Books drop into my life unbidden. Someone is talking about a book they’re reading, or I see the cover on a coffee table or online, and it’s like, I’ve got to read that.
It’s a new year, and that’s always a good time to make a new start. I was thinking about what I could do, and suddenly, there it was, the inspirational book to get me going in the right direction, health-wise, in 2015: WHEAT BELLY, by Dr. William Davis. Thanks to Brenda for loaning it to me before taking it back to the library.
Dr. Davis’ basic claim is that the need for ‘healthy whole grains’ is “pure fiction.” This blog post is my excited and enthusiastic report about what I read, and how my body is responding to not eating wheat anymore.
I started 6 days ago~ no bread of any kind, no cakes or cookies, no chips, or tacos, or pasta. Have I forgotten anything? Yes. Lots of processed foods have wheat in them, so I’m reading labels now. I’ve decided to be careful, and vigilant, not because I have Celiac disease and experience the painful consequences of ingesting gluten, but because my unsightly wheat belly is an indicator of all kinds of potential problems that I will face if I keep going the way I have been. Like many Americans, I’ve been addicted to bread products in all their varied and wondrous forms, and I’m also overweight.
The book made sense to me. All I had to do was look down to recognize the result of my food choices hanging solidly around my middle. The research also scared me into action. I don’t want to become a diabetic like my sister, or have my toes amputated like my diabetic friend at the pool. He’s younger than I am, and I definitely recognized a wheat belly while we were sitting and chatting in the sun. I don’t want to have my knees or hips replaced like one of mom’s friend. She has a wheat belly, too. I know I need to take better care of my bones, joints, organs, and brain, not to mention all the other indispensable parts of me that I love and appreciate and don’t want to lose. I don’t want to eat food that leaches the calcium out of my bones, elevates my blood sugar and sets off an unhealthy chain reaction, throws the pH balance off, or sneaks past the blood/brain barrier and messes with my mind. As Dr. Davis points out, today’s genetically modified and hybridized wheat isn’t really the same food as our forbears ate. He calls it a ‘synthetic’ food, and after reading WHEAT BELLY, you’ll understand why.
I’m feeling inspired to have found a way to improve my health this year, and I’m already seeing the results of making a commitment to living wheat-free. After only 6 days I feel lighter, cleaner, and good about taking more responsibility for my constant companion, my body. After two days I had the best bowel movement in a very long time. Some readers will understand how exciting that is. I thought immediately that this is the beginning of a cleaning out process, and that I’m really onto something here.
The third day, I had a second helping of ice-cream with whipped cream on top, and I noticed that I didn’t feel good afterwards. No more seconds! On the 5th day, I didn’t feel good after a medium-size DQ shake, AND I had terrible smelly gas😦 Whew! No more large ice-cream portions. Ice-cream is not a wheat product, so it’s allowed, but I’m starting to see what my body likes, not just what I think I want. I promised myself that next time I indulge in a coffee milk-shake at DQ, I’ll buy the small size and split it with a friend. That probably won’t be for a long time.
I’ve been feeling happy, in spite of the fact that I have no idea where I’m headed or what I’m going to be doing tomorrow or the next day. I left my home and my family, and I’m on the road, and that can be very scary. But it’s what I want and need to do right now, and having the boundaries of a clear eating plan removes some of the decision-making, and provides a sort of anchor, or steadying presence. I’m experiencing less mood swings, and in spite of the fact that my life is in a state of flux, I feel like I’m on an even keel~ I’m calm and happy, my mind is clear, my energy is good, and I’m not on drugs.
For anyone who knows me, that’s a big change. Of course, it’s not ALL about the wheat. I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself lately. But changes in fuel quality and quantity make a difference. I’m not experiencing any of my usual cravings for sweets, especially in-between meals or in the middle of the night. I feel satisfied for 5 or 6 hours at a stretch, just like Dr. Davis promised I would. Food is just not on my mind as much.
I’m eating raw nuts to make up for the breads I used to crave. I carry a bag of almonds with me in my purse, and if I think I need to eat and it’s not a meal time, I just pop a small handful into my mouth and chew on them. It satisfies, and does no harm. I’m using more vegetables when I prepare meals, and finding it’s easy to do. Also, keeping carbs like rice, oatmeal, and beans in the 1/2 cup portion size like Dr. Davis recommends, controls spikes in blood sugar, and I eat less in the process. Fruits are totally healthy, but should be limited because of their sugar content. All of that is fine by me. It’s about downsizing, in every way.
I weighed in at 191 pounds last week when I started ~ almost the heaviest I’ve ever been~ with a waist measurement of 106cm, and the belly 127cm. All I had in my suitcase was my tape measure from home in Belgium, so I’ll stick to centimeters. I’m going to keep track, and I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to my wheat belly in 2015.
I usually take copious notes from books that inspire me, but I don’t own, and are just passing through my hands briefly. It takes time, but then I have something to look back on when I want to re-inspire myself. It’s also a way to share key points with other people. The following excerpts are for the sake of anyone out there who is feeling stuck in a way of life that isn’t feeling quite right, and who is interested in doing something for their body this year. I’m not much of a scientist, so I left a lot of the biological explanations out~ to avoid all the extra copying~ and just wrote down the practical parts that spoke to me. One story in particular resonated with me. It was about a 61 year old woman who weighed 182 pounds, and decided to give up wheat. In 14 months she lost 55 pounds, and 12 inches around her waist. I’m 63, and equally overweight (I almost typed ‘overwheat’) and I have a very distinct wheat belly which I’d like to lose. But more than that, I’d like to gain a better and more healthy lifestyle to protect and preserve this totally wonderful organism that has been serving me so well. I like it the way it is, and I’m not ashamed about how I look, but I want to be healthier on the inside, so I can be around longer, and enjoy my life until the end.
Wheat isn’t really wheat anymore: According to Dr. Davis, “Wheat strains have been hybridized, crossbred, and introgressed to make the wheat plant resistant to environmental conditions. Genetic changes have been induced to increase yield per acre~ more than ten times that of farms a century ago. Drastic changes to genetic codes have come at a price. Today’s bread bears little resemblance to the loaves that emerged from our forbears’ ovens.”
“The health profile of a wheat-deficient person: slender, flat tummy, low triglycerides, high HDL (good) cholesterol, normal blood sugar, normal blood pressure, high energy, good sleep, and normal bowel function.” What’s not to want about all that?
The author had a wheat sensitivity, and tested his body’s response to both the einkorn bread (the evolutionary predecessor of modern-day wheat), and modern organic whole-wheat bread. He ate 4 oz of each, on two consecutive days, and documented his blood sugars after consuming each. His starting blood sugar was 84 mg/dl. After eating the einkorn bread, it his blood sugar rose to 110 mg/dl, and he felt fine. The next day, after eating the conventional whole wheat bread, his blood sugar rose to 167 mg/dl, and he had his usual bad reaction~ nausea and a headache~ for the next 36 hours. The difference in his body’s response was a revelation to him. The book documenting his research about wheat and its effects on the human body and mind became a New York Times Bestseller in 2011, and it is my new wellness guide this year.
Genetic Modification: “The science of genetic modification has advanced. New strains can be genetically tailored to be compatible with specific fertilizers or pesticides…Incremental genetic variations…can make a world of difference. Take human males and females…the crucial differences originate with just a single chromosome, the diminutive male Y chromosome and its few genes… Public pressure has now prompted the international agricultural community to develop guidelines, but no such outcry was raised years earlier as farmers and geneticists carried out tens of thousands of hybridization experiments. Hybridization efforts continue, breeding new ‘synthetic’ wheat.”
The cost of carbs: “Wheat is a supercarbohydrate: Whole wheat bread increases blood sugar to a higher level than sucrose. Aside from some extra fiber, eating two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different, and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a candy bar. The glycemic index (GI) of white bread is 69, the GI of whole grain bread is 72, and the GI of table sugar is 59. The GI of a Mars bar is 68, and the GI of a Snickers bar is 41 ~ far better than whole grain bread.”
“Wheat products elevate blood sugar levels more than virtually any other carbohydrate, from beans to candy bars… The higher the blood glucose after consumption of food, the greater the insulin level, the more fat is deposited. That’s why eating a 3-egg omelet that triggers no increase in glucose doesn’t add to body fat, while 2 slices of whole wheat bread does, particularly abdominal or deep visceral fat.”
“Wheat is, in effect, an appetite stimulant. People who eliminate wheat from their diet consume fewer calories….A Mayo Clinic/Univeristy of Iowa study showed 27.5 pounds of weight loss in the first 6 months of a wheat free diet.”
“In Celiac disease, the one conventionally accepted example of wheat-related intestinal illness, gluten protein provokes an immune response that inflames the small intestine, causing abdominal cramps and diarrhea…Wheat is also unique among foods for its curious effects on the brain, effects shared with opiate drugs. People who eliminate wheat from their diet typically report improved mood, fewer mood swings, improved concentration, and deeper sleep within days or weeks.”
Having read all of the above, I was already determined to give up wheat and lose MY wheat belly. Who wouldn’t want to feel better? Here’s more:
Schizophrenia and diet: “Dr. Curtis Dohan observed that during WWII, there were fewer hospitalizations for schizophrenia when food shortages made bread unavailable. More recently, a Duke University doctor described a 70 year old schizophrenic woman who experienced complete relief from psychosis and suicidal desires within 8 days of stopping wheat.” It’s inspiring to me to read about natural causes and cures to mental illness. When I was in college, I read a book that suggested fasting as a possible cure for mental illness. I immediately put myself on a 7-day fast, and turned my life around. I believe that what we eat affects us. Why wouldn’t it? It looks like we may have to learn that the hard way, though.
The blood-brain barrier: “Wheat polypeptides have the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Once having gained entry into the brain, they bind to the brain’s morphine receptor, the same receptor to which opiate drugs bind…wheat is therefore one of the few foods that can alter behavior, induce pleasurable effects, and generate a withdrawal syndrome upon its removal.”
“Wheat is an appetite stimulant, specifically the exorphins from gluten. Lose the wheat, lose the weight. Foods made with or containing wheat make you fat. Wheat over-consumption is the main cause of the obesity and diabetes crisis in the US.”
Americans are big, and fat. I realized that after living in Asia for many years and coming back home. It was a shock. And when I walk down the grocery store aisles, I can see why. Here are some statistics from WHEAT BELLY: “According to the CDC, 34.4% of Americans are overweight (BMI of 25-29.9) and 33.9% are obese (BMI 30 or more). Less than 1 in 3 are normal weight. Belly fat is created by bulging fatty internal organs. It is the surface manifestation of visceral fat contained within the abdomen, and encasing abdominal organs (liver, kidneys, pancreas, large and small intestines). Visceral fat is dangerous. The more visceral fat is present, the greater quantities of abnormal inflammatory signals released into the bloodstream. The list of health conditions triggered by visceral fat is growing and now includes dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, colon cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Waist circumference is proving to be a powerful predictor of all these conditions, as well as of mortality.”
Visceral Fat: I wasn’t sure what the word meant, but I wasn’t in the dark for long. “In the human body, all fat is not equal,” write Davis. “Belly fat is a repository for inflammatory white blood cells (macrophages) and is in effect an endocrine gland much like your thyroid or pancreas. High blood sugar provokes high blood insulin. High blood insulin provokes visceral fat accumulation. Visceral fat is also a factory for estrogen production, stimulating growth of breast tissue. Increased visceral fat has been associated with a 4-fold increased risk for breast cancer.”
The average weight loss of a group of Dr. Davis’ patients who eliminated wheat from their diets was 26.7 pounds in 5.6 months. “If there’s no glucose-insulin cycle, there’s little to drive appetite and when appetite shrinks, calorie intake is reduced, visceral fat disappears, insulin resistance improves, blood sugars fall. Diabetics can become non-diabetics. Where there’s diabetes, there’s wheat. In 2009, 24 million Americans were diabetic. It’s the fastest growing disease (other than obesity). For every diabetic there are 3 or 4 people who are prediabetic. 22-39% of all US adults have prediabetes. More limb amputations are performed for diabetes than any other nontraumatic disease. Diabetes was formerly uncommon. Unhealthy weight gain is exceptionally costly. More money is spent on health consequences of obesity than on education.”
“The average American consumes 133 pounds of wheat per year,” according to Davis’ research. “That’s approximately half a loaf of bread per day. Goodbye to wheat, goodbye to diabetes. Diabetes should be regarded as a disease of carbohydrate intolerance.”
About the alkaline/acidic balance: “Vegetables and fruits are the dominant alkaline foods in the diet. Our natural body pH is 7.4. Acidosis, and its acidic pH, pulls calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate from bone to maintain the body pH of 7.4. The more protein intake from vegetables rather than animal products, the fewer hip fractures occur. Modern eating practices create a chronic acidosis that leads to osteoporosis, and fractures in 53% of women over the age of 50. A decline in bone density begins years before menopause, and is not due to a loss of estrogen after menopause. It is largely due to the chronic low-grade acidosis we create with diet, at any age.”
“Wheat is among the most potent sources of sulfuric acid, yielding more per gram than any meat. Sulfuric acid is dangerous stuff. Although the sulfuric acid produced by wheat is dilute, even in tiny quantities in dilute form it’s an overwhelmingly potent acid that rapidly overcomes the neutralizing affects of alkaline bases. Grains such as wheat account for 38% of the average American’s acid load. In one study, increased gluten intake increased urinary calcium loss by 63%. A chronic acid burden eats away at bone health. Remove wheat from the modern diet, replace the lost calories with vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts, and the alkaline balance is restored. Wheat-free people consume 350-400 fewer calories per day. Hunger is curbed, and it’s easy to go for 5 to 6 hours between meals.”
The affects of wheat on the joints: “Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis worldwide. Loss of cartilage resulted in 773,000 knee and hip replacements in America in 2010. The same imflammation that issues from the visceral fat of the wheat belly and results in diabetes, heart disease, and cancer also yields inflammation of the joints. The greater the degree of overweight (i.e. higher BMI) the higher the quantity of leptin within joint fluid, and the greater the severity of cartilage and joint damage. Losing weight, particularly visceral fat, improves arthritis. Cartilage cells are incapable of reproducing. If cartilage proteins, such as collagen and aggrecan, become glycated, they become abnormally stiff, making cartilage brittle and unyielding, eventually crumbling. Remove wheat and reduce joint inflammation, get fewer blood-sugar ‘highs’ that glycate cartilage, and shift the pH balance to alkaline.”
The diet: If you stay away from processed foods, you will most likely find yourself eating differently. I like to think of it as a REAL FOOD diet. If you can grow it, you can eat it. If it comes in a package, it’s probably got stuff in it that your body would prefer not to ingest. Real foods that make up the foundation of this diet are vegetables, nuts, meats (not processed), eggs, avocados, olives, cheese, and beans. Controlling the amount of starches, like rice, potatoes, and oats, keeps blood sugars in a normal and healthy range.
This is what a wheat belly looks like. Not very pretty, eh? I NEVER show this part of my body off. Hiding it drives almost all of my fashion choices. But I took some pictures of my body this past year, and it seems appropriate to show this particular reality here. Before and After shots are always so inspiring. This is the BEFORE. I will post an AFTER shot when there’s less to show, and more to report.
Thank you, and Bon appetite!