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KEY POINTS:

  • Gaining weight after starting a gluten-free diet is common in people diagnosed with celiac disease. In fact, it is a sign that the intestinal lining is healing. However, if weight gain continues and leads to being overweight, other health concerns can arise such as heart disease and high blood pressure. 1,2
  • There are a number of factors that may help lead to excess weight gain on the gluten-free diet.
    • Before being diagnosed with celiac disease, you may have become used to eating large portions of food without gaining weight because you were not fully digesting or absorbing the food.
    • As the lining in your intestines begins to heal on a gluten-free diet, your ability to fully digest and absorb food improves. You will absorb more of the nutrients from food, including more calories, which can lead to weight gain if you continue to eat the same portion size. 3
    • In an attempt to avoid gluten exposure, or to make up for feeling deprived of other foods, you may find yourself eating more meat, cheese, desserts/junk foods and other foods that are high in fat and sugar. This can lead to weight gain which has been seen in those following a gluten-free diet. 4
    • Gluten-free processed foods often contain more calories, fat, sugar, and carbohydrates, and less fiber than gluten-containing processed foods.1 Over-eating these particular foods can lead to unwanted weight gain.
  • The following practical weight loss tips are addressed further in the next level.
    • "Calories in versus Calories out"
      • To lose weight, you need to eat FEWER calories and burn MORE calories through physical activity.
    • Balanced Diet
      • Choose from a wide selection of healthy foods and snacks and limit (or in a perfect world, avoid) foods with empty calories (foods that offer no nutritional value), such as soda, candy, fast food, and sugary foods.
    • Portion Control
      • Decrease your portion sizes of high fat, high sugar, and high calorie foods.
    • Consider the type and amount of fats you eat.
      • Eliminate unhealthy and excess fats, and instead use healthy fats in moderation.
    • Exercise!!!!!
      • Movement and physical activity are key to staying healthy in general and they are a very important part of losing weight successfully.

TAKE HOME MESSAGES:

  • Initial weight gain on the gluten-free diet typically indicates improving intestinal health, but too much weight can lead to other health risks. Remember that many gluten-free processed foods are high in fat and calories. Once your small intestine has healed, you may not need to eat as much food as you once did before.
  • Also keep in mind that just because a food item is gluten-free does not mean it is healthy. Using the general guidelines for a healthy diet will help promote healthy weight. Visit the Healthy Eating on the Gluten-Free Diet section for more information.
  • Certain medical problems, such as low thyroid hormone level, can also cause weight gain.1 Be sure to check in with your doctor if simple dietary changes described in the next level do not resolve the weight gain issue for you.
  • If you are having difficulty managing your weight on the gluten-free diet, discuss it with your doctor and visit a registered dietitian for advice. It is much easier to keep off unwanted weight gain than to take it off later.

References:

  1. Dennis M. Weight Gain: A Common and Sometimes Unwelcome, Measure of Healing. In Real Life with Celiac Disease: Troubleshooting and Thriving Gluten-Free . Eds. Dennis M, Leffler D. AGA Press. Bethesda, MD, 2010.
  2. What is the evidence to support the nutritional adequacy of the gluten free dietary pattern? American Dietetic Association Evidence Analysis Library. Accessed July 2011.
  3. Impact article from University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center http://www.celiacdisease.net/assets/documents/SP08CeliacCtr.News.v5final.pdf. Accessed April 20, 2011.
  4. See, J. and Murray, J. Gluten-free diet: The medical and nutritional management of celiac disease. Nutr Clin Pract 2006; 21:1.

Revision Date: 8-23-12 
Author: Melinda Dennis, MS, RD, LDN 
Editors: Suzanne Simpson, RD; Nixie Raymond MS, Rd, LDN, CSP and Rupa Mukherjee, MD

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