What a Year Without Wheat Does to Your Body

Just over a year ago, my family embarked on a new adventure. We eliminated wheat, flour, barley, oats, and rice. In other words, we deleted "grasses" from our diet. Why would a family embark on such an adventure? I did it for my children's health.

Approximately 10 years ago, I reduced the amount of grass products I consume to 1-2 every 6 weeks. The result was amazing. I released body fat without even trying, didn't have mid afternoon fatigue, slept even better at night, and had significantly more energy. Since I prepare all the meals at our home, my family inadvertently reduced their consumption of grains as well but would have one or two wheat products daily. Because of the elimination, we increased our consumption of fats, proteins, meats, and vegetables. A few years later, my wife eliminated all grasses and she had an outcome similar to mine. Since our children do not have Celiac Disease, my wife and I felt no need to completely eliminate wheat or grasses from their diet. (WebMD defines Celiac Disease as the following: Normally, the body's immune system is designed to protect it from foreign invaders. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system forms antibodies to gluten which then attack the intestinal lining. This causes inflammation in the intestines and damages the villi, the hair-like structures on the lining of the small intestine. Nutrients from food are normally absorbed by the villi. If the villi are damaged, the person cannot absorb nutrients properly and ends up malnourished, no matter how much he or she eats.)

Though they do not have Celiac Disease, my children all have sensitive digestive systems. My 4 year old son, then 3 years old, had the worst of it. He would have periodic diarrhea in his diapers known as a "blow out" to any parent. This happened frequently enough that we became concerned. Our pediatrician, whom we feel is fabulous doctor, diagnosed my son with constipation. She explained to us that he would get so backed up that everything would eventually explode out. The question I asked was, “Why was my son so constipated?” The pediatrician explained that she did not know why he was constipated but it was quite common with children and not to worry. "These things happen" she said to ease any guilt we, as parents, may be having. She suggested giving my son a diluted form of Mira-lax (an over the counter adult laxative powder) in order loosen his stool and it should take care of the constipation. She explained that many children simply grow out of this problem in a few months to years. We followed her advice, and after giving my son the Mira-lax, he was no longer constipated however, I felt uncomfortable giving him an adult laxative. So we followed her advice for a while...but I still had the same question, why was my son constipated in the first place?

One Sunday morning, I was reading the health section and found a New York Times article questioning the practice of giving Mira-lax to children. The article questioned why pediatricians were recommending that children use Mira-lax when the product was never intended for anyone under 17 years of age. The adults who take it are advised by the manufacturer to take the product for no more than 7 days. My son was 3 years old and was advised to take it until the problem went away. That could take a few months to a few years according to our Pediatrician. In addition, the article pointed out that F.D.A. (Food and Drug Administration) has raised questions about the safety of an adult laxative routinely being given to constipated children. The F.D.A. tested eight batches of Mira-lax and found tiny amounts of ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol, ingredients found in antifreeze in all of them. After reading the article, my wife and I immediately decided to look for alternative measures. We spoke to our pediatrician about not using Mira-lax any more. While she was reluctant for us to take our son off of the Mira-lax, she suggested giving him prunes instead. The prunes worked, it definitely was not as effective as the Mira-lax. I kept pushing for an answer to our original question, why is our son constipated?

Soon after, I sat down to watch a PBS special entitled The Wheat Belly Total Health by Dr. William Davis, author of the book Wheat Belly and a Milwaukee based Cardiologist. I am a fan of Dr. Davis. I was looking forward to him talk about the content of his book. Dr. Davis spoke about young adults who had to see him for heart issues but struggled to move from the chair to the exam table due to an unrelated cardiac condition. The patients complained about how their stomachs hurt all the time and no one in the medical community had an answer, no matter how many tests were done. Dr. Davis suggested something simple that had no monetary cost. Eliminate wheat and grasses from your diet. When his patients followed his instructions, their digestive symptoms and pain went away as well as other many other issues. It had a profound impact on their life! Something clicked in my head upon hearing this. I had an idea but I needed my wife on board.

I spoke to my wife about eliminating all wheat, flour, barley, oats, rice and other grasses from the family’s diet. We agreed to give it a try. What did we have to lose? I came up with a plan for what our family would eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. All of which contained no grasses. After the plan was devised, we removed all grasses from our pantry. Absolutely nothing containing grasses was left. This way, if my children went grazing in the pantry, they would not find anything I did not want them to have. I will admit, the first few days were inconvenient. We were embarking on a new behavior and the children did not initially like the overhaul of their routine but something then happened. After day 3, our son had a normal movement. There are those odd times when a parent gets overjoyed over what would seem ridiculous...this was one of those times. In fact, all of our children’s digestive tracts improved. They improved over the next month.

When we explained to the kids that we were going to eliminate grasses, we told them they could have wheat/grasses on "special" occasions: Christmas, birthday parties, etc. As it turns out, every month there seems to be a special occasion, which means there are roughly 27 other days of no grasses. At the end of the first month of our experiment, it was time for our daughter's birthday party. The children asked if we were going to have cake. "Of course, it's a special occasion. However, at the end of the day, the rest of the cake will be thrown out, no leftovers. So enjoy your cake." My children ate the cake. Something interesting happened. For the next 3 days, all of my children complained that their stomachs hurt. Their complaints fueled our motivation to keep grasses out of our diet. My son's constipation was back again. This time however, it was short lived. By day 3, he was back to having normal bowel moments.

The next month, another party, another cake, another 3 days of complaining, and another constipated son thankfully it wasn't as bad as before. We noticed a trend. Anytime grasses were reintroduced into their diet, their stomachs would hurt, and would become constipated for a day or two. The more days their diet was free of grasses, the more normal their digestion would be. We now had an answer to my original question. Why was my son constipated? He has a sensitivity to grasses.

While my children do not have Celiac Disease, I do believe they have a sensitivity to grasses. Eliminating grasses eliminated the problem. No one in my family needs Mira-lax or prunes or any other laxatives anymore. I do not believe physical symptoms should be dismissed as "These things happen" when it comes to humans and digestive issues. Something is wrong. Do I blame our Pediatrician for not have the answer we were looking for? No. Our Pediatrician's education is about diagnosing diseases. Food intolerances/sensitivities are not in her are of expertise and are not currently a part of the education in western medicine. She advised us as best as she could with what she knew at the time. My hope is that with the leaders such as Dr. William Davis, the conventional wisdom of western medicine will include food sensitivity testing and dietary modifications that are not considered “alternative medicine” and out of the main stream.

What are you to do?

If you or someone you know is having a digestive issue, there is a reason. As Dr. Davis pointed out, his patients had multiple tests done with no diagnosis. Take Dr. Davis's advice. Eliminate grasses from your diet. Start by committing to a week. After one week, do it for another week. Try to eliminate the grasses for 1 month. If no improvements have happened in the time of 1 month, there is likely not an issue with the grasses. However, if positive changes occur, you may be on to something. For my family, it took 3 days before we noticed a change. After a month, our kids had cake. All of their symptoms came back. Fast forward to today, we have gone over 1 year with no grasses in our diet and have improved our health more than we could have imagined at the start of this journey. Why did our family embark on such an adventure? We did it for our children's health!


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified

Contact Info: szahn@lifetimefitness.com