In the days before I switched to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, my health was rapidly spiraling out of control. Each day I had more, and nastier, bowel movements, culminating in twelve on Day 1 of the diet. I felt terrible–constantly tired, my stomach bloated and painful–and I was scared. Each time I scrambled to the bathroom, I fought feelings of fear and hopelessness.
But within a few days of starting the diet, a miracle began to occur. My symptoms were gradually improving. Hope, tentative at first, began to blossom within me. I had fewer and fewer BMs, tapering off at two or three per day. The blood in my stool decreased. My pain and discomfort decreased, too–within a week, my stomach (really my colon) seemed to have settled down. One morning, for the first time in weeks, I awoke pain free.
I couldn’t believe it. This diet might actually be working!
The diet was by far the most rigorous I’d ever been on. Its title is misleading. “Specific Carbohydrate Diet” sounds like eating a lot of carbs, when really you’re eating a lot of meat, at least at first. The diet is followed in phases, beginning with the easiest-to-digest foods and building to more difficult ones as your intestines heal–so the first phase is the most limited of all.
Here are the things you can eat in the introductory phase:
- Apple cider (diluted with water)
- Grape juice (diluted with water)
- Grape jello
- Chicken soup (ingredients: chicken, broth, and cooked, pureed carrots)
- Beef patty (broiled)
- Fish (broiled)
That’s it. Literally. You can add no other ingredients other than the ones I just mentioned.
It took several days to prepare for this change. Once again, I had to establish new routines in the kitchen. I commenced the diet, and each day began eating a pound–a pound–of plain, broiled beef patties, plus two bowls of chicken soup.
The fatigue was still intense in those first few days. Upon starting the diet I spent a whole weekend lying on the couch, watching shows on Hulu. I’d been experiencing fatigue like this since starting the Canasa suppositories, which I was still using in case they were doing something. (I liked to be scientific and only change one thing at a time, so I was changing my diet without changing my meds.) My doctor said fatigue wasn’t one of Canasa’s symptoms, but Ron pointed out that it was probably from the illness itself. The Canasa wasn’t working, and ongoing diarrhea and blood were wiping me out. So I figured part of this fatigue was probably just a carryover, not the new diet. I’d been especially sick for weeks, and it would take time to regain strength.
But there was a new element that I was sure was the diet. I was experiencing sensations I could only describe as…weird. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong, but it just felt like something was missing from my body, some crucial element. I felt generally toxic, tired, fuzzy-headed. I noted the change.
On Day 6, I awoke feeling energetic for the first time in weeks. I wrote “Energized!” that day in my food log, where I recorded my symptoms and diet in detail. But the next day my fatigue returned. It hit like a wave, relegating me again to the couch. Very luckily, I worked at home and could rest as needed, although by now I had fallen far behind on my projects.
I was doing my cooking in big batches. Every four or five days I settled into the kitchen for several hours, filling up all our Pyrex storage containers with my plain chicken soup, plain ground beef patties, pureed carrots, and grape jello, which I subsisted on for the next several days. At each meal, I ate out of a single bowl that I rotated several times through the microwave, filling it with first one item, then the next, then the next. This big-batch cooking method saved me the trouble, and energy, it would take to cook every day.
Aside from the fatigue and “weirdness,” things were going well enough that I could begin adding new foods. I did this carefully, one at a time, in the order prescribed by the diet.
The first addition was cheese. I couldn’t wait to taste it–cheese is perhaps my favorite food, and I’d been off dairy for several weeks. This diet allowed dry curd cottage cheese at first, and I spooned it carefully out of its package, white as snow, moist as damp earth. I brought the spoon to my mouth and sampled it, savoring it like a kiss. It was as wonderful and refreshing as spring rain.
The next day I ate the usual for lunch. First my two plain broiled burgers, microwaved, eaten with a fork. Next, the last of my peeled-cooked-pureed carrots (I would make some more tomorrow). Some grape jello to top it off, but in between, one more bite of the new, heavenly cheese, its luster faded slightly now that I was used to it. Then I added applesauce, today’s new food. As with the cheese the day before, its flavor exploded through my mouth. It tasted like sunrise. Like walking barefoot through an orchard. Never before had I appreciated the incredible flavor of apples so much as I did today!
The following day, it was time to add the SCD’s special homemade yogurt. Elaine Gottschall, the diet’s main proponent, explains that homemade yogurt has far more good bacteria than storebought yogurt, because at home you can ferment your yogurt for longer, perhaps 24 hours. I had dutifully bought a yogurt maker and yogurt starter. Making yogurt was as easy as Gottschall had described, and it was satisfying to open the yogurt maker and find a big batch of plain, white homemade yogurt warming on the counter.
On Day 11, for the first time since diagnosis, I awoke looking forward to time in the kitchen. I had never really enjoyed cooking, although I wanted to. I wanted to want to cook. But today, I did want to cook. Possibly because today’s new item was cheesecake.
Cheesecake! It was to be crustless, made with homemade yogurt as well as the dry curd cottage cheese, honey–another new ingredient–and eggs. I couldn’t wait.
I spent four hours in the kitchen. Making the cheesecake, plus all my other food for the next several days, was daunting and tiring but also satisfying. It felt good to have a rhythm, and to feel less pain, to finally be on a path that actually might lead where I wanted to go.
And the cheesecake tasted as heavenly as any I’d ever eaten.
“Want a bite?” I asked Ron.
He closed his eyes as the yellowy substance melted in his mouth. “Mmmm.”
I grinned, practically wagging my tail. “Are you jealous?”
For once, Ron was jealous of my food.