Wheat Free

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Radio item had a profound impact on this writer

As a long-time consumer of news and commentary, I am often amused, angered or inspired by the stories of the day.

But my life has never been changed by a media report until now, following an interview on CBC Radio On the Go.

For a number of years, I’ve been dealing with a bad case of arthritis in my left knee. That was the diagnosis, after the x-ray came back. I remember the doctor describing a rough surface on the bone or cartilage that was causing friction and pain. In a nutshell, I was told to live with it. This was my new reality.

Soon after that, I developed pain in my other knee – major pain that changed how I navigated my way through the day. Walking across the room was painful, and ascending a staircase pure agony. Even my quality of sleep was diminished, as my knees ached in bed at night. 

 

I found some relief in painkillers like Aleve and Extra Strength Advil, which I took every day. They masked the pain enough for me to get out for a walk, use the elliptical or even indulge in my favourite recreation: rock hopping on the Manuels River. However, when the medication wore off the pain came back with a vengeance, as if punishing me for the day’s activity.

Frankly, it was depressing. I was not ready to give up being physically active – yet I was being forced by my own body to do exactly that.

Then, along comes Ted Blades, host of On the Go. Late in July, Blades interviewed Dr. William Davis, author of the best selling book “Wheat Belly”. Several things from that interview stood out for me.

According to Davis, today’s wheat is not the same species we consumed 50 years ago. It’s a hybrid that grows just 18” high, enabling a much higher yield than old-fashioned tall wheat. It also contains a new protein that Davis says is bad for our health, causing a variety of physical ailments, including inflammation, diabetes, acid reflux, obesity, and more. It even reacts with enzymes in the tummy to form a narcotic substance, said the doctor.

Regular readers of this blog know I’m a bit of a skeptic, and I dismissed Dr. Davis’s claims as opportunism; a cynical attempt to get rich by creating another diet fad.

However, the doctor’s words stayed with me. In particular, his claim that arthritic inflammation could be cured by eliminating wheat from the diet was intriguing. The pain in my knees was worsening, and my stomach was beginning to reject the powerful painkillers. I was worried about where it was leading.

The notion of doing without wheat for a week was less intimidating than another day of excruciating pain. What the heck? I decided to give it a try.

On that first day, I avoided toast or cereal for breakfast by treating myself to a scoff of bacon and eggs. For lunch I had a can of tuna fish seasoned with red wine vinegar and for supper, charcoal broiled steak and potatoes. It was an okay day. 

 

Day two was different. It wasn’t hard to avoid wheat, but I was surprised to feel a craving – a physical craving. There was a ringing in my ears, I became foggy-headed – unable to concentrate for long on any task – and there was a slight sense of anxiety. This is how it felt the last time I quit caffeine.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was suffering withdrawal from wheat (nothing else had changed in my diet to prompt such symptoms). And if that was indeed the case, this was strange indeed. After all, a healthy food product should not be physically addictive.

Eliminating wheat was a challenge because it has become so prevalent in our food products. Aisle after supermarket aisle is dominated by the grain, from bread to pasta to cereal to soup (yes, most canned soups contain wheat) and more. Wheat is included in pretty much all take out foods: pizza, sub sandwiches, breaded chicken, hamburgers, fish and chips and so on. 

However, there are alternatives and believe me, I found them. I am still finding them. I adjusted without much difficulty, despite the withdrawal symptoms.

And then, the big moment. On the morning of my seventh wheat-free day, I got out of bed and walked halfway across the room when it hit me: my knees were not hurting. I walked up the stairs, lifting my knees high. There was no pain. I crouched down, bending at the knees. Still no soreness. It was gone.

That was five weeks ago. The pain is still absent. I’ve got my life back. The change is not just observable, it is transformational. I have not taken a pain killer since. Not even one. And yes, I have been back rock hopping on the river, pain free and with a flexibility I haven’t had in at least two years.

I have noticed other changes as well, the most noticeable being a reduction in the painful deadness in both arms that used to wake me up every night, several times a night. (Some people call it “pins and needles,” but this was more painful than that.) Now, I am sleeping through the night.

As a side benefit, I have lost weight as well. Apparently, the elimination of wheat from the diet reduces calorie consumption by roughly 400 per day.

And the weird thing is, I don’t miss wheat. Just a few months ago I would be drawn almost hypnotically – especially at breakfast and lunchtime – to bread, buns, bagels and cereal. Now, I just don’t think about it. I don’t nibble as much between meals. I eat when I am truly hungry. I really think wheat stimulated food cravings.

I consider myself a critical thinker, casting a skeptical eye on all supposedly ground-breaking health discoveries, but there is no doubt in my mind about this one: removing wheat from my diet has changed my life.

There are all kinds of questions to be raised about why wheat is so highly recommended in Canada’s Food Guide, and perhaps I will explore those another day. 

 

In the meantime, if you are suffering from arthritis or other symptoms of inflammation, you really should check out “Wheat Belly”. It’s a poorly-written book – at times, painful to read – but the content justifies the effort. 

And thanks Ted, for a life-altering interview. If you'd ever like to go rock hopping on the river, I am happy to be your host.

Have you tried going wheat free? If so, please tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below. 

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Unfortunate Son
    September 21, 2012 - 23:14

    Geoff, good for you, but hey listen, you're giving up wheat but taking up other "vices" (scoff of bacon and eggs). To quote Jim Morrrison; "No One Gets Out Alive". LOL, while i eat my Wheaties.

  • Lisa Hargrove
    September 21, 2012 - 13:43

    I have been off wheat for about 3 months now. I feel less bloated and my energy and mental level is higher. However, my arthritis pain is much worse. I have arthritis in my fingers which has never been painful until I dropped the wheat. Also having some indigestion which I never had and my other food sensitivities are worse. I have read that other people do experience a worsening of these symptoms when they drop wheat for some reason. I am considering adding it back just so I can get pain relief and mobility back into my hands.

    • JARGIE
      September 22, 2012 - 09:48

      Lisa, I doubt that wheat elimination is the cause of the increase of your arthritis pain. Sometimes the increased eating of replacement inflammatory foods can be the cause. Fried bacon is one example.

    • mark johnson
      September 03, 2013 - 19:53

      If wheat elimination didnt solve your arthritis symptoms, you should also remove night shade vegtables from your diet. This will help greatly with your joint,inflamation. Google 'night shades to get a list. The worst of these are potatoes and raw tomatoes. if I even injest some potatoe starch contained in a gluten free treat my joint pain and headaches come back in under 24 hrs.

  • Renee
    September 20, 2012 - 09:39

    My journey really started when my daughter had health issues- 5 doctors and 2 years and no one could find out what was wrong with her. She had a cough, joint pain, and at times a rash. As a Mama bear I went on the internet to solve this myself !!! I to suffered joint pain and muscle soreness that comes and goes. After days of searching I hit of allergies, then wheat !!! I thought maybe that is the problem.. We both stopped eating wheat. On day 3 I no longer had joint pain, muscle pain stopped within a week- a fog lifted in my mind. I have started to drop weight- I measure my body fat monthly and it is dropping !!! As for my daughter the elimination of wheat has helped her, she has since found out that she has a dairy allergy .. But we are both on a road to recovery :)

  • Janie
    September 18, 2012 - 23:49

    Ditto, ditto, and ditto. After 11 1/2 months doing the Wheat Belly way of eating, I'm off Celebrex and Nexium. I had taken both for 13 years. I had tried to quit Celebrex, but the pain in my ankles, knees, and hands was so bad I just had to have it to make the pain bearable--it never made it go away. In addition, as of today, 9/18/12, I have lost 50 pounds. The few times I succombed and ate wheat, I was so miserable. So, I don't let wheat cross my lips ever! I started this WoE (way of eating) to lose weight. I was at 247 pounds. I had tried all the diets known to mankind, but I always craved sweets and breads. I eliminated all grains including corn and rice. I eliminated sugar totally. I do eat 1/2 cup of beans about once or twice a month. I occasionally will eat three or four french fries if someone offers to share theirs! I eat totally low carb, high fat, with some protein. I've been losing weight, but I was overjoyed to find that my blood glucose levels have gone down from 110 to 84. That was in Feb. after only four months doing WB. It may even be better now. Try it, you''ll be amazed at how your life will be transformed!

  • Mordecai
    September 18, 2012 - 14:38

    Went low carb & wheat free, October '11 @ 367 lbs, blood glucose 225. Today: 285 lbs, blood glucose 102. The effect of wheat on insulin is enough, by itself, to explain these results. No need to buy the stuff about opiates and Frankenstein proteins.

  • LH
    September 18, 2012 - 13:42

    I was suffering increasingly from inflammatory pain, to the point where I was in pain all night, and could barely walk when getting up in the morning. I had trouble lowering myself to the toilet seat and could not bend over. I was desperate. One doctor told me that's just what happens when you get old (I was in my early 40s.) Another angrily refused to do a celiac test (my brother has it) because I didn't have the classic bowel symptoms and was "trying to jump on the bandwagon", but didn't have any other advice. Another told me to go on a diet. Finally, through doing a lot of reading on the internet, my mind started making connections and I went on an elimination diet. I cut out all grains, dairy, and refined sugar. Within 48 hours I was completely pain-free. It felt like a miracle. I've since then done many experiments introducing foods back in, multiple times with the same foods, and I've found that the #1 culprit for me is cow dairy; I believe it is the casein. The clincher is that taking an anti-histamine after exposure greatly minimizes my symptoms. I'm avoiding grains as well -- they make me tired and ravenous. But the inflammation was the dairy. (Bonus: the bloating and gas is gone too!)

  • sunnylisa
    September 18, 2012 - 12:53

    I gave up wheat in November 2011. I started at 180 lbs. My adult acne and carpel tunnel symptoms disappeared immediately. That was before any weight loss. I began to sleep better and feel better. I no longer needed a nap after work to get through the day. My family joined me in March of 2011 (husband, and two kids age 11, and age 6). My husband no longer needs to take blood pressure meds and has lost 35 lbs. I now weigh 160 (10 months later). The doctor decreased my thyroid medicine for the first time in 10 years. My cholesterol is normal. My triglycerides have gone up. This is just by dropping wheat and grains. I eat meat/fish, veggies, fruit, dairy and nuts. I don't eat corn/oats/barley/spelt/quinoa/pasta/rice. I weighed 135 in 2008. Returning to school in 2009 and eating lots of " healthy whole grains" and carbs led to a 45 lb weight gain. Now in 2012 I am grain free and healthy and working towards returning to my weight of 135. Read Wheat Belly!

    • JW
      September 18, 2012 - 13:27

      I gave up wheat - and then eventually I gave up sugar and all grains and I still manage to have an incredibly varied diet. I started my wheat free journey a year ago July - and I have lost 80lbs without adding any more exercise to my routine. I also suffer (well, not so much anymore) from Crohn's disease. My weight had gone up due to repeated bouts with corticosteroids for treatment of crohn's and related arthritis in all my major joints. In the last year, I haven't taken pain for my knees, shoulders or back (only hereditary pain - the pain I get in my head when all the kids are home). My skin feels better and hair and nails are growing at an unbelievable rate. I can also get up the stairs without assistance now - and that had been years of waiting for someone to come home to assit me up from my home office. Anyone that has tried this as the same results and my office is now providing wheat free alternatives for all meals they serve. Most people say they can't give up bread. For me it was cookies. My husband adapted and has learned to make the most incredible tapioca based dark chocolate chip cookies with stevia. Where there's a will - there's an alternative. you just have to try.

  • Sue
    September 18, 2012 - 12:36

    My partner and I have benefited from wheat (actually all grains) elimination also. A major plus for me has been no more asthma. I don't even know where my inhaler is, and I'm sure it's expired, whereas before I wouldn't leave home without it. That was a bit of a surprise, and took longer to notice. The finger joint pain comes very predictably with wheat consumption. I'm also very interested in the effect of wheat on the brain. I have people in my family with some of the conditions Dr. Davis mentions. Not eating wheat would be a very small price to pay to avoid these very debilitating and heartbreaking diseases.

  • Pam
    September 18, 2012 - 11:38

    I have been wheat and gluten free for two years: no more eczema, IBS, joint pain, acid reflux, etc. Once I eliminated wheat and gluten I found was allergic to corn and soy and now have no more migraines. There are LOTS of recipes to replace your favorite gluten foods and I have really changed the way I cook. If you are just getting started there is a whole universe of wheat and gluten free support out there. I am 60 years old and feel like I am 40. I just started running again. Best wishes!

  • Andy
    September 18, 2012 - 11:12

    Started wheat belly in nov 2011. I was a type two diabetic and weighed 245 pounds. By January I was off diabetes mess and mess for colesterol and high triglycerides. I had also dropped down to 225 pounds. After 10 months my weight is now hovering around 220 pounds. Like you I am living proof that this works. I was the biggest food slob around. I would drink bowls of gravy for a laugh. Bragged about eating four big macs in a single sitting. Now I too eat when my stomachs tells me to. Not my addicted brain.

    • Carol Bode
      September 18, 2012 - 11:37

      I also read the book last January and haven't eaten anything with wheat since. It's true about the withdrawal...worse that when I gave up coffee! I've lost 25 pounds which is great, but my knees still hurt! I was really hoping for some improvement there but, after 8 months I guess a 30-year condition doesn't go away overnight! I'm 60 and my knees first started bothering me when I was in my 30's. It would be interesting to see more research on the subject since most of the book is anecdotal evidence.

  • Laura F
    September 18, 2012 - 11:00

    I was suffering from joint pain, poor cognition, and general misery until I gave up wheat. Improvements were dramatic even though I was still eating other starchy foods and not losing weight. Later I went low carb for weight loss and optimal health, but just eliminating the wheat made a huge difference on its own. This message needs to get out there.

  • Annie E
    September 18, 2012 - 10:55

    One week on the wheat belly diet and my stomach is flatter, IBS symptoms gone, teeth don't get covered in plaque and my legs are nowhere near in pain as before... Fabulous!

  • Martha
    September 18, 2012 - 10:50

    I lost weight as much as I wanted. It was difficult at the beginning because of business traveling, but I learned to get good food even on the go. Breakfast with yogurt, fruit, eggs and enough not to crave for food from the machine. Lunch and dinner with greens, vegetables, and salmon... no wheat and always low sugar. It was a quick change from size 8 to size 2 in 2-3 months. My husband and I are both into healthy approach that we are always careful with the ingredients in our food. It is worthy to try it...

  • Allison
    September 18, 2012 - 10:48

    Going wheat free has cured my ezcema (which doctors continuously told me there was no cure for & I would either grow out of it, or have to live with it) and extreme stomach problems. I now follow the Paleo Diet, which has the same idea behind. People need to understand that the food they put into their bodies could be the source of their pain!

  • Staci S.
    September 18, 2012 - 10:45

    This book changed my life as well. I used to eat all the time, craving craving craving. The first full day without wheat, and my body was off the blood sugar roller coaster. By the third day, withdrawal symptoms had set in. (I am 4 yrs free from alcohol and cigs, so I know all about W/D symptoms). On a scale of 1-10, my WD symptoms for wheat were about a 5. Easily manageable, but noticeable. By day 7, they were gone, along with most of my cravings. I'm down 36 pounds in 6 months, my blood sugar is stable, and I only eat when my belly is hungry, not when my brain and blood need a 'fix'. I do notice that when I give in to wheat on special occasions, (kid's birthday cake, pasta at the family reunion) I feel miserable for days after. Glad this is working for you, and hope you have many more pain-free years!

  • Patrick Horvat
    September 18, 2012 - 10:45

    Can't say I agree with the comment about the "poorly written book" but I can attest to the fact that the inflammation in the knees is gone and still able to ski. (I was going to give it up last year) I too have lost weight. Down to 192 from 230. No craving between meals. Have had to educate my doctor on how to check for a proper reading of cholesterol.. all looks good now.

  • mary m.
    September 18, 2012 - 10:37

    Before wheat free, I could walk 2 miles, but could only jog 1/4 mile. No matter how hard I tried, I was exhausted and out of breath if I tried to push it past 1/2 mile. This was over a period of many months. In the 2-1/2 months since I went wheat free, I have transformed, and can now run 3 miles. My hip no longer aches, I have good breath when I jog. My anxiety has gone down to almost nil. We determined that I had slowly, over a period of years, built a sensitivity to gluten that led to leaky gut. We are now treating me for vitamin deficiencies - b12, folate, magnesium, glutathione, and b5. My dr. and I believe that all this was caused by wheat consumption. My gallbladder is better, my thinking better. I had been seeking answers for about 4 years. I had a heart cath, and every test imaginable. We could not figure out what ailed me, UNTIL I took up wheat free, and suddenly began to recover. It's been the most amazing thing that could have happened to me!

  • Michele
    September 18, 2012 - 10:36

    I've been gluten free for about 8 months now, and have lost 2 sizes ( not sure about how many lbs, as I don't really weigh myself). I have more energy and feel great. My husband has lost almost 40 lbs and is now off all meds! His Dr. Told him he's living proof you don't have to stay on meds, but most people won't do the work.

  • dm
    September 18, 2012 - 09:30

    Good for you!!! My daughter (age 8) follows gluten free pretty much all the time and she has less headaches and, what she describes as, foggy brain. It can be hard to do on the run (ie camping) but we manage. Rice crackers were her fave thing to eat even before she went gluten free. Rice dough (specialty section) is super yummy when you are craving pizza or whatever. Super expensive, though. Eight dollars for two little ready made crusts but worth it for her. :-)

    • Robert R
      September 18, 2012 - 10:14

      If you think your daughter shows improvement with gluten-free, you shoud get her to try wheat and grain free. Once she gets off of all wheat, all grains, and all sugars, she will be a new person. The unfortunate things about foods labeled "gluten-free" is that they contain lots of grains, starches, and sugars. Nasty stuff.

  • Geoff Meeker
    September 18, 2012 - 06:39

    To C. Cotter: Of course I’ve thought about that. However, I continue to eat the foods that were often blended with wheat, such as fish, meat, eggs, milk, fruit, vegetables, and so on. I still get plenty of carbs, calories and fat. Wheat and gluten are the only common denominators I can identify. My experience aligns perfectly with what was described in the book. I have also read dozens of comments online from people who saw similar results from giving up wheat. As for losing weight, the loss is not significant enough (not even 10 pounds yet) to have had that kind of impact. As Bill Rowe used to say, thank you for your comment. Now, do you have anything intelligent to add?

  • marilee pittman
    September 17, 2012 - 17:53

    Friends recommended Dr Davis' book "Wheat Belly" . They have been wheat free for several months. While the weight they have lost is significant, the health benefits are amazing. Like you, they have been pain free from arthritis. Dr Davis presents a very convincing argument. I think I'm joining the Wheat Free Band Wagon!

  • C. Cotter
    September 17, 2012 - 16:14

    Clearly you're not a very critical thinker. Have you not given any consideration to the other components of the foods you gave up? Is it not possible that things other than wheat are at play? What about the weight you lost? Don't you think that reduced weight on your joints would have a positive impact?

    • J. Snow
      September 17, 2012 - 22:57

      After 7 days weight loss would not have been a factor in the reduced pain and increased mobility. This does not purport to be a scientific study, just one person's description of his personal experience. Give him a break.