Several years ago, I lost over 50 pounds on the Atkins Diet. That diet, as I’m sure you know, is a tiered process in which you cut-out, then gradually increase to a still relatively low level, the amount of carbohydrate you consume. I should point out that calling it a “diet” is somewhat inaccurate; while Dr. Atkins’ plan became popular as an effective weight loss tool, it was intended to be a general nutritional paradigm: eat very little sugar, starch, flour and other simple carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels, opting instead for meats and low-carb veggies and fruits.
But after several months of carb starving and 53 pounds metabolized into memory, I was quite eager to return to “normal.” So I gave up the other benefits of low-carb living and went back to eating more or less what I wanted, remembering – but only loosely abiding by – the “carbohydrates are your enemy” lesson Atkins taught.
Armed with this knowledge, but still eating more simple carbohydrates than I should, I regained a bit of fat over the years, but never got anywhere near my pre-Atkins weight. Now and then I thought back to how great I felt eating low-carb: good mood, better sleep, more energy, less waking-hours tiredness, clearer skin, just to name the biggies. I declared more than once that I’d return to a majority sugar-free and low-carb way of eating, but for good this time, to lose a little more weight and look and feel better…
Just not today. Monday, maybe. Or, after the holidays.
You know, eventually.
But that perennial procrastination ended two Thursdays ago when I had the opportunity to read a new book by Dr. William Davis entitled Wheat Belly. In one early morning sitting, I devoured the book and quickly decided to return to a low-carb diet the next day (I needed to hit the grocery store anyway). It was just the push I needed.
This time, though, I would add one extra no-no to the list, at least for a time: wheat.
Important Facts with a Side of Exaggeration
Now, before you think I’ve gone all Cult of Dr. Dave on you – as so many others seem to have done since the book’s release – let me state that I am skeptical of much of the its more stringent advice (“never eat ketchup again” was an absolute deal breaker). I can’t imagine a whole wheat sandwich once a week or a cupcake now and again is going to make me gain weight, lead to arthritis, or take years off my life as long as I’m otherwise sensible. But Davis does point out some profound facts about the American diet in his zeal to rid your pantry, and by extension the world, of modern wheat and the gluten it contains:
1) Wheat is in everything! Go to your cupboard, kitchen cabinets, freezer and refrigerator and check out the labels. We are now wheat grazers, consuming it with a regularity never before seen by the population at large. And with the conventional wisdom that wheat is good!, it’s no wonder. I’m surprised it’s not in Diet Coke.
2) Today’s wheat consumed at nearly every sitting has been bent, shaped, hybridized and genetically altered to the point that it has little in common with its more natural ancestors and is largely a new material for our bodies to deal with, particularly in such large amounts.
3) There are a lot of foods we consume – including “heart healthy” vegetable oils – that cause inflammation, an increasingly fingered culprit for heart disease. There are also fats – like saturated fat – that we’ve been assured are terribly unhealthy (mostly because of accepted dictate or vegetarian agendas), but are actually quite healthy, natural parts of the human diet.
4) While avoiding sugary cakes and candy, French fries, and heaping plates of pasta is a good way to keep blood sugar, and the insulin response it triggers, to a minimum, you can do as much or more to spike your blood sugar by eating whole grain cereals, wheat breads, and “healthy” grainy snacks (whole wheat bread can have a glycemic index of up to 85; white sugar has a GI of 65). How many times while I was gaining weight did I eat a whole grain snack thinking I’m making a healthy choice? Too many to count.
Some from Column A…
So, for the past nine days I’ve been following what you might call an Atkins-Davis hybrid nutritional plan of my own amalgamation.
From the Atkins side, I’ve cut sugar, potatoes, corn and other simple carbohydrates from my diet (the sugar was easy, I don’t allow that much anyway – but the potatoes… not so much) and kept my food to mostly meats, nuts, legumes and low-sugar, low-starch vegetables and fruits.
From the Davis side, I’ve 86ed wheat and gluten products; no high-fiber whole wheat bread with 5 grams of net carbs, no low-carb snack bars with wheat in the ingredients list, nothing. Also under Davis’ advice, I’ve stopped using Canola or vegetable oil to cook, sticking mostly with olive oil and using coconut oil when very high cooking temperatures are required.
I’m also not freaking out about carbs in veggies and other naturally low-sugar foods like I did when I followed the Atkins Diet years ago; I eat as many as I want, providing they’re not carb-heavy. No carb counting this time around – the Glycemic Index is my friend.
Here are the short term results:
Day 3: I started to notice a difference in my appetite. No shock there; the Atkins diet alone had this welcome benefit, though I must admit, not as quickly.
Day 4: I released I wasn’t getting tired in the mid-afternoon, something I had been dealing with for months. In addition, on the fourth night – and each night that followed – I’ve been getting to sleep more quickly (a huge deal for me) and sleeping more soundly.
Day 7: I noticed my mind was a bit clearer, that I was able to focus better and absorb material that I read more easily. Appetite even more profoundly decreased.
Day 9 (Today): No change in any of these wellbeing goodies; just four pounds lighter (some of which is likely water weight).
Dr. Davis – who is a cardiologist, by the way – also says cutting wheat and gluten from your diet can ease or eliminate heart burn and joint aches; since I suffer from neither, I can’t comment on what improvements, if any, wheat-free eating will offer. But the other effects I’ve seen – more energy, decreased appetite, better sleep, clearer thinking and weight loss – are all on his list of benefits.
Nine days of personal experience does not hard evidence make, but I’ve seen indications that Dr. Davis’ theory has at least some merits (though most of the benefits above came from a low-carb diet that included wheat, in admittedly small amounts). It does appear that the benefits came sooner than they did with wheat in the mix and in more noticeable ways.
This is a tech blog, and not a venue I normally use to discuss nutrition, food, shampoo preferences or anything of the sort. But it is undeniable (and tucked neatly out of sight) that technology plays a huge role in our modern diet. We eat foods that are processed, packaged, and with additives galore that bear little resemblance to their analogs from just a few decades ago.
I will stay on the Davis portion of my Atkins-Davis diet for a few weeks (at least a month) and see if the benefits are maintained. I will then slowly start adding a wheat-treat here and there, low-carb at first and more normal indulgences after that.
I will report back on any negative effects, or any differences, between a low-carb diet and a low-carb diet also free of wheat. This is the only way I know of to separate the wheat from the chaff… so to speak.
And I have committed myself to a low-carb diet for the long haul, while eating what I want from time to time – maybe once or twice a week once I’ve lost the few pounds I’d like to shed. There are just too many benefits to give up.
Consult Your Doctor; But Don’t Believe Everything You’re Told
By the way, I’m not telling you what to eat, who’s right about what study (which vary wildly), or what theories of the week may or may not have the legs to go the distance. But a more basic diet consisting of less process and more produce (even, evil fatty meats!) just makes common, historical, and evolutionary sense – and it makes you feel better, too.
I do miss spaghetti.