A few weeks ago, someone suggested the book “Wheat Belly“; the title, description and Amazon reviews intrigued me, so I ordered it on Kindle. [Just an aside, I like the Kindle better than print books for a couple of reasons, including being able to search for text, and having a built-in dictionary if you ever encounter any unfamiliar words.]
The author, William Davis, M.D., has come to the conclusion based on his own personal experiences, the experiences of thousands of his patients, as well as published research, that what we call “wheat” today is bad for us, in really all of its various forms.
He notes that modern wheat has changed substantially in just the past 50-60 years, so that the “wheat” our ancestors of 100 years ago ate was quite different from what we eat today; and both today’s wheat and the wheat from a century ago are quite different from wheat of a thousand or more years ago. Last century’s wheat grew about 4′ tall and did not have as full or heavy a head of grain as today’s wheat, which usually tops out at around 18″ tall, and also has a shorter growing season (all these things making it more profitable for the farmer to grow). It is his contention that the genetic differences that allowed these changes are also at the root of a whole host of problems people have with wheat and wheat-based products.
Much of the problem, he believes, is due to the way the body breaks down the carbohydrates (wheat and white flour have a higher Glycemic Index than white sugar!), so he spends a good deal of time talking about insulin and diabetes, and how wheat — even “healthy” whole-grain wheat — causes a great deal of harm to the average person, and even more so to diabetics or pre-diabetics. Of course, he talks about celiac disease, and how that many people are undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or don’t have “classic” celiac disease, yet are unable to properly digest wheat, so have a whole host of health problems. There is evidence to suggest that some 40% of the population (either worldwide or just in America), while never having full-blown celiac disease, would benefit from reducing or eliminating gluten from their diet.
The book is actually fun to read. While of necessity he must speak of dry, boring things like studies and ancient history, and how exactly wheat (or components of wheat, including gluten mostly) interacts with various body systems — and wreaks havoc with them — he makes it interesting and enjoyable to read; frequently throughout the book, I smiled or even laughed at the humorous way he put some things. Sprinkled throughout the book are many personal and professional anecdotes of how getting rid of wheat changed someone’s life for the better — lost weight, “cured” diabetes or prevented pre-diabetes from becoming full-blown diabetes, improved cholesterol, reduced acne and other skin ailments, even regrew hair! Plus, he has a rather lengthy recipe section of alternatives to gluten-containing and even “gluten-free” foods. [He notes that most “gluten-free” foods that are meant to substitute for gluten-containing foods, like “gluten-free” pasta, breads, etc., use corn starch, rice starch, or other carbohydrates that will provoke the same insulin response as gluten-containing foods, so he does not recommend these foods to be consumed on a regular basis, especially if you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic.]
I would highly recommend that anyone who is even curious about whether wheat is causing them health problems — such as the “spare tire” around your middle, which Dr. Davis calls “wheat belly” — read this book, especially if you are wanting more and deeper information about what all problems may be caused by wheat, cured by giving up wheat and other gluten-containing foods, how wheat/gluten causes the body to react, and/or the science behind all of this. There is so much information, I couldn’t begin to do the book justice by trying to summarize it, so you should read it yourself.
If you’re skeptical (either now, or after you read it), try giving up wheat for 4 weeks and see if there is any difference in your life and health — and especially your weight! He says that most people feel a significant health difference within a week or two — some in just a few hours; though he does warn that the addictive effect of wheat may make you have withdrawal symptoms for several days, which may make you feel worse before you feel better, as your body demands the near-constant supply of wheat to which it has become accustomed.
Now, onto my personal experience…
A couple of months ago, I was eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), though probably more “whole foods” based than most people, since I tend to cook from scratch as much as possible, and drink almost only water. Then, I read some article somewhere that suggested that people give up gluten, corn, soy, dairy, peanuts, yeast and eggs for 3 weeks, and also take probiotics three times a day during that time. I thought, “Why not?” and did it. I was also doing a 40-day fast from sugar, so I was sugar-free — no sugar or artificial sugar substitutes (only honey, maple syrup and stevia). I felt better and lost weight (probably about 5 pounds or so), though I didn’t change my (lack of) exercise. But when the three weeks was up, I went back to eating normally (going to visit my mom, the baking queen, didn’t help). A few weeks ago, I was tired of the way I looked, the way I didn’t exercise, and the way I felt, so I made some big changes. I started doing the P90X exercise program (tomorrow is the last day of the third week), so was looking over their diet recommendations… and remembering how I lost weight with those previous dietary changes. So, I decided to give up gluten and corn (I don’t eat much soy anyway; and most if not all of the yeast I consume is in wheat/gluten products), along with the sugar that the P90X diet requires, but not go hog-wild with dairy. So, I have been doing (mostly) gluten-, corn-, and sugar-free (my husband has taken me out to eat sometimes, and for the most part, I try to stay on the diet, but I know I’m probably consuming hidden “bad” stuff).
I have noticed positive health experiences related to these dietary changes (though I can’t say for sure it’s being off of wheat/gluten, since my diet is quite different from what it was before; plus I’m exercising). I am less hungry, eating less, sleeping better, yet feeling better with less sleep than before, rarely get “the afternoon slump”, etc. Since I haven’t been perfect, I don’t know if I would feel even better if I was completely off gluten and corn, but I feel better enough to keep wanting to keep on going — and if I get off-diet, to get right back on it.
Some fifteen years ago, I was gluten-free for several months, though I didn’t go on the diet *intending* to be “gluten-free” (I’d probably barely heard of a substance called “gluten” back then, much less any negative effects it might have had). Someone told me about “The Hallelujah Diet” — called that in part because you’re supposed to feel so great that you just want to say “Hallelujah” all the time, and partly because it is based on the Bible — “The Garden of Eden” diet — namely, only fruits and vegetables, and preferably raw. The goal was 100% raw and vegan, though he allowed a baked potato — no cheese, sour cream, butter, or bacon!! — for supper. I did feel great, though I probably was eating a lot of food that raised my blood sugar. I didn’t like (and still don’t, to be honest) a lot of vegetables, plus we had a limited selection of fruits and vegetables at our local grocery stores, so I didn’t eat a wide variety of things, eating mostly grapes, apples, bananas, oranges, pineapple and carrots. Still, I must say, I felt great, and I lost weight (though I was working out quite a bit at the time, as well). I fell off the wagon for my mom’s birthday, and instead of getting back on it, I rediscovered how *yummy* sugar and other bad foods were, and started eating “normally” again… and predictably gained weight. Sigh. And I stopped exercising so much — double-sigh.
Now that I look back on it, I wonder if I stopped exercising because I was tired, and if I was tired because of my food choices. After reading “Wheat Belly”, I wonder if I started eating so much because wheat triggered my body to want more and more food. I am certainly more able to pass up food — food in general and also particular “bad” foods that normally I would eat substantial quantities of — since being on this diet. I would normally attribute it to my strong will-power (which, usually, I say I have little or no will power, but when I have a plan such as I now have, I do have a certain amount of stick-to-it-iveness), but now I wonder whether it’s more because the addictive hold that food has on me has lessened because of giving up wheat. The other night my husband blended up dried apricots in vanilla ice cream — and normally, I have a HUGE sweet tooth, with almost no food being “too sweet” for me, and also with it being difficult for me to pass up any dessert, especially ice cream. But while I mentally assented that, yes, I did sort of want ice cream, I more wanted to stay on my diet. My husband insisted I try his concoction, so I had a taste, but it was too sweet for me to want any. Weird, huh?
When I started P90X, I intended to be on my diet — no wheat/gluten, no corn, no sugar or artificial sweeteners, no alcohol, no fruit juice, no more than 1-2 pieces/servings of fruit per day, 5 servings of veggies per day, no “bad” fats, and drinking at least 3 quarts of water per day — for 90 days, the duration of the program, and possibly longer. While I haven’t been perfect these past three weeks, I’ve done rather well, especially compared to my previous normal diet, and can see me keeping it up, more or less, for longer. This doesn’t mean I will never have a piece of chocolate cake again, but I can see many health benefits to keeping my intake of carbohydrates — especially wheat and sugar — low.
Listening to the Dave Ramsey radio program yesterday, he said something that is probably a no-brainer to most people, but it struck me with its simplicity and profundity. He’s a financial counselor, but goal-setting is something that goes beyond paying off debt or saving for retirement. What he said was that most people make “New Year’s Resolutions” but don’t set goals; they have a nebulous goal, which is not a goal at all, to “lose weight” or “pay off debt” or “exercise more.” However, without a quantifiable goal, there is no way to know when you’ve reached your nebulous goal. Does one pound count? Or $5 a month more in the bank? What about walking around the block every day? A goal is something specific–lose 20 pounds, save $1000, run a mile. And more than that, it has a specific time-frame–a month, a year, five years.
What is your dream, your wish? Do you want to lose weight? exercise more? save money? To convert that dream to a reality, you must set a goal–a specific number in a specific time. Unless you have a large amount of weight to lose (like on the TV show, “The Biggest Loser”), losing 20 pounds in a month is probably not doable–may not even be safe. If you have a lot of debt and not much income, saving $1000 a month may not be feasible. If your “workout” is moving your hand from the remote to your mouth, running a marathon at the end of the month is probably downright dangerous. But if these things are your goals, you can do it–just set a reasonable time.
We all know how to lose weight–eat fewer calories than you burn. It’s just harder to keep the fridge and cabinets–and our mouths!–closed than to talk about it. This isn’t to tell you how to lose weight–you already know how to do it. This is a motivational speech (to myself most of all) to spur you on to find the best way for you to lose weight and to stick with it. Hate exercise? Eat much less, or experiment with different exercises until you find one you like. Or, just stick with what you don’t like until you do like it. Years ago, I disciplined myself to do exercise videos and eat right, and while I didn’t enjoy the process, I enjoyed the results–very much so! And in the process, I found that I did actually like to work out, and even got some satisfaction from turning down desserts. I need to recapture that.
What’s worth doing is worth doing right. I could have liposuction, get my jaw wired shut, or have gastric bypass (though I don’t have that much to lose), but that won’t be doing it right. The right way is to become the master of myself, to discipline myself enough that my brain can tell my hand to put the food down, to tell my mouth not to eat it, and to tell my body to get up and get going.
The larger message of this post was supposed to be about how to achieve your goals, but it will probably be pretty small now. Basically, figure out where you want to be in 5 years, or in a year (depending on your goal and how long is a reasonable time frame to achieve it), and set smaller goals. Say you want to have a certain job in 5 years. Well, break that goal down into its component parts–do you need to go to school? get training? work your way up the corporate ladder? What is standing between you and your dream job? Write down your goal and your time-frame, then write down what needs to be done in that time, and set dates for those sub-goals.
You may have to take time off of work in order to go to school–that needs to be planned ahead so you can have enough money to eat on in your time off. Maybe your goal is smaller–to run a marathon at the end of the year, or to lose 50 pounds by the end of this year. That’s a 12-month goal. Break down your planned progress into months. You can’t wake up in November and say, “Oh, I’m supposed to run a marathon next month!” and then hit the pavement and run 5 miles your first time out. You have to set smaller goals. Maybe this month’s goal will be to run a block without stopping; February’s can be a mile; March can be 3 miles; April 5 miles, and so forth and so on. You may set a mid-year goal of doing a half-marathon. Then break down each month into smaller portions too–either daily or weekly, or some of both. If you haven’t run since high school, you might need to make your first week’s goal to walk a mile without stopping; then week 2 can be a mile and a half; week 3 can be to walk at least a mile and run as much as you can at a time; then week 4 can be to run at least your block.
For losing weight, you can have a different strategy–write down the food you take in on a regular basis. (This always makes me eat less, because I can see it add up, instead of “out of sight, out of mind”; and I’d rather just not eat that piece of cake than to write it down and admit that I actually ate that much.) Figure out the calories–there are numerous internet resources for counting calories; and if you eat fast food, most of them will have the calorie content–they may even be required to have it. To lose 1 pound, you have to expend 3500 calories more than you take in. So break down your goal–50 pounds in 50 weeks means 1 pound a week, or 500 fewer calories per day. If you typically eat a fast-food hamburger with all the fixin’s, then eating a peanut butter sandwich, or skipping fries and having an apple instead, would probably take you down at least that much. Dr. Phil had a show on months ago in which a teenage girl drank a lot of soft drinks or had ice cream every night (or both), and he showed her that if she changed nothing else in her life but getting rid of those empty calories, she could lose 50 pounds in a year. But if she changed other things (ate healthier in general, and got some exercise), she could lose even more.
You have to know where you stand, before you can know where you’re going, or how to get there. You can’t fix a leaky boat by pointing out all of the places where it is not leaking–you have to focus on where stuff is going through the cracks. This goes for money, as well as for food. You may say, “but I drink skim milk!” True; but what about the 100-calorie piece of candy you have every day. That’s nearly a pound a month! You may make your own bread, but have a huge cell-phone bill. Write it down. Know where you are. Be honest–brutally so! It’s for your own good.
Where are you now? Write it down. Make goals. Write it down. How can you achieve your goals? Write it down. Did you mess up? Write it down. Did you succeed? Write it down.
Keep a “Happy Journal” of little things that you achieved today that you didn’t do before. If your goal is saving money, it could be something as little as finding your favorite food on sale, or finding a good recipe that’s also cheap. If your goal is exercising more, write down how many times you went up and down the stairs today. If your goal is losing weight, write down how you didn’t eat that piece of cake, or you turned down seconds.
Just do it!