Empty Calories

I Think Wheat Bellies Are Sexy

Empty Calories is a weekly rant about food and culinary trends.

First the Atkins Diet, then the Paleo Diet, now the Wheat Belly Diet. Diets which, whether or not the books actually suggest this, everyone (by which I mean, my friends’ dads and all the ladies in the change room at my gym) understands as being, essentially, this: “Eat carbs and die, you damned fatties. Don’t eat carbs, and you’ll lose buckets of weight and then you’ll be happy. Because that’s what happiness is.”

There are probably many ways to attack the validity of these programs. I’ve heard things about your body going into starvation mode if you don’t eat carbs. I’ve heard of people’s cholesterol spiking because all the meat and cheese and no fiber. I’ve heard of it being unsustainable because variety in eating = both necessary and awesome. But I want to approach it from another angle, in part because I don’t want to read any of these books or the studies refuting them. I have some fat Victorian novels to get through; no nutritional pseudo-science is welcome here. Two questions:

Question the first: Bread makes you fat, does it? Please explain ALL THOSE GORGEOUS FRENCH WOMEN. Please explain how all our grandparents weren’t unhealthily overweight, AND THEY ATE ALL THE DAMNED BREAD AND PASTA. Please explain to me myself, for according to the hysteria in my gym, I should have one foot in the grave. In fact, I’ve never been healthier in my life, and I eat peanut butter toast and oatmeal every day, and often have pasta as part of dinner. If it’s not pasta at dinner, it’s something on top of a grain (which, hey, if you’re confused: grains have carbs in them).

Certainly, I’m burning some calories simply by being enraged by all the stupid bombarding me, but I suspect it’s just this: I try to eat as wide a variety of foods as possible. I try to not over-eat. I don’t eat dessert every day. I exercise regularly. I try to avoid the processed stuff. I try to be sensible with a goal in mind that isn’t losing weight. The important thing is not “Will this make me fat or help me lose weight?” The thing of importance, and it’s very important, is: “Will this help or hinder me from doing the stuff I like?” I like doing stuff. Eleven peanut butter cookies for dinner (2010 wasn’t my best year) is probably going to make a zesty bicycle ride the next day a leetle harder to manage than one cookie for dessert will.

Question the second: Who cares? WHO. CARES. Who cares if you or I or he or she or they have wheat bellies? When did bellies become, in and of themselves, so terrible? Why? Who did this? Because I would like to punch that jackass in the neck. Hating the belly isn’t about getting healthier, it’s about feeling bad about how we look. I think there’s more than enough of that sort of mush going around. I reject the belly-shame. Wanting to lose weight to be healthier or have more energy? Sure, if that’s what will work. Wanting to lose weight because it’ll make everything better and life will have meaning and blah blah blah? Shut it down now!

I'm going to order this t-shirt two sizes too small.
I’m going to order this t-shirt two sizes too small.

Life is short and bread is crazy delicious. (Actually, I haven’t met a carb I haven’t liked.) The point is, we have maybe 85 years, if we’re lucky, before we shuffle off the mortal coil. We’re all going to end up somewhere that probably doesn’t have peanut butter toast as one of its primary attractions. We have many failings as humans, but I think we’re capable of enjoying—really, really enjoying—food without automatically harming ourselves. How to do that is what that brain-thing is for. So let’s use ours and stop believing the kind of shysters who would tell us that this ONE THING will cure/ruin everything about our bodies, health, job, worth in life, and marriage prospects, forever. And let’s also drop some vicious metaphorical elbows on all the evil bastards who insist that being super-skinny is the key to everything good.

A toast to toast (and all its carby cousins), my darlings! You won’t catch me laying on my deathbed regretting how I got all caught up in worrying about gaining weight and not having a flat stomach. On my deathbed, I plan to be demanding that someone make me a goddamned sammich so I’ll have the energy to run that final race.


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About Colleen Shea

Colleen Shea is a writer, reader, food-eater, and bicycle-rider. She blogs at Jam and Idleness. Her two favorite foods are kale and peanut butter, but not together because that would be madness. Follow her on Twitter @bookphilia.

  • Joseph Spuckler

    People are fat because they are lazy and eat super processed food in excess. It’s not the carbs. I am going to make oatmeal, bread, and if I have time either couscous or bulgur wheat… and I will ride my ride to the store and library.

    • Jeremy Damsgard

      All I did was change my diet and went from 290 to where I am today, which is 223. I’ve never been lazy. I am constantly moving from the time I get up for work at 6am until I go to sleep, usually around 1 or 2am. I still eat some carbs, keeping them down under 100g a day and I never eat anything with gluten because it makes me feel like shxt now!

    • SandraKolb

      Well, if it is that simple, what is the cure?
      Telling people to not be lazy and eat super processed foods?

      Maybe there is a reason people are “lazy”. I know when I reduced carbs to give myself normal blood sugar, I also then had more energy. I used to get very tired after meals, but that did not occur when my meals lacked processed carbs. That is only anecdotal, but it certainly was important to me.

      Super processed foods are full of carbs, so if people eliminate them, they will reduce their carbs as well. So you saying “it is not the carbs” is a little ridiculous.

      Or is it only the “in excess” part? Well, eating a lot of carbs can lead to craving even more carbs. While eating fats leads to a satiated state. So if people are to try and not eat to excess, reducing carbs and eating more fat seems the way to go.

  • AngelaQ

    The book “Wheat Belly” is not a weight loss diet book. I’m not sure why the author of this article is saying it is, perhaps it was too tiresome to do a little bit of research before making stuff up?

    • Amanda Nelson

      The first tag line in the book’s website is “lose the wheat, lose the weight” so it’s not really “making stuff up” to acknowledge that much of the anti-carb movement is centered around weight loss.

      • Jeremy Damsgard

        It may come off that way, especially since the title is, ” Wheat Belly.” In the book cardiologist William Davis speaks of curing all kinds of ailments, including type 2 diabetes.

        After I read the book and adapted the diet I lost 60 pounds in three months, my carpal tunnel syndrome is gone, and I no longer need my CPAP machine. Another wonderful side effect of this diet is that I don’t get hungry. Ever.

        The main premise of the diet is to eat foods that keep your insulin levels down. I guess you have to experience it first hand to believe it.

        • Amanda Nelson

          Since Colleen is addressing the entire fad of no-carb diets (Atkins, Paleo, etc.) all of which are about losing weight, and since the book’s tag line literally mentions weight loss before it mentions changes to health, I don’t think i “comes off that way” – I think the no-carb fad is a fad about losing weight. And while obviously some people are gluten-sensitive or have gluten allergies, that’s not really what she’s addressing here, which is the idea that eating carbs is the silver bullet that makes you fat and that daring to have a wide middle is an awful thing.

          • Jeff Randall

            You and the author are making the same mistake in that you haven’t taken the time to read past the cover of the book. Are you not familiar with the expression ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? The book has nothing to do with an anti-carb fad diet. Anyone who has taken even high school Biology should know that fruits and vegetables have carbohydrates in them. So even though you have only read the cover you should realize that it’s not about a no-carb diet because it is specifically titled with the word wheat. The whole focus of the book is on wheat and gluten. And the main focus of the book is not about losing weight; it’s about health and the genetic changes made to wheat in the last 60 years. The fact that people loose weight is a side-effect that is just a bonus to improving overall health by living a wheat-free lifestyle. Publishers are going to put that on the cover as an attention-getter obviously, but the intention of placing attention-getters on book covers is that people will then go an actually READ the book! And having a soggy mid-section is a bad thing because it is the most visible indicator of poor internal health. Doctors don’t consistently tell people to loose weight because they want their patients to be more attractive. They tell them to loose weight because excess weight, and in particular fat that collects around the mid-section, leads to very seriously deleterious health issues. This is a very poorly done article and is indefensible.

          • Amanda Nelson

            The post isn’t wholly about this specific book- it’s only mentioned once, as an example of yet another book in the genre as a whole- it’s about the perception of the anti-carb fad in it’s steam-rolling entirety. I don’t have to read a book Colleen mentioned in one line to know that I entirely agree with her that the anti-carb fad is being marketed as a cure-all, and that body shaming is a major part of that marketing.

          • Amanda Nelson

            There is no name-calling allowed here. Thank you.

  • Kevin Frank

    Atkins is but Paleo and Wheat Belly are not anti-carb. They are anti specific carbs but allow you to eat others. Have you read the book? That os the name but their reasoning for no wheat is far beyond just ‘bellies’ and losing weight.

    • Colleen

      No, as I say in the article, I have not read the books–I am responding to what people think all these books are saying.

      • Caryl

        You should read the book before responding to anything. And wheat is not what it was 60 or 70 years ago. It has been modified therefore causing health issues with a large majority of people today. And another thing…..don’t use GOD’S name in vain. In fact don’t use it at all if you can’t use it with the respect GOD deserves.

      • Joe

        How do you know what people ‘think’ these books are saying? Are you a mind reader? You’re obviously not a book reader. And based on your pic, I’d have to say that it’s pretty easy for a ridiculously skinny person to be so cavalier about other people being overweight.

        • Amanda Nelson

          There is absolutely no body shaming allowed here. Thank you.

          • Amanda Nelson

            I’ll say this one last time: if you can’t be civil in this comment section, you will not be allowed to comment here.

      • Jeff Randall

        All of the people I know who have read Wheat Belly or books on a paleo lifestyle understand what the books are about. You wrote an article about anti-carb diets, which is not what Wheat Belly or a paleo lifestyle is about. If you are responding to what people think these books are saying, and they think the books are anti-carb, then the circle of people you are involved with have poor reading comprehension skills. A better idea for an article would be to become familiar with the topic (even slightly because right now you are way off base) and then correct the misconceptions of whoever these people are that you refer to who think these topics have anything to do with anti-carb diets.

      • Joe

        BTW- Is it true that you’re vegan?

      • Kathleen Higgins

        “What people think”, which people or do you mean yourself?

      • SandraKolb

        If you have not done the research, this is NOT an article, but a rant based on preconceived notions.
        Articles involve some research, generally.

  • Jeff Randall

    This is a very poorly researched (or more specifically contains no research whatsoever) article. Don’t make allusions to books you haven’t read because you can’t really offer an informed critique on something if you are not at all familiar with the topic. The book ‘Wheat Belly’ (which you are obviously alluding to because you pilfered the name) is not a diet book, but rather a well-researched book by a medical doctor detailing the biologic history of the current form of wheat that we eat today. I am a biologist and can confirm that the author’s research on the subject is sound. If you would have read even the first few pages of the book you would have the answer to the first question you pose in the article, which is why people in previous generations could eat wheat and not gain weight (you use the word carbs, but the book was specifically addressing the wheat we eat in its modern form, not carbohydrates in general). Secondly, you ask why it matters if people are obese. You would have to be living under a rock (or a pastry shelf) to not understand the health crisis we face as a nation (and which is spreading to other countries as they adopt our western diet). All of the leading causes of death are diseases of affluence, which can be easily prevented through proper nutrition. Saying that you don’t eat dessert everyday is far from proper nutrition. I recommend you take this article down so that someone doesn’t mistake it to be anything other than the word vomit that it is.

    • Amanda Nelson

      So…proper nutrition, like the Atkin’s diet? If I ignore carbs but eat a plate of bacon, I’ll lose 20 pounds and be in perfect health for all time? Neat.

      • Amanda Nelson

        This post- which I’m beginning to think you didn’t read- is about the anti-carb fad as a whole, not a review of a specific book. She mentions the book once time as another example in a genre. And if all you have here is ad hominem, I’m going to assume you’ve got nothing else of substance to add.

        • Amanda Nelson

          I am the Associate Editor of this site and we stand behind everything our contributors publish. If you have a problem with that, you’re free to go elsewhere.

      • SandraKolb

        This is known as the “Strawman fallacy”:
        “Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack”.

        Books like “Wheat Belly” are advocating the elimination of a particular type of carb, and diets like the Paleo are advocating the reduction of processed foods (which will also reduce carbs from breads and pastas)
        I know of no health professional advocating elimination of vegetables. That would be silly.

  • George Stolis

    It’s funny. A guy puts out a book that inspires thousands of people to drop a ton of weight, in most cases, the EASIEST weight they’ve ever dropped, improve focus, eliminate digestive issues, clear up skin, and completely change their approach to diet and exercise, and yet the focus of this “article” is not on the many successes the book has inspired, but about why you should continue to eat wheat. Shame on you. Spend some time on PubMed doing some research rather than trashing someone else’s.

  • Theresa Lynn Smead

    You are free to believe living grain free is hype, as I am FREED from obsessive cravings and 85 or so pounds for believing it is not. The weight loss and health gain has given me a youth and vitality that I haven’t had in decades, and has derailed me from a future of diabetes and dementia and enslavement to dozens of drugs (like my parents.) You are right, though, about one thing. You can be diabetic, unable to walk or toilet yourself due to neuropathy, obese and losing your personality with your memory daily, but still be a sexy wheat-bellied beast eating that pie in your wheel chair. Sexy, sexy! Have another cookie, honey.

  • Dina Luttrell Rudesheim

    Some people are like lucky little cockroaches who can tolerate, if not thrive, from being poisoned. The fact is that the protein structure of wheat has been hybridized to be hardier. So while no one in my mom’s prior generations had anything remotely resembling celiac disease, she certainly did. Why? Well, just because she was there for these changes in wheat doesn’t mean those changes caused her celiac disease, but there are an awful lot of us who have a legit allergy to wheat and gluten. Why don’t I eat wheat? Well, I came to accept that diarrhea was normal. I came to accept that I would never get rid of my eczema without cortisone cream constantly being applied. Until I found out what I was allergic to. Go figure. I can actually poop a real Turd and my eczema is almost completely gone.

    You are ignorant and just because you don’t have any issues with what is poison to us doesn’t mean a damned thing. It just means you are lucky.

    • Jeff Randall

      I am right there with you Diana. For five years I suffered from seborrheic dermatitis, similar to eczema, and consistently once a month my entire face would erupt into a red, painful rash. I spent, I estimate, around a couple thousand dollars going to specialists, getting skin treatments, buying products. The only thing that ever kind of helped were harsh steroid creams, which can thin your skin overtime and are not recommended for long-term use. None of my doctors ever mentioned anything about it being a possible gluten sensitivity. Thankfully the Internet has allowed people to share these stories and I stumbled on success stories of people just like me who cut out gluten (and for some people dairy also) and all of a sudden they no longer had flare ups. Sure enough I no longer live with the painful and embarrassing flare ups that I once did. I just wish someone would have told me sooner so I didn’t have to live through it for five years. As an added bonus, I dropped 25 lbs in just a couple months and am back to my ideal BMI weight. I also no longer have IBS. It is estimated that 99 percent of people with gluten sensitivities do not know it and as a result they suffer from a variety of medical ailments. That is why I am so vocal in defending the gluten-free lifestyle because I have personally benefited from it and heard stories from now hundreds and hundreds of people who experienced the same results.

      • Dina Luttrell Rudesheim

        I have also had the problems with rashes on my face,in my hairline and dandruff. I also had to eliminate dairy and eggs. I have a plethora of allergies,not just relegated to gluten. But I can live without them now. It’s hard, but so worth the relief I have! Like you, I went to so many doctors over the last 20 years and paid dearly for a shrug of the shoulders. I’m angry at those doctors and sorry that it took me so long to figure it out. Same for my mom. She battled it for over 20 years and got progressively worse. It ended up damaging her heart. She had two open heart surgeries and was emaciated. She died last year from a cold. That’s what unchecked wheat consumption means to me.

  • Elizabeth Klub

    How can you write about something you have not read? That didn’t go over big in grade school. This is about the most misinformation I have ever seen.

  • Rebecca Schinsky

    Body shaming, name calling, and personal attacks are not welcome in this community. Comments that insult the writer rather than critique the argument will be (and have been deleted), and users who violate the community standard will be (and have been) banned. Comments on this post are now closed due to commenter violations.