What I Learned from Overhauling My Diet Overnight

Overhauled Diet

You may remember waaaaay back in November I shared that my latest 28-day experiment was to cut back to eating just 300 cals of sweet treats per day, after my food-logging experiment revealed my horrific tendency to eat tons of sugar and processed crap every single day. I also stated that I was not going to try to cut out sweets altogether, since I didn’t believe in giving anything up 100%. The intention was to gradually improve my eating habits over time (everyone says this is the most effective/only way to truly change your eating habits) with the hopes of eventually being able to control my ulcerative colitis solely through diet.

Confession: when deciding what this 28-day experiment would be, I had two options before me. One was to cut back to 300 cals of treats a day. The other, much harder option was to try out this diet I’d just found out about. A diet that’s designed specifically to help heal my disease (among others). It’s called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and is insanely strict. I’m talking nothing processed at all. No additives. No added sugar. Basically just meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, butter, cheddar, nuts and seeds (similar to both Paleo and Whole 30, but with zero tolerance for error). And it’s even stricter than that in the beginning, because you’re only supposed to reintroduce certain foods, such as eggs, fruit and raw vegetables, once your symptoms have cleared up.

As you already know, I chose the easier option. I began the experiment of eating no more than 300 cals of sweets a day. Here’s how that went:

How It Went

A week into the experiment, I got ill. Again. For two nights running I was up for several hours with an insane fever (when you cannot stop convulsing despite wearing your pyjamas, socks and dressing gown AND being wrapped up in your duvet AND having your heating on full blast), punctuated by countless trips to the toilet. Pain. Cramping. Blood. Sweating. Vowing to never leave the house or see anyone ever again. That sort of thing.

After the second night (and having a second night when I am this ill is rare for me) I called it. I was going full SCD the very next day. And that’s what I did. And have been doing ever since. Since the end of November, with the exception of a few days over Christmas, New Year’s, and a brief trip to London, I have eaten strict SCD. AND I LOVE IT. Here’s what I’ve learned:

What I Learned

SCD Totally Works for Me

The biggest, best, most incredible part of this experience for me has been learning that I can control my ulcerative colitis through diet. I really fucking can! This has been one of my life goals ever since I was diagnosed back in 2009. I just couldn’t believe that a disease of the digestive system wasn’t affected by food (which is what all the doctors say). I mean seriously, how fucking stupid does that sound?

I’ve had a couple of bumps along the way which have resulted in flares, and I didn’t get clear results right from the start because I still had some medication in my system, but I’ve stuck with it and I’ve learned a lot. After flaring, I managed to get my disease under control again without touching any medication at all. It took longer than it did the first time, but I succeeded. This makes me very very very very VERY fucking happy. (Apparently I’m super eloquent when I’m excited.)

I CAN Change My Diet Overnight

Gurus the world over shout about how important small steps are for changing big habits. If you try to change everything at once, they say, you will fail, possibly ending up in an even worse position/mindset than before. I assumed that this rule was as true for me as it is for everyone else. In her book Better Than Before (a fantastic read), Gretchen Rubin actually addresses the fact that yes, sometimes you can make big changes overnight. She calls it a Lightning Bolt, I think. Something like that. I like the fact that she acknowledges this is a thing. For so long I’d been trying to make small itty bitty nothingy changes to the way I ate, and I felt like I was making no progress or constantly falling back to old habits. I guess, for me, small changes that don’t make a noticeable difference to anything feel pointless, so I stop doing them.

I Only Need Two Meals a Day

I’m eating more intuitively than ever. Which basically means I eat when I’m hungry. In the past I’d eat breakfast pretty much as soon as I was done lying in bed staring at my phone (which I don’t do any more either). Now I tend to be up and about for at least two hours before eating, and often three or four. It depends what time I wake up, really, but my first meal of the day is usually between 11am-1pm.

Only eating two meals a day is awesome. For one thing, it’s just way less hassle. Actually that’s the main reason it’s awesome. Plus it means I waste less time throughout the day. Prepping and eating food takes time, you guys. I probably eat slightly bigger meals to compensate. I eat four eggs scrambled in butter for ‘breakfast’ (if you can call it breakfast when you eat it at midday) every day, and I fill the rest of my plate with steamed vegetables of varying description. Dinner, which is usually between 4-7 hours later, depending on what I’ve been up to that day, is a slab of meat (usually pork or duck, because they are fucking delicious) with another heaping of steamed veg.

I do have snack items around. I keep a jar of organic peanut butter at the office for when I’m spending all day there. I did have celery too, but some bastard moved/stole/threw it away. Sure, I could buy more. But then I realised that spoons are a thing. I also snack on cheddar, parma ham, fresh fruit, and Medjool dates, all of which are a) tasteeeee and b) SCD-friendly. But I won’t snack unless I’m deliberately holding off on dinner (i.e. know I’m going to be out all day, having dinner with friends, etc).

So, turns out I really don’t need three meals a day. Eating this way is much easier when you’re self-employed and don’t have to adhere to anyone else’s schedule, of course. The only trouble now is if I’m travelling. If I head out before 11am, it’s unlikely I’ll eat before I leave. This means I have been known to sit on trains/planes and pull big hunks of meat out of my bag.

Eating Healthily Has TONS of Positive Benefits

I know this is so fucking obvious. But have you ever actually experienced this wonderful vitality everyone talks about? I hadn’t. I’d heard people rave about having so much energy, clear skin, feeling alert and awake all day, never needing to take a nap, never having a sugar crash, never requiring caffeine to make it through the morning — all that shit. But I’d never experienced it for myself. And I find it hard to truly believe things until I’ve experienced them personally. You know what I mean, right?

And oh my holy fucking Jesus. It is all true. These are just a few of the unintended side effects of eating this way:

  • I have lost 20 pounds
    Goodbye startup-15 or whatever they call it. This puts me at LESS than I weighed when I first started my business. In fact, this is the lightest I’ve been since I was in my mid-teens, back when I used to exercise and play sports literally every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. I am astounded. Especially since the amount of butter I’ve eaten over the past four months is kind of ridiculous.
  • I have excess energy
    Honest to god, I am not joking when I say that a few weeks ago as I was walking a couple of miles to the shops, I just HAD to burst into a run. Twice. I wasn’t even wearing workout clothes. Just jeans, a shirt, my (glorious, glorious) trench coat, and boots. But I just couldn’t not run. I darted in and out of the crowds and pelted it down the road. I must have looked like a bit of a maniac. Or like I was late for a bus. But I don’t care. I needed to run, to expend this energy. Weird but awesome.
  • My dry skin has cleared up
    I’ve always had fairly dry skin, and I’m starting to think sugar is the culprit. My skin’s definitely improved since starting this diet and I reckon it will continue to do so. So long as I don’t chow down on an entire packet of Medjool dates in one sitting again (they’re allowed on the diet, but, you know — they’re still dates, which are basically just sugar) like I did a couple of weeks ago, which resulted in a rash on the back of my hand the next morning.
  • I am not bloated, EVER
    Now this is obviously very much related to my ulcerative colitis healing. It is a disease of the gut, after all. But oh my lordy, I can’t tell you how good it feels to never be bloated. My stomach is flat ALL THE TIME. And, you know, it just feels incredible. I wonder how many people go through their lives perpetually bloated but never knowing any different. I did. And now I don’t. And it is fabulous.

Not Eating Junk Food is More Satisfying Than Eating It

This one sort of surprised me. I thought I’d miss the junk food. The biscuits, the chocolate bars, the cakes, and all the other crap I used to eat. I really thought I would just try this diet out for 30 days (as the book recommends) to see if it worked for me, and then I’d start taking my meds and eating normally again. After those 30 days were up, I knew there was no fucking way I was quitting. This just felt too good.

I briefly toyed with the idea of testing my reaction to various ‘illegal’ foods, but decided against this after an accidental flareup (a little bit too much wine, which actually is allowed on the diet in moderation). It took me ages to get back on track again. I still hadn’t managed to get my disease under control before my trip to London, despite sticking to the ‘normal’ version of the diet (as opposed to the insanely strict introductory version of it), so when I returned home I committed to starting the diet over again from the start.

I’m now on day 65 and going strong. My UC cleared up after 12 days, which is longer than it took the first time, but this time there was ZERO medication in my system, which means I have accurate results. This diet works for me, and it works within 12 days. For me, 12 days is WAY too long to suffer through an episode of UC, so I don’t want to risk it by experimenting with ‘illegal’ foods. I’m just not going to eat them any more. And that’s kind of awesome. Obviously when I travel this will be harder, but when I’m at home it’s as easy as brushing my teeth. I’m still mulling over what this means for my future, but right now I’m happy with things as they are. I love eating this way. It makes me feel like I’ve got my shit together in all areas of my life, not just my diet and health.

So yeah, what was my point here? Yes: eating this way is SO much more satisfying than NOT eating this way. After I told some people about this diet, I heard the pity in their voices. ‘Aww, you can’t eat chocolate any more?’ Well, for one thing, it’s not that I CAN’T eat it. It’s that I choose not to. I could easily just go back on my meds and resume ‘normal life’. But I don’t want to. I don’t miss any foods I used to eat. Honestly, there’s so much delicious, healthy food that IS allowed on this diet, and once you’ve eaten it you don’t want anything else anyway because you’ve satisfied your body’s needs.

Oh, and btw, I feel bad for you too because you will never get to experience how awesome life feels this way. HA!

Giving Up Certain Foods is Easy When You’re Committed Enough

I, obviously, have an insanely good reason for sticking to this diet (which I believe would be a healthy diet for most people). Not wanting to shit blood is a strong motivator, let me tell you. I’ve talked to a couple of close friends about this diet and they both want to try it (or something similar). They’ve been wowed by my results and they want some of that for themselves. The trouble is, they’re finding it hard to make any real changes to the way they eat. They feel deprived. In a weird sort of way, I am grateful for my disease because it’s made this so easy for me. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, but I never would’ve done this if it weren’t for my disease.

Being a Rebel Means I Need to Frame Things in the Right Way

I thought I had NO chance of sticking to such a severe diet. I assumed my rebel tendencies would rule it out for me. I value my freedom too much. I hate rules. I find it difficult to do anything I don’t WANT to do.

And it’s that last one we need to pay attention to here. Because, as it turns out, I DO want this. I WANT to be the kind of person who eats this way. Honestly, it makes me feel like a bit of a badass. The disciplined involved. The way my body feels. The strength of mind. Or, more the point, the fact that it DOESN’T appear to require much strength of mind, despite the fact that for most people it would. I like who this diet has made me. Instead of looking at it through a lens of deprivation, I’m focusing on being the type of person I want to be. It’s about my identity, rather than what I can or cannot eat. I want to be this person.

Conclusion

One of the things I am most blown away by is how much eating this way has positively impacted the rest of my life. I no longer feel like I’m flailing, unable to control myself. Being in control of my diet and health makes me feel more in control of everything else, too. And that makes me feel fucking GREAT about myself. Which in turn makes it easier to do everything else better.

Life feels so fucking good at the moment. Seriously. So. Good. I’m feeling great both physically and mentally, I’m doing good work, and I’m enjoying day to day life immensely. And now that I have tons of energy and am no longer fighting against a disease every day I finally feel ready to start working on other areas of my life. Fuck yeah.

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    12 Comments

    1. You go Karen! I’m starting to step it up with my diet again too. I just get so tired of looking in the mirror and not seeing abs :/ I’m ready to eat clean again and have loads of energy and feel great all the time.

      Anyway, I needed to see this today because I’m about to plan out how I”ll go about it this time, and your “I CAN change my diet overnight” attitude is gonna be a huge help to me. Because I’m also one of the types to be like “can’t do too much at once! and “baby steps!” but fuck that. I’m ready to get shit done. Thanks Karen. ;)

      1. Yeaahh!! Good luck, Maison! I totally still think just trying to change one thing at a time is the way to go… but I’ve realised that, for me at least, they can be BIG changes. So I overhauled my diet completely (a massive change!) and stuck to it for 4 months before even considering trying to change anything else. Just last week I started exercising again, which is my next big change :D

    2. I am utterly inspired- good for you! Professional medical opinion does worry me sometimes. Of course it’s food related. Pleased for you! I’m off to make scrambled eggs..

      1. Awesome, glad to hear it, Abi! And thanks – always nice to know I’ve inspired someone :)

    3. You’ve inspired me to get strict with myself again. I have been eating Paleo for the past 6 years but have become a bit too lazy with it… and my health has suffered. Getting back on the wagon now! Thank you; I needed to read this.

      1. SO easy to get lazy with Paleo! ‘Sausages are allowed, right? They’re meat!’ Been there, my friend.

    4. Karen, I think you’re possibly the only person alive who can write such an inspiring post while combining it with talk about pooping blood. That said, this has been a great read!

      I kind of believe the baby steps philosophy — only, I think it’s about as stupid to get caught up in the idea that everything you ever do must be done in baby steps as it is to think that you can’t ever do something because you can’t do it all at once. There’s a time and a place for everything and it’s better to just go with what seems more likely to gain the desired outcome rather than endlessly fussing over whether to do something all at once or in baby steps.

      Who said that choosing between those two options is an absolute must? Oh, wait! I know: someone who was narrow-minded! Possibly even someone who was more focused by the method followed than actually reaching the end goal.

      As for the butter thing — there are quite a few diets that allow butter and other fatty foods, but ban refined carbs and sugar (which is just another way of saying refined carbs). I’m not sold on any specific diet plan, but I think that not eating processed foods and refined carbs is a no-brainer. I’ve NEVER heard of research that ‘proved’ it’s okay to eat those things, anyway.

      I’m actually still trying to control my coffee addiction. Yes, I know coffee isn’t really addictive, but habits are. Right now isn’t a great time for me to commit to something like this, but I’m definitely going to get around to doing it when the time’s right.

      Sure, some people would argue that I’m just procrastinating, but I’ll argue that the idea that I’ll never do something just because I can’t commit to it RIGHT NOW is a limiting belief as much as doing something in baby steps vs. going all-in is. I know what my priorities are and I’ll know when I can prioritise turning my eating habits around. But for now, I’m not going to guilt myself over the coffee I’m still drinking, because I know once I’ve crossed a few other things from my list, the coffee problem will be a higher priority. It’s all about planning realistically and not failing yourself before you even started to me.

      Anyway, good for you! I’m so glad to hear how great this has worked out for you, it’s really very motivating.

      1. Ohh, no, I totally get you on the ‘I’m not procrastinating, I’m just not doing it yet!’ thing. I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about how I hadn’t exercised since September, and he was all, ‘Oh, you really should exercise!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah I know, but it’s not a priority for me right now.’ (I intentionally decided to quit for a few months after I was discharged from physiotherapy, which I had been doing for 2+ years. I wanted a damn BREAK so I could get excited about exercise again and, more importantly, do things my own way, not the way someone else was telling me to do. Aaaaand I wanted to work on my diet first, as that was more of a priority for me and I knew I wouldn’t be able to make two such huge changes in my life at once.)

    5. SCD, yeah! I did that very seriously for about six months once and the IBS went bye bye. Just when I had finally convinced my then-wife that I wasn’t crazy and the diet was beneficial, I started adding some not so good stuff back in, but I’ve never again been debilitated like I was before. And It’s refreshing to hear someone give kudos to the SCD diet. I have nothing against the GAPS diet but Natalie Campbell basically lifted SCD, changed how you you talk about it, and called it hers.

      1. SCD is amaaaaaaaazing. I had a bit of a flareup a few weeks ago (after my experiment with cheat days went awry!) so now I’m reverse engineering SCD: I KNOW it works at its strictest introductory level, so now I am working backwards from the broader level which allows more foods and seeing how that affects me. so far I have learned: Medjool dates & orange juice = not good during a flare!

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