat?

Okay, so onto what this way of eating (I hate the word “diet”) entails… If you click here you can see a more complete legal/illegal list (it seems like it needs to be updated so I've definitely had to search around for certain foods like acai to figure out if they're "allowed"), but I’ll give you an idea - no grains, no potatoes, no canned foods, no natural flavors, no added gums or thickeners, no chickpeas, no sweeteners (stevia, sugar, maple syrup, agave... only honey is "ok"), no corn (or corn products), no soy/dairy/gluten (which isn't an issue since I already don't eat them), no chocolate, no processed meats... you get the idea.

And I know what you're probably thinking - wow Nat. That's a lot of "no"s. And honestly at first I thought that too. The extensive list of everything I can't eat scared me, but then I changed my mindset. I realized that, yes I'm going to have to rethink a lot of my meals, get creative in the kitchen and make almost everything from scratch, but that's part of the journey. And that's what this truly is for me a - a journey. A journey to feel my best, a journey to heal my gut, a journey to once and for all discover what foods make me feel good, a journey to find the foods that make me run my best (literally) and a journey to get my life back that I feel was always being taken away from me by feeling sick every day.

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I did my first Specific Carbohydrate Diet friendly meal prep last week and DANG. I don't think I left my kitchen for a straight 24 hours. I was like a little tornado in there. But it was so. much. FUN! I took something that could be seen as a huge burden and instead used it to fuel my passions for cooking and baking. I made collagen protein zucchini bread (from coconut flour), grain-free granola, coconut yogurt, almond milk, roasted veggies, collagen protein bites, etc. It was amazing and I honestly had a blast doing it!!

I got pretty down the first day realizing I couldn't eat many of my favorite products (Purely Elizabeth granola, RXbars and Vega protein powder to name a few), but after this first week of eating this way, I feel too good to care any longer. I’m not going to pretend it’s been easy and fun the entire time because there have been difficult moments, moments where I feel defeated and frustrated and moments where I wonder “why can’t I just eat like everyone else?” and even moments where I’m just like “WTF am I supposed to eat?!”

But do you know what frustrates me more? The fact that doctors in the past have never once mentioned this diet to help with my digestive issues. Actually, doctors have never once mentioned diet as a factor at all. Western medicine, although important in many aspects, also misses the mark quite often. Thankfully I love researching and have been able to figure a lot of this out on my own. But it shouldn’t have to be that way.

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(my homemade turkey meatballs are definitely becoming a staple!)

Thankfully I found a naturopathic doctor in Seattle that I got to see on Wednesday and we’re taking steps to figure out more about my issues. I’m administering the at-home SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) breath test next Friday and I’m so excited to get more answers!

As my health journey continues, I’m excited to see where it takes me and how much better I can feel and how much healthier I can get my gut to be. I think making these changes are a long time coming and I’m so happy I finally jumped in. I feel like I’m FINALLY taking control of my health. I’m demanding the support I need from doctors and I’m taking many necessary steps towards healing and that makes me feel proud.

Maybe that sounds silly, to be proud of myself for this, but I am. I’ve thought for a long time that I possibly needed to make a change in my diet because obviously something wasn’t working, but I was too scared. I was nervous of how I would do it, how I would adjust, how I would feel. So yes, I’m proud of myself. For taking this step. For making (big) changes. For listening to my body’s needs. For continuing to educate myself so that I understand what my body is going through, how I’m helping it and how I can keep helping it (especially during marathon training).

So this is your reminder to always, always, always take care of yourself first. If you don’t feel well, DO something about it. Talk to doctors (definitely ALWAYS talk to a doctor before making big changes), ask questions and figure it out, because you deserve to feel better and you deserve to feel healthy!

XO nat

P.s. shoutout to my parents for being the most supportive humans on this PLANET and for helping me along this new route. For helping me cook, for willingly eating the way I am while I’m home, for planning every meal so that I can join in, for helping me research, for driving me to doctors appointments because I hate driving in the city, for giving me hugs when I need it. YOU TWO ARE MY BEST FRIENDS.

Related: How Being Hospitalized for Ulcerative Colitis Changed My Life, Why My Autoimmune Disease DOES Define Me, Specific Carbohydrate Diet recipe archives, The SCD Shop, SCD Friendly Ebook