I eliminated wheat . . . and I didn't lose weight!

Elimination of wheat is a wonderfully effective way to lose weight. Because saying goodbye to wheat means removing the gliadin protein of wheat, the protein degraded to brain-active exorphins that stimulate appetite, calorie consumption is reduced, on average, 400 calories per day. It also means eliminating this source of high blood sugar and high blood insulin and the 90-minutes cycles of highs and lows that cause a cyclic need to eat more at the inevitable low. It means that the high blood sugar and insulin phenomena that trigger accumulation of visceral fat are now turned off. It may possibly also mean that wheat lectins no longer block the leptin receptor, undoing leptin resistance and allowing weight loss to proceed. And weight loss usually results effortlessly and rapidly.

But not always. Why? Why are there people who, even after eliminating this appetite-stimulating, insulin-triggering, leptin-blocking food, still cannot lose weight? Or stall after an initial few pounds?

There are a list of reasons, but here are the biggies:

1) Too many carbohydrates--What if I eliminate wheat but replace those calories with gluten-free breads, muffins, and cookies? Then I've switched one glucose-insulin triggering food for another. This is among the reasons I condemn gluten-free foods made with rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch. Or perhaps there's too many potatoes, rices, and oats in your diet. While not as harmful as wheat, they still provoke phenomena that cause weight loss to stall. So cutting carbohydrates may become necessary, e.g., no more than 12-14 grams per meal.

2) Fructose--Fructose has become ubiquitous and has even assumed some healthy-appearing forms. "Organic agave nectar" is, by far, the worst, followed by maple syrup, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose,and fruit--yes, in that order. They are all sources of fructose that causes insulin resistance, visceral fat accumulation or persistency, prolongation of clearing postprandial (after-meal) lipoproteins that antagonize insulin, and glycation. Lose the fructose sources--as much of it as possible. (Fruit should be eaten in very small portions.) Watch for stealth sources like low-fat salad dressings--you shouldn't be limiting your fat anyway!

3) Thyroid dysfunction--A real biggie. Number one cause to consider for thyroid dysfunction: iodine deficiency. Yes, it's coming back in all its glory, just like the early 20th century before iodized salt made it to market shelves. Now, people are cutting back on iodized salt. Guess what's coming back? Iodine deficiency and even goiters. Yes, goiters, the disfiguring growths on the neck that you thought you'd only see in National Geographic pictures of malnourished native Africans. Number two: Exposure to factors that block the thyroid. This may include wheat, but certainly includes perchlorate residues (synthetic fertilizer residues) on produce, pesticides, herbicides, polyfluorooctanoic acid residues from non-stick cookware, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants), and on and on. If you are iodine-deficient, it can even include goitrogenic iodine-blocking foods like broccoli, cauliflower, and soy. Thyroid status therefore needs to be assessed.

4) Cortisol--Not so much excess cortisol as disruptions of circadian rhythm. Cortisol should surge in the morning, part of the process to arouse you from sleep, then decline to lower levels in the evening to allow normal recuperative sleep. But this natural circadian cycling is lost in many people represented, for instance, as a flip-flopping of the pattern with low levels in the morning (with morning fatigue) and high levels at bedtime (with insomnia), which can result in stalled weight loss or weight gain. Cortisol status therefore needs to be assessed, best accomplished with salivary cortisol assessment.

5) Leptin resistance--People who are overweight develop an inappropriate resistance to the hormone, leptin, which can present difficulty in losing weight. This can be a substantial issue and is not always easy to overcome. It might mean assessing leptin levels or it might mean taking some steps to overcome leptin resistance.

Okay, that's a lot. Next: More on how to know when thyroid dysfunction is to blame.

Comments (33) -

  • Jay

    10/19/2011 2:37:59 AM |

    I tend to gain weight when I work a lot of night shifts at the hospital.  My sleep/wake pattern gets very messed up and I turn to extra carbs to fight off fatigue.  Working rotating shifts must take a toll on health.

  • JO

    10/19/2011 4:06:28 AM |

    Well I am living proof that 4 and 5 exist. Very low carb diet ( 10 g a day ) for 3 months and less than 2kg weight loss. My Leptin is 32 ( norm is 8 here ).

    So how do I sort out Cortisol and Leptin ??

  • Fat Guy Weight Loss

    10/19/2011 5:18:50 AM |

    Surprised to see high-fructose corn syrup so far down on the list....don't really consume any of those but enlighting still.

  • Helena

    10/19/2011 11:31:04 AM |

    Could it be as easy as these people might actually need to cut down on something else instead... I am most often in favor or cutting wheat in diets but if you look at blood type there is actually some grains that are good for some people with a certain blood type. Type A is one of the group that could possibly be seeing nothing when they stop eating wheat and continue to eat other things that is not good for them, such as red meat. Off course there could be other issues too, just what you are saying in your post, but I think it could mention that blood type do play a role in what your body can do with the food you give it...

  • Howard

    10/19/2011 4:03:12 PM |

    I eliminated wheat in 1999. Lost 100 lbs and my arthritis, but stalled out at about 50 lbs over goal.

    I have been "tweaking" lately. I already take an iodine supplement (didn't appear to make any difference, although my low morning body temperature isn't as low).

    I'm guessing that all those trans-fats damaged my metabolism. Or maybe it was a combination of trans fat, HFCS, and wheat.

    My latest experiment for breaking the nearly decade-long stall is IF, combined with Fred-Hahn style slow-burn twice a week. That appears to be working, at least in the short term.

    I am interested in the Leptin resistance idea, and especially in ways to fix it if that is the problem.

  • Howard

    10/19/2011 4:05:18 PM |

    @Helena: "eat other things that is not good for them, such as red meat. "

    Nutritional ignorance abounds. You are confusing red meat with fuzzy gray-green meat. The latter is not good for you, but the former is.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/19/2011 4:27:09 PM |

    Yes, it does, Jay.

    The sooner you can escape this unnatural sleep-wake pattern, the sooner you can regain better health.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/19/2011 4:27:44 PM |

    Let's cover in a future post, Jo. There's no quick answer.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/19/2011 4:29:20 PM |

    Hi, Howard--

    Let's cover the leptin question in future.

    I do love the Slow Burn idea, too, a way to make substantial gains with a minimum of effort.

  • Bertil

    10/19/2011 6:12:25 PM |

    Dr Davis,

    Do you have some references for the term "best" as in "best accomplished with salivary cortisol assessment"?

  • michael

    10/20/2011 2:20:38 AM |

    I  would prefer this comment to be private:

    It seems that maybe excessive alcohol consumption might be a factor in not losing weight after cutting out wheat.  I am wondering why you don't talk  frankly and directly about alcohol consumption when you talk about the patients you have helped.  You do say moderate consumption is  better, but you do not go into any detail about what overcunsumption is and what it does, or what advice you give to those who are drinking too much when you help them.  You have given vivid examples of people whose lives have been saved by the avoidance of wheat, but is that really the whole story?  My guess is that at least 10% of the people who are reading your blog or who have bought your book are drinking alcohol to excess.  What advice would you give that 10% ?  I applaud you for your diligent efforts to help people recover their health, and I would encourage you to consider those people who might still be outside your scope of interest.

  • oc

    10/20/2011 11:51:02 AM |

    Hi Dr. Davis:
    If one has an abnormal salivary cortisol or is leptin resistant, what steps must be undertaken to overcome each of these?  Thanks.

  • Susan

    10/20/2011 1:35:08 PM |

    I have not eaten wheat, (or any grains) for over a year. I do not eat sweets except occasionally fruit like berries. (When peaches were in season last summer I could not resist.) I have been able to stop gaining weight, but losing weight is elusive. I have Hasimoto's disease. My TSH is around 1 with 45 mg Armour Thyroid, but my T3 and T4 are in the lower range of normal. I do take about 750 mcg  iodine, Standard Process Thytrophin PMG (which is supposed to help with the autoimmunity) and a product called Sea Vegetables Plus which has sea vegetables, L-Tyrosine and Bioperine . Are there any other ways to optimize thyroid function?

  • Clark

    10/21/2011 9:27:42 AM |

    I've long eliminated all of what you list from my diet and reaped benefits. I'm very lean but for a very small handle around my mid-section -- I'll call it my 'fruit belly' as fruit is the one indulgence I refuse to give up.

    I live in a region with fresh fruit stands on almost every corner and I eat it aplenty. I think there are a few pleasures in life worth a little weight gain (if it causes any in me at all). And certainly there must be some benefits to a diet full of many different types of fresh fruit.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/21/2011 2:50:33 PM |

    Hi, Oc--
    Great topics for future discussions!

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/21/2011 2:51:45 PM |

    I hear you, Michael.

    I suppose that I am guilty of not saying the obvious, at times, such as smoking causes heart disease over-consumption of alcohol, e.g., more than 3 drinks per day, is unhealthy for a long list of reasons. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/21/2011 2:54:14 PM |

    None that I know about, Susan. In fact, I am skeptical that ANY iof the "thyroid support" supplements available do anything at all.

    Iodine works, no question. Selenium might work in Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Beyond this, I know of nothing that makes the thyroid work better, including tyrosine. Giving your thyroid tyrosine is like putting more gas in your gastank: It won't make the car go any faster.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/21/2011 2:55:20 PM |

    Just beware of glycation, Clark.

    Gauge glycation by your HbA1c. I regard anything above 5.0% as an undesirable level of glycation.

  • Peter Andrews

    10/21/2011 3:00:56 PM |

    This is a comment about a statement in the first chapter of Wheat Belly but I did not know how where to send it to.

    You have repeated the oft statedidea' that humans share 99% of their genes with chimpanzees. The correct number is closer to 95% if you take into account insertions and deletions. The 99% was an early estimate based on older technology and has been superseded. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC129726/ "Divergence between samples of chimpanzee and human DNA sequences is 5%, counting indels"

  • Kenneth

    10/21/2011 3:55:11 PM |

    How big of an effect can borderline hypothyroidism have on lipid profiles? I've been fighting high triglycerides and low HDL (and presumably small LDL) all my life.  Even on a gram of niacin, lots of fish oil and topped up vitamin d, I'm running 300ish on TG and 33-35 HDL. I'm not obese or even overweight by more than perhaps 5 pounds. Even when I'm a fanatic about exercise and low carb, the best I've ever done was 160 TG. As much as I hate the idea, I'm ready to throw in the towel and resort to Tricor and/or a statin. I've been on testosterone replacement for over two years (I'm 41), and I may have my thyroid evaluated as we make adjustments to that. I don't think I'm big-time hypothyroid, but if its running a little slow, can fixing that have a marked impact on lipids?Is whole extract usually/always better than synthroid?

  • MGCC

    10/21/2011 7:24:39 PM |

    Or another possible reason - I had already sharply reduced carbohydrate intake for several months, and hit a stable plateau of just over 250 lbs (tall and muscular guy, but still 30 lbs too fat).  Going off all wheat six weeks ago hasn't helped break below that weight.  I've never been symptomatic for coeliac or other auto-immune reactions from wheat so for me it was just a tightening of my carb intake.  Activity levels pretty high - regular gym work, some running & walking, outdoors for soccer coaching.  But stuck above 250.

  • MGCC

    10/21/2011 7:25:32 PM |

    I admire  your way with words, and I imagine you're a very good looking man as well.

  • MGCC

    10/21/2011 7:26:14 PM |

    Aw shucks.  But lots of people say that.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/22/2011 12:58:01 PM |

    Hi, Kenneth--

    Thyroid can exert a BIG effect on lipids. The worse the hypothyroidism, the bigger the effect.

    And, if thyroid replacement is necessary, the extracts are nearly always better than T4 alone as Synthroid.

  • Sandra Brigham

    10/22/2011 7:21:56 PM |

    Dr. Davis, I'm one of those who gained doing Archevore (eliminated all grains, legumes, sugar, seed oils but kept whole cream, cheese and butter).. In 10 mths I'd lost inches everywhere but start gaining wt the last couple mths. On your blog you suggested that I might have a thyroid issue. I bought myself a glass thermometer and did basal temp checks 3 mornings in a row at same time before rising - 96.9, 97.1 and 97.1. I understand the normal range is 97.4-98.2.  My average of 97 indicates hypothyroid right? If most people don't see symptom resolutions using thyroid meds, is there any reason for me to get tested?

    I also concurrently gave up all dairy and substituted coconut milk. I am happy to say I am now seeing a wt loss of 1/2 - 1 lb a day this week! I have even been able to up my carbs from VLC (25) to moderate (60-100) with no adverse effects!  While I had given up milk, I really did not think cream, butter or cheese was holding me back. Boy was I wrong! The joint achiness is also now gone!

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/23/2011 11:48:14 PM |

    Hi, Sandra--

    Normal temperature if taken orally immediately upon awakening is 97.3 F. So your temperatures are marginally low. Worth watching over time.

    That's great with the dairy products. While I've included limited dairy products in the diet I advocate, there are undoubtedly people like you with exceptional sensitivities.

  • Henk Poley

    10/25/2011 2:51:50 PM |

    Please make sure you still have a good calcium source. Most western people are very vitamin D deficient, especially during the winter. Which means you don't take up all the calcium from the food. So keep an eye on your 25(OH)D3 level, and calcium intake.

  • Henk Poley

    10/25/2011 3:08:07 PM |

    You should check your 25(OH)D3 and B12 levels to make your sleep more effective: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=35D93D52577FB34C

    And if you are not a night owl, don't work nightshifts..

  • Tee

    10/28/2011 11:28:43 AM |

    Dr. Davis
    This gentleman, Dr. Kruse, is all the rage at Marks Daily Apple site. I'm curious about your thoughts on his Lipten Reset approach.
    Here is a link to his bog, and his Leptin Prescription.
    Thank you.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/29/2011 10:52:00 PM |

    Dr. Kruse's advice is very reasonable. One modest difference: I tend to rely on an even lower carbohydrate intake, e.g., 10-12 grams per meal, while trying to regain control over metabolic distortions.

  • Tee

    10/30/2011 3:41:40 AM |

    Thanks Dr. What are your thoughts on eating 50 gr. of protein within a half hour of waking up?  I'm never hungry till after11 AM.

  • Chris

    5/6/2012 5:33:37 AM |

    Interesting Blog. I've read this far, and I see over and over again one theory that has me a bit baffled, which is fruit. Hi carb to be sure, but the 80/10/10 diet by Dr. Graham suggests that fat is the culprit that drives up blood sugar.  My blood sugar has been very stable on a strict fruit/veggie diet. I'm curious what your take would be with regards to small LDL particles on a strict fruit and veggie regimen?