My Year By Design

The journey to living by design.

Book Review: Wheat Belly

So to continue on with my New Year’s resolution, (yes, I’m sticking to it,) I listened to the audiobook Wheat Belly by William Davis.

Wheat Belly

I chose this book because I know that wheat has a negative impact on my own waist line and energy level. I have reduce my consumption of wheat but I have trouble completely eliminating it from my diet. I was interested to learn some of the science behind what wheat does to the body and to hopefully get some tips on beating the wheat cravings. Unfortunately, these expectations were not really met by Davis’ book.

Firstly, I found the health claims Davis makes a little far-reaching. Davis claims wheat consumption causes everything from celiac disease to asthma to rheumatoid arthritis to neurological impairment. I’m not sure I believe that every ailment we face is caused by wheat consumption alone, although I have no doubt it causes some. I have a Masters in history and as part of my schooling I was taught never to trust the ‘single cause’ theory, (e.g. events in history, science, health, etc. rarely have one single cause.) Perhaps that is the source of my mistrust of Davis’ thesis.

Another difficulty I faced was following the science Davis presented through all the jargon. This book used more medical terms than I’m used to and in an audio format it was confusing. I couldn’t keep track of the definitions of Glyadin, lymphocytes, advanced glycation end products, oxidated responses, and amylopectin A, just to name a few. Maybe I should have been taking notes? I simply couldn’t keep track.

I found Davis’ explanation of dwarf wheat much more interesting. Although I am aware of genetically modification of foods, I have not seen someone trace the evolution of modern wheat this way before. This family tree showed me the modifications and how they improved the economy of wheat. This historical overview appealed to me and I think this is the area of the book where I learned the most.
As I listened into chapters six and seven I kept thinking, “Where are the tips on how to reduce our consumption of wheat?” Even in the case studies provided there is no mention of how people stopped consuming gluten. Davis implies that wheat is so bad that we should just stop cold-turkey. If wheat is as addictive as the early chapters of this book imply, then how do we kick the habit? Overcoming addiction is no simple matter.
This was the most difficult audiobook for me to finish so far. I think it was because Davis made several statements to which I took offense. I deal with each below. Some of these may not bother you and if so, feel free to skip that section.
  1. Eating wheat is an extreme sport. Really? This seems like just another of the foods that are banned from diets as deadly one month and then embraced as a health hero the next. Now, I think that reducing our consumption of wheat is good for our health. However, Davis’ alarmist approach turned me off and made him seem less credible.
  2. Davis returns several times to the idea that eating a Snickers bar is less harmful than eating a piece of whole wheat bread. Really neither is a good choice. I believe in making my diet healthier overall, rather than just removing one ‘bad’ food.
  3. Davis claims that people on wheat free diets can endure 72 hours of  fasting with minimal discomfort. This seems like a ridiculous thing to suggest. Why would anyone need to fast that long for dietary reasons?
  4. I have no doubt we are not fully aware of what genetically modified foods do to our bodies. However, I resist the sense of panic imbedded in this book by the constant listing of diseases and symptoms. These lists were repetitive and boring to sit through.
  5. In chapter eight I was appalled when Davis personified wheat as an abusive husband. I was insulted by this glib use of violence against women to prove a point. This was the closest I came to turning off this audio book for good. This type of shock tactic does not work on me and I think many readers would have a problem with this section.
  6. Finally, there was an implication that every other medical professional was clueless when it comes to wheat. Davis makes some good points but he’s not the only professional addressing the impact of wheat on the body. It would serve him well to be a little less inflammatory.
Davis ends the book with sample menus. Finally, here was the sort of guidance I had been looking for to kick the wheat habit. Well, actually this plan also eliminates most other carbs, limits fruits and dairy. This began to sound more like a dressed up Atkins, something I know doesn’t work for me. I like variety and moderation. So, in conclusion, should you reduce your consumption of wheat? Yes. Should you read this book? Meh.
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