Gretchen's "cheat day"

Gretchen posted this comment about her dramatic turnaround from incapacitating inflammatory joint disease, going from crippled to back on her feet, once she said goodbye to wheat.

I was diagnosed with autoimmune disease early in 2010 after being referred to a specialist for my increasing pain, stiffness and weakness. Initially, it was called Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder/MCTD, which is a rare cluster of autoimmune diseases that can ultimately manifest primarily as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, or Scleroderma.

I was put on a strong med and ordered to have very detailed eye exams every 6 months, as that med might destroy my eyes. I asked the rheumatologist initially if there was anything I could do, if there were any connections – good or bad – between foods and my condition. She told me that there is a lot of info, much of it conflicting, out there but nothing she could really relay that was definitive or universal.

As 2010 went on, my pain and weakness worsened. It was determined that my MCTD had evolved into Rheumatoid Arthritis. My feet had become increasingly deformed. A second med was added in hopes of stemming deformities in my hands. This med was even stronger, and one that is sometimes used to treat breast cancers, so I was to have labs done every 3 months to watch for any damage being done to my liver.

By the end of 2010, I was not doing any better, and I had steadily gained even more weight, exacerbating the pain and weakness. Early 2011, I was barely functioning, had a permanent handicapped placard for the car and had been using a cane for over year. I was sent to a neurologist for extensive testing, and a brain MRI was ordered.

My social life was gone and I can now say openly that I was teetering toward suicidal thoughts. I was exhausted beyond imagination and desperate to have my life back. I could barely lift my feet enough to put my pants on while seated. I had a small step built to have next to the tub so that I could step in for a shower and I could barely stand for the length of time a shower took. I got a walker and shower chair from family. Others did my grocery shopping for me; I was in too much pain and too weak to manage it. I could no longer stand long enough to cook or wash dishes. A third med was added for the RA. I bought a wheelchair.

May 2011, a friend posted on Facebook: “23 lbs lost. [name of diet] Srsly.”

I started reading and couldn’t stop. I began the diet on May 15, 2011 and started losing weight immediately. My energy was starting to improve. For 6 days of 7, it excludes all grains, among other things. On that weekly “cheat day” when anything is allowed, I saw over time that I could isolate which foods seemed to aggravate my pain, stiffness, and weakness. I had identified that wheat was definitely a trigger. About 4 months into that diet, I came across Wheat Belly, and I then knew that I was not some weird unique case, but that there are millions who are affected by wheat, and in many different ways, not just RA. Diabetes, migraines, digestive problems, skin problems, and on and on.

From May 2011 to Dec 2011, my weight has dropped by 40 lbs so far. My pain, strength, energy, mood, skin, hair – all improved. My blood pressure dropped enough to warrant cutting one of my bp meds by half. I’d been on them for 5 years. My bp on 12/19/11: 119 over 66. Nov 2011, my cholesterol stats were stellar: Total – normal is less than 200; mine is 164. HDL (good chol) normal for women is higher than 50; mine is 85. LDL (bad chol) normal is less than 130, but if you have heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease (I do not), your goal is less than 70; mine is 69. Triglycerides – normal is less than 150; mine is 52.

By September 2011, I no longer used the cane. I had used the wheelchair once. I’ve watched jaws literally drop when people who had not seen me for a while see the dramatic improvement in my mobility. I admit I am a fanatic about how foods can be much more powerful than any meds out there. I know that for me, it’s a combination of having LOTS of green veggies, very few processed foods (only once a week, if any) and abstaining from wheat that has given me my life back.

And I’m grateful beyond measure.

Ah, Gretchen, I feel blessed to hear and witness health transformations like yours, all accomplished with a change in diet while freeing you from the bonds of harmful drugs, pain, and deformity.

Listen to the critics, and they claim that such turnarounds in health are due to chance, a psychosomatic effect, or mass hysteria. Reading the stories on these pages, I hope that you, like me, have gotten the impression that stories like Gretchen’s are not the exception; they are the rule. While other stories may not be a dramatic as Gretchen’s, they are no less instructive or poignant.

May your holidays be happily and healthily wheat-free!

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65 Responses to Gretchen's "cheat day"

  1. Love my veggies! says:

    I wanted to respond to Kathie Kase, RN about her mother-in-law’s pulmonary fibrosis. The autoimmune disease that pulmonary fibrosis is most strongly associated with is scleroderma. It can also occur in people with lupus, RA, and some of the other connective tissue diseases, but it is a relatively rare complication in these diseases. In systemic scleroderma, it is an expected and close to universal complication. If your mother-in-law hasn’t been tested for scleroderma or other autoimmune diseases, then I would strongly encourage to visit a rheumatologist for a physical exam and blood work. There are several ways to figure out whether the fibrosis is due to scleroderma or to another cause. Not all pulmonary fibrosis is part of an autoimmune process and the different types have different prognoses and treatments.

    Will eliminating wheat improve her prognosis or symptoms? I think this is an interesting question. Just in my opinion, it is definitely worth trying. Obviously Dr. Davis believes that everyone should eliminate wheat and I think I’m being won over by his arguments. In the case of someone with a serious health challenge (and pulmonary fibrosis is clearly extremely serious) I think I’d personally try nearly anything that had a chance of helping me as long it was not dangerous or terribly expensive. Cleaning up your diet and removing grains is certainly not dangerous, and doesn’t need to be expensive. Because inflammation precedes fibrosis, it makes sense to do everything you can to reduce your body’s inflammatory response. Getting rid of pro-inflammatory foods and avoiding foods to which one is allergic or intolerant is a good place to start.

    I say this all as a person with systemic scleroderma. I don’t (yet) have pulmonary fibrosis, but do have a variety of other manifestations of the disease such as skin changes, Raynaud’s, muscle/joint pain, fatigue, neuropathy, GERD, flu-like feelings, gastrointestinal problems, and so on. I also have PCOS and pre-diabetes despite being young and thin (5’6″, 118 pounds, 30 years old). I don’t know whether what I eat caused my disease, but I do believe that it contributed (along with genetic factors, environmental exposures, etc.) This is a nasty disease with a poor prognosis and I realized that I need whatever I can to take control of my health. I am certainly not against conventional medicine – if a drug will help to control the disease or a bothersome symptom and doesn’t have intolerable side effects, I will try it. BUT diet is fundamental to our health. It FLOORS me that the doctors I’ve talked to (rheumatologist, gastroenterologist, neurologist) all say that diet has nothing to do with autoimmune disease unless you have celiac disease. I had the blood tests for celiac run and they were negative so I was told there was no reason to avoid gluten and just “eat healthy like everyone else should”. Eating healthy apparently includes unlimited quantities of those ubiquitous “healthy whole grains”.

    I have recently completely overhauled my diet and my husband and 3 young children are following suit. I got rid of wheat and nearly all other grains (though I’ve been flirting a bit with brown rice – I think I’m going to stop that!), dairy products, and sugar. I realize that this is a bit different than what Dr. Davis recommends in that I’ve totally removed dairy, but I want to at least try this for a few months and then see if I can reintroduce some dairy without a negative reaction. I eat lots of veggies (raw and cooked) including plenty of dark green leafys and some higher carb choices like sweet potatoes, some fruit, wild fish and seafood, grass-fed and/or organic meat (when I can afford it!), nuts and seeds, some coconut oil, the occasional bit of honey or maple syrup in baking… It’s too early to say whether it is making a difference in my disease, but overall we just feel better. I am sleeping better, my mood is more stable, I have more energy, and I am enjoying my food. My husband, who was not overweight, has lost 8 pounds and ALL of it seems to have come from around his midsection! He no longer has his “love handles” or any extra flab around his stomach. Despite being thin, this fat had followed him around for years and no amount of abdominal exercises at the gym would budge it.

    I am hopeful that these changes will give me the best chance possible in fighting scleroderma. However, I will continue to take any medications that are indicated, and tackle this challenge from all fronts.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Exceptionally well said!

      Please update us with your experience, as these sorts of associations with relatively obscure conditions teach us all sorts of new lessons.

      I’m crossing my fingers for you!

  2. Love my veggies! says:

    Thank you!

    I belong to an online community of people with scleroderma and I wanted to mention that the topic of dietary interventions comes up frequently. Nearly every newly diagnosed person wants to know whether they should cut gluten out of their diet. If they are lucky, their doctor will test them for the celiac genes/antibodies (because people with a connective tissue disease are much more likely to also have other autoimmune diseases like celiac than the general population). In many cases though, the rheumatologist does not feel that this testing is warranted and simply tells the patient that diet has nothing to do with scleroderma, either as cause or treatment.

    Many people on this support board have shared their experiences of cutting out either wheat, all gluten, or sometimes even all grains. Many choose to follow the so-called anti-inflammatory diet which removes gluten, dairy, and sugar. In some it makes no difference at all in their symptoms, but it seems to prove helpful in the majority of people who are able to adhere to their new diet strictly for a period of time. Of course, since most of these people were never tested for celiac disease it is impossible to know WHY their symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet. Is it because they have undiagnosed celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity? Is it because grains are inherently inflammatory? Do improvements result from removing the wheat, the gluten, the grains, the dairy, or the sugar? Is it because they are de facto prevented from eating processed foods and are now better nourished because they are eating a lot more fruits and veggies, meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds? Is it a placebo effect (because these people are accepting an increasing amount of responsibility for their own health and feel more positive and more in control)?

    The improvements that people usually report are a reduction in joint and muscle pain, reduction in bloating and diarrhea, increased energy, and better sleep. I want to stress that these dietary changes are not seen by anyone with scleroderma as a cure or even a treatment for the disease, but that they are extremely helpful in controlling (or even eradicating) certain symptoms. Because there is a large area of overlap between the symptoms of celiac and scleroderma (from rashes and joint pain to diarrhea and bloating, neuropathy, malabsorption, and weight loss) it is very hard to assess what is causing what.

  3. MelB says:

    Dear Dr. Davis,

    I’m a youthful 63 yr. old woman, with various chronic health issues, including GERD and IBS. Even my gastroenterologist said I had an intestinal intolerance to wheat but never tested positive for celiac in two or more endoscopies. I wish I had taken his advice earlier. I read your book a couple of weeks ago, but even before that, I knew I had to give up gluten. I had managed to do it for almost a couple of months a no. yrs. ago and felt great; then slipped back into consuming some gluten and too much of other grains. I need to lose about 250-30 lb.

    After a week and a half of no gluten and reduced grains, I’m feeling better overall, sleeping better, and having less issue with constipation and hypoglycemic attacks in the morning – which I had on occasion a few hours from eating a carb-rich breakfast (I am not diabetic). I have lost about 3 lb.

    One concern is handling temptation outside my house. I know I will cheat occasionally on a very small scale (for example – tonight at a party!), but I am confident that I can get back on track quickly. I found dropping the wheat easy – I went cold turkey and had no withdrawal symptoms.

    Another concern is how to handle another routine endoscopy I’m supposed to have next year for GERD. My gastroenterologist always checks for celiac as part of that. I know you have to eat quite a bit of gluten to get a correct reaction to the small intestinal biopsy. I don’t want to do that. I guess I need to discuss this issue with him.

    Thanks for an excellent, well written, inspiring book!


  4. Alison says:

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    My father, looking to lose weight, has been reading your book and I’ve become interested myself after reading about the effects of wheat on joint pain. As a teenager with laxity of ligaments, I have been in constant pain for the past 7 years and it just never ends–the neck cracking, the tight and sore muscles, the sprained ankles, etc. Have you heard of anyone who’s been successful with this condition on your diet? I’m also looking to shed a few pounds although I’m pretty slim–are there mostly only results for those leaning towards the overweight side?

  5. Karen says:

    Hi, Dr Davis!
    I’ve recently been diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis, without the Psoriasis presenting on the skin, and have begun methotrexate and cortisone. I cant really stand either and am horrified by the toxicity of the medication. I am also a Type 1 Diabetic and loathe to put stress on organs I’ve managed to keep in good condition for the past three decades. I’m wondering if this diet could help? I’m quite prepared to do anything to alleiveate this latest disease, without resorting to toxic drugs. Any feedback from anyone else would be appreciated too. Cheers from Australia, Karen.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    This is an old thread but when I saw “Rheumatoid Arthritis” in the links I had to read it. Two years ago I was diagnosed with RA (an aggressive form according to my rheumatologist) after having a handful of years of horrendous pain (flares, no doubt) and swelling. Last year a friend of mine told me about Wheat Belly but I wasn’t quite ready to listen for many reasons. Fast foreward to Jan. or Feb. of this year and the Wheat Belly thing came up again through other sources so I decided to “try” this thing. I began in mid-Feb and have to say that I’m impressed and wished I’d have paid attention the 1st time. So far—I’ve lost around 25 lbs., my A1c went from 6.8 to 6.0—my other labs showed good numbers as well. As for my pain issues…I might be seeing some improvement there. I’ve had a couple of “slight” flares in my hands but nothing like before my diagnosis. Along with the RA, I also have secondary fibromyalgia, type 2 diabetes and hypo-thyroidism. I’ve had trouble (in the past) with losing weight. I’ve tried about every “diet” out there…Sugar Busters, Suzanne Somers, South Beach, Weight Watchers and more. Now, I’m trying to pay attention to see how my body responds to the W.B. plan. I am seeing some positive things in these few short months.

    Yesterday I went to a “celiac support group” in my community just to see what information is “out there”. I was amazed that in the conversations I’d had with a handful of folks, none of them had heard of Wheat Belly. There was a table full of empty product containers that folks had brought to share. I wanted to scream….”NO!!!!” Don’t you all know that prepared foods like that aren’t good for you?” I did not say a whole lot being new to the group. However, the originator e-mailed me last evening and wanted my “story”…so I gave it to her. Still haven’t heard back a response! She has severe celiac, said she had heard of W.B. so guess she wanted to hear more. I did make one person pay attention apparently—someone who’d sat at my table e-mailed me to say “I ordered the book!”!!! I also have shared W.B. on one of my RA support group/threads on Facebook—some of the women there are paying attention as well. One person just shared her story on it—thanking me! I need to say the thank-you goes to Dr. Davis!!! I’m so thrilled to have this information now and know that it works. I will keep you all updated on my progress in the months to come!!!

    • Boundless says:

      > Along with the RA, I also have secondary fibromyalgia, type 2 diabetes and hypothyroidism.

      All but the hypothyroidism could easily respond to a low-carb grain-free diet.

      How is the hypothyroidism being treated? The incompetence of consensus medicine, alas, is not not limited to appalling ignorance about diet.

      They also routinely misdiagnose thyroid: measuring only pituitary response (TSH) and the relatively useless total T4. And they mis-treat thyroid: prescribing only T4, and not T3 or dessicated thyroid. See:
      … and the book “Stop the Thyroid Madness” (Bowthorpe).

  7. S.J. Hoy says:

    I have read Wheat Belly and am beginning to use the cookbook. I’m surprised that Hemp Hearts are never mentioned.
    Via email, Rick Gallop, of the Glycemic Diet protocol, told me that hemp hearts fit in perfectly with that regime.
    We enjoy them everyday for their nutritional value despite their relatively high calories. They are more nutritious than flax seeds, I believe, so why are they not included in any of your recipes??
    Seriously curious,

    • Boundless says:

      This has come up several times, and in the first instance I could find, Dr. D. said:
      “Sure, enjoy your hemp …”

      It looks like an almost ideal food, with the only risk being residual low levels of THC, which have no stimulant effect, but can trigger a false positive in primitive drug tests. This makes it a concern for people subject to random at-work test, or who are otherwise “usual suspects”.

      It’s also not legally grown in the US due to the legal insanity that lumps it with cannabis. It would make a wonderful replacement crops for a lot of the junk grains and oil seeds now grown here.