Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wheat Experiment

Starting yesterday between breakfast and lunch, I am experimenting with not eating wheat for the next week. I'm also trying to go (moderately) low carb in general, but I'm much more dedicated to the no-wheat aspect than to the low-carb one.

I read the book "Wheat Belly" by William Davis. Davis argues that grains in general are not great for us, and that wheat is the worst. He thinks that genetic changes to wheat over the past 50 years (through modern but not genetic-engineering-based methods) have made it particularly dangerous to humans and responsible for a host of different medical problems. Celiac disease is an obvious thing that is indeed (indisputably as far as I know) due to wheat; the rest is more speculative, I think.

He has a lot of references in the book, which is good, but the way he argues leaves holes you could drive a truck through. It's not the worst pseudoscientific bullshit I've ever read - even the term "pseudoscientific bullshit" might be an exaggeration - but it's not fully convincing either.

Still, it's hard for me to resist the pull of sense-making conspiracy theories about food. I do think that the overconsumptions of carbs, especially from grains, is a big part of the obesity problem for some people (including me), and not just because it's easy to eat a lot of carbs. I think they actually encourage overeating beyond just being tasty, readily available, and cheap, by changing your body chemistry such that you have more blood sugar fluctuations (which cause eating) and possibly by encouraging your body to store fat (through insulin-related stuff).

With my family history of diabetes and my PCOS, it seems pretty clear that I will (do) struggle with insulin resistance. My odds of avoiding diabetes feel pretty low at times (assuming I'm not already diabetic, which I haven't been so far when tested, but which of course could happen anytime).

I think that if I can eat less carbs over my lifetime, I'll be doing myself a huge favor. Aside from non-starchy vegetables and a moderate intake of fruit, I don't think there's any biological reason that humans need to eat carbohydrates at all. I think grains are completely unnecessary to a human diet. (They're practically necessary as there is no other way to feed the number of humans on this planet, but that's a different issue.)

So, Dr. Davis claims that when his patients stop eating wheat (without making any other changes, but in the context of generally trying to have a healthy lifestyle), they magically lose tons of weight and all of their mysterious ailments (IBS, chronic fatigue, acne, arthritis, asthma, acid reflux, etc.) miraculously disappear. This is pretty clearly not a clinical finding that would hold up.

Nevertheless, if giving up wheat did make it a lot easier for me to lose weight, I feel like it would be worth it, and if I gained more energy or a better overall life feeling in the process, that would be even more awesome. It seems worth a try given that I think it's basically a healthy choice anyway.

Hence my exploratory week of non-wheat-eating.

So far I've been having meats, salads, vegetables, eggs, and today I had about 1/2 cup of a straight-up starch (rice or potatoes) at my meals. I also ate some extremely dark chocolate today, plus raw walnuts and almonds. It seemed like a very healthy day of eating overall.

I've also been feeling like shit, which was true other times that I tried to dramatically cut carbs as well. (Carbs made up 25% of my diet today, so I haven't cut them to a really extreme extent. It's usually more like 50%, though.) I've often felt a bit hungry yet nauseated at the thought of eating, and I've been a little headachy and extremely irritable. I think these aren't just nocebo effects, but of course they could be, and I have no way of distinguishing them. I expect them to get worse but I hope they subside before the week is up (and before I give in and eat 15 pieces of naan) so I can see what life is like afterwards.


Susan said...

I've read that we need to eat more fats and fewer carbs. The fats are utilized more easily than carbs and curb our appetites more. There is a complexity to eating fats, including that saturated isn't as bad as we've been led to believe. Good luck on the change in your diet. Even if you can't completely eliminate carbs, eliminating just wheat is a good place to start.

Sally said...

How's it going so far?