It’s been almost a week since my Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) experiment ended. In that time, I’ve returned to my normal eating habits, and the difference between the two regimes is striking. What is more striking, though, is the difference in perspectives when one is following a very unusual set of eating habits. It’s worth taking a moment to ponder that less tangible part of the experience.
The best way I can describe my experience of the SCD is that it feels like one of those visual paradigms, like the image of the young woman that suddenly shifts into an old woman or the image of the faces that’s really a vase…or is it two faces? When I was following the SCD, it was hard to imagine not following it. And now that I’m not following it, I can’t believe that I didn’t eat grains, or most sugars, or even fresh milk, for an entire week! (Minus a few documented exceptions…) After a day or two of SCD, I felt wholly absorbed by the rules I’d chosen to follow, and though I missed chocolate and bananas and my morning cereal, I didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would. The diet became easier to follow the longer I did it. It was bittersweet to see the experiment end, at which point I knew I would return to my grain-eating habits.
The SCD was an excuse to dive back into my cooking. I really loved that. My life has been pretty topsy-turvy for the last three months. Normally my cooking is my haven, an activity that nourishes me. I like the simple, quiet routines of cooking and baking, the smells and the tastes and the textures. I love my kitchen, whether it’s a great big room in Evanston, Illinois or a cute little nook in College Station, Texas. Even though I’ve been in Texas for over a month now, I still feel the chaos of my move, and it’s been hard to settle into a cooking rhythm. The SCD forced me to cook almost every morning and every night, and most days I appreciated the steady rhythm of meal preparation. There were days when I was utterly delighted by something new and delicious, like the onion rings whose almond flour crumb coating makes an outstanding topping for baked eggs or the mango-buttermilk smoothies that were so sweet they tasted like candy. These are the kinds of things that one learns by cooking every day, and by being brave in the kitchen.
I felt good while I was following the SCD. My energy levels were perhaps a little bit more even than they are normally. Without the glycemic rush of carbohydrates, maybe my body was burning its fuel more slowly and evenly. The food I ate was incredibly nutritious, rich in both energy and the non-calorie nutrients we all need to be vibrantly healthy—vitamins, minerals, and the like. I feel confident now that you can cut out grains and still eat very well, as long as you are conscientious about meal-planning and eating a nice variety of different foods.
Speaking of variety, at the beginning of my experiment, I was very excited about trying all sorts of baked goodies made with almond flour. I’m not sure what happened, but after about five days of SCD, the idea of more almond flour made me feel slightly queasy. I still ate what I’d already made, like Amanda’s Spice Cookies, and I felt fine, but the idea of making more things with almond flour was more than I could bear. Perhaps it was my body’s way of telling me it was a little overwhelmed by all the almonds, or maybe I had a touch of the flu. Whatever it was, in hindsight I am glad I listened to my body and tried to moderate my almond intake. It never hurts to listen to your body and honor its needs.
It occurs to me that I embarked upon this SCD experiment as a way to raise awareness of the SCD for people like my niece, who does not have good digestion. Yet once I started the experiment, especially because I was blogging about it every day, it was all me me me, I-ate-this, I-ate-that! It wasn’t my intention to become a self-absorbed narcissist during my experiment, but perhaps it was necessary in order to really embrace a different diet. Alicia Silverstone, who has a new vegan cookbook that just came out, did an interview with Vegetarian Times in which she said that the word diet means “a day’s journey.” “I think that’s so beautiful,” she said. I do, too. Because at the end of the day, your diet is your journey. It reflects what’s important, or not, to you, and everyone has to find the path that’s right for them.
At the very beginning of my SCD experiment, my dear friend Nicole asked me whether I’d be eating meat, given that I would not be eating so many foods that are everyday staples in my diet. At the time, I was confident that I could follow the SCD for a week without eating meat. My feelings about vegetarianism are complex, especially when my family is involved, but suffice to say that when I have complete control over what I am eating, I choose vegetarian meals. It just feels right for me. But if I were to follow the SCD for a year, or longer, I would strongly consider trying to eat meat every once in a while. The truth is that meat, when raised well and cooked thoughtfully, is delicious. There are no vegetarian equivalents for meat that really pass my standards for taste, texture, and wholesomeness. Some fake meats are quite tasty, and I eat them once in a while, but they are all totally off-limits for an SCD follower. The SCD has given me a new appreciation for meat, even though I didn’t choose to eat any. More importantly, I have a new respect for the place that it has in other people’s diets, particularly people like my niece and her mother, who simply do not thrive on a grain-heavy diet the way that I do.
Where do we go from here? I’m still a vegetarian, and I still have two pounds of almond flour sitting in my freezer. I like the idea of continuing to push my culinary boundaries by eating one grain-free meal each day. It’s a goal for me, not a rigid rule that I’ve carved in stone and placed in front of my pantry. There is a lot to be learned—and cooked and eaten!—in a paradigm in which grains must be replaced with something else. And there are still lots of recipes in my SCD cookbook that I’d like to try—Rustic Pears, baked with blueberries and walnuts, anyone? My day’s journey can include a little jog around the grain-free playground.
It seems fitting to me to end on a note of gratitude. Matt reminded me of this in an e-mail exchange we had as my week of grain-free eating was ending. In it he wrote,
“Demonize College Station if you will, but there aren't a whole lot of places in the world you can live grain-free every day. That's worth contemplating: it's a luxury, though it may not seem like it.”
As usual, he’s right.