Friday, April 16, 2010

SCD: The Soul-Crushing Diet

Most of you probably already know that "elimination" diets are commonly put in place for children with autism. Without going too much into the science behind it, the theory is that there is a brain-gut link that affects children with autism, and that by alleviating some of the gastro-intestinal distress that is so common in these kids they will be better able to focus and learn.

The most common diet is the gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet, which eliminates wheat flours and most dairy products. Then for those that think that GFCF is not nearly punishing enough, there is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) which further eliminates remaining grains (rice, potatoes) plus all refined sugars. Both diets are extremely hard to implement, especially if, like most people, your diet is carbo-licious. You've probably noticed how much more commonly available gluten-free products are in the store and even on some restaurant menus, so it's definitely become a lot easier to go GFCF. But the real difficulty comes in moving from GFCF to SCD because now you've become dependent on the store-bought gluten-free items that are almost always made with rice flour and sometimes have quite a bit of sugar as well.

With that as background, let me tell you about my friend Erin. I first met Erin a couple of years ago when her son Zach was preschool classmates with Audrey. Zach is also on the autism spectrum and Erin had just started trying to implement GFCF. At that point, we had had Audrey on GFCF for nearly two years and had recently gone SCD. Every day at the school dropoff, Erin showed up looking like she was about to commit hari-kari over GFCF, and I was all "you have noooooooo idea." Erin didn't last too long on GFCF at that time. We lasted 6 months on SCD and then reverted back to GFCF.

Flash forward to the present: Erin herself was recently diagnosed with celiac and Crohn's disease and told to go on the SCD. Erin now lives 200 miles away from me, but I think I could hear her scream from here. Here's an idea of what you are in for with the's not just the fact that you have to change your diet, tamp down your cravings, and use all of your willpower not to cheat. It is also a TON of work. Check out a sample menu from the bible of the SCD, Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall:

Homemade nut muffin with butter and homemade jam

Tuna fish made with homemade mayonnaise
Homemade pumpkin pie

Homemade spaghetti sauce served on a bed of boiled beans or spaghetti squash
Cabbage salad with homemade mayonnaise
Homemade cheese cake made from homemade yogurt or homemade cream cheese made from homemade yogurt

I have not inserted any extra "homemades" in there for comic effect. That is really how many times the word is used in just one sample daily menu. Diarrhea is really so unfairly maligned. I mean, how bad can it be compared to being on this diet? Sure, you’re spending less time in the bathroom but at the cost of spending all of your time in the kitchen. Erin told me that it takes her 3 hours to make ketchup. Three hours for a condiment!

I found the SCD to be one of the most difficult things that we've done since Audrey was diagnosed, and for my money we did not see much benefit. Next I will allow Erin to provide the "counter" to my "point", and see what she thinks of it now that she's about a month be continued.


  1. As they say in the south, Bless your heart...and then we eat everything fried. I cannot fathom how a vegetable plate can be fried okra, creamed corn and mashed potatoes???? Such extremes!

  2. HAHA! Y'all even have a Whole Foods down there??

  3. Thank you. I've been on SCD for three and a half years, and it's extremely hard to convey how difficult the diet really is. People think that since you can't have it, you don't want it.

    While the diet has worked for me, I shall now be calling it the Soul-Crushing Diet whenever I feel the need to rant. :)

  4. Three and a half years is amazing Isabella. Since my friend Erin wrote that followup post in April, she's quit SCD. I think she made it about a month or so. It is so so difficult. You deserve some sort of official commendation! I hope you've stuck with it for so long because you see good results from it.

  5. Are you guys still on SCD? We have found trasnitioning better. I have tried to convince myself that diets are not working, but now after a year and a half of trials, I have give in and put everyone on a GFCF (and then some more but not yet quite SCD) diet. Primarily because my husband got diagnosed with gluten ataxia and turns out the boy is also genetically predisposed to it. Surprise (not).

    I tried going SCD right in the beginning of our interventions - it was a disaster because all the ingredients (bean flours??) were foreign to me.

    But I think in time it will get easier, because GFCF (corn, soy, sugar free) has been really easy now that we are doing it a second time.

  6. I'm really late to this party, but I'm hoping you get email notifications. :)

    Our doc recommended the SCD for my kids. HAHAHAHA. No. One's allergic to nuts. One's allergic to eggs. Both are allergic to milk. It's IMPOSSIBLE to do that diet without eggs, nuts or milk. Never mind all three.