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.