Can you lose weight while continuing to consume bread and other products made with wheat flour and grains? You absolutely can—though it is quite difficult physically and emotionally, requiring monumental willpower, as you already know. But I fear that you have overlooked crucial issues in your campaign for Weight Watchers and the exoneration of bread. You have, unfortunately, propagated some destructive misconceptions. And the people who you have hurt the most I suspect are the people who you would have preferred to help the most.
Losing weight by avoiding processed food products made with wheat and related grains is exceptionally easy because it means that you avoid the gliadin protein-derived opiates that stimulate appetite. The fact that you lost 26 pounds is testimony more to the power of your will than it is to the power of the Weight Watchers program. You have succeeded in losing weight—at least temporarily—despite having, I’m sure, to fight back against overwhelming hunger and cravings due to this effect of grains that you have chosen to remain in your diet. Yes: it can be done. But it is a test of willpower. Willpower wanes over time for most people, explaining why the majority of people who lose weight successfully by reducing calories and portion sizes regain the weight over time, often ending up heavier than at the start. I’d love to see you fit back into a size 4 dress, but it is far more likely that the 26 pounds you lost will return as soon as your resolve dissipates.
By embracing the Weight Watchers’ message, you have propagated the notion that people are overweight because they are gluttonous and lazy, just as government agencies claim. Americans are overweight, according to the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, because they eat too much and move too little. In other words, it is your fault if you struggle with weight. I believe that this is wrong. I believe the blame lies with the predatory practices of Big Food who have chosen to promote high-sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and grain-based foods, a high-carbohydrate load that inevitably leads to weight gain. Blame also lies with organizations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Heart Association who have clung to outdated advice to cut fat and saturated fat and increase consumption of “healthy whole grains,” in effect advising Americans to create a caloric deficit by reducing fat and to fill that void with the carbohydrates and appetite-stimulating properties of grains that yield gliadin-derived opiates. Obesity on the unprecedented scale we now witness—the worst epidemic ever in the history of man—is not due to gluttony and sloth; it is due to this convergence of phenomena. Big Food companies are to blame, the U.S. government and other agencies that offered this advice are to blame. People gained weight because of bad advice, not because they are weak-willed and indulgent. (There are indeed people who have gained weight due to gluttony and sloth, but the majority of hard-working, health-minded Americans have gained weight despite doing what they thought was “right,” given such guidelines.)
Your endorsement of a calorie-cutting, portion-limiting program thereby reinforces the false notion that people are overweight and that it’s their own fault.
Another very important issue that you should be aware of with your reliance on wheat- and grain-based products: Be prepared to have a future of health problems. Populations who do not consume grains enjoy freedom from autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis; type 2 diabetes; hypertension; acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, and constipation; coronary heart disease; depression and suicide; and bear a far lesser burden of cancer and dementia. These are the “diseases of civilization” that plague modern humans eating modern diets, but not societies that do not consume such Western foods. With your dietary approach, you have in effect endorsed a style of eating that can, with difficulty, achieve weight loss, but propagates risk for all of these modern diseases.
Segments of the population that have historically been exposed to grains and sugars via agriculture have less susceptibility to their adverse effects. This means that people of European and Asian origin have the advantage of partial adaptation to their consumption since they have existed in agricultural societies for 10,000 years. (Adaptation to grains and sugar is never complete, else we’d have no type 2 diabetes.) Native Americans, native Australian Aboriginal populations, populations of the South Pacific Islands, New Zealand and New Guinea natives, African Americans, and native Africans develop explosive levels of the “diseases of civilization” when exposed to Western foods, especially grains and sugars. This explains why, for instance, the Pima Indians of Arizona have the highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the world. It explains why primitive populations in the Amazonian basin develop rampant obesity and diabetes in as short as 2 or 3 years when exposed to Western foods. It explains why African Americans living in the U.S. have the worst incidence of type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, stroke, and heart disease compared to other ethic groups in the U.S. The message that groups like this are overweight and that it’s their own fault is counterproductive and wrong—they, in fact, have been the most deeply victimized by bad dietary information. Sadly, these populations are also the most subject to predatory advertising practices by Big Food—once again, it is NOT the fault of the individual.
Your message that Weight Watchers “works” and that bread can be a part of a diet program thereby propagates destructive and widely-held misconceptions that are increasingly crippling the health of Americans. I fear you have failed in your due diligence, embracing an outdated program based on government pronouncements based more on politics, scientific misinterpretation, and ignorance than an objective review of the science. You may have increased shareholder value of the Weight Watchers’ brand, but you have done tremendous harm to millions of people who trust your judgment.
Perhaps it’s not too late to make amends: Sell your shares, learn and reflect on your mistakes, make the necessary apologies, come to understand that Americans have been misinformed, exploited, and used—refuse to be a part of it. And understand that solutions for weight and health will not come through conventional providers of dietary advice, whether government or private, as the profit motive is too strong and exerts too much influence. The solutions for weight loss and health are, in truth, simple, accessible to virtually everyone, and come at almost no cost. But those solutions won’t make anyone rich.
William Davis, MD