This is a long post due to my enthusiasm for what I've discovered. You might have already figured this stuff out by now. TL;DNR: Removing flour from your diet and replacing it with whole, fresh fruit and veggies will improve your life, your daily level of comfort, and resolve many minor and major health problems. I know, I've tried it and it works. For those who want to learn more, read on.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been running a little experiment. I’m kicking flour, or at least most of the flour, out of my diet. I had to do it. I was burping all the time. I was drinking tons of water. I was feeling heartburn all the time. I was feeling a burn at the bottom of my throat all the time. I didn’t like the way I was feeling, so I had to stop and make a change.
If I don't like the way that I feel after I eat something, I either cut it out, or cut it way down to the point of feeling comfortable again.
For years, perhaps decades, I was eating corn chips, crackers and cheese, noodles, cookies and quesadillas. If it had flour in it, I was on it. And I was only eating one or two fruits a day with an occasional salad. But then I did a health screening at work. And it was not good. And I want to see my daughters get married. I want to be walking with my wife when I'm 95. So I started devising a list of food that makes me cough, food I can eat in replacement of flour, and replacing the carbs and volume found in flour with something else. Fresh food.
For years now, I've been starting every morning with a liter of water. I drink at least 2 liters of water every day, but I start every day with water. I drink the water to help clean my stomach out and to re-hydrate my body. When we sleep, we’re not drinking water, so after 6-8 hours without water, we wake up thirsty. A liter of water will wash the stomach and give me the water I need to wake up. I drink water, almost exclusively save for an occasional smoothie or hot chocolate.
I don’t drink coffee. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink alcohol. I never really got those habits because I don’t see them as “clean” and I also see them as displacement activities. A displacement activity removes us from the present moment, a distraction from the feelings we might be having, and the thoughts we’re thinking.
I can see how some people take pleasure in tobacco, alcohol and caffeine, but I don’t. I think through the coffee, cigarettes and booze, to see the end result. I know how I feel after using them, having tried them at least once. I imagine what my life would be like if I did those things as a chronic habit. I based what I imagined on what I have observed in myself and other people, and I don't like what I see, so I don't do them. Not even casually.
I also consider my brain to be a 2.5 million year old pharmacy. Anything I need, I can create in my brain. Our modern brain has worked fine without tobacco, coffee or alcohol for more than a million years. Why do I need them now?
So I start each day with a water. Then I eat an apple. I’ve been eating an apple every morning for breakfast for a couple of years now. I’ve tried many different things for breakfast: cereal with almond milk (which I may still do on occasion), burritos, oatmeal, and a few other things, but none of them felt quite right, and they all lead to weight gain. So I stick with apples and they work for me.
To replace all of the flour, I’m packing fruits and veggies for lunch. Carrots are sweet and starchy, and they are loaded with water. Red bell peppers are sweet and they are loaded with water and vitamin C. Persimmons have a similar texture to apples, and they too, are loaded with water. And the list goes on with grapes, mangoes, bananas, strawberries, celery and anything else I can find that is hand to mouth fruit or veggies, I will choose to eat that over flour.
For the first few days, I noticed that my water intake decreased because I was getting water from food. The flour foods, the “comfort foods” made me thirsty. I was drinking 4 liters of water a day at times, I was peeing to the point where I was starting to worry that I was becoming incontinent, and I wasn’t sure that was good for me. So I had to try something else. Fruits and veggies have enough water to help me avoid drinking too much water and numerous trips to the restroom.
By just reaching for a fruit or veggie when I’m hungry, I’m changing my habits by association, too. How we eat is partially determined by habits and association. If I associate hunger satisfaction with eating raw, unprocessed food, I will tend to seek fruits and veggies for satisfaction. And we all know that television advertising will knock on us to eat the processed foods for their profits. Ever see carrots advertised on TV?
I need starchy foods. I need carbs. To replace the carbs from flour, I use brown rice, cooked. I use baked potatoes. I use carrots. Sweet potatoes and yams are good, too. Many of these foods can be prepared in advance. Some of them can be consumed raw. Brown rice is my favorite staple food. I eat it every day when available, and I like it to eat it with a little red pepper and soy sauce or tamari.
Long ago, a friend of mine told me a story of a man who was feeding white rice to the birds on the ledge of his office building. Over time, he saw that they were dying off. So he started feeding them brown rice and they got well and stuck around. I don’t remember all of the details, but I just never forgot that story and it stuck with me. So I stick with brown rice.
With brown rice as my staple food, I can add carbs with potatoes, yams, peas, but I avoid corn. I know that seems boring, but I’ve tried the other way and found it wanting. I’m so tired of feeling the way I do after eating a bunch of flour based food. Now I might do with alternative flour food, but most of the stuff on the shelf at the store is based on white, bleached flour. And God knows I love sourdough bread.
As I was reflecting on my experience so far, I noticed that I’ve begun to build a very strong association with how I feel after I eat flour based foods. Instead of feeling an urge to be sated by comfort foods, I remind myself of the burping, the pain at the bottom of my throat, and the water and the potty breaks that go with all that water. Avoiding flour based food is becoming a matter of urgency these days. And it seems to me that eating raw food for water allows my body to assimilate water with greater control, so it doesn’t all go straight to pee.
By replacing processed carbs with raw or minimally processed carbs, fruits and veggies (think brown rice, potatoes, apples and bananas), I’m changing the way my mind associates comfort with food. I can replace corn chips with bananas and get far better assimilation of the carbs as a result. In other words, if I don’t like the way I feel after I eat something, I cut it way down or stop eating it altogether. I'm training my mind anew by noticing again how I feel after I eat something.
As a sidebar, if you’re worried about our health care costs for our nation, just replacing flour based foods with fruits and veggies will cut our health care bills. Scientists have found that worldwide, we're not growing enough of the good food we need to live well, too. When millions of people replace processed food with whole food, we deprive big food processing companies (think Kellog, General Mills, Keebler) of their profits. With less profits on hand, there is less money they can use to influence legislation and regulatory agencies.
While there are large economic and political implications to changing our diet, the most important implication to consider is how do you feel? Just going a few days without processed flour based foods provided an immediate contrast between how I feel with fresh food or flour food. I was able to see that the immediate gratification of flour foods (bread, chips, crackers) wasn’t worth the discomfort I’d feel later on, even the day after.
But I did find a nice trick in the midst of this experiment. I have a certain weakness for a turkey sandwich. I like it on sourdough, but they don't have that at work, so I get it on wheat, with a little mayo, Dijon mustard, and lettuce and tomato. When I make them at home, I like to use spinach and I avoid iceberg lettuce.
Anyway, the last time I had a sandwich, I could feel that dry mouth coming, and I was recalling the many trips I'd make to the restroom if I drank another liter of water, so I tried something else. I ate red bell pepper, which is kind of sweet and loaded with water, and some carrots, also kind of sweet. Those two veggies completely nailed the dehydration problem after eating a sandwich. I still had some discomfort after the sandwich, but most of the usual antics were prevented by consuming the veggies.
With brown rice, fruits and veggies, I feel lighter, cleaner, more alert. I see the doctor less often, and I’ve seen a few doctors about the acid reflux, the heartburn, and the burping. None of them ever told me to change my diet. They all suggested some sort of pill for heartburn, from Tums to Prilosec. This is the point of the processed food industry: profits all around.
Now that I'm training my brain to notice discomfort from eating flour based foods, and associating that discomfort with flour based food, I'm building new habits and I'm consistently erring on the side of raw, unprocessed foods. This is hard to do, but as I experience greater comfort after I eat the good stuff, I am reinforcing my behavior to err on the side of raw, whole food. Not only am I saving money by changing my diet, I'm setting a good example for my kids and reducing the number of trips to the doctor.
I did all of this because I wanted to lay my head on a pillow at night knowing I did the right thing.