Eight Good Years

by Mary Duggan

If you read one book this spring, I strongly encourage you to make it Wheat Belly.  A New York Times Bestseller, written by Wisconsin cardiologist Dr. William Davis, it will forever change the way you look at pastries, pizzas, and all the superficial delights of the gluten world.

Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis

We had been a gluten-free family for many years, as it was part of getting Annie well. I went along for the ride but I was decidedly haphazard in my approach. It was Annie’s problem and she had the gastro intestinal turmoil to prove it. In solidarity I munched on gluten-free crackers and drizzled gluten-free pancakes with pure maple syrup and I had to agree – they were way more delicious than their gluten rich counterparts. But I was never averse to preceding a selection from the gluten-free menu in restaurants with a few buttered slices of the house baguette. Strictly gluten-free was Annie’s cursed state. I never fell victim to gluten’s deadly effects. Or so I thought!

For the two years that Annie and I maintained a pure raw diet it was a non-issue entirely as there are no glutens whatsoever in the raw diet. I loved my new 65 pounds lighter body but I struggled maintaining the 100% raw regimen: I felt deprived, socially isolated, and tied to meals in my car when I wanted the convenience and conviviality of a restaurant. But I had to steer clear as restaurants only offered salads that weren’t purely raw and I knew there were too many temptations there.  I knew absolutely no one who was anywhere near 100% in their discipline and they all appeared to be in phenomenal health. The rigors of our entrepreneurial endeavor took raw foods from challenging to epic in scope. Working regularly at street festivals, art fairs and farmers markets meant we were always at a party sipping green smoothies and munching on salads while the aromas of caramel corn, fried donuts, coffee cakes, and soft pretzels scented the air around us. Who wouldn’t succumb?

When we fell, we fell hard. I still remember my heart pounding and my hands shaking as we shared a still warm funnel cake (my first ever) in our booth at the Retro on Roscoe Fair here in Chicago. We’d worked our typical 70-hour week and the carbohydrate satisfaction was sweeter than the powdered sugar. But we weren’t complete idiots – we thought. Surely, by maintaining an 80 to 85% raw lifestyle we could reap the rewards of raw with a little less rigor and still land way ahead of the 100% SAD (Standard American Diet) folks at the fair.  One critical mistake flawed our have your cake and eat it too plan – THE CAKE. Within that 15% of cooked foods we completely forgot to eliminate all glutens. Our weight came back in a tidal wave and long before any other health concerns surfaced.

Annie and Mary unknowingly ride the gluten wave at Retro on Roscoe.

As a woman living with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), I take really good care of my brain. On the advice of my neurologist, I no longer ride a bicycle, or water ski, or place myself in any situations where someone might inadvertently bop me on my precious and precarious head. I am, what they call, neurologically unstable, and so I pay heed. My sisters do, as well, as they carefully guide me down stairs and across streets and through the dangers, in general, of Chicago’s winters. If you have ever met me, I know you’re thinking surely she wasn’t spending all that much time surfing and water skiing and I will give you that. What you might not guess is that driving as well has become a thing of the past, with very, very few exceptions. That piece hurts. But I am grateful for every skill I have that recovered or remained intact. I never imagined I could lose my precious skill set to an oven fresh bagel. But I began to.

As do most folks with a TBI, I live with pretty regular pain –headaches and the like; but with my 85% raw diet my pain levels were increasing alarmingly. I needed more and more frequent appointments for the cranial sacral adjustments that have kept me mobile and articulate since my injury. The low back is directly impacted by the health of the cranium and mine was declining rapidly. As my brain stem began to swell more and more, I was faced with low back pain, bulging discs, and damaged ligaments so regularly that I quickly became sedentary and yep, even more fat. I could not move without intense pain and so the interval walking plan put in place to deal with the increasing visceral fat (my belly, folks) rapidly became a moot point. I was caught in the proverbial vicious circle and I didn’t know wheat had put me there.

Dr. William Davis

Enter Wheat Belly and Davis’ witty and illuminating telling of the story of dwarf wheat, the creation of the Frankengrain that was destroying my brain’s ability to function. I put my life on hold for days as I slowly and deliberately read the book. Davis made his case so compellingly that while it took a week to read the book, I was gluten-free again from day one (Hallelujah!) and meticulously so. This time it was my journey, but Annie and Clare came willingly along for the ride.

So much that had confused me for years became clear. I had always wondered why so many folks now needed to be gluten-free when Celiac Disease patients were a rare event when I was a kid. As I am 58 years of age, with dwarf wheat being a 50-year-old monster, I’ve had what I like to call my 8 good years. My family photos confirm my memories of the onset of obesity. And why did so many folks need to be gluten-free that did not test positive for Celiac Disease? Why were so many kids struggling with autism and learning disabilities? Parents of these kids were always reaching out to me for assistance and I was thrilled when they’d send me powerful and moving testimonials about how the addition of Green Smoothies and a change to a largely raw diet had healed their children. I had not made the wheat connection, though many of the autism parents had.

I had never made the connection that Annie was taken to the very brink of death as an adult with severe irritable bowel syndrome but no one had linked this to the equally severe learning disabilities that had made her school years really difficult. Or linked damage from wheat to the debilitating depression that was the very last of her health maladies to clear with a living foods lifestyle.

Why is psoriasis such an epidemic in our wheat-rich culture that I am approached daily with requests for products specific to psoriasis and exczema? Why are our children so violent? Why do everyone’s parents seem to succumb to the trial and heartache that is Alzheimer’s, instead of aging and dying naturally as our elders had? And why are people getting diagnosed younger and younger with Alzheimer’s? And why in the world did the scientist who created this horrific Frankengrain receive the Nobel Prize trophy while all we got was a list of wheat-driven catas-trophys, including, but not limited to:

  • Hallucinations
  • Violent behavior
  • Psychosis
  • Liver Disease
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Acne
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • And, ADHD

Dr. Davis makes a compelling case for the scientific disaster of genetically modified dwarf wheat. As I recreate my gluten-free life, and there are days it’s challenging, I have watched my still substantial tummy begin to flatten. I am making slow but steady progress in healing the new damage to my brain and spinal column and I am determined to regain my ability to walk with vibrancy and purpose. And everywhere I go, I am PLEADING with everyone to get his or her hands on this book and to read it carefully. You’ll end up mad as hell but much healthier for having read WHEAT BELLY.


About the author:
Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters.

The Duggan Sisters cracked the code and created a natural deodorant that actually works: lifestinks.  We hope you will spend a few minutes exploring duggansisters.com to experience their spirited approach to wellness through their natural products and healing stories.



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7 Responses to “Eight Good Years”

  1. mariellen rose says:

    Thank you for the encouragement. I have the book and I am reading it. You have encouraged me to stay on the narrow path. I am even older than you are!

  2. Ruby S says:

    I really wish everyone I know would read this book and get on it !

  3. Linda Jacobs says:

    OMG !!!!!!! I too feel this and it is so, so frustrating to deal with my family, ….. I see bloating, I see AD problems, I see bi-polar, I see statin prescriptions, high blood pressure, nexium, etc. and I am so,so frustrated as I read this book and I saw me on those pages and made the change and lost weight, had the fog lifted in my brain, got off heart burn meds, etc. I don’t know where to turn to get my family to understand that it is just not me that needs this change but all of them. Well, I am ranting with frustation. I am so glad for your good health and I will just keep on practicing what I know is th truth and hope someday my family will also see it as the truth. Keep up the good work.


  4. Cynthia says:

    Would that I had known all that I know now 9 years ago. I had my first seizure when I was 6 months pregnant. There’s no history of epilepsy in my family. The neurologists were very cavalier about it. I had my second one exactly two years later and my third two years after that and my fourth 2 years after that.

    A very scary pattern that cost me six months of driving priveleges when I knew I wouldn’t have another seizure for at least two years. Not to mention the fear of being home with a newborn when I’m not supposed to be alone because they don’t know what caused the seizure.

    Just prior to my 4th seizure I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy (as well as many other allergies) by my naturopath. I went gluten free and eliminated all known allergens from my diet. Then I bought a bag of gluten free pretzels from a brand that had yeast extract in them (a common hidden source of MSG) and ate like 3 bowls. They were delicious but the seizure that followed a matter of hours later was not.

    It’s now been well over 2 years since my gluten allergy diagnosis and my seizure pattern has ended. I’m happy to report it’s been 29 months since my last seizure. If someone had told me the many many many signs of gluten intolerance I would have recognized it in myself before my first seizure and most certainly after. I had the blooming rash that a dermatologist had said was “nothing” so bad that it took me almost a year of gluten free living to get rid of it.

  5. Stephanie says:

    Two years ago this month, I discovered gluten was causing severe migraines that were more/less untreatable, leaving me in a state where I couldn’t work or function as a normal adult. Now I religiously follow ingredients list and have become a (politely) picky diner at restaurants. The few times I’ve been careless and slipped have been disastrous.

    I’ve been really open with people I meet about the gluten issue. People tend to think of allergies as a hives-response or throat-closes-up-rush-to-the-ER response. We have to listen to what our bodies are telling us! I never would have expected gluten to cause the migraines…but it does. When we listen to our bodies, investigate, and make changes in response, good things CAN happen. Some have questioned why I so openly admit to the gluten allergy and the effects on me. For me, it’s about awareness. I see other people suffering because of things they can’t explain. I hope that they see through me that opening their eyes to what they put in their body might help them address what is painful.

    I get frustrated a lot these days as reports of “gluten-free diet crazes” lump every gluten-free person into a fad-diet category. Whether or not gluten-free is a choice shouldn’t matter. If gluten-free is what allows people to live a healthy life, then so be it. Who is anyone else to judge? I don’t see it as a fad – I see it as a way to take control of your life and what you are putting in your body – do what is healthy for you.

    Strangely, I also have issues with corn products, producing a painful itching sensation all over my body which lasts for hours after consuming corn. I have little doubt this is a result of the genetic modifications occurring in this food as well.

    Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not. A friend with two young children was recently alerted to learning difficulties with one of the children by the school and was later diagnosed with ADHD by the family doctor. The doctor’s prescribed medication for the child, which promptly turned the child into a “zombie.” A once-vibrant, energetic young boy became lifeless. This friend sought the counsel of a naturopath who determined the boy had several food allergies, including gluten. A prompt overhaul of the diet and removal of medications returned this child’s vibrance and energy – without the ADHD effects in the classroom. A cousin – not quite 30 years of age – has frequent migraines and has recently developed heart problems that the cardiologists can’t explain or treat effectively. She spent months on medical leave from her job – not easy for a single person. I continue to encourage her to look at foods as a source for her issues. Maybe one day she will hear me out.

    I appreciate this blog entry. Awareness is key!

  6. […] and religiously to a wheat-free/gluten-free diet my brain and neurological well-being have soared. I can’t recommend the wheat-free diet enough to EVERYONE. Your brain will thank […]

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