Did SCD, GAPS, or Paleo Make You Feel Worse?

by Jordan Reasoner

Did SCD, GAPS, or Paleo Make You Feel Worse


Earlier this week I was trading emails with one of our book readers, Brenda, who sent this in:

 “Jordan and Steve,

I’m at the point in this diet where I’m beginning to think it’s not going to work for me, I wanted to give it 30 days and I did that… but I’m still not feeling good. I’m having stomach pain, gas, and my D is worse than it was before I started eating this way, what am I supposed to do now? Is this diet ever going to work for me?” – Brenda

In this post, I’ll show Brenda what her body is really telling her… and explain why some people get worse on Paleo, SCD, or GAPS, before they can get better.

I Tried Eating Real Food and it Made My Stomach Problems Worse

So, you’ve cut out grains, refined sugar, fake sugar, industrial seed oils, processed foods like pop or soy, and if you choose to eat legumes or dairy, you make sure it’s properly prepared or fermented.

You’re following a diet like Paleo, GAPS, or SCD… but you’re still having stomach problems, even though you’re avoiding all those toxic foods. Or maybe you’re like Brenda and you feel even worse on this new diet.

The good news is: you’re not alone!

There are three common problems that people run into with a new diet like Paleo. GAPS, or SCD that can make them feel worse than before they started.

The first, and the most problematic for people, is typically referred to as, “die off.”

Die-off Can Feel So Bad You’ll Want to Quit Before You Can Get Better

I’m not going to lie to you, die-off can cause pretty awful symptoms, and many times it will cause symptoms that are worse than before you started the diet.

Here’s a summary of what can happen:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Brain fog
  • Intense cravings
  • Joint pain
  • Fevers
  • Fatigue
  • Gas/Bloating

The experience of “die-off” is related to the shift in gut bacteria that happens when you stop feeding overgrown bacteria the food it’s used to thriving on. When I switched to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I had brain fog so bad all I could do my first 3 days at work was sit at my desk staring at the wall… seriously.

One of the most common emails we get is someone trying to figure out if they have die-off symptoms or not…

Here’s the best way to tell if what you’re going through is really die-off: see how long it lasts.

Symptoms related to the shift in bacteria usually last 3-7 days and anything longer than that is probably something else. That leads me to the second most common problem people face when starting Paleo, GAPS, or SCD… which is known as the “low-carb flu.”

The Low-Carb Flu Can Make You Feel Foggy and Fatigued

The low-carb flu is a nickname for the process of low-carb adaptation and some people have to deal with it and some people don’t. It’s very individual and seems to be based on body type.

It can cause symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, intense sugar/carb cravings, lethargy, etc.

These symptoms are a result of a shift in the way the body burns fuel from primarily glucose, to primarily fats. (Click here for a great article on it by Dr. Eades or click here for a another great article on it by Mark Sisson.)

Both Mark and Dr. Eades say low-carb adaptation symptoms typically last 2-3 weeks and slowly fade away after that.

To summarize: “die-off” symptoms might last anywhere from the first 3-7 days on a real food diet and symptoms related to low-carb adaptation might last anywhere from the first 2-3 weeks.

So if you’ve been on Paleo, GAPS, or SCD for 30-days or more and still feel worse than before you started, there’s something more going on…

Why Feeling Worse Doesn’t Mean Your Diet Won’t Work for You

Between die-off and the low-carb flu, the first 30 days on a diet like Paleo, GAPS, or SCD can feel ever worse than before you started.

The honest truth is: getting better won’t happen overnight. I wish everyone that started these types of diets had dramatic improvement and never gave up, because that would make it really easy for me to get more people to try it.

Healing gut problems is a gradual process that happens over a long period of time. When I started SCD, my diarrhea stopped in 7 days, which was a miracle to me, but it still took years to recover my health.

If you’re like Brenda and you still feel worse after 30 days on the diet, whether it’s constipation gas, bloating, or diarrhea, that’s a big sign that you need to start customizing your diet more.

The third most common problem people face when they start a real food diet is they don’t customize the diet for their body. It doesn’t mean the diet isn’t working for them, it means that the current version of the diet they’re following isn’t working. Let me explain…

What We’ve Learned Helping Thousands Feel Better Fast

We’ve helped thousands of people with digestive problems start SCD over the past three years and we’ve found that most people can feel better eating a real food diet like Paleo, SCD, or GAPS… but it’s highly individual.

Let me be more clear: each person has to do some testing and tweaking to create a custom version of a real food diet that works for them.

So, if you don’t experience some degree of improvement after 30 days on Paleo, GAPS, or SCD… it doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you or you’re doomed to forever suffer in agony. It means that your body is telling you that it’s time to make some tweaks.  It’s time to start customizing your diet, supplements, and lifestyle to help your body heal.

What to do if Your Diet Isn’t Working for You:

I’m going to share the first two most common tweaks we give people that are 30 days into a real food diet and still don’t feel better… or even feel worse like Brenda. If you’re stuck there, choose one of these tweaks and test it this week:

1. Fat and protein cause problems… 

If you have trouble breaking down fat and protein when you switch to a diet made up of more fat and protein, it’s a recipe for feeling worse.

Don’t panic, there’s supplement tweaks that can help.

See if you’re a good candidate for Betaine HCL here, or watch this video on digestive enzymes.

2. Leaky gut makes these 4 foods cause problems…

Leaky gut syndrome can make it tough to tolerate four common foods that people eat when they switch to a real food diet. We see it all the time and nicknamed these 4 foods the “Four Horsemen of SCD Setbacks.”

This is the number one diet tweak that helps our readers.

Read this article to find out what those 4 foods are and try removing them for 3-4 days: The Four Horsemen of the SCD Diet

And finally, if you need more help creating a custom diet that works for you, I highly recommend you get a copy of our book. It’s a step-by-step guide for creating a custom real food diet that works for your body:

–>  http://scdlifestylebook.com/

In good health,

– Jordan

P.S. – The most important thing? Never give up trying to take control of your health. I know it’s frustrating, I’ve been there… but I believe in you and know you can do this.

About the author

Jordan Reasoner Jordan Reasoner is a health engineer and author. He was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007 and almost gave up hope when a gluten-free diet didn’t work. Since then, he transformed his health using the SCD Diet and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet Works

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Maree Clark June 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I am so glad you posted this blog! When I first started to treat my Crohn’s I had D for weeks that did not improve. I thought I was dying! Luckily, another internet support group member suggested that fat/protein might be the problem and I started taking Betaine HCL + peptin. The D relsolved and I was encouraged to continue on. This information needs to be supplied to newbies when starting so when something does go wrong (or different than for others) it can be dealt with sooner rather than later. I think newbies can get caught up in the promises of healing but can be very disappointed when it doesn’t work as well for them. After 5 months on SCD/GAPS I am still tweaking to get those elusive firm stools. I didn’t give up but wish I’d had more of an insight into the worst that can happen, as well as the best. This blog sheds great light on the issue!


Jordan Reasoner June 2, 2012 at 4:15 am

Great comment Maree – you’re right on: this stuff works, buy we have to find the custom version for our body!

Glad the betaine helped, so many of us have low stomach acid it’s staggering.

Keep us posted on your progress.



Ryan December 8, 2012 at 3:35 am

So this story sounds familiar to me, except I have followed the diet strictly for over a year now and have had only a small lessoning of the symptoms. I am completely drug free. I have gotten very good at just managing the symptoms but have made no progress. I have been dealing with this “ibs” for 3 years now. Lately I have been having more constipation, so I ordered an iga test for gluten soy egg and casein and they all came back negative. So I thought what the hell and ate some bread the other day and cut out all meat as I have been consuming meat with most meals if not I get really tired. Surprisingly I felt great, the left side pain went away and I am putting on weight immediately (wanted as I cant gain weight with low carb scd even eating lots of fats). Is it possible my body just needs carbs? I have a fast metabolism and burn everything quickly, i just dont want to be doing long term damage with gluten which my body doesnt seem to have a problem with. Also since cutting out meats and adding bread beans and rice I have less bloating and the constipation has gone away! Has anyone experienced this?! Could my symptoms have been from eating meat?


Jordan Reasoner December 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Based on what you’re telling me, I would attribute your constipation to low stomach acid, not meat:




sharon December 27, 2012 at 7:06 pm

my digestion got better w paleo, BUT after about 6 mos. lc paleo it got worse…again. holy grail? ‘fraid not! added back the carbs (starches, fruits) and digestion better than ever. carbs were the answer. i can’t buy into all this ‘die off’ stuff anymore, not like i would have about a year ago. i won’t even go into all the other negatives from following lc over the years. let’s just say that it nearly destroyed my metabolism. do your research…on BOTH sides!! much luck to you :)


Steven Wright December 30, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Thanks for commenting Sharon. We continue to teach a custom diet for each person through proper testing and science. So glad your feeling better!


DM July 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Help! I started the intro diet and my symptoms are getting worse. I understand the die off, but I went from pretty formed stools but frequent before the diet, to loose stools on day 1, 2, to water on day 3, to urgent/frequent water on day 4. All I’ve been eating is chicken broth and chicken or turkey. Is that just the die off? I have a party at my house in 5 days and am scared!

Also can we take imodium at any point on this diet?

Thank you!


Sam September 9, 2013 at 1:05 am

Thank you for this well written post. Strangely, I am experiencing both the die off symptoms and low-carb flu fever according to the time range you listed.

“To summarize: “die-off” symptoms might last anywhere from the first 3-7 days on a real food diet and symptoms related to low-carb adaptation might last anywhere from the first 2-3 weeks.”

I am now confident now that I can ride through my 3 week of paleo.


Brett October 16, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Hi, Ive started the SCD diet 3 weeks ago, My symptoms where constipation for 4/5 days then a really bad day of IBS/D, ive tried all sorts of supplements Phsillium husk/ Dandelion tea, peppermint Capsules, Ginger, Garlic, Oregano Oil, All they seem to do is allow me to not have sudden urges but still have constipation. Im craving carbs alot but have stayed away from them without alot of success. Im still in stage one of the diet as when i introduced Fruit Nuts and Cheese i Seem to get more bloated? anyone have any advice..I think I have SIBO? but havent actually been diagnosed with it. The reason i feel like its SIBO is i had a course of the antibiotic Ciproflaxin for a stomach bug i picked up in Eygpt and my symptoms disappeared for 9 Months but like ive read SIBO often comes back. Like mine did. Any Help would be great this has turned my life Upside down.


Lucy November 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I was committed to the SCD journey when I started out and then I began having panic attacks in the middle of the night, my sleep has been light due to high amounts of stress and got much worse after starting the diet. And then my skin started tearing one of my fingers. The tears started out as small little cuts and grew in size and number each day. I have tried the SCD tough cases meal plan, but gave up after all these symptoms presented themselves. After I stopped the diet and added more foods back in the tears on the finger stopped and are finally healing.
I am very committed to healing myself and I think a switch to a diet like SCD can add stress to the body that it might not be able to deal with if you are already stressed and nutritionally deficient due to a compromised digestive system. I am going to get additional help and support – get my body tested for deficiencies, etc and correct anything that might be out of balance so that my body starts healing instead of struggling.
Good luck to everyone on this journey. Listen to your body and get additional support and help if you need it – your health is worth it. Find out what is going on and get the right kinds of supplements, therapies etc. to help you heal at the deepest level with the least number of setbacks.
Wishing everyone a healthy body and a peaceful mind.


Nancy December 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm


My husband began the SCD journey about 8 days ago. He has been following the diet to a T (although with no dairy, as we thought this may be an issue for him). Unfortunately, he is feeling worse than before starting. He has moderate – severe UC, and we’ve been relatively lucky as he’s only been in the hospital 3x over the past 10 years. He recently experienced a bad flare and we decided it was time to change his diet. The past 8 days have been pretty unbearable – he has more D (about 10x per day), tired, achy, headaches, dizziness, and overall seems pretty sad. We are trying to stay positive, but it’s hard to feel like we are making the right choice when things seem to be going downhill. I’ve read in numerous places that it takes time to see changes – but how long should we wait? When should we see at least a minor sign of improvement? Thanks!


NATHAN January 15, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Nancy, my heart goes out to you two. I have UC as well and have had a roller coaster 3.5 years with very little relief from symptoms. I just started SCD and and hopeful for some help but we’ll see. My wife and I looked into it and are reading the book and supposedly after 30 days you should know if this diet will help you or not. I think Jordan and Steve will say that if it’s not working after 30 days you need to tweak it, and they are the experts on here, but my plan is to try it for 30 days as a marker to see if I’m moving in the right direction. If I were you guys I would consider stabilizing with possibly a course of prednisone and working the diet on the side as the diet is a longer term fix and you guys have an acute, short term problem that needs to be addressed. Quality of life and other areas are extremely low when you are that bad, so that’s my 2 cents. I’m not a doctor and I’m not an expert on this diet. Just someone who has dealt with this disease for a few years and knows exactly how you guys feel. You may already be doing the medical route as well, but if you are not, going on meds for a little while to help your body quiet the inflammation while you make a diet change makes sense to me. Again, you have a short term and a long term issue here. If you could fix the symptoms with meds, and then fix the cause with diet (if bad bacteria is indeed the cause), then you’d be looking good sooner AND later. Just a thought.


Gemma Bartlett February 6, 2014 at 12:27 am

I’m now on my second week of eating paleo. I’m not craving carbs, I don’t even really feel like fruit a lot of the time so I’m pretty sure I am eating super low carb most of time without even realizing. I had some minor headaches in the first week but mostly I was fine. I have always had problem constipation but I’m on the third day of the second week and I have never had problems quite like this. I’m not bloated or in pain I’m just only going every third or so day and not with ease.

I’m worried about it but other then that o feel really good so far.


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Leah February 21, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Now the one thing I don’t see mentioned in any of your dark horsemen, that was a significant problem for me was FODMAPs. I was feeling horrible and had removed the 4 horsemen to no avail when I discovered FODMAPs. Now most of these diets pull out the main offenders of FODMAPs like grains but also encourage you to eat things high in FODMAPs like Onions, Garlic and other veggies high in Fructan (inulin) and apples and avocados. I went back to the beginning and made my soups without these offenders and finally found relief. Once I got going i was able to add some higher FODMAPs back in like the onions and garlic and avocado and things were much more calm after some healing had taken place. Highly suggest people include a 5th horsemen in the offenders list.


Jess July 8, 2014 at 1:37 am

I launched myself into the book & read most of it in one sitting! I love having a plan of attack. Still in phase 1, but nervous about constipation. I’ve battled it for a while & I gather most of the people in this forum would prefer it to what they have experienced. I still go regularly, but it’s always small. I’ve got magnesium but I’m not sure it’s doing much. I’ve got prunes, but nervous about having them when we are meant to be trying to keep sugar/carbs at bay? Maybe I need to move of the pureed food & start eating more fibre? Confused about what tailored things I should be doing! Any advice is welcomed!


Brent Kovacs July 8, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Hi Jess, thanks for reaching out! We’re so glad to hear that you decided to start SCD and are taking matters into your own hands. Steve wrote some really great posts on constipation here: http://scdlifestyle.com/category/constipation/


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