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

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.

Is Leaky Gut Making You Sicker?


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.

Jordan Reasoner

About 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 HealthyGut.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

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46 thoughts on “Did SCD, GAPS, or Paleo Make You Feel Worse?

  1. Avatar

    I know this is an old post, but I thought I had nothing to lose by reaching out. My sons are on the autism spectrum. I put them my whole family on GAPS this past April, so we have been on it for 6 months. It went well in the beginning. I followed the advice of the diet, and did not move on to a new stage unless bowel movements were good. Everyone’s #2’s were great! If I introduced a new food that was a problem, we remained where we were or went backward for a bit. We went on the full GAPS in a little over a month. After being on the full GAPS diet for a couple of months, my sons started to get diarrhea. At first, it wasn’t every time. Now, it seems nearly every poo is a problem. I have removed many controversial foods: yogurt, kefir, coconut, raw veggies, etc. My boys never had issues like this before the diet! Why are they worse? What should I do?

  2. Avatar

    I was following a paleo type of diet with raw dairy for a long time. But I was experiencing joint pain, headaches, back pain, sinus issues, heartburn, acid reflux, mood issues, and fatigue. So I tried out the GAPS intro diet but it seems to have made things worse. I followed the intro diet exactly and felt much better, all of my symptoms disappeared. I got to the end of the second stage and had successfully added in a variety of foods but suddenly, without adding anything new I ended up with horrible upper abdominal pain after a few spoonfuls of just a plains stage one soup. The pain lasted most of the day and slowly spread down to my lower intestinal area before I ended up with a bit of diarrhea. This continued for a few days, I would wake up feeling better, try to drink water or meat broth, end up in pain, and not be able to eat for the rest of the day. I was losing weight and unable to eat, so I gave up and went to my previous diet, after which most of the pain went away, but not all. So now I have all of my previous symptoms back along with some abdominal pain and intestinal cramping.

    My doctor prescribed a bunch of antacid medications but doesn’t want to do more testing unless those don’t work. But I don’t really believe that drugs are the answer so I haven’t taken them. I went to a naturopath but it wasn’t much help either, just a ton of expensive supplements that I haven’t noticed any difference with.

    Figuring it out myself seems impossible with all of the conflicting information online and in books. For example, where one will recommend juicing vegetables and greens, another will say to avoid raw greens and vegetables because of the fiber or the plant toxins (enzyme inhibitors, oxalates, etc..).

    So I am looking into other options to try, such as the AIP or SCD diets, but I’m not so sure at this point. I want to get better but I’m scared to make things worse.

    • Avatar

      Hi Brianne – hanks for reaching out. We are all the different healing diets can be VERY confusing. The most important thing to remember, however, is that a healing diet is only the foundation of good health – If you have another underlying cause (like a gut infection or adrenal fatigue) diet alone will never be enough to heal.

      We recommend you check out our free webinar on how to heal the root causes of your gut issues here: http://solvingleakygut.com/webinar/internal-leakygut2/

      I hope this helps! Hang in there

  3. Avatar

    I am (was) vegetarian, quite healthy, no processed food etc. I would’ve liked to start GAPS diet for mild autoimmune issues and some new weird allergies. I started with bone broth fasting, but I am thin and so I have been eating some very small amount of meat and vegs from the broth and all the fat that sat on the top of the broth. This is only my fourth day and I feel I just can’t eat meat and fat any more. It disgust me and actually this is why I am vegetarian. Especially animal fat. I feel sick even just think of my next meal and I eat (and drink broth) less times than I should which is a disaster considering my weight (I can lose weight quite fast). I was disgusted as a child too.So what can I do? 🙁 Can I just live on coconut oil? Or is it enough if I drink bone broth (with no fat) daily and skip the meat bit? Chicken liver is something I can tolerate better for some reason, but I’v read that it is not good overusing it. Thanks for the help in advance.

  4. Avatar
    Brenda Schwieterman says:

    I’m simply aggravated. I’ve been following a very strict SCD/GAPS diet for 18 months to reverse ulcerative colitis, hypothyroidism, ADHD, anxiety and depression. I am proud to say I have gotten off of 11 prescription medications and typical symptoms are gone. BUT…..I can not handle ANY probiotics, fresh pressed juice, homemade yogurt, raw milk, fermented foods or any anti-fungals without feeling intoxicated. I feel lightheaded, lethargic, depressed sometimes agitated, and I get hot flashes and tremble. I’ve tried so many probiotics, including saccharomyces boulardii. And Gut Pros baby probiotics. Even 1/16 of a teaspoon sets me over the edge. I’ve tried taking activated charcoal with some luck, but do not understand how after 18 months of vegetables, broth grass fed beef and pasture raised chicken, I can still be experiencing this much die-off. I’ve had a stool sample and know I have a mild case of candida, but no parasites or other strange things. My stools showed no lacto or bifido strains 6 months ago. I’ve read about auto intoxication, but don’t know what to do differently to get rid of the junk in my brain! It hurts, I’m annoyed and I haven’t been myself for months.

    I am 51. I am not overweight. I try to take walks regularly. I’ve never drank alcohol on a regular basis. My body does not produce sweat easily. I eat small amounts of fruit daily, along with honey on grass fed butter, occasionally. I take digestive enzymes, including lipase. I don’t take Betaine HCl because it tears my colon. I take other supplements too: vitamin D and C, magnesium, multi-vitamin, B-complex, molybdenum and NAC.
    I’ve had a blood test and know I have methylation issues. My stool is a 4/5 on the Bristol Stool Scale and I poo 1-3 times a day. I drink lots of filtered water. All fruits and veggies are organic. I consume 1/2 avocado a day, plus olive oil in salad dressing and a tablespoon of UDO’s oil each morning. I also take cod liver oil and eat wild salmon weekly. Lots of steamed veggies.

    My brain/head is so bothersome I want to call it quits, but there’s no way I could re-introduce anything right now. I fear I am too old for this challenge and I worry my life will never be what I intended when I started this journey in 2015. Can you help me?


    • Avatar

      Hi Brenda – thanks so much for reaching out to us. I’m really sorry you’re so frustrated.

      First, you’re definitely not too old to get healthy. We want to believe that if we follow the diet perfectly then we can achieve 100% perfect health – but that just isn’t always true. Some things are beyond our control. Instead of focusing on where you’re still trying to improve, I hope you can appreciate all the incredible progress you’ve made in 18 months (especially considering your symptoms likely developed over your entire life, so we’re talking about 50 years vs. 18 months on the diet to see these improvements!)

      All that being said, the foods you’re describing and the symptoms you’re experiencing could be related to a histamine issue. I recommend giving this podcast Steve did with Chris Kresser a listen: https://chriskresser.com/what-you-should-know-about-histamine-intolerance/

      We’d also recommend you work one-on-one with a practitioner. https://healthygut.com/practitioners/ (If you need more practitioner recommendations, email us at support@scdlifestyle.com)

  5. Avatar

    I am of the understanding that this diet helps for extreme food intolerances and allergies. I have lactose intolerance, salicylate intolerance, am cealiac, have ibs and hyperthyroidism. How can someone with these intolerance do this diet.

  6. Avatar

    I have been on SCD diet for six weeks and have started feeling awful. The good thing is my blood pressure has dropped to low levels and am working with my doctor on that. But I am starving. Lost 15 lbs.though have gained back 5 lbs. I can’t eat fruit or dairy not even legal yogurt and cheese and don’t tolerate nuts. Tomatoes are out….fructose malabsorption. Any suggestions?

  7. Avatar

    I have had my grandson that is seven on the scd been 30 days symptoms all left. He was doing great almost actually 30 days, an now he has fever an stomach pain. Feel scared don’t won’t to do medicine at all. Don’t know if this is die off or a reaction to the tomatoe paste i put in his ketchep.

  8. Avatar

    Been on the SCD diet for IBS/gastrointestinal problems nearly 6months now with varied results. It has improved the consistency of my stools and decreased my mass (around 25lb weight loss). Also improved my moods and concentration levels. But I’m much more gassy from both ends now and have more colon pain/swelling from it. It’s hard to find a happy medium.. I found the SCD yoghurt a real game changer, it helps me a lot and I notice the days I don’t consume it.

  9. Avatar

    I have been on Gaps diet for two months and I think I’m having “die off” effect.Im feeling dizzy for about a month and I feel like I’m in a dream.(brain fog) but here it says it lasts for a few days,mine lasts for a month and still going on.what should I do?please help me

  10. Avatar

    I am having a hard time finding anyone and advice with the same problem as me. I don’t have diarrhea like everyone else. I have had ulcerative colitis for about 5 years now. I had barely any problems during those five years except for the last 10 months I’vebeen having a non-stop flare. My accidents and runs to the bathroom feel like I’m going to have diarrhea but only blood and mucous come out. The blood and stomach cramps were very rare and minimal but now, I’ve been onthe SCD diet for about 3 weeks, my stomach cramps have started to be all the time and the blood is increasing pretty quickly. When I actually have a stool it is really painful, i get really vulnerable, cold sweats, goose bumps, and horrible cramping that are similar in pain to child birth. I left my current gastroenterologist and have been trying to get with another who is very high in demand and very difficult to see. I am feeling really lost and desperate for pain relief and help.

  11. Avatar

    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!

  12. Avatar

    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.

  13. Avatar
    Gemma Bartlett says:

    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.

  14. Avatar


    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!

    • Avatar

      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.

  15. Avatar

    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.

  16. Avatar

    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.

  17. Avatar

    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.

  18. Avatar

    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!

  19. Avatar

    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?

    • Avatar

      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 🙂

        • Avatar

          Hello. I need help. I been in the gaps diet for over a year, I been losing a lot of hair, I am way to skinny and every single time that I eat something I get very bad headaches. I don’t have a gallbladder. I don’t knew what to do anymore. Would you help me?

          • Avatar

            Liz, look at taking some ox bile with your meals, or at least those meals that have fats in them. Avoiding fats is not the answer as you will miss out on some essential vitamins & fatty acids. Try a product called Bile Acid Factors by Jarrow. I a amazed at how any people have their gallbladder removed and they dont get any more support from their doctor, as if their gall bladder is a totally redundant organ. What’s worse is when their doctor denies their subsequent digestive troubles as being hypochondria.

  20. Avatar
    Maree Clark says:

    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

      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.


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