Raman Prasad is the author of Recipes for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet: The Grain-Free, Lactose-Free, Sugar-Free Solution to IBD, Celiac Disease, Autism, Cystic Fibrosis, and Other Health Conditions, as well as the memoir Colitis and Me: A Story of Recovery. He is also the creator of www.scdrecipe.com, which has been around since before most of us knew what Google was. Raman has been following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to manage ulcerative colitis for over a decade, a fact that by itself makes him a certified superhero in my book.  And indeed, my conversation with him confirmed that he has a wealth of knowledge and a long history of helping make the SCDiet accessible to a wide variety of people seeking healing through diet.

GI Jane: So tell me the story of how you found and adopted SCD.

Raman: I was 17 when I was first diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. I started going through steroid treatments and then went through a lot of other symptoms due to the meds, and I never seemed to get completely better. I was always trying to figure out how to get out of it. And this was before the internet so it was like I was stuck using my old AP Biology knowledge to try to understand all these medical texts. At the time it seemed no one could agree on what caused it. So I was trying a lot of stupid stuff to try to get myself out of it. I tried to go to the gym a lot thinking it would help. Then I was thinking alright, this didn’t work, maybe I have to break through some mental barrier. I even moved to Alaska and did some work there for a while, thinking it would open up some kind of mental block I had. I tried a vegetarian diet. I tried anything I could think of. So I ended up doing all this stuff and by the end of it I was in the hospital, I had lost varying amounts of weight. I came across the diet on the internet when people first started using the internet and decided to try it. I was on a lot of steroids at the time. I definitely don’t think people should stop medication for the diet; I think you probably need the medication when you are in those acute situations. So it took about 6 months to get off the steroids while I was on the diet. At the time I had also had bad liver enzyme counts, which totally straightened out once I was off meds and on the diet.

GI Jane: And has it been pretty smooth sailing since then or have you had some setbacks?

Raman: I’ve had two times where I’ve been sick, one in 1998 and one in 2000. Both were in India – one was food poisoning and the other a bug I caught there. So the flares that I’ve had were mostly related to travel and cleared up pretty quickly.

GI Jane: So what was it like for you travelling while on the diet?

Raman: Well, in India my mother-in-law helped a lot; I wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for her. I had been through Europe before on the diet with no problem, but India was a little more difficult because so many people there are vegetarians. But my mother-in-law helped make lots of different food every night – different vegetable dishes, spices, meat, and fish. While traveling around India, I ate a lot of omelets mostly.

GI Jane: So do you have some tried and true foods that you go to when you are not feeling well?

Raman: Soups seem to be really good, or vegetables, even pureed vegetables for a couple days can really help. It’s important to make sure that you don’t have too much roughage. You can also make electrolyte drinks with salt, baking soda and honey to help with hydration if you are really sick and dehydrated.

It’s funny, when I first heard of the book Breaking The Vicious Cycle, it was actually published under another name and my aunt sent me an article. I flipped through the book and said no way could I ever eat like this, then found it a year or two later.

GI Jane: So what was it that made you finally try the diet?

Raman: Pure desperation, really. My doctor said it was time to consider surgery. I had been feeling so crappy, I had no energy. And psychologically, nothing made sense. I had been trying for 6-7 years to figure out what worked and it was just the day to day unpredictability over how I would feel. I figured had nothing to lose at this point.

GI Jane: Did you ever have doubts along the way that the diet wouldn’t work for you?

Raman: No, I always had a lot of optimism over new ideas on how to get better, but each one would kind of fall on its face. SCDiet worked well for me, though it required some trial and error. I definitely was overdoing the almond flour in the beginning.

GI Jane: I think that is a trap that a lot of us have fallen into. It’s just so nice to have a bread-like crutch to help you adjust to your new grain-less existence.

Raman: Though it’s funny,  I’ve been learning about this whole cross-fit thing and all the people that are power lifters or are into cross-fit are also doing the paleo diet. I had been thinking oh, I have to do this diet because I’m sick, but then I’m having lunch with a guy who is really into cross-fit and chooses to do the paleo thing because they feel it is the most efficient way to process energy. He says he doesn’t do grain because it is incredibly inefficient as a food source. With paleo he has some foods that conflict with the SCDiet but it is very similar, and he had some suggestions for me about the paleo diet and autoimmune issues. So I’m always learning more about things like that, like why this or that makes sense or doesn’t make sense.

GI Jane: Are you finding that you meet more and more people who have dietary restrictions?

Raman: Yes, you see it everywhere now and read about it everywhere. I was looking at a graph of different diseases from the 1950s until now, and you can see that diseases like polio and measles and things like that have a steady decline, but then autoimmune disorders start to rise and in the last few decades they started rising like crazy. So a lot more people are researching the connection between diet and some of these disorders.

GI Jane: Have you found a GI doctor that supports some of the theories on diet and ulcerative colitis?

Raman: My doctor just says you’re a better man than me for doing this diet and I’m thinking, you don’t even want to look into it? But I know there are a few doctors out there, especially some that work with kids. I know a pediatric GI doctor who recommends SCDiet as the first line of treatment for GI problems. At first, he was the laughing stock of the practice, but the results have been so startling that now the other doctors are starting to pay attention and are trying to do some retrospective studies on some of these patients.

GI Jane: It seems that no genuine controlled studies on the diet exist because there’s no money in that type of research.

Raman: Yes, in fact, I read a Wall Street Journal article back in 2002 that basically said that there is no money to be made in it so no one else is going to study it.

GI Jane: I want to hear a little about your adventures in cooking since I’ve enjoyed reading your cookbook. Did you always enjoy cooking or did you start because you had to?

Raman: I started cooking more out of necessity. But my partner really helped a lot too and is really the co-author of the cookbook though she didn’t want her name on it. I had a lot of family members that helped with recipes too. The book is really for people who are a little further into the diet. I have been thinking of more ways to give people practical tips to introducing the diet.

GI Jane: I have friends who are interested in SCD or a similar diet for various inflammatory diseases, but many of them really don’t like to cook. With SCD it seems you can’t get around committing to more time in the kitchen. What advice would you give someone who has some kitchen anxiety but wants to make this work?

Raman: Make more money and get a personal chef! After you read about the diet, it seems daunting but with a little planning you can make it work. I would say don’t read Breaking the Vicious Cycle on a Friday night and decide to start it the next day, because two days later you will be out of food and angry and cursing whoever gave you the book. First figure out what you would eat for a week, create a Sunday through Saturday schedule, get the supplies you need, like a food processor if you don’t have one, or a big pot for soup. Make big meals and have leftovers. Baked goods freeze well. Find some options for eating out. I think it’s really important to find a family member or friend to support you. And don’t be scared. Just take it one step at a time. I think it was Elaine who coined the phrase, “It’s better to spend more time in the kitchen than in the bathroom.”