Should you consider giving up grains? Dr. William Davis thinks so. The following is an excerpt from his new book, Wheat Belly Total Health. Please consult with your health care practitioner before making any dietary changes.
You are facing the prospect of withdrawal, a tumultuous physical and emotional storm. This can be terrifying, especially now that you know that it can involve fatigue, nausea, anxiety, headache, lightheadedness, leg cramps, and depression, as well as powerful cravings for the foods you are avoiding.
Many people have had a small taste of this syndrome after brief lapses in grain intake, though they probably didn’t recognize it as grain withdrawal, often dismissing the anxiety and headache, for instance, as the effects of hunger, impending flu, or marital annoyances. But with the complete removal of grains from your diet, those feelings are going to persist.
Is there an emotional electroshock therapy that might zap you out of this experience, an antidote to this opiate, a laxative that purges the poison, anything you can do to smooth the grain withdrawal syndrome?
Yes, there is. Nothing completely ablates the experience, but you can soften the blow. Here are a few strategies.
1. Choose a non-stressful period to experience withdrawal.
If you have the luxury of managing your time, choose a period when you don’t anticipate high stress. Don’t choose, for instance, the week an annoying mother-in-law is planning to visit, the start of a new and challenging project at work, or the week before your dissertation is due.
Ideally, choose a long weekend or vacation. And pamper yourself a bit: Watch movies, laugh, enjoy a glass of wine, lie in the sun, get a massage. Like a bad hangover, this will pass.
2. Don't exercise.
Don’t torture yourself by exercising — and don’t feel guilty for not exercising during this process. At most, do something at a leisurely pace: Go for a walk in the woods or neighborhood, or take a casual bike ride. But it would be counterproductive to force yourself to jog, bike hard, or strength train, as the effort will make you feel worse.
The precipitous drop in insulin caused by removing grains also reverses the sodium retention of wheat and grain consumption, causing fluid loss (diuresis) and a reduction in inflammation. If you don’t compensate by hydrating more than usual over the first few days, you may experience lightheadedness, nausea, and leg cramps. (If you’re hydrated, your urine should be nearly clear, not a dark, concentrated yellow.)
A great habit to start the day right is to drink 16 ounces (2 cups) of water immediately upon awakening, since we awake dehydrated after lying supine and mouth breathing for 8 or so hours.
4. Use some salt.
Specifically, sprinkle sea salt or another mineral-containing salt on your food to compensate for the loss of urinary salt that develops due to the drop in insulin levels. Salt, along with water, addresses the lightheadedness and leg cramps that commonly occur during withdrawal.
5. Supplement with magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency is widespread and is associated with osteoporosis, hypertension, higher blood sugar, muscle cramps, and heart rhythm disorders. Magnesium deficiency is common, especially in people who have consumed grains for a long period of time, and it can magnify some of the symptoms of withdrawal from grains, particularly leg cramps and sleep disruptions.
Magnesium supplementation can have dramatic benefits during wheat withdrawal, but unfortunately, most magnesium supplements are better laxatives than they are sources of absorbable magnesium. Among the best absorbed is magnesium malate at a dose of 1,200 milligrams (mg) two or three times per day.
Another way to get supplemental magnesium is to make your own magnesium bicarbonate, the most absorbable form. Because it is very hygroscopic (water-absorbent), no manufacturer sells it in dry form, so you have to make it yourself.
6. Consume fats, oils and proteins liberally.
Do what your grandmother did and eat the skin and dark meat on your chicken, and ask for the liver. Don’t remove the fat from your steak or pork — eat it, instead, and again, ask for the liver. Save the bones and boil them for soup or stock, and don’t skim off the fat or gelatin when it cools.
Add olive oil and coconut oil to anything and everything you can, even eggs, soup, and vegetables. Have lots of avocados, which are full of fat, and put them in your smoothies. Don’t limit your egg consumption; have a three-egg omelet, for instance, with extra-virgin olive oil, pesto, or olive oil — soaked sun-dried tomatoes.
Loading up on fats helps eliminate cravings by inducing satiety. Remember: Fat consumption does not make you fat, nor does it cause heart disease. Bury that bit of nonsense with the “healthy whole grain” fiction.
7. Take a probiotic.
Try 30 to 50 billion CFUs (colony forming units, the method used to quantify bacterial numbers) or more per day, and look for a supplement containing mixed species of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.
Taking a high-potency probiotic accelerates colonization by healthy bowel flora once the disruptive effects of bowel-toxic grains are absent. This addresses the bloating and constipation that typically accompany grain withdrawal, with relief usually occurring within 24 hours of initiation of the probiotic.
8. Supplement iodine.
Marginal iodine deficiency is common, particularly in people who avoid using iodized salt. Ironically, the more you avoid processed foods (as we do with grain elimination), the less iodized salt you get. Avid exercisers are also more iodine deficient than average, due to iodine losses via sweat.
Even a modest lack of iodine leads to lower output of thyroid hormones, resulting in mild hypothyroidism sufficient to impair weight loss, make fatigue worse, increase LDL cholesterol and triglyceride values, and increase cardiovascular risk. I advise patients to supplement iodine with inexpensive drops, capsules, or kelp tablets (dried seaweed) at a dosage of 500 micrograms (mcg) per day, which is more than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 150 mcg per day and, I believe, closer to the ideal intake.
Know that, as unpleasant as it may be, withdrawal from grains is a necessary step on the path to regaining total health. And once you survive that process — and you will — you can look forward to the good stuff that follows, which we discuss below.
Excerpt from Wheat Belly Total Health, by Dr. William Davis. Published by Rodale Books, in 2014.
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