The book Wheat Belly revolved around a simple concept: proving that grains are the “magic bullet” cause of many problems, one of which is weight gain.
There’s research, case studies, and even a few stats that look great on paper. There’s only one problem.
The weight loss hypothesis and overstated claims aren’t accurate. Many people want to know how to lose weight. But that’s much different from “how to lose fat.” Or more importantly, how to maintain that fat loss for the long-term.
Any book or program that highlights one food as the root of all problems is oversimplifying how weight gain works.
While there are plenty of reasons to remove grains from your diet (in fact, it’s something I do with coaching clients who need the adjustment), eating grains does not have a direct effect on weight loss and fat gain.
Or maybe more importantly: wheat and grains are not the cause of obesity.
These food sources do not automatically make you gain weight. And the removal of grains (or carbs, fat that matter) doesn’t remove the laws of thermodynamics or the role of calories.
You see, if there’s one attribute that I’m universally disliked for it’s my somewhat agnostic approach towards nutrition. I’ve been in too many research labs, read too many studies, and worked with too many clients to ignore an undeniable truth: many diet approaches work for fat loss, muscle gain, and general health. From low carb diets to high carb diets–I’ve seen both more.
Why? Because there isn’t a single “cause” of fat gain.
It’s why the played out “eat less, move more” just doesn’t work as actionable advice that leads to better results.
And it’s not just opinion. Scientists have literally created a battle royale of diets, pitting one against the other, only to find out that…surprise!…there’s more than one way to drop pounds. Many diets work. That’s a scientific fact.
Create a diet that primarily (but not exclusively) consists of real foods (think proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and yes, even grains) and you can lose weight and be healthy.
So after reading Wheat Belly and other similar demonizations of wheat, I was beyond frustrated with the overgeneralized claim that has scared many people into unnecessary wheat-less eating habits with the misguided belief that it offers weight loss magic.
But the recent influx of clients who have reached out about how they removed grains and gained weight has reached critical mass. And while it’s not my preference to undress the work of others, there is a social responsibility to help you make choices that make it easier to lose weight and enjoy eating.
Wheat Doesn’t Make You Fat: The Proof
To make a point about grains and weight loss, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before on this site: share a shirtless picture of myself.
I’m not a fan of playing the body image game, so why share now? To make a point that the over-generalized wheat hypothesis just doesn’t make sense.
If you’re going to make a blanket statement such as, “wheat makes you fat,” then disproving that theory would be pretty easy. If you have examples of people that eat wheat and aren’t fat, then we can’t apply the rule universally.
And that’s the issue with wheat and weight loss: any book or program that highlights one food as the root of all problems is oversimplifying how weight gain works.
Having abs doesn’t make you healthy. But they are a pretty good indictor that you’re not resistant to fat loss.
This picture shows me on a diet where I ate cheesecake once per week. Yes, I was counting macros. And, sure, about 80 to 90 percent of what I ate was in the form of vegetables, fruits, proteins. Did I mention I also ate grains every day?
By this association, I should conclude that adding cheesecake to your diet once per week results in abs, right?
Obviously that sounds insane and isn’t true. But it’s the same style of reasoning that leads a researcher like Dr. Davis to say, “I have clients who removed wheat and lost weight. Wheat must be the problem.”
The point here is not that removing wheat is ineffective. Instead it’s that we can’t definitively draw a cause-and-effect conclusion that wheat causes weight gain.
Not only because the wheat hypothesis lacks proof to suggest that with certainty, but also because there are far too many case studies of people who do eat wheat and can lose weight.
Take the picture above. During that time of the above picture, this was my diet.
As you can see, wheat and grains were a prominent part of what I consumed every day. Eventually I achieved sub 10-percent body fat following this plan. And it’s not because I did anything special or removed any particular food.
I ate well, I exercised hard, and I was extremely patient with the process.
That’s not to say that people don’t have wheat allergies or sensitivities. Those are real and can be problematic.
Gut health can play a role in weight loss, and we continue to research and learn about the microbiome. And I do believe that many people can benefit from removing or limiting grains.
But that does not mean grains cause weight gain or prevent you from dropping fat.
Whether it’s wheat, or gluten, or dairy, or carbs, or fat, the finger-pointing at the “cause” of weight gain must end.
I also have many clients who wanted to eat wheat and were terrified about removing some of their favorite foods. We made sure that their diets were not devoid of carb sources. Here are their “wheat bellies.”
The Science of Fat Loss: The Only Undeniable Truth
Selecting a diet based on blind removal of a food group can lead to weight loss. But that should be a choice that matches your lifestyle, not one that is done on undeserving faith that any food possessing a magical “weight gain” gene.
And just because an adjustment in a diet leads to weight loss doesn’t mean that altered variable is the cause of weight gain.
If you want to remove wheat because it’s not something you enjoy or eat often, then do it.
If you have reason to believe (medically) that wheat is a problem for your digestive system, then make the adjustment.
Or if you feel better not eating grains, then you should alter your diet and do what works best for you.
But don’t believe that any one food–especially one that is “natural” and is has numerous studies suggesting health benefits–is suddenly problematic.
In the end, any diet that suggests absolute certainty on a topic and doesn’t even acknowledge other possibilities is just delivering more hype, which is likely to lead to long- term frustration.
Is Wheat Your Problem?
If you’re interested in why wheat is not the cause of weight gain (as well as other research claims), click here for a full review that analyzes all of the research presented in Wheat Belly. Unraveling the truth about wheat and weight loss.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.