Fisk (fiskblack) wrote,

My Wheat-Free Experiment

A couple of weeks ago I decided to conduct an experiment that involved excluding wheat (as well as a host of other grains) from my diet. There were a few contributing factors that lead me to try this. I had a roommate who had a sensitivity to gluten. When she excluded it from her diet, she lost a considerable amount of weight. I started hearing about various diets that downplayed the importance of carbohydrates, such as the Paleo diet movement and the like. Paleo is founded on the idea that the human body evolved for hundreds of thousands of years on a hunter-gatherer diet, as opposed to a grain-heavy agricultural diet, which was only made possible to mankind very recently in our species' history. Because of this, a diet that mirrors a hunter-gatherer diet (meat, fruit, greens) is healthier for our biology, than carb-heavy agricultural diets dominated by domesticated grains.

This experiment was very easy for me to conduct because my eating life was already a very simple affair. I've never been overweight. When I was in my late 20s and I noticed the waist of my pants getting tighter, I made the conscious decision to mind my diet instead of resigning to purchasing new pants. Despite having a sedentary job, I force myself to do floor exercises throughout my workday in order to keep some muscle tone and just feel good about myself. My diet was already pretty light on carbs most of the time. I would eat very simply. Things I could season and throw on an electric grill, and a simple side, allowed me to eat quickly and get back to work without the hassle of leaving the house for fast food. My wheat exposure at the time amounted to snacky things around the house, like crackers and such. I noticed that every three or four days of this, I would feel the urge to consume a lot of food. I needed to eat until I felt that fully satisfied (read: FULL) feeling. This would be satiated by a meal at McDonalds, some kind of chinese delivery, or a large thin crust pizza. Now, I said I wasn't overweight, but since my late 20s, I've had an ever-present layer of softness around the middle. Nothing severe, and nothing coming close to the impressive spare tires or potbellies of most of my friends. But just enough to make me less than model-thin at the waist. This was more evident when the elastic of my underwear would dig in, creating little muffin-top love handles.

Always on a quest for quick foods I could prepare during my work day, I decided to start making sandwiches. I hadn't bought a loaf of bread in a long time. I started having sandwiches for lunch, and I noticed how differently I felt. It was pretty stark. I don't have any digestive disorders, intolerances, allergies, anything. But I noticed that after I had a tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat bread, I felt sluggish, lazier, even my attitude was less motivated to return to work with the same gusto to finish what I'd started that morning. I'd push through it, curiously wondering why when I had something as heavy as steak and sweet potato for lunch, I could return to work perfectly fine, with ample motivation. This happened every time I had a sandwich for lunch. I'd heard a lot of this-and-that about wheat in the past and decided to look into it further by reading the book "Wheat Belly" (okay "reading" is a stretch, as I listened to it on audiobook while working).

It covers a lot of ground I suspected, but also talks about the differences between the wheat we eat today, and the wheat people ate in early civilizations and even a hundred years ago. It goes over the genetic modification that took place to produce wheat with enhanced yields, so it could be cheaper, more abundant, and help combat global hunger. Noble aims, to be sure. There was no consideration for how the new strains of wheat would impact the human system. It just wasn't thought of. Ironically, while seeming to cite regulatory oversight as a preventative measure against these sorts of things, the book indicts the very incorrect government and quasi-government nutritional guidelines that emphasize a diet heavy in "healthy whole grains". This was a dietary push that ramped up into high gear in the 1980s and coincides with the gradual ballooning of the American population (a trend now spreading to other parts of the industrialized world). People who exercise and consider themselves as having healthy diets are still overweight and quite perplexed. Now, the book covers a few patients seen by the author, William Davis, who have a range of issues attributed to wheat exposure. Many of these are no doubt not universal to all humans. It's worth noting the author has a gluten intolerance, and that when eating strains of "natural" prehistoric wheat preserved by some advocacy groups, he failed to manifest the same immediate symptoms associated with modern wheat.

But this is why it was even more interesting, for me, someone without any intolerances, issues, or even the slightest allergy, to try this and notice the difference.

Adjusting was an easy matter of getting rid of the wheat-based snacks I would sometimes munch on, and resisting the urge to hit a lot of satisfying convenience foods, such as fast foods and the like. Most of all, I had to come up with home meals during those times I'd be tempted to grab a fat burger or order a big pizza. It's a worthwhile experiment you can try yourself: eat as much of a pizza as you can and see how you feel afterwards. Then another day, eat as many chicken wings (traditional unbreaded) as you can and see if there's a difference in how you feel. What I found missing from my meals was the "full and lazy" feeling afterwards, normally associated with sluggishness, and in its worst form: nap-inducing food coma. After starting the experiment my mind never felt clouded and lazy after eating anymore, and my motivation to work never suffered because of what I ate for lunch. After I got over a few initial temptations to order out (instead of ordering a pizza from Pizza Hut, I ordered buffalo wings from Wing Street once), I found my apetite would really coast on less throughout my day.

In "Wheat Belly", wheat is explained as an appetite enhancer. It actually encourages you to eat more by the way it reacts with the body. Wheat has an incredibly high glycemic index, meaning it raises your blood sugar to high levels compared to other foods. Your body absorbs these carbs readily and converts them to blood sugar. This generates an induced "satisfied" feeling for your body that lasts until the sugar level crashes a few hours later. Then, your body tells you that you need to eat more to compensate for this "crash" from a previous blood sugar spike. This is what induces a sense of extreme hunger, the overwhelming temptation to eat, and the irritability expressed by people who have "low blood sugar" and need food, soon. These ups and downs are replaced by a more steady, even blood sugar level throughout your day, because you're not spiking it with quickly absorbed carbs. You're still taking in sugars in other forms, such as fruit (which the book recommends minimizing your intake of), but it's nothing like the every-meal presence of wheat, and it doesn't hit the body as hard. I can attest to how easily it is to now eat lightly, to coast through periods where you're grazing on simple things, to eat because you know you should, not because your body is yelling at you to satiate an impatient craving.

Since beginning the experiment, my middle has become thinner. The love handles have shrunk (and I hope continue to do so). I don't feel like I have to go through periods of hunger or over-grueling exercise, just to maintain a 33 waist. As it is, I see myself moving to a 32, easily. Right now, desire isn't an obstacle. The idea of consuming bread isn't appealing to me any longer. Declining things like pizza and burgers can be tougher, and eating on the road is a real chore. I ate 10 chicken McNuggets while on the road to Florida with Mahrkale for vacation last weekend. I could feel the same sort of mental haze and sluggishness setting in afterwards (they are breaded and fried). The rest of the weekend, I did well. While hitting IHOP and other breakfast joints, I felt great after a breakfast of eggs, meat, fruit, and coffee, avoiding pancakes, toast, and other bread/flour based foods (though IHOP's omelettes have pancake batter in their eggs, so I had to "suffice" with a T-Bone steak - oh the humanity).

For some, wheat is like a chemical addiction. They try to go without it and they end up scarfing down muffins and doughnuts and having to start over at some point. I've never had an addictive personality to begin with. I have weaknesses for whiskey, which is distilled from grain (even if not specifically wheat), so I've kept them to a minimum. I still sip my bourbon from time to time, though. Without a second though, I'll go weeks without a drink or a puff from one of my pipes, and then suddenly decide to enjoy a little, so minimizing such pleasures has never been difficult for me. Just as well, modifying my food intake isn't that difficult either. Others may have a harder time tackling this. No more beer, evening relaxers include red wine, fine sipping tequila, and the occasional bourbon or scotch. Don't think I'm willing to give up the latter just yet in order to become completely "grain free". Just eliminating the wheat as much as possible, wherever possible, has me feeling much better.

I'm at the point where I'm pretty sure I don't want to go back to wheat. There are entire areas of the supermarket I happily ignore, now. If you're wondering about this, read the book and try the experiment and see for yourself. One of the things you will be immediately struck by is how prevalent wheat is in almost everything available, especially anything cheap and convenient. It means finding new ways to prepare things, finding new dishes, and learning to enjoy quick meals you can prepare at home if you don't have the time to cook complex dishes for hours. You have to be a little extra vigilant about what you buy and eat, but I think it's well worth it.
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