Yes, it happens: Rid your life of all things wheat and you get relief from acid reflux, joint pain, and mood swings . . . but not weight loss.
While most people enjoy rapid and dramatic weight loss with wheat elimination due to the loss of the appetite-stimulating effect of wheat gliadin, the loss of repetitive glucose-insulin provocation of amylopectin A, the reduction of inflammation (that blocks insulin) of the combined effects of gliadin/wheat germ agglutinin/amylopectin A, and the leptin-blocking effect of wheat germ agglutinin, this doesn’t happen to everybody. Or you lose, say, 10 pounds, only to have weight loss stop for an extended period with another 50 to go.
Why? Elimination of wheat is an extremely powerful strategy for regaining control over health, appetite, and weight. But it cannot correct or undo every abnormal situation that causes weight gain or blocks weight loss. The list of solutions to break a weight loss failure is rather extensive and there is often more than one answer. There are more but these are the biggies. Let’s consider them one by one:
1) Lose the carbohydrates
Many people have high blood levels of insulin with resultant resistance to insulin that has to be undone for weight loss to occur. Beyond getting rid of wheat and its extravagant insulin-raising effect, it therefore helps to restrict other carbohydrates. This is among the reasons I condemn gluten-free foods made with rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch. So cutting carbohydrates may become necessary, e.g., no more than 15 grams “net” carbs per meal (i.e., total carbs minus fiber). (I use a free iPhone app called FoodFacts to get quick listings of various foods or an old-fashioned handbook of the nutritional content of foods works fine.) Another way to manage carbs: Get a fingerstick glucose meter and check blood sugars immediately prior to meals, then 1-hour later; aim for NO CHANGE in blood sugar. This works for many people and can be conducted in concert with counting carbohydrates.
An occasional person will actually require a ketogenic state to achieve weight loss, i.e., complete elimination of carbohydrates in order to metabolize fats, evidenced by the fruity breath odor of ketones or urine dipstick testing positive with Ketostix.
2) Revel in fats and oils–Fat is satiating and reduces appetite. Liberal fat intake, contrary to conventional “wisdom,” does not make you fat; it helps you get skinny. The only fats to avoid are fried (high-temperature), hydrogenated, and highly-processed polyunsaturated seed or GM oils like safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soybean, and canola.
You can add fats/oils to many foods, e.g., add 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive or coconut oil to scrambled eggs or soups. Some people even choose to consume coconut oil “straight.”
3) Lose the dairy–The problem with dairy is not fat; it’s the whey fraction of protein. Some people are susceptible to the “insulinotrophic” action of whey–a tripling of insulin output by the pancreas, a situation that stalls weight loss. The solution: Avoid all dairy when trying to lose weight. I know of no other way to confidently identify this as the culprit . . . except a trial of elimination. This approach does, however, make the diet very restrictive, so this may be necessary for only as long as you are trying to lose weight.
4) Thyroid dysfunction–VERY, VERY common. Thyroid dysfunction is really part of a broader modern problem in human health: Endocrine disruption from environmental organochemicals. We are witnessing more obesity, diabetes, pituitary, thyroid, ovarian, and other endocrine gland disruption due to chemicals such as perchlorates (residues of synthetic fertilizer in produce), polyfluorooctanoic acid (non-stick cookware), bisphenol A (polycarbonate plastics, resin lining of cans), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants), along with many others. The end result of decades of exposures: disruption of endocrine status. The most common: Impaired thyroid hormone production, both T4 and T3.
Problem: Even if diagnosed, most of my colleagues prescribe the T4 thyroid hormone only (Synthroid or levothyroxine), while failing to address T3–even if it is abnormally low. This is a big mistake, since many of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals we are exposed to are blockers of the 5′-deiodinase enzyme that converts T4 to active T3. If you are deficient in T3, you will not lose weight, no matter how much T4 you take. Also, ideal TSH? 1.0 mIU or less–NOT the 3.5 or 4.0 many doctors are content with. The key: Find a practitioner willing to explore this question, usually a functional medicine practitioner or naturopath, virtually NEVER an endocrinologist.
Some people (proportion varying by region, age, ethnicity; this represents about 20% of the people I meet with underactive thyroids in Wisconsin) have underactive thyroids due to iodine deficiency. (I am, in fact, seeing a rise in goiters–enlarged thyroid glands due to lack of iodine). This will respond to the simple supplementation of iodine, e.g., 500 mcg per day from kelp tablets or iodine drops from the health food store. (Adverse reactions are rare but need to be explored to rule out, for instance, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or active thyroid nodules.) Supplementing iodine is no more dangerous than salting your food with iodized salt. Take iodine for at least 3 months to observe the full effect.
But if even marginal thyroid dysfunction is present, or undertreated hypothyroidism, it can completely block weight loss. Correct thyroid status to ideal and weight loss proceeds.
5) Lose drugs that block weight loss–Obviously, this should be undertaken with the knowledge of your healthcare provider. Beta blockers, such as metoprolol, atenolol, and propranolol; antidepressants like amitryptiline, doxepin, paroxetine (Paxil), and trazodone, thought nearly all antidepressants have been associated with weight gain in some people; Lyrica for fibromyalgia and pain; and insulin. I’ve seen 20, 30, even 50+ pounds gained within several months of initiating long-acting insulin preparations like Lantus. This is only a partial list, as there are many others.
6) Straighten out cortisol–Not so much excess cortisol as disruptions of circadian rhythm. Cortisol should surge in the morning, part of the process to arouse you from sleep, then decline to lower levels in the evening to allow normal recuperative sleep. But this natural circadian cycling is lost in many people represented, for instance, as a flip-flopping of the pattern with low levels in the morning (with morning fatigue) and high levels at bedtime (with insomnia), which can result in stalled weight loss or weight gain. Cortisol status therefore needs to be assessed, best accomplished with salivary cortisol assessment.
7) Get adequate sleep–Sleep deprivation increases adrenaline, cortisol, and insulin, while increasing appetite, all of which add up to stalled weight loss or weight gain. Adequate sleep, occurring in 90-minute “packages” (e.g., 7 1/2 hours, 9 hours) is crucial. (Note that chronic sleep deprivation can even increase mortality–death.)
8) Fast intermittently–Intermittent fasting of, say, 15-48 hours in duration, can be a wonderful way to break a weight loss plateau. However, this is best undertaken after you’ve confidently removed all wheat, concluded your wheat withdrawal experience, and all the above strategies have been explored and squared away. Be sure to hydrate vigorously, as dehydration is the most common reason for failing and experiencing symptoms like lightheadedness, nausea, and unexplained fatigue. (People with diabetes or hypertension need to talk to their healthcare provider about the advisability of taking their drugs during a fast.) Also, Intermittent fasting should not be confused with the habitual skipping of meals, e.g., always skipping breakfast; habitual and consistent meal skipping actually causes weight gain. If you skip meals, do so in an unpredictable and random pattern, so that your body does not adjust and ratchet down its metabolic rate.
9) Drink coffee–By no means a big effect, else all coffee drinks would be skinny. But 2-3 cups per day of caffeinated coffee, via caffeine and possibly chlorogenic acid (below), can yield a modest weight reduction.
Beyond this, there are the speculative relationships between bowel flora and weight, with some data, such as this trial of fructooligosaccharides (prebiotic inulin) resulting in modest weight loss. At present, however, the precise species of bowel bacteria that facilitate weight loss and/or prevent weight gain have not been worked out. Other supplements, such as green coffee bean extract/chlorogenic acid, white bean extract to block carbohydrate digestion, and medium-chain triglycerides have shown effects in limited trials, though I have not witnessed substantial effects in people trying them.