Say “no” to drugs!

Tobechi posted this question about emotional and physical struggles just 2 days into his/her wheat-free experience:

It’s only the end of my second day of not eating wheat, and I have has this constant headache since I’ve stopped eating wheat products. My headache seems to be constantly getting worse, but I’m eating fruit, veggies and fish, so I’m not sure if there are any essential vitamins/nutrients I’m lacking? I’ve been having crazy cravings for cereal, bread, crackers, cake, anything with wheat! Will the cravings ever go away?

Tobechi is experiencing headache, along with cravings for wheat-containing foods. Others experience marked fatigue, nausea, and depression. A bit later in the process, constipation or, less commonly, diarrhea, can result. Could this be due to some nutritional deficiency? Is what the nutritionists say true, i.e., grains are necessary for complete nutrition and a wheat-free or grain-free diet will lead to deficiencies of B vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients?

No. Unless desperately malnourished to begin with, no nutritional deficiency will result within a day or two. Recall that, in addition to eliminating wheat, we replace the lost calories (fewer, given the removal of the appetite-stimulant, gliadin) with real, single-ingredient foods like eggs, olives, avocados, vegetables, nuts, and seeds–not candy and soft drinks. By doing so, nutrient intake is at least on a par with that of a wheat-containing diet. Fiber, likewise, is the same or increases. Interestingly, nutrient absorption is also improved minus the intestinal distorting effects of wheat (gliadin/gluten, wheat germ agglutinin, changes in bowel flora) with increased absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, folate and several others.

So, no, Tobechi: Headaches, wheat cravings, and other phenomena most definitely do NOT represent a nutritional deficiency. They represent wheat withdrawal, the collection of symptoms that result from stopping the flow of the gliadin protein in wheat.

Recall that, upon digestion, gliadin from wheat is broken down into a collection of mostly 4- and 5- amino acid polypeptides that cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to the opiate receptors of the human brain, often called “exorphins,” or endogenous morphine-like compounds. In most people, wheat exorphins generate mind “fog”; in children with ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder they cause behavioral outbursts and difficulty with learning and attention span; in people with schizophrenia they cause paranoia and auditory hallucinations; in people with bipolar illness they can trigger mania; in people with bulimia and binge eating disorder they trigger obsessive food thoughts. And when the flow of wheat-derived opiate exorphins ceases, there is opiate withdrawal.

Gastrointestinal phenomena such as constipation or diarrhea is, I believe, due to the changes in bowel flora that develop minus the destructive effects of wheat. A shift towards a healthier collection of bowel flora is required but is not immediate. Most people respond to a brief course of a high-potency probiotic for these issues.

The whole wheat withdrawal package is something experienced by 35-40% of people who stop consuming it. It generally lasts 3-5 days, though occasionally much longer. Aside from common sense efforts such as hydrating well, pampering yourself, not subjecting yourself to stressful situations, etc., I know of no way to avoid the withdrawal phenomena . . . except to grin and bear it.

The good news: You emerge on the other side of your wheat withdrawal feeling wonderful: energized, optimistic, and well on your way to beginning to experience relief from the collection of wheat-induced aches and pains like joint pain, asthma, and gastrointestinal complaints.

Wheat is a mind-active drug. Eating it distorts mentation and health. Stopping it, at least at first, disrupts mentation and health, complete with its very own withdrawal syndrome. But, like an alcoholic needs to stop drinking, the wheat-addicted individual needs to stop consuming wheat.

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94 Responses to Say “no” to drugs!

  1. JaneK says:

    Dr. Davis -
    I have been wheat free for about a month now. I feel great. Lost 14 pounds. My issue is I no longer feel like eating. I’ve been keeping track of what I eat and calories burned through exercise and noticed I am not eating very many calories. (For example, one day I took an hour long Spinning class, golfed pulling my clubs for 18 holes and could only muster eating 1000 calories for the day.) My app warned I was in starvation mode. Is that true?

    Thanks. Jane

    • derp says:

      What is your current weight and height / BMI? I’d say the body is just burning the excess fat. If you don’t feel hungry, I don’t see a problem. Hunger (and calorie demand) comes back as soon as you hit a weight plateau.

  2. Judylyn says:

    I was so thrilled yesterday when I saw your new cookbook. I’ve been searching for one that uses stevia for sweetening, the different nut flours and is not low fat, and there it was. Usually I could only find books that did either/or and I’d have to play with the recipe to try to make it work. Thank you so much. I started yesterday, lost a pound over night and feel great. I’ve limited wheat and refined sugars for quite a few years so this is just an easy and tasty adjustment for me.
    Several years ago I was diagnosed with non-reactive RA or Lupus. My CPK several years earlier had been 60 and over the past three years it has steadily climbed to 220. I get it checked again in April, and I’m hoping to see a reversal back down to the normal range. I have no doubt that I can go without wheat until then and far beyond thanks to all your great recipes.
    Thank you again,

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Great start, Judylyn!

      I’m going to be surprised if your autoimmune conditions DON’T improve with your new wheat-free lifestyle!

  3. Abby says:

    I’m on Day 5. I feel better, and definitely notice that i”m hungry a lot less – YAY! It’s like I’ve hopped off this crazy wheat roller coaster! BUT…I started at 146 pounds, and I now weigh 145. I’ve had NO wheat, and have made MOSTLY whole-food, low-carb choices. Do you think there is still hope for me? I’ve ready that people can lose a pound a day for the first 10 days. I’m getting worried…. Thanks.

  4. Wanda says:

    I was really glad to see this post! My headaches were worrying me and I figured it was due to all the changes I have put my body through since giving up wheat. Add to that the stress of appendicitis and an emergency appendectomy a week ago, no wonder! Each day is a new one though as I learn by trial and error, what to ditch and what to very interesting and enlightening…not to mention lightning the load of excess weight as a bonus! Even with a sleeve, that doesn’t give a person a license to kill themselves eating crap food!

    I bought my First magazine yesterday, congrats Dr. Davis! (you should have had the bigger Also caught you on CBS yesterday morning, wish you could have had longer than a few minutes…they could have been a little nicer to you too! Who knows, maybe you will have your own show one day…would love to see that!

    You rock Dr. Davis!!!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Thanks, Wanda!

      We are indeed starting conversations about doing our own media. We will get this message out and you will see more and more healthy slender people walking the mall!

  5. shelley says:

    I have started the no wheat ‘life change’ just 9 days ago. For the first 6 days I had a horrible headache but it has now completely subsided. I am full of energy even though I am not getting enough sleep due to my new baby. Also, I just weighed myself and I am down 6 lbs, in just 9 days! That is a little scary and very exciting to me! I have had a lot of weight gain during my 4 pregnancies with only two years apart. I have been eating ‘I thought’ really well! I stayed away from processed foods and ate ‘whole grains’. I exercise 6 days a week. I mean intense exercise such a spin class and weight lifting. I couldn’t loose even a pound and I was beginning to get very depressed. So now, after just 9 day loosing 6 lbs!! I didn’t expect it but I am now a believer :) Much love and thank you!

    • shelley says:

      Although I will say that today i am feeling a bit dizzy.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Great, Shelley!

      You can appreciate how, if these facts were not revealed to you, difficult weight loss, feeling good, and regaining health can be. You can also begin to appreciate that the real answer is the exact opposite of conventional “wisdom”!

      • shelley says:

        Thank you :) The reason I was feeling dizzy I feel was that I wasn’t eating enough. I had some lean meat last night and felt better. It is a ‘learning’ process that I am at the beginning of. Also, when I lost the 6 lbs I wasn’t exercising as much as I normally do either as I had two sick babies. I think I was stressing my body out before. Now to be kind to my body by stressing it out less and making ‘wiser’ choices. ‘

  6. Cori says:

    Wheat is so addictive! I hate it. I can’t get my husband or kiddos on board so there I’m always finding wheat products around the house. Will a bite here and there slow down the weight loss? I would say I am “wheat free” 95% of the time with the occasional (1-2 x’s per week) cracker or bite of cookie. I wouldn’t think that would matter, but it seems to be slowing down my weight loss.

  7. Boundless says:

    > … I am “wheat free” 95% of the time …
    If you were celiac or acutely wheat-sensitive, that would be more than enough to cause real distress.


    • Dr. Davis says:

      Thanks, Boundless!

      And, yes, that small quantity of wheat consumption would be more than enough to fully impair the ability to lose weight, given the gliadin appetite-stimulating effect.

      • Cori says:


        Looks like I need to try a little “mind over matter” and give up the remaining 5%. Why is this so hard? I guess I need to stop feeling bad for myself and think of all the great reasons for not eating wheat instead of mourning the loss of a stupid animal cracker.

        Thanks Dr. Davis

        • Janet says:

          Keep up the good work. I think and imagine the bread I see around me now as simply a very filthy and dirty floor that is used to eat the good stuff off of. Would you really want to throw a juicy steak or some grass-fed burger patties on your basement or garage floor and then dig in? That is bread to me now. I just picture my nasty old garage floor, with road salt, grease and antifreeze stains. Those are poison–just like bread. You will get there.

          My husband is not totally on board either, but he is kind of “stuck” eating the now excellent food I buy and make. If he wants bread–he can go out and buy it. I won’t. He also was kind of brainwashed by all the excellent paleo and low carb podcasts I listen to, so now he is coming my way on this. He asked about what kind of sweetener to use in his coffee the other day and what was best. You can get your family changed too–just do it subtly.

  8. JEY says:

    Dr Davis…you know your Wheat is a Drug message has hit the big-time when you are on the Colbert Nation! A 6+ minute comedy piece, but any media exposure is publicity.
    Thought for Food-Wheat Addicitions (The segment with the Wonder bread on right)

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes, thanks, JEY. I got a good laugh out of the beaver and wood antics!

      Although it clearly did not provide the rationale for the message, it might stoke curiosity.

  9. Ally says:

    Hi Dr. Davis, Thanks for all you have done to help “the people”. I am just recently embracing this way of eating for myself and my family, but I have one question. We travel every year to a third world country where wheat is a major part of the meal…every meal. It would be considerably rude for our family to pass up the bread at each meal (bread is very sacred to this culture and never to be wasted). Do you believe we will encounter the same problems outside of the USA with wheat?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes, though the severity may vary, depending on the “cultivar,” or wheat strain.

      In the setting of chronic calorie deprivation, wheat is still a poison, but just not as poisonous for issues like weight. It can still wreak havoc on gastrointestinal health, mind effects, joints, etc.

      I’m not sure how to best deal with this. Could you claim a newly-diagnosed “wheat allergy” to spare their feelings?

  10. I don’t want to be a big whiner but just finished reading your book and bought your cookbook over the holidays.
    My husband who has been the worst sabotager of a healthy lifestyle is finally on board with cooking and following a “wheat free way” so 3 days in I am enjoying his cooking from the cookbook like I’ve never experienced before!!
    My big dilemma is I’ve gained 3 lbs, have a constant headache and eating like crazy… All good foods but craving fat ie: Greek style yogurt, cheese, avocados, butter, oils, fat from meat, etc.
    I have a constant headache and tonight I shared a whole bottle of wine with my hubby. Then ate almost an entire loaf of your “herbed focaccia” featured in your cookbook. By the way that is amazing!!
    What is wrong with me? Is this just part of the withdrawal process or am I destined to continue to eat my way through these delicious foods without control?
    I want to thank you for enlightening my husband to healthy eating but fear I’m creating a cooking monster.
    Any idea if this is normal?

  11. Brenda Sitter says:

    Dr. Davis, My husband and I have been reading your book following it as we go and just ordered your cookbook (should arrive Monday and i can’t wait) and we are having great results so far. Losing some weight and inches. My clothes are fitting better and looking forward to get out of my big clothes. Recenly I have been having a difficult time going to sleep … often not getting asleep until 4:00 or even 5:00 am and thankfully since I’m retired get to sleep in to get the sleep my body needs. My daughter suggested taking a Benadryl last night to get to sleep. We were out late but did take it and certainly did fall asleep about 1-1/2 hours later. Could this be due to my diet change or maybe I need Melatonin or something? The other day I heard on a program that if you were having trouble going to sleep to drinK Tart Cherry Juice before you go to bed. Do you have any thoughts. I love this blog and so thankful for your helpful input and all the people writing you. It has helped so much. THANKS! Brenda

  12. Donna says:

    I just stopped eating wheat food four days ago, and I already feel better. My stomach cramps are gone and I am not tired all day anymore. Now let’s sue the companies that are re-engineering wheat and urge the FDA to crackdown on companies that are re-engineering our food.

  13. Meg says:

    I purchased the Wheat Belly Cookbook and make the basic bread recipe. Unfortunately, my husband and I do not like it at all. We are committed to trying this wheat-free lifestyle, but do want to enjoy some type of bread. Is there another recipe someone can recommend? Thanks!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Try the focaccia bread recipe in the cookbook or on this blog, Meg. Not making a loaf but making it as a flatbread yields a different taste and texture.

  14. Faye says:

    Dr. Davis, I stopped eating wheat mid November 2012. Mid December I started to experience stiffness in my whole body. I thought it would be my rheumatoid Arthristis. But last week I couldn’t bear the pain anymore and consulted my physician. He diagnosed me with myositis. My physician encouraged me to eat wheat free, organic, sugar free and cowmilk free. I eat 95% organic and 95% wheat free and 95% sugar free. How is it possible that I suddenly experience such a bout of muscle inflammation, could this be a withdrawal effect? I also had a greenish vaginal discharge for 3 weeks after I stopped eating wheat. I imagine that this was a way of detoxing.

    Thank you!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Not sure, Faye, but I would doubt that it is part of the withdrawal phenomena, as this should not happen with withdrawal from an opiate.

      It sure sounds to me, however, that you would potentially benefit more than most people by losing the wheat 100%. Remember: Exposure to the gliadin protein of wheat is a likely underlying reason to explain multiple autoimmune processes. Surely there are other causes for autoimmune conditions, but wheat elimination is one that is easy to do with outsized benefits that extend even outside of reducing potential for autoimmunity.

    • Uncle Roscoe says:

      Faye: “I stopped eating wheat mid November 2012. ……my physician ……diagnosed me with myositis. My physician encouraged me to eat wheat free, organic, sugar free and cowmilk free. I eat 95% organic and 95% wheat free and 95% sugar free.”

      I don’t understand a few things about your post. You said that you totally eliminated wheat, and became “95% wheat free”? You said your doctor encouraged you to totally eliminate three things, wheat, sugar and cow milk. You responded by becoming “95% wheat free” and “95% sugar free”, but you mentioned nothing about even curtailing cow milk.

      To put a fine point on Dr. Davis’ comments….. Ingested food peptides cause autoimmune disease. The immune system creates antibodies to affected tissue when it detects the presence of the offending food protein(s). The problem is, it creates these antibodies when you ingest even the slightest amount of the food protein(s). I can’t stress this strongly enough ……even the smallest amount.

  15. Faye says:

    Uncle Roscoe: Sorry, I see I forgot to mention 95% cow milk free. In my house it’s 100% free, but I always keep 5% for when I visit people, have dinner outside the house, being on vacation, traveling, etc.
    Please, could you explain what you wrote? Does this mean I have to eat 100% protein-free? I’m confused, as I’m encouraged to eat nuts, eggs, cheese, etc.

    Thank you!

  16. Deborah says:

    I had been wheat free for 3 weeks. I know I am a wheat addict. Tonight my cravings were so intense I broke down and ate some potato chips and two pop tarts. Really bad choices, i know. I didn’t feel sick from eating the wheat, in fact i felt wonderful ( but guilty). Eating wheat to me is like a drug. It makes me feel really good. My problem is I will eat too much of it if not restricted by a diet like wheat belly. I will start my wheat free diet over tomorrow. I just wonder what people do to deal with intense wheat cravings. I thought they would be gone by now. They had decreased until tonight. Are these cravings still part of the withdrawal?

    • Deborah says:

      Ok today I pay for my wheat indulgence. I feel so nauseated and sick.

      • Neicee says:

        Deborah, sorry the wheat monster bit you today….just getting even for your neglecting them for awhile. ;)
        I spent years knowing I was gluten intolerant or sensitive, paid for it every single time but kept returning. Only when I gave it up totally did the wheat monster die!

  17. Kelly says:

    I am allergic to nuts, and you incorporate nuts into almost everything. Can you suggest some alternatives?

  18. Molly says:

    I just began a wheat and sugar free diet. I’m eating apples with peanut butter for a treat, but no toast, cake, cookies etc…and I have to say, I feel a bit wonky. I have a headache, which I never get, and sort of a restless mania-like state in my legs. Its definitely not like quitting smoking, which made me want to peel my face off, but I’m in kind of a pre-tantrum state most of today and yesterday.

    I am really excited about the results, but I think I might need some help.

    When I quit smoking, I was an obscene wreck, because I did it cold turkey while working 60 hour weeks on a farm. What really helped was gin and tonics. I don’t usually drink much, and I don’t have a problem with alcohol, so MY QUESTION IS should I try this while detoxing off wheat?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Not a good idea, Molly.

      But recognize that you are experiencing withdrawal from an opiate in wheat. It is a very real withdrawal process.

      Hang out with friends, do something nice for yourself like get a massage. Recognize that this is how you take back control over appetite, eating impulse, health and life!

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