Here’s my experience of eating wheat again on a (nearly) daily basis after 3 years of consuming it less than 3 times per month.
About 3 years ago, I was encouraged to try the Paleo diet (what is the Paleo diet?). It took a number of fits and starts, a lot of reading and research, and some major changes at home, but eventually I made the full transition.
For the first couple of years, I stuck to the Paleo-Primal template pretty closely: lots of vegetables, meat–as devotedly grassfed and pastured as I could, large quantities of fats like coconut oil, some fruits, select starchy vegetables or roots, seeds, nuts, herbs, and little-to-no sugar. I had completely eliminated legumes, dairy, all grains, all refined sugar, all refined and packaged foods, and of course all soy.
And I felt better for it–more energy, more clarity, longer, more productive days; I was leaner, my cravings went away, and my recurrent nasal allergies diminished.
But, like any normal person, I wanted to sample what others around me were enjoying. Plus, I love to travel and one of my favorite ways to experience a place is by tasting the local cuisine.
And as the thought leaders say, the ‘Paleo diet is really just a template’–a starting point for figuring out the foods that work best for you (and those that don’t work at all).
So, I started experimenting with dairy, with more sugar, with non-gluten grains (quinoa, rice), but I will always be committed to avoiding legumes and soy (no FODMaPs or Estrogens for me).
Wheat was one food that I feared yet desperately wanted to re-include in my diet.
Then I Ate Wheat
Eventually it happened. Wheat made it’s way back into my diet with traveling, with holidays, with family dinners, with eating out… a little bit here, a little there, until I was eating wheat daily. It came in the form of pita, French bread, desserts, meatball or meatloaf binders, and more.
Things started to change, in my body and how I felt.
But I didn’t make the connection at first.
I thought, I just need to eat less, intermittent fast more, take more anti-inflammatory supplements, eat out less, workout more, reduce carbs, but all of these efforts were in vain (just like they’d been 3.5 years earlier when I had used them then to try to lose weight).
What was I trying to get rid of?
All the symptoms I experienced by reintroducing wheat:
- The first and most bothersome (for weight-conscious me) was the puffiness and bloating. My entire body seemed to have lost it’s leanness in about a week, even my forearms were swollen! I couldn’t believe I’d gained that much body fat all over my body that fast. Then I realized it was water retention, so I tried lymph drainage (massage and yoga poses), drinking more tea, sweating more, anything I could think of to get this water retention, puffiness, and bloating to go away. Clearly, I was inflamed!
Explanation: Oftentimes inflammation and fluid retention go hand-in-hand as the immune system sends inflammatory cytokines and fluid to the affected area to try to flush out the toxins or invading pathogens.
- My allergy symptoms also came back. I’d wake up every morning with a stuffed up nose. My sneezing was enough for anyone around me to back away by 10 feet.
- My digestion became very sluggish, leaving me feeling heavy and bogged down. For the first time in years defecation became difficult for me, and frequently seemed incomplete. It felt like the food had stopped moving through the system and was just getting piled up, causing painful, gassy, bloating, a burning sensation in my esophagus, and pressure on my rib cage.
Explanation: Most doctors would label this “IBS” and send me on my way. But, I suspect what makes breadcrumbs such a good binder–gluten–was also gumming up my insides, blocking my system.
- Likely because of the slowed digestion, my appetite nearly disappeared, yet paradoxically, I was craving wheat and sugar. While you might think, what a benefit, no appetite!, but it’s hardly cause for celebration. Both Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda teach the importance of appetite, and know that loss of appetite is a significant cause for concern. Plus, when the cravings drove me to eat, I experienced yet more discomfort, belly swelling, and feelings of disgust.
- In the evenings, while sitting or lying down my legs would twitch, they’d want to move. I’d have to stand up and walk around. Many people would identify this as restless leg syndrome. And it’s really annoying.
- Finally, I had used up all my magnesium stores. (Magnesium is critical to the metabolism of carbohydrates.) Unfortunately I didn’t get a mineral test to confirm, but whereas normally my tolerance for supplemental magnesium is very low, while eating wheat, I could take much higher doses without any side-effects. Even with daily magnesium supplementation, I didn’t get any relief from the typical magnesium-depletion symptoms.
I’ll admit, it took me a while to make the connection and realize that all of these issues started creeping up around the time I started eating wheat on a daily basis. And perhaps I even resisted the aha moment, holding out hope that it wasn’t from the wheat so I could continue eating wheat-based foods.
But I have good (bad?) news and confirmation!
And Then I Stopped
Within about 3 days of eliminating wheat again, the total body puffiness and bloating went away, as did the cravings. Woohoo! I can look at cookies again without lurching for them. The allergy symptoms are less frequent, and the magnesium supplementation is beginning to show signs of effectiveness, including easier defecation. By about day 5 after my last day of wheat consumption, I had somewhat of appetite return.
Unfortunately, the gut is so sensitive that I think it’ll take much longer for the digestive symptoms to disappear, to completely regain a healthy appetite, and to be free from gassiness and pressure on my abdomen. But I will say, everything seems to be improving.
Once my magnesium stores are fully replenished and my gut has made a true recovery, I have no doubt the restless legs will calm down again, too.
Was it a worthwhile experiment? Absolutely!
Would I try it again? No! Hopefully not.
On the road to better health, sometimes experiencing the consequences, however disastrous, is the only way to be reminded that a whole foods diet matters, that health is to be treasured, and that eliminating trigger foods (despite how yummy the Limbic brain says they will be) is absolutely critical to maintaining that valuable health.
Now I have a written record, so that if I ever get tempted to eat wheat again, this description of how poorly my body tolerates wheat will remind me. Which, hopefully, will be enough to ensure I don’t ever venture down that path again.
But, perhaps more importantly, my story can serve as a guide to you–leading you to do your own experiment in eliminating wheat from your diet, or helping you avoid the consequences of trying to reintroduce it.
Farewell, wheat, forever!