Celiac Disease: How to Avoid Excess Weight Gain on a Gluten-Free Diet

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Celiac disease (CD) is a condition in which the immune system reacts to the ingestion of the protein gluten. In the United States, about 1 in 141 people have CD, although many are undiagnosed. Treatment for the condition requires a strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. Gluten can be found in wheat, barley, and rye, along with many processed foods.

Weight changes with celiac disease

Weight loss can be a symptom for many patients with CD, so it can be quite normal to gain weight when the symptoms resolve. If you were underweight before your diagnosis, your physician may want you to gain some weight to get you into a healthy range.

But what happens when you gain more weight than is healthy for your frame? One reason for excess weight gain may be the foods in your new gluten-free diet.

Avoid processed foods

For many people, there can be a learning curve involved in going gluten-free, especially if you haven't obtained the help of a dietitian. Without proper guidance and education, you may gravitate toward processed foods more frequently. While some of these foods may be OK in moderation, overindulging in processed foods can lead to weight gain, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Try to avoid processed foods as often as possible, and stick with whole foods that are naturally gluten-free, like fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy,  lean meat, or grains (like whole grain rice and quinoa).

Learn to speak the language of food labels

Reading food labels is still important when you buy gluten-free foods — and that means more than just the gluten-free label, which can be confusing. Unfortunately, in order to make some gluten-free foods more palatable, some companies will increase the content of sugar or unhealthy fat.

Adding excess sugar and fat can also increase calories per serving, so the serving sizes may be different. For example, you may notice that some gluten-free breads are smaller in size because the product is more calorie-dense. Don’t make up the difference in bulk by eating twice as much, and be sure to check the product’s recommended servings to know how many calories you are consuming.

Bottom line

Knowing your calorie needs per day, limiting processed foods, and reading labels can help you maintain a healthy weight. Don’t forget to find a form of exercise you enjoy, too. If you find you're still gaining weight with celiac disease, talk with your physician. They can help you rule out other potential issues, like a thyroid disorder. A registered dietitian can also help you develop a meal plan that is right for you.

See more helpful articles:

Celiac May Be Grossly Underdiagnosed

Celiac vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Both Can Cause Immune Response and Damage

Gluten-Free Fad: Helpful Or Hurtful for Celiac Patients Eating Out?