I stumbled on this Wheat Belly Blog post from a few years ago featuring a story from a reader who calls himself “Not Hungry in NC.” Because it raises an important question about the Wheat Belly lifestyle, I am posting it once again.
Was advised to read Wheat Belly by a friend who’d had success with it. Started wheat-free (and generally low-carb) eating on Jan 1, 2013.
“I was 6-1′, 237 lbs then. Within two weeks, was down to 225 lbs, and am currently at 215 lbs.
“I’ve seen the critics who call this just another diet fad. But let me explain why I think it’s different. First, I *love* food and love eating. So losing weight is hard for me as I lack the necessary self-control. Seeing food makes me hungry. Beyond the substantial weight loss (which the critics would claim is due to the ultra low-carb diet which often is not sustainable), the biggest thing I notice is that I AM NOT HUNGRY. I am consuming upwards of 1500 calories less per day than I was [emphasis mine], primarily through eliminating most beverages other than water, wheat products and most starches. But I am less hungry now than ever before.
“I used to be hungry all the time, regardless of how much I ate. Now I can go all day without eating anything more than an omelet for breakfast, and by dinner time I am only mildly hungry, and quickly get full with just a normal portion of salmon, steak, shrimp or chicken and side of some kind of fresh vegetables. If I feel like a snack during the day, I am satisfied with a small handful of nuts or a few slices of a good cheese. The simple fact that I am not hungry is going to be the key to sustainability and losing the additional 15 lbs that I need to shed.
“Second thing that is different, and I’ll admit I was somewhat skeptical about this when reading the book: I’ve had an arthritic condition in my left elbow that has gotten increasingly worse over the past 2 years to the point where I’d lost about 30% of the range of motion and was in constant pain. I’ve been to orthopaedic doctors, chiropractors, and very painful physical therapy. I’ve had x-rays and MRI’s. And nobody could even diagnose what the problem was, much less come up with any meaningful treatment plan. So let’s just say that when reading the book, I was hopeful (albeit somewhat doubtful) that eliminating wheat would help my elbow. It’s probably the main reason that I actually tried the wheat-free diet, as the pain progression, along with exhausting all medical options, was really starting to concern me.
“After 6 weeks of wheat-free, I was a bit disappointed that there was no noticeable difference in the elbow. I stuck with it at that point because of the weight loss and lack of hunger and cravings benefits. And then, after about week 8, I began to notice improvements in range of motion and reduced pain. After 10 weeks, the range of motion is now at about 90% of normal, and the pain and stiffness is mostly gone: amazing progress in just two weeks. I’m by nature a skeptical person, so I have racked my brain trying to think of what other things I may have changed to cause this improvement (especially since there was an 8-week lag in seeing ANY improvement), but I have to say that there is nothing else that has changed that would explain it.
“Bottom line is that I am sold and plan to remain wheat-free! I will say that I’m not a die-hard, and I do allow the occasional bite of bread or a few bites of a cream-based soup that may contain wheat. But compared to my previous consumption, my overall wheat intake has been reduced by at least 95%. I probably should be more serious about NO wheat, but I actually take pleasure in the fact that I can take a bite of bread at a restaurant without feeling like I have to eat the whole thing. Previously I did not have the self-control to do that and cravings would take over and result in overconsumption.
“Would be interested in other people’s thoughts on this topic – do you really need to eliminate ALL wheat, or do you think some wheat in very small quantities is OK. Obviously those with celiac or high degree of gluten intolerance would not be able to, but what’s OK for the rest of us? Are the benefits/drawbacks linear (meaning that they scale with the amount consumed), or are they binary (meaning any amount is going to trigger bad things). Please post replies and let me know the thinking on this.
It’s a pretty spectacular story of wheat-free success, wouldn’t you say? Reduction of appetite, effortless weight loss, relief from a probable autoimmune form of arthritis (given the delayed response, as compared to joint pain from non-autoimmune inflammation).
But I do believe that wheat is an all-or-none proposition or, as “Not Hungry” would say, a “binary” phenomenon. Cutting back, say, 90% does not yield 90% of the benefits; it yields something like 30-50% of the benefits, sometimes ablates the benefits altogether. It also actually makes life harder. This is because:
- It takes very little exposure to the gliadin protein of wheat to trigger appetite. One exposure, for instance, can stimulate appetite for up to 5 days. 200 calories in a wheat-based roll or bagel can result in thousands of calories of increased food intake over the next several days. I call this the “I ate one cookie and gained 30 pounds! effect”.
- Autoimmune inflammation can be triggered by very small quantities of antigen, i.e., whatever wheat-sourced immune-stimulating polypeptide that was responsible for triggering the response. It would be very easy to re-provoke joint inflammation. The gliadin protein, in particular, can be particularly offensive even in minute quantities.
- Small exposures to the gliadin protein increase intestinal permeability, a process largely below conscious perception—until you develop rheumatoid arhthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, or other autoimmune processes.
- Every bit of wheat raises blood sugar extravagantly. This is a clear-as-day effect, listed on all tables of glycemic index, that most dietitians choose to ignore. Every time blood sugar goes high, you glycate proteins of your body irreversibly: the proteins in the lenses of your eyes (cataracts), the cells of your cartilage (brittle cartilage, arthritis), small LDL particles (8-fold more glycation-prone than large LDL particles, thereby more oxidation- and inflammation-prone), lining of arteries (hypertension, endothelial dysfunction), among other effects.
- You risk other re-exposure reactions that include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, reactivation of joint pain or skin rash that are very common even after consumption of a small quantity of wheat products.
It is similar to cigarette smoking: Does cutting back from 2 packs per day to 5 cigarettes a day yield nearly all the benefits of not smoking? No: You experience only a fraction of the full benefit.
Wheat elimination, like smoking, is best followed as an all-or-none proposition. “Not Hungry” seems to be doing okay with occasional small exposures that, I fear, can over time generate a false sense of security. What other food can reduce a man’s calorie intake by 1500 calories per day without hunger? And reduce/eliminate inflammation at the same time?