My Wheat-Free Experiment

I do not have celiac’s disease. Or anyway, I don’t think I do. I have a couple symptoms that crop up from time to time, and others in my family have it, so maybe I’ve got an undiagnosed case. But on the overall, I’ve never found it likely enough to have it checked.

What I do have is a strong tendency to opt for highly processed simple carbs for the majority of my daily caloric intake. Extremes like donuts and cookies, but also other accessible foods like danishes, bagels, and sandwiches. Wheat products are easy to get, they’re cheap, and they don’t seem to satiate me.

Satiety is the first big question mark here. I want to eat according to my appetite, but is my body really able to “understand” the calories from highly processed wheat products? I seem to feel more full with far fewer calories if I opt for non-wheat items instead. Even just going for oatmeal instead of a danish, for example, shows that I get more out of fewer calories. What if — and this is still just a question at this point — but what if my body wants to gravitate toward a lower weight, but my tendency toward highly processed wheat products is making it almost impossible for my body to accurately gauge caloric intake?

I believe in intuition and communication with the body as a key to being healthy, be it regarding weight or in the broader sense of the term. So that is the first question I hope to answer: Does processed wheat products interfere with my body’s ability to feel satisfied with the appropriate amount of nourishment? And, connected to that, do non-wheat products inherently offer my body more satiation?

The reasons why could be manifold. Maybe I really do have undiagnosed celiacs, at one extreme. Or maybe human evolution hasn’t caught up to the amount of processed wheat we now have in our diets. Or maybe it’s just my genetic code. Or maybe it’s just that the idea of intuitive eating must walk hand in hand with less processed foods, because the same things that “process” the foods also cause a disconnect with our bodies. Or maybe it’s just this whole other thing related to the second question:

Does veering away from wheat products lead me to better health, regardless of the relationship to satiety? Maybe there’s nothing about wheat itself that’s particularly bad, but there is something good about a diet that’s mostly made up of plant-based carbs and proteins. Maybe it’s not that avoiding wheat is at all important, but that getting a ton more fruits and veggies is a key to improving my health.

Saying “no wheat” is way, way easier for me than saying “only eat wheat products in moderation and have at least 70% of daily caloric intake from plant-based sources or complex, unprocessed grains,” for example. Changing a complex and potentially imprecise algorithm (“when hungry, if percent of caloric intake thus far is above X, then opt for any product including wheat; else select non-wheat product”) to a binary (“when hungry, select non-wheat product”) makes things simpler. It takes less willpower. It’s not that I’m arguing it would necessarily be better than wheat in moderation. It’s just that it’s way, way easier.

Maybe that’s a personal shortcoming, you know? But I’ve seen it elsewhere, in others. With meat, for example. I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for 14 years now, and I’ve plenty of other people try vegetarianism. Often, they decide they want a compromise. They will start eating meat again, but they’ll make sure it’s ethically sourced. Except they don’t actually do that. They just eat meat again. Once it’s not off the table, it’s way too easy to make other exceptions, to not apply the complex “is it ethically sourced” series of questions and decisions. A simple binary makes my life easier. And I’m not actually arguing that this is ethically superior to eating the right kind of meat. Arguably, giving ethical meat products your money increases their market share and has the potential to shift our cultural perspective on factory farming, etc., more quickly than just opting out of meat entirely. It’s just way, way harder to do this than to just opt out. Which is why most former vegetarians I know who chose to just go for ethically sourced wound up becoming, basically, your standard meat-eaters. And it’s why I’m going totally without wheat.

I’m doing this for a month, at least to start. I went gluten-free before. It was back when I was doing the whole vegan shtick, too. But it was also when I was starting on medication. And it was when I decided to take three fitness classes as part of my college schedule. When I lost 16 pounds the first month, I blamed it all on the medication — which was, admittedly, a crazy bit of medication. But I never isolated the variables, never checked to see if opting out of wheat might have been a larger portion of the equation than I’d credited it for.

Maybe it’s the fulcrum I need. Maybe it will connect me more to my body, give me more energy, help motivate me to exercise, get me enough results on my weight that I recover from the backslide and am motivated to make the further changes necessary for sustainable health.

I’m done being in the shape I’m in. I’m done struggling with the complex social and philosophical elements. I just want to be thinner. I don’t want to have to worry about buying a second airplane seat or whether I’ll be able to find pants in my size or whether other people are perceiving me largely as my weight. I want freedom of movement in the world, freedom from the stigma of obesity. I’m just done, you know? I’m just done. And if this experiment might help, then that’s where I’ll go first.

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