Wheat belly

You've heard of "beer bellies," the protuberant, sagging abdomen of someone who drinks excessive quantities of beer.

How about "wheat belly"?

That's the same protuberant, sagging abdomen that develops when you overindulge in processed wheat products like pretzels, crackers, breads, waffles, pancakes, breakfast cereals and pasta.

(By the way, this image, borrowed from the wonderful people at Wikipedia, is that of a teenager, who supplied a photo of himself.)

It represents the excessive visceral fat that laces the intestines and triggers a drop in HDL, rise in triglycerides, inflames small LDL particles, C-reactive protein, raises blood sugar, raises blood pressure, creates poor insulin responsiveness, etc.

How common is it? Just look around you and you'll quickly recognize it in dozens or hundreds of people in the next few minutes. It's everywhere.

Wheat bellies are created and propagated by the sea of mis-information that is delivered to your door every day by food manufacturers. It's the same campaign of mis-information that caused the wife of a patient of mine who was in the hospital (one of my rare hospitalizations) to balk in disbelief when I told her that her husband's 18 lb weight gain over the past 6 months was due to the Shredded Wheat Cereal for breakfast, turkey sandwiches for lunch, and whole wheat pasta for dinner.

"But that's what they told us to eat after Dan left the hospital after his last stent!"

Dan, at 260 lbs with a typical wheat belly, had small LDL, low HDL, high triglycerides, etc.

I hold the food companies responsible for this state of affairs, selling foods that are clearly causing enormous weight gain nationwide. Unfortunately, the idiocy that emits from Nabisco, Kraft, and Post (AKA Philip Morris); General Mills; Kelloggs; and their kind is aided and abetted by organizations like the American Heart Association, with the AHA stamp of approval on Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisp Cereal, and Berry Kix; and the American Diabetes Association, whose number one corporate sponsor is Cadbury Schweppes, the biggest soft drink and candy manufacturer in the world.

As I've said many times before, if you don't believe it, try this experiment: Eliminate all forms of wheat for a 4 week period--no breakfast cereals, no breads of any sort, no pasta, no crackers, no pretzels, etc. Instead, increase your vegetables, healthy oils, lean proteins (raw nuts, seeds, lean red meats, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, Egg Beaters, low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese), fruits. Of course, avoid fruit drinks, candy, and other garbage foods, even if they're wheat-free.

Most people will report that a cloud has been lifted from their brains. Thinking is clearer, you have more energy, you don't poop out in the afternoon, you sleep more deeply, some rashes disappear. You will also notice that hunger ratchets down substantially. Most people lose the insatiable hunger pangs that occur 2-3 hours after a wheat-containing meal. Instead, hunger is a soft signal that gently prods you that it's time to consider eating again.

You will also make considerable gains towards gaining control over your risk for heart disease and your heart scan score, a crucial step in the Track Your Plaque program.

Comments (31) -

  • JT

    7/23/2007 1:42:00 PM |

    Ahhhhh.... a picture of an average American, fat and round.  I don't mean to say that in a negative way about my countries people but looking around I've noticed how many obese people there are in the USA.  Being overly thin at 6' and 145lbs makes me stick out and that's no fun.  I wish more Americans would take better care of their health, avoid high glycemic foods like wheat, and become thin.  If that happened then I could look like an average American.

  • ortcloud

    7/23/2007 10:23:00 PM |

    I did it, I am off wheat and sugar and it wasnt easy, its very addictive and its everywhere.

    So, the consensus is I feel GREAT !!

  • Stan

    7/23/2007 11:18:00 PM |

    100% true!  Especially the brain fog part!


  • Anne

    7/24/2007 11:03:00 AM |

    Convincing others that wheat may be contributing to their health woes is an uphill battle. I have found most people refuse to consider that food may be affecting their health. They usually tell me that their medication is working and they could never give up foods with wheat.  

    I am not only wheat free, but gluten free and so much healthier than I was when I was eating breads. It was not easy to give up my favorite food, but well worth it.

  • Dr. Davis

    7/24/2007 12:59:00 PM |

    I believe that we can only set examples for others to follow.

    If you are a clear-thinking, energetic, slender person, free of wheat products, eventually the wheat bellies around us will ask why. That's your opportunity to instruct.

  • Bix

    7/25/2007 12:08:00 PM |

    Wheat bellies Smile

    I agree with anne, especially the uphill battle part.  My experience: people nod in agreement but silently dismiss the no-wheat message, thinking, "It can't be my Shredded Wheat!"

    Please excuse my icon.

  • JT

    7/26/2007 12:55:00 PM |

    These are two reports I do not enjoy reading this morning.

    Panera Bread reports 28 per cent revenue boost

    By Karen Willmer

    Industry develops whole grain 'action plan'
    Panera raises outlook after strong Q3 results
    Panera holds up against higher costs
    Panera Bread to acquire 23 bakery-cafes
    Strong growth for Panera Bread offset by high costs?

    News Archives

    All news for July 2007
    All news for June 2007

    26/07/2007 - Panera Bread said yesterday second quarter revenues for 2007 increased 28 per cent over the same period last year, but operating profit fell by 3.4 per cent.

    Operating profit was $18.9m (€13.8m) for the quarter compared to $21.4m (€15.6) the previous year.

    The company said this was due to shifts within the product ranges and the high prices of raw materials.

    "While second quarter results are somewhat disappointing, we are pleased to see some of our investments in the bakery-cafes pay off with higher comp store sales increases," said chief executive Ron Shaich.

    Bakery-café sales increased 2.1 per cent during the period, and Panera Bread expects this to increase by 3.6 to 3.9 per cent over the four weeks up to July 24.

    The company also predicts bakery sales growth of 2.25 to 4.75 per cent following the opening of 39 new bakery-cafes and the acquisition of a further 32 bakery cafes during this last quarter.

    Bakery-café sales revenue increased from $157m to $209m for the second quarter of 2007, forming 82.9 per cent of the company's total revenues. Bakery-café sales formed 79.7 per cent of total revenue during the same quarter the previous year.

    "We look forward to continuing our positive sales trends while at the same time addressing the margin issues currently impacting our results," Shaich said.

    Panera Bread operates 1,027 bakery-cafes across US, 391 are company owned, and 696 franchised, all producing speciality breads and bakery products.

    The company's focus on the bakery-cafes helped increase revenues, however fresh dough sales to franchises were down 2.1 per cent of total revenue to $26m and revenue from franchise royalties was down to 6.7 per cent of total revenue to $17m.

    Researchers: Obesity Can Be Contagious in Social Circles

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    LOS ANGELES —  If your friends and family get fat, chances are you will too, researchers report in a startling new study that suggests obesity is "socially contagious" and can spread easily from person to person.

    The large, U.S.-funded study found that to be true even if your loved ones live far away. Social ties seem to play a surprisingly strong role, even more than genes are known to do.

    "We were stunned to find that friends who are hundreds of miles away have just as much impact on a person's weight status as friends who are right next door," said co-author James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego.

    The study found a person's chances of becoming obese went up 57 percent if a friend did, 40 percent if a sibling did and 37 percent if a spouse did. In the closest friendships, the risk almost tripled.

    On average, the researchers calculated, when an obese person gained 17 pounds (7.7 kilograms), the corresponding friend put on an extra 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms).

    Gender also had a strong influence. In same-sex friendships, a person's obesity risk increased by 71 percent if a friend gained weight. Between brothers, the risk was up by 44 percent and 67 percent between sisters.

    Researchers think it is more than just people with similar eating and exercise habits hanging out together. Instead, it may be that having relatives and friends who become obese changes one's idea of what is an acceptable weight.

    Despite their findings, the researchers said people should not sever their relationships.

    "There is a ton of research that suggest that having more friends makes you healthier," Fowler said. "So the last thing that you want to do is get rid of any of your friends."

    The study was published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine and funded by the National Institute on Aging.

    Researchers analyzed medical records of people in the Framingham Heart Study, which has been following the health of residents of that Boston suburb for more than a half century. They tracked records for relatives and friends using contact information that participants provided each time they were examined over a 32-year period.

    In all, 12,067 people were involved in the study.

    After taking into account natural weight gain and other factors, researchers found the greatest influence occurred among friends and not among people sharing the same genes or living in the same household. Geography and smoking cessation had no effect on obesity risk.

    Indiana University statistician Stan Wasserman said while the study was clever, it had its limitations because it excluded relationships outside of the Framingham group.

    Obesity is a global public health problem. About 1.5 billion adults worldwide are overweight, including more than 400 million who are obese. Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese.

    Much of the recent research focus has been on the intense hunt for obesity genes involved in appetite or calorie burning.

    The findings could open a new avenue for treating this worldwide epidemic. The researchers said it might be helpful to treat obese people in groups instead of just the individual.

    "Because people are interconnected, their health is interconnected," said lead author Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard sociologist.

  • Dr. Davis

    7/26/2007 1:47:00 PM |

    Yes--connect the dots. Our overweight friends and relatives who eat at Panera and similar wheat-prmooting establishments don't realize that the inches they pack on fatten someone elses' wallet.

    What I find puzzling is the focus in the second article on genetics as a cause:

    Much of the recent research focus has been on the intense hunt for obesity genes involved in appetite or calorie burning.

    It ain't the genes. It's the food.

  • JT

    7/26/2007 5:28:00 PM |

    I agree,  

    The way I see it, we live in a pc era.  If one makes a judgment in the general pubic concerning why someone is overweight chances are the pc police will attack.  It is easier to blame something else, like genes, as being the cause.

  • Cindy Moore

    8/4/2007 3:30:00 AM |

    I've been using the beer belly as an example recently and I'm amazed that people think a beer belly is from the alcohol, not the carbs! That's when I explain the difference in appearance, etc between a big belly due to cirrhosis and one from too many carbs....and how it's not where the carbs come from, but the levels.

    Until recently I thought most of my co-workers thought I was nuts, and many still do, but lately I've had a couple of conversations with a few that are trying to get healthy and they've been listening! There are now a few of us that discuss things, compare diets and share articles. It's nice to see people questioning the dietary advice that the "experts" promote.

    I've been off sugar for over 22 weeks...and wheat is the next thing I'm cutting out. I'm hoping cutting wheat will bring my triglycerides down to where I want them. Last checked they were 146! My doc was happy, but I'm not!

  • Dr. Davis

    8/4/2007 3:36:00 AM |

    My prediction: You will be amazed at the results in plummeting triglycerides, weight loss, clearer thinking, increased energy.

  • Jerome

    12/24/2007 1:46:00 PM |

    Being a 32 y/o male and just having finished nursing school, I can say that in the past year I have gained 32#'s.  I was attributing this to my mediterrainian diet of pasta/starches, vegetables, meat, pasta, bread and pasta but must also now add beer.  A drink surely given to us by the gods that I had abstained from consumption until the past 1.5 years.  I can really tell you that I have noticed not only weight gain but definate truncal expansion.  When discussing it with some close friends and trusted sources of info (over a pint of the good stuff) we all can say we notice that it is becoming more prominant especially since we enjoy so much of the wheat based product.  All though I cannot say I can guarantee I can break from the wheat stronghold entirely, I can surely start making a change and see how that effects my life, health, weight.

  • Syera

    6/11/2008 2:11:00 PM |

    I've heard vegetarians blaming these protuberant paunches on meat of all things - it's nice to see someone on the Interwebs actually pointing a finger in the right direction for once.  Smile

  • DrBee

    7/15/2008 7:23:00 PM |

    What about other sources of processed carbs?  I'm mainly thinking of things like rice and corn-based products that are presented as alternative to wheat.

  • Ricardo Carvalho

    9/12/2008 4:10:00 AM |

    I think this can be called Paleodiet: www.thepaleodiet.com, www.marksdailyapple.com, www.staffanlindeberg.com, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_diet, www.totalhealthbreakthroughs.com/2007/11/start-running-your-body-on-the-right-fuel/

  • Anonymous

    9/19/2008 9:32:00 PM |

    Wow, look at those PECS, he must work out a LOT!

    I heard you had to eat a lot to gain muscle, and some of it is fat. So WOW!

  • Anonymous

    3/9/2009 3:47:00 AM |

    Let's not forget that nearly ANYTHING done out of balance can cause problems. Eat enough carrots (like tons) and you go … a bit orange. Eat nothing but fats and … Well, you get it. ANY diet that's far our in ANY direction will cause problems. Heck, even eating a balanced diet but loaded with snacking and no exercise… right back where we started. So while Wheat can be a bad guy, it's far from the only one.


  • Gardener Cath, mum of some

    11/5/2009 4:14:31 AM |

    Is it wheat specifically or other grains also?

    I have had a battle (lately lost) to control my weight but always knew that if I cut carbs I lost weight very quickly. Never maintained the weight loss because whenever I went back to a normal diet (and I eat a well balanced vegetarian diet and always have, not a snack-ridden processed one) the weight crept back on.

    Recently dropped wheat (and all other cereals) after stumbling across this site and already shedding excess baggage.

    When I get back to the size I like to be can I include some non-wheat grains and carbs?

  • Anonymous

    6/9/2010 1:39:50 PM |

    I've been on low-carb (no wheat , no processed sugar ) since November. I feel GREAT ! I have lose my wheat belly ( lost 23 lbs. ) and no more acid reflux. This is a great change. I do feel more mentally clear.  No more IBS since giving up the glueten. I am convinced this is the way to go.


    7/26/2010 12:46:34 PM |

    I hear what you are saying, but I don't think you can necessarily blame wheat. I think the problem is refined foods in general and lack of fresh fruit/vegetable consumption. It just so happens that wheat is in most of those processed foods, and thus looks like the culprit. I would posit that we would see exactly the same problems if any other refined starch were used as the base.

    Eating some whole grains and starches (including wheat) - and I am not talking about flour based - like rolled/steel-cut oats, sweet potatoes, etc. can be a very healthy part of a good diet.

  • Dorothy Minichiello

    8/19/2010 2:03:52 PM |

    Great article that most folks need to read.  I must also point out with all due respect to the young man who supplied the photo that just by observation alone, he has had excessive exposure to xenoestrogens which can come from plastic, herbicides, pesticides etc. (that's just the tip of the iceberg and a whole other subject) - this is something he should also address in his diet makeover and would be another great health improvement in his life.  

    Great article I will certainly repost!!

  • buy jeans

    11/2/2010 7:45:04 PM |

    As I've said many times before, if you don't believe it, try this experiment: Eliminate all forms of wheat for a 4 week period--no breakfast cereals, no breads of any sort, no pasta, no crackers, no pretzels, etc. Instead, increase your vegetables, healthy oils, lean proteins (raw nuts, seeds, lean red meats, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, Egg Beaters, low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese), fruits. Of course, avoid fruit drinks, candy, and other garbage foods, even if they're wheat-free.

  • roberto cavali

    11/19/2010 11:08:27 PM |

    Hello to all Smile I can�t understand how to add your site in my rss reader. Help me, please

  • O Primitivo

    1/28/2011 5:17:31 PM |

    Low density lipoprotein cholesterol is inversely correlated with abdominal visceral fat area: a magnetic resonance imaging study. - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21247428

  • Margaret

    7/10/2011 11:05:16 PM |

    After being off all grains and being healthier would eating oatmeal once in a while be permitted? Also should dairy be eliminated and what about Soy or Rice milk?
    I find some advice confusing.

  • melissa

    7/15/2011 4:33:16 AM |

    Am I wrong, or is it pretty much impossible to establish a wheat-free diet AND maintain a vegetarian one? Sure seems like that would be the case.

  • JLC

    8/6/2011 10:36:12 PM |

    Question. I have only been doing this a week but it sounded like I would see results like "1 pound a day for the first 10 days". I am not seeing that. I went cold turkey and have not had any grains, processed foods, or sugars in that time and intend to continue. Should I be concerned? I lost 5 pounds after the first few days, and now seem to have gained it back. Not sure what's going on. I HAVE NOT CHEATED!
    Thanks for any advice or help. Maybe I just need to stick with it? I have tested and am not in ketosis judging by the strips, my blood sugars never seem to go above 100 or 105 even 1 hour after a meal. Thanks again.

  • Dr. William Davis

    8/8/2011 12:07:02 AM |

    Hi, J--

    More than likely there's something in your diet that is booby trapping your weight loss or you are hypothyroid.

    Hypothyroidism is incredibly common and underdiagnosed.

  • JLC

    8/8/2011 1:15:21 AM |

    Please another question. The only thing I can think of is a scotch after dinner. Does alcohol sabotage this process? Can't wait to get the book. I'm sure it will be great. Just put it on my wish list on amazon and it said it would be delivered to my ipad (kindle app) Aug 30.

  • Anna D.

    9/28/2011 11:31:31 PM |

    Alcohol can absolutely sabotage any weight loss. Although one or two drinks should not cause weight gain, many people say that a day they consume ANY alcohol is a day that they will not lose any weight. So you want to limit drinking to 1-2 days per week, and limit the number of drinks to 2-3. Elimination of alcohol consumption, or limiting to only special occasions would however be most ideal.

  • Carole

    11/6/2011 5:41:00 PM |

    Please clarify regarding the use of the following foods on the Wheat Free plan- brown rice pasta, brown rice bread, spelt bread. I have had success on the program losing 20 lbs in 6 weeks but wanted to know if I could have small quantities of the above mentioned products and still avoid the perils of wheat! Thanks