Withdrawal Symptoms of Going Wheat-Free

Change is tough, especially when it comes to your diet and going wheat-free. How many times have you set out to modify your food intake only to see your good intentions crash and burn because of an obstacle you weren't prepared for? Having an alternate plan in place is planning for success.

Most people fall into two common traps when trying to make a dietary change (wheat-free, grain-free, or otherwise). First, they wait to be motivated by something external, like a doctor or spouse telling them to lose weight. Second, they try to manufacture a motivator, like telling themselves they should eat better to be healthier.

But these approaches often fail to motivate because they feel like chores; being told to change their behavior often makes people automatically put up a wall of resistance. True motivation comes when you make the decision to change on your own because it's important to you right now.

Another major challenge of going wheat-free is the withdrawal symptoms you may experience. Other obstacles include food itself, your thoughts and emotions about your new diet, and your behavior toward food.

For some, one of the biggest difficulties in kicking the wheat habit is overcoming its addictive qualities. Gliadin, a wheat-containing protein, is broken down in the digestive tract into substances called exorphins. Exorphins are protein particles that come from outside of the body (from substances such as food and heroin) and masquerade as endorphins (natural substances in the body that cause feelings of euphoria and happiness).

The exorphins bind to the same opiate receptors in the brain that endorphins do, leading to the same physical and emotional feelings. When you remove wheat from your diet, the exorphins cease to bind to these receptors, leading to a state of withdrawal.

While this withdrawal is occurring, the body experiences a shift from glycogen metabolism, when your body is primarily burning glucose (sugar) for energy, to fat metabolism, where it “learns” to mobilize fat stores for energy.

Many people experience no withdrawal symptoms, but others have negative feelings that can last from one to four weeks. When this period ends, mental clarity and energy improve and appetite and cravings decrease. The following symptoms are associated with wheat withdrawal:

  • Anxiety

  • Constant hunger

  • Depression

  • Diarrhea

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Lack of energy

  • Lightheadedness

  • Mental fogginess

  • Nausea

  • Stomach cramps

  • Strong cravings for wheat

Although the withdrawal symptoms from wheat elimination aren't devastating, they're still quite uncomfortable for some. If you're one of the unfortunate people who experience some of these symptoms, seeing the detoxification process through till the end may be challenging for you.

The temptation to return to eating wheat in order to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal can be overwhelming. The good news is that if you've reached this withdrawal point, then you've clearly shown a desire to make a change. This desire feeds the purpose of your change and therefore increases your motivation.

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