Why You’re Losing Weight After Starting SCD and GAPS

Tires slipping on the icy road. Tap the brakes… heart races.

Look up see a tree and a field. Hoping to miss the tree…

BAMMM! A whole field there and I hit the only tree for a mile.

This is a common story told by car crash survivors and it highlights a universal law.

The law is that we get more of what we focus on. And sadly, it happens to those who don’t want to lose another pound of weight just like it does for the car crash victim hoping to avoid the tree.

Weight loss is a common fear that causes some to avoid starting SCD, GAPS, or Paleo in an effort to NOT lose another pound. Many do something worse: they give up just a few short weeks after starting…

This post will address the issue of lowering pounds on a scale, but it will also serve to show just how insane it is to use a scale on a regular basis. It’s best to throw your scale in the dumpster and use a more advanced form of body size measurement.

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3 Causes of the Initial Weight Loss

Changes in weight come from four main factors: muscle mass, fat mass, water weight, and food/drink in transit. Some of these factors can fluctuate wildly day-to-day. For instance, it’s not uncommon for basketball players to lose 5-8 pounds of water during a 2-hour basketball game.

But when every pound seems like the end of the world, it’s important to understand what changes a lower carbohydrate diet like SCD will have on your body.  The three major reasons why people lost weight are:

1. Lower Glycogen stores

2. Lower Salt intake

3. Lower Calorie intake

Low carbohydrate weight loss diets like the Atkins diet actually leverage these very ideas to market a fast reduction of weight.

So yes, it’s very common to lose a few pounds when you start. It’s actually something I expect everyone to tell me. It’s also what is called temporary or transient weight loss.

Not actual fat or muscle mass loss.

Most of it is Water Weight

I understand that when the “underweight comments” are coming from every angle, the fight for every pound can make or break your day. I hope that by the end of this article you’ll relax and stop tying your weight to your confidence. As it’s one of the worst confidence mistakes many make.

Lower Glycogen stores means less water weight.

Part of the reason that a basketball player loses so much weight during a game is sweating, but even more is likely due to loss of Glycogen. Glycogen is a stored carbohydrate. Our body keeps glycogen on hand in the liver and in the muscles.

The interesting thing is that, for every gram of glycogen stored in the body, the body also keeps 3-4 grams of water.  So let’s look at some math…

Let’s say I’m eating a grain-based higher carbohydrate diet and have 600g of stored glycogen. But then I go on SCD because I’m sick of all the IBS problems. After a week, my glycogen stores are down to 200g due to eating less and one workout. So, I’ve burned 400g of glycogen and also gotten rid of 900-1200g of water.

It might not sound like much weight but it can be.

But look at this study. It shows females losing on average of 4.3kg (9.4lbs) of weight in 4 days! From the study:

“Glycogen losses or gains are reported to be associated with an additional three to four parts water, so that as much as 5kg (11lbs) weight change might not be associated with any fat loss.”

It’s worth noting that the women in the study had a starting weight ranging from 144.6lbs to 238.5lbs. So, if you weigh less than that, it’s possible you have less to lose due to body size. However, even the lightest female lost 6.8lbs in 4 days which was higher than heavier participants… so it’s very individualized.

Less Salt = Less Water

One of the biggest differences between a western diet and a real food diet is the lack of additional sodium. Even gluten-free boxed junk food contains a bunch of salt. So, when someone switches to full SCD or a Paleo diet, their salt intake usually drops very dramatically.

And when this happens we store even less water. It’s pretty common knowledge that salt intake increases water retention. But most don’t think about just how much salt they eat on SCD.

For instance, unless you are regularly heavily salting at each meal, you might not be getting enough salt from the food alone. And not enough salt is a big problem. Salt, like many other foods, has gotten a bad rap. But the truth is: too little sodium is likely as bad as way too much (Read this on salt intake). In summary, this may only affect your weight by 1-2 pounds.

The other factor at play is total calories eaten.

Some Accidentally Starve Themselves

Low carbohydrate diets are known to cause easy weight loss. One of the biggest reasons is thought to be the types of foods that are eaten. Low Carbohydrate foods tend to be high in protein and fat, which are more satiating than carbohydrates.

This can make the switch from processed food to real foods an interesting struggle to retrain your stomach how much to eat and how often. Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to eat.

But what also isn’t mentioned. is that if you eat smaller portions of food that are more nutrient dense it creates less physical matter in your digestive tract. And this matters for your total overall weight.

Less physical matter eaten results in less physical matter in transit and less weight on the scale.

What to Do About the Lost Weight

Some of your weight loss is water and you need to expect this and understand it. Try not to freak out about 2-4 pounds here or there on the scale.

Monitor your calories using a program like fitday.com. If you’re underweight, eat 500-2000 more calories a day (depending on your needs). Start by eating more calorie-dense foods, and if necessary, start using a weight gainer shake.

And remember to dump your scale. Use a tape measure, or pictures. Scales can be prison for many. Liberate yourself.


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 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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18 thoughts on “Why You’re Losing Weight After Starting SCD and GAPS

  1. Avatar
    Jennifer Hillis says:

    Please advise my son has Crohns and is currently not on meds. He had an FMT approx 1 month ago w colonoscopy. He has significant inflammation but in very small area . We thought to try and heal area the SCD could help. He was 112.5 and now 108 . I am cooking all day Long and just so difficult for him to feel satisfied. He is 15 and needs all nourishment he can get ? Any suggestions thanks

  2. Avatar

    This article has helped me. I researched the GAPS diet after no treatment from my doctor worked so far and been desperate to stop my condition. I knew I needed to stop all sugar, yeast and starch intake. I starrted last Friday, I was 10 stone. Now it is the following Saturday and I am 9 stone. Still feel faint and very hungry and find it hard to find enough food of the right foods to eat but I am learning and adapting. It is very interesting to hear about the sugar v water in our bodies and thats probably why I have lost a stone in a week.

  3. Avatar

    If you were technically slightly overweight to begin with, your family has been on intro with minimal weight loss (no more than would be expected according to your list), and you lost say 10 pounds in 12 days… would that be considered a good or bad thing? Am I not taking in enough calories (though I feel great) and headed for trouble, or is this a by-product of the diet I can be grateful for? I started it for digestive health/ fibromyalgia problems, not weight specifically.

  4. Avatar

    I just wanted to say thanks. I’m on day 11 of SCD and lost 5 pounds so far. I am at the cusp of being underweight by BMI so the sudden weight loss was rather alarming. This article is exactly what I needed to read to keep going. I want to be healthy! Thanks for the encouragement and the education! 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Bruce Simpsom says:

    Hi David. Coeliac with usual complications that UK NHS does not recognise so just fired my Doc! On GAPS diet since Dec. now 4 nights a week I wake at 2.30 in morning with headaches. Don’t know why. Forehead only eased by soluble paracetamol etc

    Could this be due to low sodium. Original tests showed I was low in all minerals except potassium. GAPS is naturally diuretic diet and I am up at least 4 times a night! 135 lbs having lost about 20. If so, how do I increase sodium safely ?

  6. Avatar
    Katie Newville says:

    Hi, thank you for the article. We have finally gone into intro stage 1 of GAPS. I’ve been slowly introducing the food we can have for over a month now and my 4 year old son suddenly looks really skinny. I’m worried. I realize now that while introducing the food he was eating much less bc of refusing the soup and meat. He has Autism and is a very picky eater. We are finally eating fairly well and I have learned more of what he willing to eat. We are also talking with his nutritionist who is going to monitor his calorie intake. My question is, how do I get him more calories on GAPS Intro if I want to stick to the diet? People have said add beef tallow to the soups, but it’s kind of nasty and he won’t eat very much of the soup as it is. This is just so much harder doing it with kids.

  7. Avatar

    Thanks for this interesting article.

    I have been on the diet now for 11 weeks for dysbiosis. I have ups and downs, but generally I am seeing improvements. However, I have not progressed much beyond Phase 2 because of reactions to the vegetables and fructose.

    However, I am concerned about my weight and lack of energy. I lost 5kg very quickly, and have continued to slide but slower. I am now at 62.5kg. I find that if I go for a brisk walk, after about 30 minutes, my muscles feel very weak.

    Noting your comment above: Not actual fat or muscle mass loss.

    I have lost most (all?) of my body fat. My clothes are all very loose – pants have gone down two sizes, ie, 10cm or 4″.

    I am a bit concerned that the weakness in muscles is the muscle mass going too. 🙁

    My first attempt was to just eat more, 4 or 5 meals a day. I think this is what slowed down the weight loss.

    Following your advice, I have been adding oils and fats. Rereading the article tonight, I see I am probably not adding enough. Do the phase 1 and 2 vegetables contribute much?

  8. Avatar

    Great article. I’m really under weight from being so sick and the only things that have helped are alternative diets. I’m glad to hear about this as I was already speculating these changes may be due to the occurrence of toxins and adaptations of removing certain foods. Hope all is well and that everyone has the courage to maintain the SCD diet.

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