Gain Weight and Heal Faster on SCD: In One Hour a Week

What if I said, “You can gain weight and heal faster at the same time. And you only have to commit to one extra hour a week?”

Intrigued? Well, the best part is it’s true and you don’t have to tweak SCD to do it.

Gaining weight is on the minds of many who attempt the Specific Carbohydrate Diet… healing faster is on everyone’s. A much debated and usually misunderstood piece of healing is working out. Elaine guarded against it for good reasons: our diseased bodies are not the same as athletes, bodybuilders or marathoners; our hormones, gut, and many other organs are just not functioning the way they should right now. So, for us to carry-on trying to belong to the groups above makes little sense. That doesn’t mean you can’t be any of the above and have a digestive disease. It just means there are special tweaks and rules to abide by during healing.

Here Are a Few Tweaks to Live By if You’re Just Starting Out:

  1. Total time of training should be as low as possible to conserve body resources (Less is more in the gym. Get in and out in under an hour, changing included)
  2. Rest time is of very high importance, the body is continually fighting your digestive problems and now it has to rebuild muscles (don’t go to the gym every day)
  3. Unless training for a specific event, exercises with the smallest chance of injury should be used (if you’re hurt you can’t get any of the benefits of training)
  4. Training intensity and exercise form are the most important things to keep in mind while training (push yourself as hard as possible, but use proper form to stay injury free)
  5. Cardio creates chronic inflammation and wastes precious resources, time and calories (Just stop already. Go for walks outside instead)

These tweaks to your workout program will make sure you’re looking and feeling better right away. There is no need to wait unless instructed by a doctor. In fact, check this out:

Is Leaky Gut Making You Sicker?


  • Strength training produces many positive adaptations (some of which help metabolism, hormones, and blood flow)
  • Strength training benefits include: higher bone mass, larger lean muscle mass and promotes positive balance of chemicals in the brain

So, why did I include that last bullet point? Because I see several emails each week from people who are at risk of osteoporosis or already have it, about ½ of the people we email say they want to gain weight and one the biggest pink elephants in this community is that many of us have battled depression, anxiety and other mental problems.

Strength training, done properly, will help all of these problems! But don’t run away yet and start chucking dumbbells around. Remember, we must filter the body of strength training knowledge through our lens of digestive problems. Only then can we filter and find what we should be doing.

Luckily for all of us, Anja emailed me. It turns out she has discovered many of the same things I have. She’s gone down the rabbit hole of working out while trying to heal, finding out what works and doesn’t. So, without further ado…

[Enter Anja]

An Introduction to HIT

“Intensity of effort is almost the entire answer in itself; lacking the proper intensity of effort, little or nothing in the way of results will be produced by any amount of exercise—at least not in the way of muscular size or strength increases. But given the proper intensity of effort, then very little in the way of exercise is required for the production of best possible results.” – Arthur Jones, Nautilus Bulletin #1, 1970

I’ve been suffering from digestive illness for the past 8 years. Conventional medicine has not been very helpful for me unfortunately, so I began to look into alternative ways of improving my physical and mental well-being, including exercise.

But for most of that time, I was doing everything wrong. Even becoming a personal trainer did not make me wiser in this regard. And, I know now that I was also likely working against my own healing and recovery.

What I was missing was the recognition of certain facts of reality that must be heeded in order to reap the rewards of exercise. So, in this post I want to provide a brief overview of those facts, and then draw out the implications for digestive healing.

Exercise – The Facts

The first thing one needs to understand is that gains in muscle, strength, and cardiovascular conditioning are the result of successful adaptation—an adaptation made by the body to the demands placed upon it by exercise. The biological identity of the human body is such that while individuals vary in their maximum potential for muscle gains, the biochemical changes necessary to produce these gains are universal.

In particular, for exercise to trigger muscle growth, muscles must be engaged as fully and completely as possible and made to momentarily fail. Achieving this requires sufficient intensity—you have got to work as hard as you can.

Steve: This is an important take home point. Most people I’ve met have no idea how far they could actually push themselves, including myself. Look to go the extra mile every time.

But—and this is crucial—since intensity is inversely related to duration, it cannot be kept up for long. You can train very hard or very long, but you cannot do both at the same time.

Moreover, the body’s adaptation response occurs not during exercise, but during rest—and the time it needs to adapt is actually much longer than is often assumed. If the exercise stimulus is reintroduced to the body before it has had sufficient time to recover, it will be hindered in producing the response intended by exercise. Too much stress will deplete the body’s ability to adequately restore itself. Exercise duration and frequency are therefore determined by how much time the body needs to recover and adapt.

Steve: Many will debate this point because they fail to define the goal of a specific training program. In some programs, full recovery might not be the goal. However, things are different for us coming from the digestive healing lens

Finally, since the body constantly seeks to establish equilibrium by adapting to the stress placed upon it by high intensity exercise, exercise has to progress in intensity in order to elicit a continued adaptation response over time.

So, it is the intensity of exercise that produces most of the benefits, not volume or frequency.

Steve: Again program goals can change this, but not for our group

Now, what do these facts translate to in the gym?

The most proven way to grow bigger and stronger, is to lift weights—lift as hard as you can for only the time it takes you to reach complete failure—and no more. Then, rest for as long as your body needs to fully recover.

But What About Cardio?

Advocates of steady-state cardiovascular exercise claim that because it primarily stimulates the body’s aerobic metabolism (i.e. energy produced by using oxygen to break down fats and carbohydrates), such exercise plays an important role in conditioning the heart and lungs, and promoting fat loss.

However, the purpose of the heart and lungs is to support the activities of the body that involve the muscular system (e.g., hunting for food or escaping a predator). Hence, as long as strength training is sufficiently intense, the heart and lungs must work harder and thereby will be conditioned. Incidentally, intense enough strength training also prompts the biochemical process involved in mobilizing fat to be used for fuel.

In addition, aerobic exercise has some decided disadvantages over strength training:

  1. The most efficient way to burning fat and keeping off weight is to grow and maintain muscle, because muscle is metabolically more expensive than fat (i.e. it burns more calories). Aerobic exercise may produce some fat loss, but since it is supposed to be kept up over a long duration, it cannot possibly be intense enough to trigger the building of muscle.
  2. Worse, long bouts of such activity can deprive the body of the energy necessary to recover and support muscle growth.
  3. Over the long-term it can cause overuse injury to the knees, hips, and back due to the forces imposed on them. By contrast, strength training is very safe provided it is properly conducted.

So, What Does All of This Have to do With Digestive Healing?

There are two important points to make here.

One, building muscle has been shown to promote the kind of physical and mental environment conducive to reducing pain, preventing injury, and increasing metabolic, hormonal and psychological functioning. In other words, building muscle can not only make you look but also feel better.

Two, exercise is a stressor on the body, which means it requires substantial resources for recovery. If you overdo it in the gym (weight or cardio-wise) and do not allow your body the time to heal, you will undermine not only your goal of muscle growth and fat loss, but also your goal of digestive healing.

Splendid. Now that we have covered the basics, my next post will give you some practical advice on how to develop a training program that optimizes your exercise and digestive healing goals.

In the meantime, to learn more about HIT training, I highly recommend you read High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way by Mike Mentzer and John Little, Body by Science by Doug McGuff and John Little, and Arthur Jones’ classic Nautilus Bulletin #1 and Nautilus Bulletin #2. A good summary of the research regarding HIT’s effectiveness is provided by Smith and Bruce-Low in Strength training methods and the work of Arthur Jones. For an excellent HIT blog, check out Drew Baye’s High Intensity Training.

Anja Hartleb-Parson is Vice President of Research for an educational non-profit. As the owner of Lead Your Self Coaching, she also helps people fine-tune their thinking skills for maximum achievement. 

– Steve

Steven Wright

About Steven Wright

Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn't know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started 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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15 thoughts on “Gain Weight and Heal Faster on SCD: In One Hour a Week

  1. Avatar

    I’m totally in agreement with this article, minimizing unnecessary strain on the body is exactly where I’m at now, as I’ve a case of probably what would be classed as stage 3 adrenal burnout.

    For me I even have to keep it to the level at the moment right now of just doing a couple of walks a day, and maybe a low intensity bike ride. There’s no doubt that movement is really important for physical health (including brain health) but when your adrenals are depleted, in my experience you have to be super slow and careful not to back step by burning yourself out even more.

  2. Avatar

    I would highly recommend to all your followers who are looking at getting exercise to investigate kettlebells. It is short and intensive (15 minutes of a 1 hour session is actual exercise – the remainder warming up, recovery and warming down). But a colleague of mine also has UC and this is what she saw recently:
    “3 years ago I was told I had osteopina in my spine. I was advised to increase my intake of diary,take calcium supplement and weight bearing exercise. I hate milk and taking any type of tabs. Sandra Goodison invited me up to the gym one Saturday morning to meet Mick. He told me he could help my spine and hips with exercise. I started off doing circuit training and within 6 months did my first competition I didn’t take any supplements I did take two yogurts each day and trained 3 times a week with kettlebell club. Today I had another bone density scan and the results were unbelievable. My osteopina is gone. My hip bones and spine density have increased by 18%. The radiologist was stunned she thought I was going to be diagnosed with brittle bone disease today but instead told me I’ve the bone mass of a 20 year old. She said she’s never seen a reversal like it. It wasn’t done by drugs because I wouldn’t touch them it was done by training with kettlebells.”
    Sort of answers all questions, doesn’t it. And the lady in the excerpt above competed in the European Championships last May!
    So, go find kettlebells…

  3. Avatar

    Thanks again for answering my problem concerning the need
    to gain weight, can’t wait to change my routine in the gym,again
    thanks. from a blessed 80 yr. old man and wife.

  4. Avatar

    How can someone gain weight whilst doing this? I dont think I’m dire with digestive problems…but I get a lot of bloating, constipation or mushy, undigested stool, stitches in my ribs, gurgling stomach (like gas is trapped there)..but I’m only 80 lbs and almost 5 feet 2. I eat a lot of healthy fats as it is , so I worry that makes all the symptoms worse? (since I’ve been like this for so so long)…i cannot cannot afford to lose weight…also starting to worry what if i have intolerances like to eggs and stuff since i eat the SAME things all the time…
    (to clarify i’m not currently doing SCD…but am TOO intimidated by the starting phases, etc…plus i can’t do things like broths…where i live hormone-free chicken is very very difficult to get, so i can’t eat frequently…i cannot lose weight so i dont know what route to go

  5. Avatar

    Awesome advice thanks guys, i’m sticking with walking and yoga a few times a week so far, then hope to get a home gym or membership again to be able to get into some strength training other than yoga. Does the strength training from yoga using static asana (postures) and some vinyasa (‘flow yoga’) such as sun salutations not burn too many calories? and will they increase muscle mass/tone over time?

    • Steven Wright

      @ Samara – No yoga is not going to burn too many calories, don’t worry about that. You could easily walk 30 minutes a day and do 30 minutes of Yoga and not burn that many extra calories (everyone will be different its impossible to put a real number on it but probably less than 4 oz of meat). No they won’t increase muscle mass over time unless you were starting from a bed ridden state. Muscle mass is built in response to a stimulus, you have to over stimulate your muscle fibers to build muscle, normally yoga is not going to do this. So moving to strength training as fast as possible is usually the best option.

    • Steven Wright

      @ Reid – CrossFit is a great program but it is pretty demanding, what I mean by that is that it’s very taxing not only on the muscles but also neurological system. They use a lot of complex lifts that take advanced motor skills which is great when your looking to build your athletic base, or a higher level of work capacity. If you have digestive issues and still don’t have your symptoms under control CrossFit in my opinion is too demanding and your going to end up stealing resources from your ability to heal. It would be better to start with walking, yoga, a few months of HIT and then progress into CrossFit. But again its all about your goals. If you want to look good and get strong HIT is probably a better choice than CrossFit. If your an athlete, after getting some of your strength and muscle back CrossFit is most likely better.

  6. Avatar

    This is a good topic for a post; it’s something people are concerned about. I have a few thoughts:
    1. I would caution people not to get ahead of their guts, so to speak. It’s good to want to be in shape, but to heal, rest is your mantra. If you’re too sick to lift, walk or do light Yoga. If you’re too sick to walk, sit outside and get some sun. Give your body time. That said…
    2. I think what I was waiting for you to elaborate on is the HIT concept of the minimum effective dose of exercise. Proper load stimulation + proper intensity (each at the minimum dose necessary) for your desired adaptation = significant gains. Don’t be fooled; the term makes this sound easy, but if you do it right, it hurts. Even better, as you get stronger, the pain stays the same, because you’ve upped the intensity and work load…

    This concept of minimal effective dose is worth talking about, because it is so freeing, especially for those of us who grew up in the “more is better: pain, pain, pain = gain, gain, gain” school.

    You mean I can workout for 6 minutes (for example), and get better results than if I spend an hour in the gym? Any day, except for my worst days of flare up, I could muster for 6 minutes. That is encouraging.

    3. Resting. Can you define resting for everyone? It’s the most beneficial, and least understood part of training. What does resting look like for those with IBD? How does it change as you heal?

    Thanks guys.

    • steven wright

      @ Matt – All Great points man, thanks for bringing them up. Yoga and daily walking is a great place to start if your having a very hard time getting out of bed or up the stairs. I would agree if your that sick, daily walking is about all you should be doing. But once your getting stronger I think it is important to keep pushing each day until you can handle the MED (minimum effective dose) like you said.

      Great points on MED and Rest I will try to address them next! The short answer is resting is not training 🙂

    • Avatar

      Not sure I understand the MED concept.

      “If you do it right, it hurts” seems to contradict “it is so freeing, esp. for those who grew up in the [NO PAIN, NO GAIN] school”.

      I’ve always said, NO PAIN, NO PAIN. But then, I”m no athlete, so I can hardly convince others that pushing to the point of pain can be counterproductive. The fact is, my family needs me to be functional, so I can’t risk injury or even muscle ache from over-exercising.

      • Steven Wright
        Steven Wright says:

        @ Odddlycrunchy – MED is really about only doing the minimum necessary to get the result you want. So for instance as you talked about MED is NOT running on a cardio machine to lose weight. It is also not doing 6 sets of an exercise if 2 sets will produce the equivalent results.

        There is a fine line between pushing the body pain and injury pain. Athletes are very in tune with this and unfortunately usually only understand it because they’ve crossed into injury pain too many times. What I’m saying is don’t generalize it because you haven’t experienced it. Exercise to build muscle must be a sufficient stimulus which will require some struggle and work. But in no way am I adovcating that everything must be painful or am I advocating for over-exercising. The point of this post is that most people over exercise and that there is a much better way to do things.

  7. Avatar

    I found this helpful as I go to the gym almost every day. I struggled for awhile with wanting to do more cardio but I would need to eat SO MUCH during the day to make up for what I burned and I was getting too thin. Then I got tendonitis and was forced to chill out on the cardio and focused more on weights. I found that my body didn’t change much even though I had almost cut out the cardio completely. In fact, I think it actually improved! This eased my mind and made me think that I’m probably doing what I should be doing, and it’s ok if I’m not doing more than 10 minutes of cardio! Thanks!!

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