Why do we eat more?

It’s a well-established fact: Americans eat more.

Several large studies have documented the increased calorie intake of Americans. This study, for instance, calculated a 440-calorie increased intake per day from 1977 to 2006 in 28,400 children and 36,800 adults. Increased calorie intake came from eating more frequently, more snacking, but not increased energy density of foods.

(The “p” rankings refer to percentile ranks, e.g., 10th percentile, 25th percentile, etc. of calorie intake. Data from the USDA Nationwide Food Consumption Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES.)


You can see that calorie intake increased across all groups, across all eating habits, along the three time periods from 1977-78 to 2003-06.

But why? Many argue that it’s the increased accessibility of foods, e.g., vending machines, fast food restaurants on every corner, portable snack foods. Others argue that it’s largely a problem of soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup that fail to induce satiety, since fructose is metabolized differently than glucose, not provoking an immediate insulin response. Still others argue that Americans are just plain gluttonous and lazy, the habits of Homer Simpson personified, choosing to eat more and exercise less just because they want to. Doh!

I think there’s merit to all of these arguments, though to a variable degree in different age groups, different individuals.

It’s odd, however, that the increase in calorie intake got its beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, precisely when the genetically newly-reconfigured wheat was introduced, complete with its new gliadin protein, differing from its predecessors by several amino acids. Recall that gliadin has been shown to exert opiate-like effects, able to bind to opiate receptors in the brain, blocked by opiate-blocking drugs like naloxone and naltrexone.

We also know that, when people with celiac disease remove all wheat/gluten from the diet, calorie intake goes down 400 calories per day. We know that normal volunteers administered an opiate-blocking drug, such as naloxone or naltrexone, experience a reduction in calories of around . . .  400 calories per day. We also know that people with eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder, reduce calorie intake, yup, 400 calories per day when injected with an opiate-blocking drug. We also know that a drug company files its FDA application in 2011 for naltrexone, a drug already on the market for heroin addiction, for a weight loss indication; in their clinical trials, overweight people taking naltrexone reduced calorie intake by . . . 400 calories per day, losing 22 pounds in the first 6 months.

Anecdotally, we also know that, if all wheat, and thereby gliadin, is removed from the diet, appetite and desire for food is much reduced. Calorie intake goes down, weight drops, visceral fat stores shrink. Read the stories on this blog and its Facebook page and you can see that this is not the exception; it is the rule (with few exceptions).

The gliadin protein of wheat is an appetite-stimulant: It increases desire for more wheat products, it increases desire for other foods, a constant cycle of hunger that drives increased consumption. It is responsible for stomach rumblings at 9 am after a 7 am breakfast. It’s responsible for the pattern of nocturnal grazing that many people experience, a constant need to snack after dinner. It’s responsible for midnight snacking, eating in the middle of the night when you surely do not need it. And most health-conscious adults are not drinking bottles and bottles of soft drinks, nor eating the crap foods from vending machines, or playing 4 hours of XBox every day. They are exercising, cutting their fat, and . . . eating more “healthy whole grains.”

What we don’t have is a specific gliadin versus placebo feeding study that, in a diet minus all wheat, is compared in calorie content. That is something I believe I should do.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Birgit

    Dr. Davis, I would love to see a study like you describe.
    On the other hand I think that many people will make decisions about their eating based on anecdotal evidence, whether we like that or not. Some make these decisions too easily based on a few success stories from friends. Some make these decisions too late demanding “research” to prove that something works.
    In my opinion it”s all about learning to evaluate risk. People are far more likely to respect you because of your medical background and many will be willing to try eliminating wheat for that reason. Everyone also needs to decide for themselves how to weigh the risks vs. potential benefits when trying anything new. The potential health risk of eliminating wheat is non-existent (if people are really worried about low-carb they can eat different carbs) and the potential benefits are huge. I”m saying “potential” to put myself in the situation of people who don”t want to “just believe” but see more hard evidence.
    I”m looking at the large numbers of people who take statin-drugs because their doctors tell them to do so, sometimes in high doses. I know that Statins have the potential for huge negative side effects and even though I can”t judge what the benefits are I know there are significant questions about their benefits for heart health.
    I am concerned about the possibilty of losing my Dad who is in his 70”s to heart disease and hope I can convince him to treat all his risk factors, obesity, high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, low HDL, high triclycerides, by trying to skip at least the wheat, hopefully all grain.
    My Mom also takes high levels of statins and has had frequent short-term memory lapses for the last year she has taken them. Is there any hope that those drugs can go once the grain is gone?

    • It is my view, Birgit, that statins, while occasionally helpful, are miserably overused and abused.

      You will find that rather long (and, admittedly, tedious) discussion in the Wheat Belly book in the “My particles are bigger than your particles” chapter.

      • Birgit

        Thanks, I must have missed than when reading the book the first time around. I”ll go back and re-read when I get my own copy.

    • There are little to no benefits to taking statins, except that since statins began their life as antifungal drugs that had or were about to go off patent protection, some of them may inhibit systemic fungal infections which are caused in part by eating fungal contaminated wheat, grains & processed foods, yet another major reason to drop these completely out of your daily diet.

      “One case in point is the phenomenon created by cholesterol lowering drugs called Statin drugs, currently the darlings of Wall Street. Over and above their ability to reduce cholesterol levels, medical researchers are witnessing the reversal and prevention of many symptoms and diseases with statin drugs Why? They simply do not know, but remain thrilled with the clinical results.
      Doug Kaufmann teaches that before they were statin drugs, they were proven effective against fungus…..yes, statin drugs used to be antifungal drugs. Therefore the apparent “panacea” being witnessed by researchers confirms the discovery of “The Fungus Link” to at very least, the presence of cholesterol in cardiovascular diseases, and at best virtually all diseases of unknown origin!” http://goo.gl/QPpKb
      Audio clip of interview with Doug Kaufmann from Jimmy Moore”s Liviin The Vida Low Carb Show re statiins here: http://goo.gl/HbqtF

      Also “No longer can physicians conclude that their patients will thrive using statins. The overwhelming evidence demonstrates the best medical advice is to caution patients on the tremendous limitations of statins; specifically that when 67 patients are treated with a statin protocol over 5 years, 66 patients will experience NO benefit—a 98% failure rate. As dismal as this number is it does not take into account the substantial additional risks associated with prolonged statin usage.” http://goo.gl/gx73Z

  2. Liza

    While on a gluten free diet (diagnosed with celiac in 2010), I have actually GAINED weight, which is very frustrating for me, and I”m sure for other people who have gained since going wheat free. Now I try to limit ALL sugar, grains, rice, quinoa, corn, & white potatoes and eat a “quasi” Paleo diet. I don”t eat much dairy, since I had a cross reactive gluten blood test that said I was sensitive to all cow derived dairy, also. I exercise regularly, but still haven”t seen my weight budge that much, although my severe gastric symptoms in my wheat eating days have largely disappeared. My doctors have told my my weight gain is due to the fact that my body is now absorbing nutrients, but right now I guess I”ll have to resign myself to the fact that I”ll have to accept this 10-15 lb. weight gain. I guess I jus wanted to share the fact that not everyone loses weight going wheat free, unfortunately.

    • Then something is wrong, Liza.

      As powerful as wheat-elimination is, especially in the setting of a limited carbohydrate or Paleo diet, it cannot undo other phenomena, such as thyroid or adrenal dysfunction. I suspect you have developed some condition simultaneous with your diet efforts that is preventing weight loss and causing weight gain.

      The exception does not disprove the rule. You are clearly an exception. But you need to understand why if you are to succeed.

    • Liza, you are definitely not alone.

      I gave up all grains and most sugar (I”m sure some sneaks in from time to time) and I”m following a paleo diet. No weight loss at all, not even now that I”ve added exercise. It is extremely frustrating.

      I”ve been told I am insulin resistan and have adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, the doctor I”m seeing hasn”t yet told me how to improve either of those things, so I”m just in a holding period. It sucks! But, I do believe that eliminating wheat/grains is a step in the right direction and that I”ll lose weight once these other issues are resolved.

      Dr. Davis, did you happen to see this article?

      Now, I know that gluten-free pseudo-foods aren”t great, but the one doctor in the article acts like you should favor foods with gluten over them unless you”re doubled over in pain from eating gluten. Ridiculous, if you ask me…

      • I”m with you, Nikki.

        And it is deeply disappointing that even Dr. Alessio Fasano, a researcher who has documented the greater-than-expected prevalence of celiac disease, still sees this as a gluten issue.

        As you know, it”s not a gluten issue. It”s wheat issue.

        I sense the work of the Wheat Lobby here. They are trying to turn the whole conversation back to gluten, ignoring all the other issues in wheat, like gliadin, lectins, and amylopectin A.

  3. Nancy

    Dr. Davis- I just finished reading Wheat Belly and I wanted to tell you I have found it to be the most helpful book I have ever owned. And believe me, I have read EVERY low carb, Paleo, anti grain or gluten/celiac book there is! They were all helpful but yours is truly unique.
    In particular, I learned so much from the effect of wheat on the brain. My husband and I went grain free a few years ago and stuck to it for 3 years. We both lost a lot of weight as well as greatly improved labwork. For some insane reason, 2 Thanksgivings ago we allowed ourselves to be seduced by wheat, fell HARD and began eating “whole grains” again. What a devastating choice. We gained everything back although we by no means eat the SAD or anything processed. We are once again fat, inflamed, older, pain wracked and utterly miserable. We went gluten free again first week of January after I started your book and it just isn”t working as fast as the first time. We eat little grain, mostly a Paleo type diet. But we aren”t losing weight and things like BP and blood sugars are not responding like I would like to see.
    Does it take much longer to recover when you return to wheat free life? We are both 51 and feel like we are 80. He as liver issues and it was insane to ever go back- we are still kicking ourselves.
    Spreading the word constantly, got our 25 year old to go gluten free also.
    About to start the book again!

    • Thanks, Nancy.

      I fear that you may have experienced some destructive effects of your resumed wheat consumption, such as pancreatic injury, distortions of bowel flora, or other effects.

      I would stay the course, avoid the other grains, never eat gluten-free junk carbohydrates like “gluten-free multigrain bread,” and be patient. Also, look for stealth, “hidden” sources of wheat and gluten, e.g., nutritional supplements and medications.

      • Nancy

        Thanks so much for the response! You would not have been proud of the gluten free cupcake I had tonight at my daughters birthday then :-(
        We will stay the course and I will get far more diligent on the no grain or hidden gluten. I didn”t get this way overnight, its unreasonable to expect rapid results.
        Back to my protein and veggies. My family health history is too scary to risk any more! (parents both deceased from heart/diabetes. )
        Will update with a success story in a few months!

  4. rufus

    Gliadin has turned out to be one of the worst villains ever.

    Just like we have the gang of 4 in china, the freshman 20, I”m going to start calling it the gliadin 400

  5. TR

    What we don’t have is a specific gliadin versus placebo feeding study that, in a diet minus all wheat, is compared in calorie content. That is something I believe I should do.

    Dr. Davis, you are the only one who will do this study. It needs to be done and the results released to every major media outlet that has the nuts to print it or show it on the evening news…
    It”s a great idea! Go, go go!

    Thank you,


  6. Kirk

    Dr Davis, I eliminated wheat last October 1st except for a few obvious blow ups (Thanskgiving, Christmas, Superbowl). Anyway, I”ve lost 6 lbs out of the 20 that I have to loose (192 down to 186). I feel like somehow wheat may still be creeping into my diet. My familiy is in the ranching biz here in Texas and I know during the winter we graze cattle on wheat.

    So my question is, If I eat meat or dairy from livestock that has eaten wheat am I still eating wheat?

    Also, another strange thing is my appetite hasn”t diminished. I”m still eating 2000 to 2500 calories per day like I was before wheat elimination but I still lost the 6 pounds over 4 months. (41 yo male, 5”11″) One funny thing is most of the 6 pounds I lost was in my waist and butt. Sitting at my desk in a padded chair my butt starts to hurt because I”ve lost all the cushion. So you women out there with too much junk in the trunk this is the easiest way to loose it. One last thing, I”ve probably told 40 people about how bad wheat is and not one of them believes. So what this country experiences now in obesity and disease is nothing to what is coming.

    • I fear you are correct, Kirk. Many of the fattest people I see are also the least interested in knowing why, or knowing how to undo the process. We end up paying for their attitude through increased healthcare costs.

      It sounds to me like the occasional wheat exposures may be sustaining the appetite. That”s all it takes.

      The milk and meat does not provide overexposure to wheat, just the higher linoleic acid (omega-6) fats that grain consumption generates, not to mention changes in bovine bowel flora.

      • Soleil

        So, for Kirk’s question about eating meat that was fed wheat, was it your response that it is a negligible amount and shouldn’t cause one to be too concerned?

        I am only beginning to read the book and am nervous that I will have difficulty cutting out wheat and I had thought about this same question. I’m sure it’s in the book, but what are the best meats to eat? And do we have to look for meats that are not in supermarkets but have been fed some special diets? I would so like to improve my skin problems (acne, eczema) and lose my belly, and I would like to know if I’m going to have to be rich to do this. Is it okay to buy vegetables and meats at my local Supermarket?

    • I am a case in point about the effects of “occasional” wheat exposure.

      For five years I happily low carbed, losing over sixty pounds in the process, and had a low carb wrap a couple of times of month, or a few bites of my husband”s cheesecake in a restaurant, or indulging for one meal at such events as Thanksgiving. In a period of great stress, including transportational and financial, I tried to save money and cut down on my trips to the grocery store, so I started with such cheap meals as Dreamfields Pasta. This increase of wheat in my diet led me to gain 20 pounds before I got my grip back; and I blamed it on the carbs.

      But in this renewal of my low carb ways, I discovered Dr. Davis, and under his influence I ditched wheat entirely. I lost seven more pounds with just this change; all in places I didn”t want it! And my sense of well-being increased as my body healed. I actually got a glow around my tum for two months as I felt it healing!

      So yeah; we can”t be “mostly gluten free.” And expect it to work.

  7. Neicee

    Kirk, my husband”s family still ranches in Montana. The entire family were skinny as rails until the ”new improved high protein wheat” started to be grown here. Suddenly, the bigger the loaf of bread, the bigger sandwiches it would produce and the women pride themselves on how big and sugary their cinnamon rolls are. Everywhere I look there are now obese people, most of them young adults with young obese babies too. We have a company with restaurants all over the state where ”Wheat Montana” flour is featured. I eat meat right out of Costco because I simply don”t care for grass fed beef, though I could have easy/cheap access to it. Have you only given up wheat but retained the potatoes/rice/corn? I”ve been gluten intolerant for a number of years and held on to a bit of weight. Once I gave up all of them, including sugar, the weight fell off.

    • Kirk

      Neicee, I”ll eat just about anything except wheat. Sometimes I eat potatoes and corn a few times a week but no rice. I don”t drink anything except water and organic 1% milk. I think the trick for me is to avoid the grains long enough for them to clear out of my system then I seem to loose weight. Everytime I relaspe I don”t see any weight loss for a few weeks.

  8. Neicee

    Kirk, the hardest thing I”ve had to give up is Mexican food. Growing up in NorCal and then Texas as an adult it was part of every week”s meals. That and Asian food. The sauces simply just do not taste right without the traditional ingredients. Getting better with stir-fries but Mexican sauces are tough to do without disappointment. Good luck, it will happen, and you”ll see results soon.

  9. hitfan

    Three and a half weeks of being “wheat free”, and I”m 12 pounds lighter. I use quotation marks because I”m certain that some of the sauces I”ve consumed might have had a hint of wheat in them, but I do try to avoid it as much as possible and I always read, and re-read the ingredients in whatever I consume now. But I think that a dash of wheat that is used in teriyaki or soya sauce is far less than a slice of bread. But I”ll try to find WF versions of these, if they”re available.

    I found another convenience food — wheat free sandwiches. Basically, I use the same ingredients that go in between the buns such as cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, and slices of ham. But instead of bread, I just use leaves of lettuce. I actually find that these taste better than regular sandwiches.

  10. Deb

    Many Asian grocery stores carry soy sauce from Vietnam that is wheat free. Whole Foods also carries the SanJ gluten free soy sauce.
    I make a bread from almond flour that tastes great and has minimal carb impact, called 2 minute almond flour bread.

  11. Stephanie

    Thank you for the explanation to decreased appetite! I have been wheat and gluten free for only two weeks but the urge to eat has dropped so much that I forget to eat (then the slow brain kicks in followed by feeling cold easily). I have had PCOS symptoms since puberty (now 43) and could never figure out why on the diet countless nutritionists put me on I gained weight fast and became borderline diabetic despite eating exceptionally healthy and being quite active. I wish I had discovered that wheat was the source of my struggles years ago as it makes perfect sense to me now.

    • Great, Stephanie.

      You can see how far wrong the advice of well-intended nutritionists can be. They have, at best, a rudimentary understanding of nutrition and what agribusiness has done to the food.

      Be wheat-free and be liberated!

  12. Dana

    I”m so tired of skinny people who”ve never had weight problems deciding that us fatties got this way from deliberately deciding to become motionless gluttons. Gary Taubes has gone over this over and over again–that when the body is putting on mass, the person wants to eat more. We see this happen in the normal growth patterns of children–well, I sure have seen it, anyway. I think it”s telling that these dumb ideas about people being motionless gluttons On Purpose are coming from academics and other such overachievers who probably left all their kids in daycare or with the wife from six weeks of age (or from birth) onward, otherwise they”d be familiar with this growth pattern and maybe it”d give them pause.

    If Taubes is right (and I think he is) and obesity has to do with elevated insulin levels then it stands to reason that if your body can”t access its own energy, it will reduce caloric expenditure and tell you it”s hungry. What else is it supposed to do? I know it”s fashionable to believe that when one goes into “starvation mode” one hoards calories, but the truth is that if we stop burning calories WE WILL DIE. People keep overlooking that-there basal metabolic rate and I really wish I knew why.

    Not only is my daughter normal weight (50th percentile, in fact, last I got her a checkup), she gets “zoomy” at least a couple times a day and I cannot get her to sit still to save my life. I don”t know where all this need to make kids exercise comes from. Spend a day at my house and see how it is when they can access their stored energy. It”s insane. And it”s not like she”s incapable of sitting still–she just sometimes *needs* to move. I think this is what healthy adults would act like too, if we”d quit elevating our insulin to such extreme levels.

    She”ll eat a lot when she”s growing, too. But she has yet to ever get fat.

    Interestingly, her brother *is* fat. But he has also been raised by his grandparents, who apparently wanted to take on the parental role without actually behaving like parents. Whatever he wanted, they would indulge him, even when what he wanted made him fatter. Within a year after he left me he was in the overweight category and he struggles to this day. He”s also quite sedentary. His dad had a weight problem as a child but slimmed up as he matured (I, meanwhile, had no weight problem at all til I was 21), so I think genetics only go so far here. I”ve kept my daughter off the full-sugar soda, she willingly drinks water, she eats a lot less wheat than most kids her age (I”m trying to transition her over to gluten-free if her father would just cooperate), and she likes a wider range of foods than her brother does. We also eat a LOT less of the seed oils. I”m sure that has something to do with it too.

    Just random thoughts–I don”t think the researchers pay close enough attention to what”s going on. I think Taubes gets as much crap as he does because they”re all desperately afraid he might be right, and there goes 3/4 of the diet and weight loss industry, including the “legit” medical operations, if he is. Same reason they go after you.

    • Agreed, Dana: The nutritional “establishment” has plenty of credibility to lose, having hawked the wrong information for several decades.

      And what”s an organization like the American Diabetes or American Heart Association supposed to do with the thousands of information/educational documents they”ve produced, generating billions of dollars of donations, all based on the message the CAUSES the diseases they were supposed to prevent?

      It”s quite a mess, one that you and I don”t have to participate in.

  13. Leslie

    While Wheat is definitely involved in driving incread food consumption via appetite, I think failing to mention food additives leaves out a big piece of the puzzle. I suffered from severe migraines for years, and was finally persuaded to give up aspartame containing diet sodas after reading Dr. Blaylock”s Excitotoxins book. Giving up wheat was a piece of cake (hah!) compared to getting over the cravings for aspartame. It took a full 6 months! The headaches were reduced, but not eliminated until i gave up wheat.

    The additives are just another reason to avoid processed foods, especially since the labeling laws allow the producers to hide the Excitotoxins under names like “natural flavor” or even “no MSG”, but sticking to the edges of the store is no guarantee of safety. My local grocery”s packaged ground beef now includes “natural flavor”, and the rotisserie chickens have “autolyzed yeast extract”, aka MSG. Our overstimulated taste buds apparently require nuclear bomb sized flavor enhances to catch our attention, but the end result for most people is not only wheat deranged appetites, but also an addiction to food additives that will itself drive overconsumption trying to obtain an additive fix!

  14. Neicee

    Since we don”t have a Whole Foods in my area, many things that have been recommended are not available in my area. One of the easiest sources is Amazon. They carry everything known to man, including dozens of brands of coconut oil, Himalayan salt, wheat free soy, etc.. While you”re there, order another copy of Wheat Belly to give out to those you love and may have reservations about their ability to go wheat/grain free.

  15. Dr Davis, I am SO angry. I am so angry that we have been given such wrong information for so long! Such a bill of goods we have been sold! I am 61 and hope it”s not too late for me. I have a variety of health challenges – low thyroid, severe osteoporosis, depression, insomnia, constipation. I could go on. I have been wheat free since February 1, but up until a month previous to that I believed in the whole low-fat high-carb (what you call ”healthy whole grains”) myth. I would even argue with people. In the 1980s I was a Weight Watcher”s Leader for goodness sake! We were ”trained” in nutrition. At the end of this past January my brother – aged 58 – told me on the phone about Wheat Belly. He”d read it and had been grain free for six weeks, and his IBS totally cleared up and he”s lost 20 pounds. (He”s always been a big guy.) When he told me that, right then and there something just resonated with me. I immediately went wheat free. That afternoon. I then went out and bought your book, read it practically in one sitting. Then I began researching online, reading the blogs, learning about Paleo (which is a term I had never heard of until one month ago.) going grain free. I watched Fat Head practically in tears, thinking that I wish we all had known this sooner. I ”counselled” so many Weight Watchers members about low-fat. We shared recipes. I hope you will tell me it”s not too late for me. Oh, and my mother, 85, has had IBS issues her whole life and went wheat free with me. She tells me she has not had one ”episode” (her words) since. My constipation has cleared up and I”ve lost almost 10 pounds.

    • An excellent start, Linni!

      And don”t beat yourself up over the Weight Watchers thing. Many of us, me included, fell into this trap in past. It”s important that we learn from the experience, brush ourselves off, then be sure to not repeat the mistake.

      Now spread the word!

  16. Rose

    Two weeks ago I stopped eating white bread because of the probable link to atherosclerosis / heart disease. Nearly an act of national disobedience in France ! However what a surprise 5.5 days after the last intake to feel myself without any need to eat anything ! The tremendous appetite I always have (though not overweight) was gone ! What a relief ! This comes despite my eating pasta (made with durum wheat though) 3 times since giving up bread ! Thinking about it I don”t remember white bread twenty years ago to be triggering appetite like nowadays. I don”t want this effect on my mind EVER in my life !

  17. Margaret

    Love this blog! I am 46, weigh 180 pounds, and have tried various versions of a lowfat diet over the years. Most recently I have been eating “healthy” whole-wheat pita bread, then ransacking my apartment at night in the forlorn hope of finding a forgotten stash of candy or crackers. As of today I am wheat-free and will post again with my results! :D

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, please do, Margaret!

      It sounds like you have been held hostage by this thing called wheat. Liberate yourself and take back control over weight and health!

  18. LorLor

    I skimmed through the headings and didn’t see anything specifically about soda, so I’ll ask – is there something in diet cola, besides caffeine and artificial sweetener, that causes food cravings? I rarely drink soda but when I have a diet Pepsi, I spend the rest of the day fighting food cravings – not necessarily for sweets, just the urge to eat, even though I’m not hungry. Caffeine and artificial sweeteners consumed in other products don’t bother me the same way, just the soda.

    It’s SO not worth it to drink soda, even aside from what it does to your insides!