This interview comes from Steve Wright, co-author of SCD Lifestyle Solution (SCD stands for Specific Carbohydrate Diet). Steve candidly shares how living with his digestive disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, spurred a decision to live a more conscious lifestyle and giving up an old lifestyle that kept him sick and getting sicker. After an embarrassing and shocking personal revelation related to his illness, Steve decided to take measures in his own hands and take control of his life and eating. Knowing something was wrong wasn’t enough, Steve had to learn (and overcome) the real problem his body was facing. Here, Steve shares with us how he changed his lifestyle and how he ultimately came to write SCD Lifestyle Solution – a how-to guide to living a healthy, conscious life.
[Editor’s note]: This is part one of a two-part interview with Steve Wright and Jordan Reasoner, co-authors of SCD Lifestyle Solution. Check out Jordan’s interview next week on Fear.less. This post contains references to digestive illness and related elements which are meant to instruct and inform.
Steve Wright: When I was in high school, one of my aunts nicknamed me the Gas Man because I literally smelled all the time. Everybody would laugh and oddly enough, I thought that was normal. When college came around, I started living in a fraternity house and took 20 credit hours a semester, something which stressed me out and produced unhealthy habits, whether in the form of beer and fried food or staying up and studying for 16 hours straight. My health declined throughout college and I gained a lot of weight. Upon graduation, for a year I worked another unhealthy job at GM, 60-80 hours a week, was normal but I ended up leaving the company and moving to Chicago. At that point, I was doing a consulting gig for KPMG which had me travelling a lot. After a while I knew the lifestyle wasn’t ideal and it was then that I decided, “OK. I’m going to get my health back in line.”
Initially, since I wasn’t worried about what was happening inside my body, I focused on the outside, so losing weight was first thing I worked on. I trimmed down from 235 pounds to about 190 and I was looking good, but digestively, I still felt sick.
Ishita Gupta: Were you experiencing these same digestive problems in college?
Steve: In high school, every so often I had bad bloating and a lot of gas, but I didn’t notice it that much. In college though, I got sick a few times with a food bug, gastroenteritis, and potentially some pathogen from a river when I was fishing. It started getting worse to the fact I was not normally having formed bowel habits anymore. I would go without having a bowel movement for many days and then all of a sudden I would be stuck in the bathroom for a whole day, six or seven times. When you’re living in a fraternity house like I was, people start to notice. You compare yourself to other people and start to realize that your habits are slightly different. On top of that, mine were getting worse the longer I was in college.
After college, my consulting job required me to network quite a bit, which meant going out to the bar or pub after work in addition to eating out often. For anyone who’s worked like this, you know it’s the kind of thing where you eat whatever you can find – maybe sushi if you’re in New York, or Subway if you’re in Arkansas. So the stress and the eating out took my gas and cramping to a whole new level, even after I thought I was “healthy” having lost a lot of the weight and working out regularly.
I owned many books on health, but just knowledge alone didn’t help, my health was unraveling on the inside and it got to the point where regardless of what I ate, my stomach would hurt so bad that I’d just load some excel sheets on my screen and stare at it in terrible pain. I just hoped no one caught me in my cube in that state.
Finally, I went to see two different doctors and both of them told me, “We did a couple tests and found you have IBS. Try this drug or eat more fiber there’s not much else you can do.” I had already tried the fiber idea with a doctor in college – without much success and now my pain was worse it felt like a larger problem that no one was really trying to help me solve. In the following months after those appointments I decided to accept their diagnosis. IBS was just something I would live with and deal with. After all I thought: “I’m Steve Wright. I get a ton of stuff done at work. I’m fit and looking good now. I’m just going to put my head down and get through it. No excuses.”
As I tried to press on, it got worse. I actually had an episode where I defecated in my pants at the office dressed in my best suit. I was working in a high-rise building in downtown Chicago and I scrambled to the bathroom at our office to literally wash my pants. I was mortified. Because of that incident and the pain after every meal, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I called my buddy Jordan, co-author of SCD Lifestyle Solution, and told him about everything. He said, “Dude, you know you’re not okay.” He was the first person to say that this was abnormal.
I am sure that digestive problems are embarrassing for most people. They were for me. No one wants to be smelly guy at the office or go into a stall and be the loudest person in there. No one wants to have to run out in the middle of a class to use the bathroom. But it seems we have this ability to dissaossicate with our bodies and tell lies to ourselves explaining our digestion problems as normal.
Jordan was able to bust through these lies and give me awareness to the many digestive problems I lived with every day. And so I went to see doctors again, but again they didn’t offer much solace. Jordan was the only one who challenged me and said, “Look man. I’m seeing great results. You need to read this book, and try this diet. I want you to do that for me.” In the natural health world, a lot of people say, “It’s easier to get someone to change their religion than it is for them to change their diet,” Which I found out was a pretty accurate comparison.
Jordan offered me a solution and my first objection was, “No way. I’m flying. I share hotel rooms and meals with my consultant friends. There’s just no way you can live in a big city and change your entire diet making all your own food and be a consultant at the same time. It won’t work.” And so I made all these objections to avoid taking action. Finally, I gave in and by the 5th day of trying the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, my bloating and gas were gone, I was astonished.
There are a lot of people who have a poor relationship with their food like I did, but once you learn there is a solution, you just can’t go back to being ignorant anymore. Your given forced awareness of the situation and if you continue to act in a way that brings you pain it becomes twice as bad. Now not only do you deal with the physical problems of making a choice that hurts your health but mentally you beat yourself up for it. Now you know better. There were still times after starting the diet I would go out and get a deep dish pizza with friends and I would feel horrible and spend the entire night in the bathroom. I had the awareness but I needed help getting over my habits.
Ishita: How long did you keep eating poorly even knowing that the book was there, that it potentially held a feasible solution for you?
Steve: I think it was about six weeks.
Ishita: I’m trying to understand when the switch flipped for you – when you really made the change. What did it take to actually make that lifestyle change? I know I need to fall flat on my face and learn the hard way in order to not make the same mistake. What finally made you say, “All right, I have to do this.”
Steve: For me, it was cumulative. I do remember one distinct night, a deep dish pizza night where I had massive diarrhea all night. I literally called Jordan late at night from the toilet as I needed someone to talk to and I knew he’d understand. He was kind and gentle with me that night and the following week, when the episode repeated, he was blunt with me and said, “Look, man. It’s time to change.” That was the wakeup call that did it for me.
So I started the diet on January 1st 2010 and instead of having to research everything, Jordan helped me get started. He was my biggest resource and advocate. Our work together during this time helped form the initial content of our book, which became the complement to Breaking the Vicious Cycle, which had the “what” and the “why” of the diet, and now with SCD Lifestyle we had the “how” of it.
Prior to SCD, all I could cook was frozen pizzas and veggies. So I had to learn from scratch how to cook. I watched a lot of YouTube videos to start that process. That’s part of what we taught in our book for the SCD lifestyle. It’s essentially how to do the Specific Carbohydrate Diet: What do you have to buy? How do you prepare vegetables? How do you integrate this into your life? What happens when you go to the bar and you don’t want to drink anymore? What do you do?
Ishita: I need to get this book. Do you share recipes?
Steve: Yes and no. You’ll be disappointed if you only buy the book expecting a bunch of recipes. It’s a protocol for people with digestive problems however the Specific Carbohydrate Diet will help almost anybody. The way we lay it out is literally a step-by-step, “Here’s how to create a custom diet for you” method. As engineers we looked at what the biochemists and the dieticians said and asked, “Well that’s great, but what about the process?” So what we bring out in the book is the behavior change and a refined process to be successful.
By following the book, you’ll explore every vegetable and every fruit in the aisle because every few days you’ll try a new one. It’s a great way to expand your palette if you’re used to eating only certain foods. I want to add that many people look at the SCD, Paleo diet, or some of the other natural health diets as the most restrictive thing in the world. You’ll even hear dieticians, doctors, and all of these different associations tell you that such diets are very unhealthy. That’s simply one opinion, a pretty negative one at that. We believe it’s an exciting exploration. You’re finding health again and in the process rebuilding your relationship with food, which is a super positive thing. On our blog we chronicle, week by week, what I dealt with, what Jordan dealt with, and our improvements. So you can get a lot for free, however those who want fast results should follow the plan in the book.
Ishita: Was there still some resistance even after you started getting results?
Steve: Yeah, I think resistance comes in on so many levels. As I said, it doesn’t’ have to be but for most people overhauling their diet is very difficult because it touches so many areas of our lives. You’ll likely go through resistance in every area. As you confront it over and over sometimes you win, sometimes you draw and you will lose. . All of which are okay, normal actually because it means you’re learning and growing as a person. For me, even though I had some ups and downs I was able to return to the results I was getting and , I told myself, “Okay, I think I’m going to stay on this for a long time.”
One of the first resistances I went through was the fear of success. The good changes happened so fast and those really bad pain points were still only a few weeks back. At some point I had to decide that I deserved to feel this good and that it wasn’t a fluke. So I started to block out the problems that I used to have and the negative thoughts of a relapse. I have to tell you that 40 days into the diet, I couldn’t even recall those bad days. I was feeling great and starting to relax into my new way life, but it was around that time that I also started running into another level of resistance. Problems in social situations, like friends coming into town and old buddies who hadn’t been around me since college. Naturally, they expected me to be the old Steve, not this new Steve who didn’t eat certain foods or drink certain things. I went through many periods where I would compromise my health values because of the social pressures and how I thought I needed to act to belong. Obviously there were direct consequences after going off the diet for a weekend and it felt awful. It took several of these setbacks before I was able to grow up and feel through the resistance. It wasn’t comfortable in the beginning but in the end I earned more respect from my friends and for myself.
The pattern repeated a few times at family parties and to stop it I brought all my food to gatherings. Everyone was upset. They were offended because they liked to show their love for me by cooking and buying desserts and things. I don’t blame them for that it’s just how our family works. The first few times I gave in and felt like crap. So I went through enormous resistance to understand that I needed to value my diet and my health more than my family’s love. It was tough and it was certainly a process, it didn’t happen overnight.
Ishita: That’s so huge, to work in that space of family but honoring your own health and well being. Thank you for addressing that because it’s something that I’ve struggled with also, honoring yourself without isolating family. It’s difficult.
Steve: Yes, it really is. And I think it sinks so many health goals, which is sad. Most of my fears were totally irrational, your family won’t exile you for not eating the same foods, but in the moment the pressure feels that way. There are mounds of research on why it happens, whether it’s people showing you love that way or not being able to handle changes you’re making. There are millions of ways we can sabotage our ability to change, but once you start to see results I think you can push through all the layers if you’re willing to shift one thing. When start to value yourself above all else, you’ll stay true to your decisions it’s only then that you realize they will accept you. And if they don’t accept you, well they don’t need to be around you anymore. You have to cut them out.
Ishita: That’s really important. There’s a phrase, “People who matter don’t mind and people who mind don’t matter.” The family and friends who get why you’re doing it are still going to be there.
Steve: Yes, and what I’ve learned almost three years into this now is that, like you said, the closest friends might still poke you a bit, but they see change. When you’re dealing with your health and you start making positive change, whether it’s losing weight or feeling better or getting your digestive problems handled, you become happier. You engage more. You smile more. And people notice that. They don’t want to steal that from you. If they do want to steal that from you, obviously don’t hang around them. But genuine people in your life will become very appreciative of what you’re doing. And then they’ll start to ask, “Hmm, I seem to have this problem. Have you ever heard of that, Steve?” That’s when you can offer your support and love to them.
About: Steve Wright is the co-author of SCD Lifestyle, which talks about how unconventional foods can unlock our body’s natural ability to heal. Steve lives the SCD lifestyle himself, and chronicles his early days with the experiment on their website.