Since Christmas, I have been almost exclusively avoiding foods that contain wheat and sugar. This is something I’ve toyed with on and off over the last few years, and I’ve written previously about the benefits of quitting sugar and wheat separately, but I’ve not yet blogged about eliminating both at the same time.
Previously, I haven’t found those experiments too challenging – and would usually manage it quite well for a month or so before a chance encounter with birthday cake or something would cause me to get complacent and then it would slowly unravel from there.
Foods that contain wheat include bread, crackers, cakes, biscuits, donuts, bagels, muffins and any sort of pasta. A no sugar diet usually means avoiding added sugars (aka ‘table sugar’ and ‘white sugar’), and in the current popular understanding, it particularly means avoiding fructose.
Fructose is the form of sugar most commonly found in fruit, however in large doses (which is how the modern diet seems to consume it, by default) it is the form of sugar that is believed to have the most harmful impact on our bodies, although the jury is still out on that one.
Currently, I’m still eating small amounts of fruit, and I’m not being super strict about processed foods that might have small amounts of sugar added (for example a bottled sauce), although it’s recommended that you do if you’re aiming for a full sugar detox.
Hang on, is gluten free wheat free?
Yes! This is an important clarification. Wheat contains gluten, so if you opt for gluten free foods then you’re automatically avoiding wheat. However, other grains contain gluten, so if you have a gluten intolerance then just avoiding wheat won’t solve your problem.
I generally write about wheat free eating rather than gluten free eating because I do eat gluten in small doses from other sources, and I don’t think it bothers me too much. For my body, wheat intolerance seems to be more about its glycaemic impact and addictive properties, rather than solely gluten.
The first time I tried going sugar free AND wheat free at the same time was just before I went overseas (for the second of the long trips I’ve recently done) in mid-2015. And I was amazed at how easy it was.
Knowing that I would be traveling through Europe and it would be next to impossible to find sugar free and wheat free food, I thought I might as well cut it out while I easily could. Within a few weeks I felt slimmer and lighter and healthier and less enslaved to food than I ever have.
So it made good sense to me to give it another go once I was home and settled into a new place and a consistent routine. And now I’m even more convinced that quitting BOTH at the same time is the key. Here’s why.
9 Benefits of a no wheat and no sugar diet:
1. Lose the wheat and sugar, lose the weight
This is the most obvious factor. Foods containing either wheat or sugar, and especially those with both, are just naturally higher calorie foods, so by cutting them out my overall calorie intake lowers.
On a sugar free diet you can end up still eating plenty of high calorie wheat-based foods, just without the sugar, and conversely many gluten free foods are laden with sugar, so again it’s BOTH that’s the key.
Of course there’s a risk of undoing any benefit by going mad on cheese or nuts but if you continue reading through to point 3 you’ll see why this may not happen.
2. Stable blood sugar
Did you know wheat is higher on the glycaemic index than table sugar? (I suggest you visit the GI database for yourself and have a play around). This means that the blood sugar spike is higher when you eat wheat than anything else, including sugar.
This means your body has to produce more insulin, and over time, over-production of insulin can lead to insulin resistance or diabetes. Combine wheat and sugar in the same food and we’re really asking for trouble. The over-consumption in Western society of refined carbohydrates (think white bread, donuts etc) is the primary factor to blame for our obesity crisis and rise in Type 2 diabetes.
In the shorter term, it follows that high blood sugar eventually has to come down, and the come down process leaves the body wanting more of what it had before, to bring the sugar back up again. It is quite literally a rollercoaster.
If you can avoid the food that causes high blood sugar, then blood sugar stays on a more even keel and you never feel the ‘crash’ that has you racing for the nearest bakery. That’s certainly been my experience. Quitting sugar and wheat does not mean eliminating carbohydrates altogether.
There are healthier forms of carbs – vegetables, some fruit, and some whole-grains, that won’t impact on your blood sugar the same way that wheat and sugar do.
3. Experience fewer carb cravings
They also feed off each other. So if you’re trying to cut the wheat but still getting a periodic ‘high’ from sugary foods, your body will continue to chase that high, willpower is weakened, and inevitably wheat creeps back into your diet. And vice versa if trying to quit sugar but still eating wheat.
Again, both is the key. I’ve had literally no cravings for either wheat or sugar over the last 3 weeks. None. And this is coming from someone who believes carb addiction is a real thing. Can you imagine how freeing that is? It feels amazing! And when offered it I can easily turn it down.
At the same time as working on eliminating a physical cause for a craving, I’m creating space to unravel some of the complicated cognitive connections that build up over a lifetime, associating food with comfort, love, intimacy, protection,etc. I’ve written about that elsewhere.
4. More even hunger patterns
This has been particularly noticeable. When I get hungry now, I just get hungry. That’s a strange statement, so let me clarify. When hunger is just hunger and not complicated by either low blood sugar or a sugar/wheat chemical come-down, it feels more manageable.
I’m not emotionally invested in that feeling for some reason, so I can experience hunger as a slow-growing sensation, and then stay hungry if necessary without that MUST EAT NOW all consuming feeling.
5. Less obsessing about food
This ties in with the above point. Hunger is just hunger. Food is just food. When I’m fueling my body properly, I find I appreciate and enjoy food when I eat it, but I’m not spending hours a day (or even minutes) fantasizing about what I ‘can’t have’.
This doesn’t feel restrictive, because I genuinely do not miss either wheat or sugar, or the crappy carb-hangovers they bring with them. When I DO find myself fantasizing about food, it’s the healthy variety which I can indulge in as much as I like.
Of course, emotional attachments to food don’t clear themselves over night, but when you cut out the physical/chemical noise, those emotional drivers become easier to recognise and therefore easier to manage.
6. Better nutrition means better overall health
Because I’m eating more nutrient dense food these days, it stands to reason that my overall health would improve – and it has! I’m eating good healthy food and my energy has improved along with it.
I can exercise more easily now at any time of the day without having to be so concerned about exercising at the right ‘time’ to make sure I have maximum energy.
7. Improved hormonal balance
This is a biggie! And it took me a little while to notice, but PMT symptoms have dramatically reduced. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that sugar increases inflammation in the body, so without it, some of the fluid retention that goes with the hormonal territory may be reduced.
I don’t really know why, but I’m not complaining! In addition, and no doubt related, I’ve noticed fewer mood swings too. It’s a known fact these days that there’s a connection between sugar and mood.
8. No wheat and no sugar = better skin
Better overall nutrition = better skin. It’s a no-brainer really. And not just healthier looking skin, but I’m less prone to eczema outbreaks and other allergy-type reactions these days too.
9. Indulge in other foods instead
Mmmm cheese. Need I say more? Well, ok. No wheat and no sugar means there’s plenty left in the calorie bank for yummy foods you might otherwise feel compelled to stay away from. And the cool thing about an improved hormonal balance is that your hunger and satiety hormones work better too, so you’re less likely to over-indulge in those foods before the natural ‘fill switch’ kicks in.
I’m not saying you now have the freedom to eat cheese all day, but again cutting out the complicating noise that both wheat and sugar produce in the body lets everything else hum to its natural rhythm.
So if you’ve thought avoiding both wheat and sugar might be next to impossible, I can assure you it’s not. Give it a go! What have you got to lose, except weight and unhelpful food addictions?!
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PPS. Most images sourced from Bigstock.com.