by Beth Heller, MS
First off, I am not one for giving things up, especially when it comes to food. Thankfully I do not have the digestive issues, weight issues or other symptoms of allergy that are associated with wheat gluten sensitivity and, frankly, I adore bread. Yet, last Tuesday I decided that I was going to experience a week without wheat (W3).
So why, on earth would I do that? First, while I try not to be swayed by media, I have to admit that one of the precipitating factors was an article I read in the Huffington Post entitled “Three Hidden Ways Wheat Makes You Fat.” Written by Functional Medicine guru Mark Hyman, a man who clearly does not like wheat one little bit, the article outlines did introduce some facts about wheat that caught my attention. Like the fact that the wheat we eat today is different from that eaten by our ancestors. Modern wheat, called dwarf wheat, has been genetically altered over the years to be starchier and contain stronger gluten. More dramatic is Hyman’s description of how dwarf wheat prompts the creation of “gluteomorphins and gliadorphins,” brain- and behavior-altering chemicals similar to the endorphins created in response to pleasure and strong exercise. This, according to Hyman, prompts craving and bingeing.
Now that’s alarming. My quick Pubmed search, however, did not reveal any clinical data about gluteomorphins (Hyman calls it gluten-morphine) or gliadorphins, apart from one study looking at gluten and autism symptoms. Yet, the basic premise of Hyman’s article, that the wheat we eat now is not our grandparent’s wheat, rings true to me. I also know that if I were to binge on anything it would be crusty bread and butter. In my world of moderation, bread is my siren song. Could I be “addicted” to gluten morphine?
The second, and more sensible reason I decided to go W3, is that reducing wheat consumption is a component of our new Lifestyle & Weight Loss Program, First Line Therapy for Fertility – more about this program soon! And, like everything we recommend at the Moon, I wanted to make sure that I could do it myself before I recommended it to another.
I don’t want to bore you with a daily food-frequency or play-by-play of my W3, but I did notice a few interesting things when I chose to eliminate this source of calories from my diet. What follows is a short and sweet summary of the kernels of wisdom I gleaned from a week without wheat:
- Kernel #1: Wheat consumption is a habit. When I was faced with a week without wheat none of my go-to foods were available. I had to find different choices for breakfast (steel cut oats), re-think my “side” of bread and butter at Panera (choose an apple), and stretch for a different side dish at dinner instead of buttered noodles (try amaranth). All in all, the process felt more like an exercise in breaking food ruts than giving up a staple.
- Kernel #2: The results were subtle. After a week off wheat, I cannot report any particularly striking changes in my overall health. However, as I look back at the past week I am sure a nutrition analysis would reveal a healthier, more varied and nutritious diet than my habitual eating pattern. I became painfully aware that I could point to “lazy choices” I made every day – chicken wraps at Whole Foods, pasta or noodles with dinner, dried cereal and breakfast breads as well as lunchtime sandwiches – that kept me from better choices. This was an empowering insight.
- Kernel #3: I can see how cutting back on wheat would make a diet more fertility-friendly. If used intelligently, limiting wheat frees up calories for healthy fats, encourages the consumption of more nutrient rich foods and discourages the consumption of processed foods. If used unwisely it could also be a disaster. Gummy bears are gluten free.
- Kernel #4: This last point, that processed foods rely heavily on wheat, is a no-brainer. Think of all the crackers, dried cereals, low-fat cookies, cakes and frozen meals on offer at your local supermarket. When wheat is out you have to find a new pasture to graze. Also, when shopping this week I realized that there are plenty of gluten-free foods that are highly processed.
- Kernel #5: Addicted? In my case I would argue that I’m just plain lazy. I learned this week that I rely heavily on processed grains to the exclusion of other nutritious foods.
When Tuesday came around and I was done with my W3 I was surprised that I didn’t rush to the coffee shop for a muffin. Maybe I’m strange, but I enjoyed this process of diversifying my diet. I think I’ll let it ride for a bit until some of my newer, healthier choices become habitual. I know that a lot of women out there are going gluten-free for fertility. For some it’s a therapeutic decision because they are dealing with the very real impact of gluten sensitivity and allergy. For others, the goal might be weight loss. Whatever the reason, there’s one piece of advice I can give anyone making dietary changes: Make your changes from a place of exploration and inquiry. Empower yourself to know what is right for you. It’s helpful, too, to work with a nutritionist to maximize nutrients that support fertility.
Have you made dietary changes as part of your fertility journey? Have they felt empowering or onerous? We’d love to hear your experiences.
For more information about nutrition and fertility, check out Tami and my book The Infertility Cleanse: Detox, Diet and Dharma for Fertility. We have fabulous nutritionists at Pulling Down the Moon who are available in-person or by phone for an empowering consult to help you optimize your diet for health and fertility. Visit www.pullingdownthemoon.com for more information!