Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Make a new plan, Stan ...

Homemade yogurt: Looks gross, tastes amazing!
Sometimes a gluten-free diet alone doesn’t cut it. For the past two and a half years, I have carefully monitored every bite of food I have put in my mouth, I have banned all gluten-containing products from my home, and I have relentlessly asked questions at restaurants, but now I have started having digestive issues again.

After several weeks of running to the restroom after every meal, being mostly tethered to the conveniences of my home, and looking over my shoulder for the nearest facility when I must be out in public, I started searching for new solutions to my new-old problem.

The SCD bible.
That’s when I discovered the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which, of course, is gluten-free, but which also eliminates all grains, sugar, and starchy carbohydrates and encourages the consumption of homemade yogurt to promote intestinal health. The concept is based on research by early celiac physicians and was developed into a diet plan by Elaine Gottschall, who wrote Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet. It claims not only to be of tremendous advantage for celiac disease, but also for Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, cystic fibrosis, autism, and many more diet-related illnesses.

Now, my scientific-minded husband constantly discourages me from jumping onto diet (or other) bandwagons, especially if they make huge claims and seem somewhat unconventional. I must do my homework and be able to defend the diet as he hammers me with questions. (If you have seen this dark side of this lovely, gentle man, you will understand what I must go through!)

And Gotschall does make huge claims.  “The Specific Carbohydrate Diet has been shown to completely cure most cases of celiac disease if followed for at least one year,” she writes in Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the bible of SCD followers. What??? To back up her claim she cites a mountain of anecdotal evidence—and you can find an entire mountain range of testimonies online.

She also explains the science behind the diet, which I used to defend myself against Doug, who is not allowing me to swallow the entire scheme, hook, line and sinker, but who is more than willing to help me out with this new adventure if it even has a snowball’s chance of working. “Much of the diet does make good sense,” he reasons.

I feel compelled to tell you that the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, one of the premier scientific communities searching for a cure for Celiac Disease, states flatly on its website that it does not concur with Gotschall’s findings: “A specific carbohydrate diet is not a recommended diet. There is no peer-reviewed, scientific publication that shows this diet will aid those with celiac disease.” That’s what it says; nothing else.

WebMD (and others like it) advises caution about the diet, but the website does admit that “[d]espite the fact that there is little scientific evidence for the SCD, it is hard to ignore the anecdotal praises for the plan. It quotes Dr. Joel Mason, associate professor of medicine, nutrition, and gastroenterology at Tufts University in Boston, who says, “We still don’t have perfect treatments for these GI diseases, and we should be open to unconventional therapies that are worthy of consideration [and] proceed cautiously and with careful medical supervision.”

Having recently seen the Academy Award nominated film Dallas Buyers Club, I asked myself, “What if the good folks portrayed in this film who suffered from their disease (HIV, in this case) had left all responsibility for their cure to the medical community?” They took it upon themselves to find solutions, because they were they ones with the sense of urgency, the ones who had to live (or die) with it every day. While their solutions might have been flawed, their anecdotal evidence caught the eye of the medical professionals and made a contribution to the control of the disease. This story inspired me to join the fight in seeking my own cure.

So, a few weeks ago, I decided to try the SCD. (Stop rolling your eyes and consider: what do I have to lose as opposed to what I might gain?) It’s not easy to follow, I admit—but after having given up gluten for so long, giving up grains and sugar doesn’t seem like an insurmountable task. Here is a list of ten random observations about this diet I have made thus far:

[No] Sugar! Ah, honey, honey ...
  1. I feel MUCH better. The trotskies have almost completely subsided.
  2. I feel MUCH better. I have been sleeping through the night. If you know me, you know that I have never been a good sleeper. One of my friends accuses our household as being a “vampire family.”
  3. I feel MUCH better. At first I was pretty weak, having given up most carbs. I worried about whether I could keep up playing tennis or even walking (my passions). This week, as I add more legal foods, my energy is returning (although my tennis game hasn't improved much).
  4. I am learning new tricks. I have successfully made my own great-tasting yogurt, the part of the diet that worried me the most--and it was more than delicious. Way cheaper than store-bought yogurt, too.
  5. I am learning new tricks. I am cooking at home more—because I have to. While there aren’t so many SCD recipes out there, there are a gazillion paleo recipes. The SCD is close enough to the paleo diet that you can make a few simple modifications to be SCD legal.
  6. I’m making new discoveries.  Eating out is more of a challenge with SCD than with gluten-free only, but it can be done! (I’ll address this aspect of SCD as I go along.)
  7. I’m making new discoveries. I have learned a lot about celiac disease and other autoimmune illnesses from Gotschall’s book. (I ordered this book used on Amazon for about $10. If you’re at all curious about how the diet might help you, I highly recommend it!)
  8. I’m making new discoveries. Honey tastes great in coffee, homemade applesauce, plain yogurt, almost anything. Who knew?
  9. I can do this. I actually wrote out and signed a 90-day commitment to this diet, just to see if it will work. If I am still having positive results at the end of this period, I will gut it out (no pun intended) for the entire year. Will I be cured? Not likely, but I will never know until I try. What if it works?
  10. I can do this. Having to give up rice, potatoes, oats, and corn makes me very sad, but so did giving up wheat. I know I can do it if I take it one day at time. I know I will even grow to like it. I am already growing to like it. 

Gonna make a new plan, Stan (the SCD)—and get myself free (from the bathroom)!