Two years ago, the shop where I bought the crusty multi-seeded bread I enjoyed so much, must have changed baker as the loaves had suddenly become doughy and lost all appeal. I spent a few weeks casting around the area for an alternative supply before it occurred to me to regard it as an opportunity to give up eating bread all together. I had no particular reason, but was a bit overweight and developing a paunch, feeling bloated and suffering from heartburn, so I thought I’d give it a try.
Around the same time, I cut down my meat consumption from daily to once or twice a week. This was something that had played on my mind for some years as a moral issue.
My wife was very supportive and joined me. She suggested alternatives to the toast I had for breakfast every day and the chunky sandwiches I made for my lunch at work. I was pleasantly surprised to find that porridge sustained me throughout the morning, supplemented by a few grapes and a banana. We started making big pans of soup at the weekends, freezing portions for lunch: cheap and tasty. It was fun to experiment with different recipes, varying the herbs and spices we added from week to week, until we had a menu to suit our taste.
Within a week I lost a pound or two and continued to do so until I’d come down from 88Kg to 73.5Kg (nearly 14 stone to 11 and a half), about four months later. I was fascinated to find where this would end and, when my weight stabilised at a level I’d last seen thirty years previously, it was time to take stock and consider the effects.
The first thing I had to do was punch more holes in my belts to stop my trousers falling down. Then I had to decide whether this was a permanent change to my lifestyle, or just a fad. It wasn’t a tough decision. I felt healthier and happier, my self-esteem was boosted and it was no hardship. My wife pointed out that I looked lost inside my clothes, so I bit the bullet and treated myself to some new ones, so there’s no going back.
As I had never considered myself fat, it hadn’t really occurred to me that anybody would notice the change, but my dentist wanted reassurance that it was not due to illness and several acquaintances were afraid to ask.
I couldn’t be sure how much of the weight loss was due to my bread boycott, or whether it was more due to all its accompaniments that had now joined it in the, er, bread bin, such as the butter and marmalade at breakfast, the spicy chicken and pickle in my lunchtime sandwich.
So far, so smug. This weekend, I stumbled across a book in the library, entitled “Wheat Belly”, by one William Davis, MD. It’s peppered with stories like mine and portrays wheat as a major cause of the west’s obesity epidemic. It kicks off with an explanation that today’s wheat bears no semblance to the plant of even sixty years ago, subjected as it has been to major genetic modification.
“Wheat Belly” describes wheat as an addictive appetite stimulant that has a devastating effect on our digestive systems, brains, blood sugar levels and much more besides. The text is rich with references to statistics, research and other publications, but a little digging online suggests that some of Mr Davis’s more extravagant claims may not be supported by the evidence. I have neither the qualifications nor the time to investigate, merely to mention this in passing.
Davis offers lots of practical advice on how to avoid wheat and gives a couple of dozen wheat-free recipes, but leaves me with a dilemma. He lists ‘ales, beers and lagers’ as unexpected sources of wheat and, by coincidence, my local pub has just withdrawn my favourite Abbot Ale. The question I have to ask myself is whether I should treat this as a problem or another opportunity?