Losing Pounds by Losing Gluten? A Look at the Growing Gluten-Free Diet Craze

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A few days ago we asked our Facebook followers to weigh in (terrible pun intended) on the rising trend of going gluten-free to lose weight. This trend can be traced, at least in part, to celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow, who sang the praises of a gluten-free cleanse in her January newsletter, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, whose gluten-free recipe book claims weight loss as one of the many benefits of her “g-free” diet.  Even Oprah got in on the gluten-free game, eliminating gluten (among other foods) in a 21-day cleanse back in 2008.

Looking at the growing number of gluten-free celebrities who also happen to be thin and smile-y, you can see why this trend would appeal to those of us who have tried everything to shed unwanted pounds. But there’s a pretty significant flip side: the American Dietetics Association does not endorse the gluten-free diet as a means to losing weight.

In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on the rising gluten-free diet trend, a spokesperson for the ADA, Heather Mangieri, says, “The stance on that is the gluten-free diet is not ideal for weight loss, and is not a weight-loss diet. There’s nothing magical about eliminating gluten, unless of course you have an intolerance.” She acknowledges that while some people do shed pounds after shedding the gluten, that can be attributed to the increased awareness that comes with any new diet. “For some people,” she says, “if they’re starting on a diet, they’re more conscientious about what they’re eating, so it’s more likely they are just taking in less calories and fat.”

Most of our wonderful Facebook followers agreed – and then some.  More than a few of you pointed out that you had actually gained weight since going gluten-free. After all, celiac disease causes intestinal damage that disrupts digestion and absorption of nutrients, which can lead to varying degrees of malnourishment. In fact, many celiacs are underweight before going gluten-free, and begin to see the pounds pile on as their digestive system begins to heal and properly absorb nutrients again.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting both sides of this issue, but rather than explore them all here, I’ll turn things over to you, our readers. What do you think of the weight-loss – or weight-gain – potential of the gluten-free lifestyle? Have you lost or gained weight since going gluten-free? Are you offended by this fad – “This diet is awful! Why would you do it by choice?” – or excited by the increase in gluten-free products that could result?

37 thoughts on “Losing Pounds by Losing Gluten? A Look at the Growing Gluten-Free Diet Craze”

  1. I did actually gain some weight after going gluten-free, but all it did was bring me back up to a healthy weight. I’m still slim, and I do attribute that to my gf diet because I have to eat more nutritious grains (like quinoa or flax) and I have to avoid a lot of junk or convenience foods. I honestly think that cutting out wheat wouldn’t necessarily hurt the average person, as long as they are supplementing with a healthier grain alternative.

    That being said, it makes it much harder to eat out now that gf is considered a “fad diet.” Servers and even chefs are less likely to take my special requests seriously. I’ve had to adjust my gf spiel and I now say I have an allergy to wheat, rather than just a sensitivity. I don’t like having to lie so I can eat out with peace of mind.

  2. One of the side effects of my undiagnosed celiac was a layer of “puffiness” all over my body. It wasn’t fat it was… water? I’m not sure. In the year and a half since my diagnosis, I have lost 20 pounds of “puffy” weight, and the shape of my face has completely transformed, in addition to several health issues that have resolved themselves or are improving.

    I find that the awareness of what gluten is has increased significantly in the last several years, but it is frustrating to be looked upon as a person on a “fad” diet. What happens to me if I ingest gluten is no fad, and I will be gluten free for the rest of my life.

    Like Megan above, I’ve had to resort to lying about a wheat allergy to get a positive response from servers, and that’s just frustrating.

    These days, I find that I prefer naturally gluten free foods – rice, potatoes – to “faddy” packaged gluten-free foods. Not only is it healthier, it’s exceptionally cheaper to eat foods that have ALWAYS been gluten free.

  3. I didn’t gain nor lose weight when going GF. I am, however, excited that the fad has led to a greater awareness with the GF lifestyle and more options in stores and restaurants!

  4. Well, I am with Erin in the unusual category of those who lost weight post-diagnosis and diet change. I lost 25 pounds in 3 weeks. I was so bloated that I was beginning to look pregnant! Then, the intestinal swelling went down, and that’s where the 25 pounds left from.

    I have had a few people tell me that they’re considering eating gluten-free and ask me how to do it and where to shop. I won’t tell them. Instead, I tell them about the Australian? study (I forget who did it) which indicates that it’s very unhealthy, potentially dangerous, for those who have no gluten issues to go gluten free.

    It bothers me that gf eating has become a fad, but I do like the increase in available foods. I hope that there are enough of us with a medical need to sustain the best parts of the market once the fad passes.

  5. I had heard that ditching gluten might help with battling symptoms of endometriosis and I fought the idea of it for a long time because I knew what kind of sacrifices it would mean and how difficult it was to implement.

    I finally caved in because the next alternative was surgery and I thought I should give the diet a try first before something so drastic and I found after a few months that it didn’t help a single bit. So I happily indulged in pizza, french toast, sandwiches, etc. And I felt terrible. I never realized just how bad gluten was making me feel until I took a break from it and started it up again. It started as just a sensitivity to anything “bread-ish” and now after 18 months of being gluten-free, I’ve had to slowly cut out all forms of gluten because it makes me so sick. I also get a terrible rash on my face every time I’ve cheated or accidentally have something I didn’t realize might have gluten in it. I’m not cheating anymore because of how bad the reactions have become and a bite of something I miss so much isn’t worth the symptoms.

    The upside (?) is that I have lost twenty pounds in the last 18 months. I imagine it’s because I’m eating a lot healthier – mainly fruits and vegetables, some rice, but very little preservatives, and all that “extra” stuff that’s in all the pre-packaged foods and gluten-filled foods.

    I’m certainly never going to advocate eating gluten free for fun or weight loss. I would eat gluten in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for how bad I feel when I have.

  6. I had lost a lot of weight before being diagnosed with Celiac Disease. So when I went on the GF diet I gained (a lot). I’m sure the reason that I gained SO much is that I found all of the GF processed foods that are very high in fat, sugar and calories (cakes, cookies, etc.). Well, that led to my cholesterol going up every year since I was diagnosed four years ago. So now I’m also on a low cholesterol diet in addition to Gluten Free and am really trying to eat the things that are naturally gluten free and stay away from processed foods.

    Like some of the others here, when I go to a restaurant I either tell servers that I have allergies or if it’s a GF restaurant I’ll tell them I have Celiac. That way I make sure they realize it’s not a fad for me. I too will be curious about the product and restaurant availability once the fad has passed. Let’s hope that by that time, many more of us have been diagnosed and GF things will be here to stay.

  7. I’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease for 2 1/2 years. Before I had the diagnosis, I lost so much weight that everyone, including my family doctor, thought I had cancer. In addition to the weight loss, I was very anemic. Since I have been on the gluten free diet, I am now up to a healthy weight, and have to be careful of gaining too much. Problem is – one can purchase almost everything GF like pizza, cookies, etc. I try to eat, most of the time, fresh fruits, vegetables and meat and avoid all the goodies. Occassionally, I indulge in prepared GF items when I crave them.

  8. I had always watched my weight and worked out to keep my body in shape. Since being diagnosed 3 years ago, I have gained 14 lbs, which is a lot of weight for the small boned, 5 ft tall body that I have. I have tried everything to try to lose the weight but it doesn’t budge. I hardly ever eat in restaurants and cook a lot of my meals myself, so I have no idea what is happening. And I miss my Italian food, although I am starting to find good alternatives. So count me in as a weight gainer. Frown!

  9. I gained almost 10 pounds in the first month after diagnosis. I believe it was due to the increased absorption now that I wasn’t constantly having diarrhea…(Sorry to be so graphic, but there you have it!)

  10. I actually lost weight after starting my gluten free diet, I think primarily because I wasn’t eating the pizza, cake, cookies and other kinds of junk food that was available to me. But as the others have mentioned, with going “gluten free” becoming an antidote for almost everything, many people do not take my celiac disease seriously. “Oh, just one bite won’t hurt you”, they say. I have to stay vigilant about what I put in my mouth.

  11. I was diagnosed a year ago with Celiac. I too had gotten very thin and sickly looking. I have gained 26 pounds since diagnosed. And it isn’t going anywhere plus I am in menopause which adds to the problem of taking off weight. It also doesn’t help that I love Redbridge Beer (gluten free) and that is 12.73 carbs per bottle. We need a gluten free light beer.

  12. I find that for me and my thyroid disease gluten irritates it, and having more options I feel encouraged to continue. I direct weight loss programs in my office and some people do so well getting off gluten, but not to just fill up with the high calorie GF foods, I encourage veggie, fruit, and higher protein grains for them. A patient may need to change their diet and chose alternative foods for a while, some may need to life. I am excited about the increased awareness, but I also see a large increase in what I see as unhealthy GF foods. It doesn’t mean that just because its gluten free its healthy:)

  13. I have significant dietary challenges. I have hypothyroidism as well as am pre-diabetic and with high cholesterol. Therefore I have a slow metabolism that slows down any weight loss. I am working with a Dr. who is into holistic health and has recommended not only a GF diet but a Dairy free, caffeine free, shellfish free and nitrate free diet. It is expensive and especially difficult when dining out. I believe that I have dairy intolerance but not so convinced about the GF. I am following his program as much as possible but it’s impossible to know if a restaurant uses butter in their cooking. Many places have GF guides or menu’s, fewer have dairy free. I was 30 pounds overweight when I started this eating plan in October and still carry the extra weight. I haven’t lost and haven’t gained….in part because I limit the amount of even GF foods that I consume. I find that they are higher in calories that their gluten alternatives. I would suggest that these people going GF to lose weight, didn’t consume many of the alternatives like breads either.

  14. I had been on Jenny Craig when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. I had lost quite a bit of weight and was a mere 10 lbs from my goal. I’ve since put some of it (not all, thankfully) back on. Like Debby, I was eating a lot of processed GF foods. Plus, I was no longer thinking about portion control. My weight has stabilized and eventually I want to work on losing the pounds I put on since going GF as well as those last 10 lbs to get down to my ideal weight. I’ve been eating a lot more bread in general as I’ve been experimenting with making my own. Since I’m a family of one, anything I make I have to consume by myself. Sometimes recipes have turned out so bad, they ended up as bird feed. However, my frugal mother’s voice is always there telling me not to waste food so if it tastes okay but looks a little funky, I still feel the need to eat all of it. Not to mention the amount of time and money invested, I hate just throwing something out.

    Also I’ve always hated planning and cooking meals, going GF and trying to lose weight at the same time has been a real challenge. It’s the reason I liked going to Jenny Craig. I simply picked the meals I wanted from their list and when it came time to eat, I could grab and go. The prepackaged meals for one were perfect for me. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time preparing and cooking a meal that I was now obligated to eat for a week because the recipe was designed for a family of 4-6 people.

  15. I’ve only been GF for a short while … I went off gluten shortly before Halloween, went back on gluten at Christmas so that I could get tested, then as soon as the test was done went back off.

    The scale hasn’t budged — in fact, the number has risen (*sigh*) — BUT, I look less “puffy” and I can stand looking at my face in the mirror again, because I don’t look like a pasty, puffy lump of dough. In fact, just last night at my Tae Kwon Do class a woman commented that I’m looking good, and asked if I lost weight. And I had to tell her that no, the scale is the highest number it’s ever been. She attributed it to muscle weighing more than fat. I attribute it to the “gluten puff” going away.

    I’m struggling with the idea that I may need to eliminate dairy as well … and my doc told me that she just read that sometimes the body thinks that coffee is the same as gluten (*SIGH*). I am trying to mentally prep to the idea of giving up my most cherished morning routine: coffee with cream.

    I also joined Weight Watchers yesterday, and intend to eat primarily from their naturally gluten-free “Power Foods” list, while also ramping up foods high in iodine (to support my thyroid), zinc and magnesium (to increase those levels too).

    SO many changes.

  16. Let me clarify: The WW “Power Foods” list is not entirely made up of GF foods. But the “Power Foods” are the more natural foods, like fruits & veggies, lean meats, etc. I’ll just stay away from the whole glutenous grains.

  17. My weight has stabilized after gaining back the 25 pounds I lost before diagnosis. I eat very healthfully, and since we never did eat out much, that has not been a problem. I am glad for the GF fad as it has brought many new products to the market, but have read studies that say eliminating gluten can result in vitamin deficiencies. Therefore, it makes no sense to eliminate food groups unless there is a reaction. I take GF vitamin supplements to prevent that.

    BUT I would KILL for a regular Supreme pizza from Pizza Hut!

  18. Hi
    I was so bloated, and miserable after eating. Went to the Mercola facility and met with a nutritionist. She informed me I had a serious gluten intolerance and needed to stop taking it into my body. I was given a list of foods to choose and ate deliciously and often without using gluten products. I lost 11 pounds in 4 days! I was shocked how much better I was feeling. : ) Gluten free has been great because I was feeling so sick for so long and the Dr.s never suggested this could be he culprit. Now I feel better about everything in my life!

  19. I was just diagnosed with Celiac Disease right before Thanksgiving. Since going GF, I have gained about 20 lbs. My health had been bad for the last year and a half (breast cancer and even West Nile Menengitis) and I had lost a lot of weight. I am finally feeling healthy again and people are telling me I look good.

  20. As a registered dietitian and a long time celiac (rice cake days!) I tend to attract celiac patients. It has been my experience that newly diagnosed celiacs are mostly overweight (usually have hypothyroidism) or underweight. Very few seem to be a normal weight. The overweight patients have as many or more nutritional deficeincies as the underweight ones, often their thyroids have been impaired by malabsorption of iodine and their meds etc. Those patients tend to lose weight on the diet as their thyroid returns to normal. The underweight patients usually gain weight as they begin to absorb.
    I agree that most commercial GF products are higher in fat and calories. It always amazes me when I go into a “Health Food Store” and see the GF aisle full of cookies and cake mixes. And has anyone noticed that the GF Betty Crocker mixes call for 3 eggs and a stick of butter, but only make 1 layer? Regular mixes call for 1 or 2 eggs and no butter and make 2 layers

  21. I lost 5 pounds when my symptoms were at their peak last summer (before diagnosis) because every time I ate I was miserable, so I avoided eating. I lost another 12 after diagnosis because I only ate ‘plain’ meats, vegetables and fruit. I was basically carb-free, because I wasn’t buying any store-bought gluten free products OR making my own yet. Once I was feeling better and began to understand more about what I could eat, I started baking and buying cakes, cookies, breads etc. As a result, I have gained back 7 of the 17 pounds I lost.

  22. I was diagnosed with celiac 6 years ago by my doctor. I have been on a strict GF diet ever since. It took three weeks for me to be pain free for the first time in at least 10 years. I have a disease. The prescription is a gluten free diet. I don’t think GF eating is healthy for the average person. Enriched flour is the way many people get nutrients. The reputation that I am some sort of health nut on a fad diet really burns me up. I have not “cheated” in all the 6 years. Why would I volunteer for pain? I am taking responsibility for my health & I do not need surgery, pills or shots. I thank my doctor every time I see him. This beats obesity or diabetes, I am responsible for my own cure.

  23. Actually, a gf diet is good for people since it eliminates wheat from your diet and wheat tends to be a bad thing for many people. There is absolutely no harm in a GF diet. My daughter has been on a GF diet for 18 years and she is the most healty 21 year old I know.

  24. I gained weight. I am only 5 feet tall, but before my celiac diagnosis I could almost eat anything in any amount and stay trim. I did, and still do, get a lot of exercise. I don’t like to publicity of people on a gluten free diet to lose weight, because many people now think when you request gluten free products you are just following a fad, not doing it because you have to.

  25. I do not have celiac or any sort of gluten-intolerance, but my house went gluten-free when my husband and both of my children were diagnosed with Celiac. I quickly noticed that I would gain weight eating mostly gluten-free foods. I also found myself feeling less-healthy on that diet. As a result, I started keeping small amounts of “mommy-food” in a separate place and buying more meals at work. While the GF diet is clearly healthier for the 3 of them, it is also clearly worse for me.

  26. I was put on gf diet by my chiropractor 11 months ago. I have to date lost 50 pounds. I have also stopped having migraines anywhere from 1-3 times a week since I stopped eating gluten. Since I have for the most part baked my own things for years switching to gluten free flours for baking was no giant leap. I have on occasion received food items from friends who swore was gf only to find it had gluten in it and had the reactions. I do have an intolerance to gluten and know better than to go to local pizza parlor next door for a pizza. I will make my own that way I get rid of leftovers. But yes, I also read that study from Australia stating that gf diet is very unhealthy. So who in their right mind would want to switch if not gluten intolerant or not celiac?

  27. I was diagnosed w/ Celiac about 6 years ago and up until that time weight gain had always been an issue, I also have hashimoto’s thyroid. So at the time of diagnosis I had been watching my diet very well to shed a few pounds, only to find out that the whole wheat was making me sick! So, with a bad attitude at the time, I started eating every GF candy bar, cookies, etc. I could find. After all, many of my all time favorite foods were now no longer edible. I was just fooling myself. I gained so much weight! After waking up to my own stupidity, I began to exercise again and eat a healthy GF diet consisting of plenty of fruits, veges and healthy proteins at the appropriate caloric intake for me. I finally had success at weight loss and lost 30 pounds. There are just as many unhealthy GF foods out there as those with gluten. Each and every day more and more GF products have been created that are just as tasty (sometimes better) than gluten containing products, and the calories and fat contents are no better.

    Basically, eating a well balanced diet with the appropriate calorie and healthy fat intake is key. Plenty of fruits and veges will help with the potential loss of fiber that may result from the lack of many whole grains. Although some have lost weight going gluten free, just as some may lose weight by restricting salt intake for heart disease, Gluten free is not a weight loss diet.

  28. I forgot to say in my previous post that my son was recently diagnosed w/ Gluten sensitivity. Trying to find tasty GF foods for an 11 year old is difficult and when I started eating all the GF cookies and cakes again the pounds have started to creep back on for me. Then he was diagnosed with 20+ food sensitivities including rice, egg, milk, and soy. Being creative in baking GF has had it’s challenges, but it is a joy to see my son starting to love fruits and veges. Last night he was eating left over broccoli for a “snack”! I was pleasantly surprised as this would never have happened before with my carb (french bread) loving kid.

    So good things can come from a GF diet if you choose wisely.

  29. I had the blood test for Celiac’s and it was negative. I have just about every symptom! I went GF the first of December and do see a different in how I feel. I also get migraines and I am hoping in time to see some improvement with them! I have lost weight, but had lost 20-25 lbs. (unexplained, and still losing) before starting GF. My doctor does not think gluten or celiac’s is my issue, and keeps on bringing up cancer??
    I do not understand why anyone would want to do this diet as a fad. I think it is a very hard diet to follow and I still have a hard time with it!

  30. I have Celiac Disease since 1990. Before I found out what was wrong, i got down to 118 lbs. I now weigh 143 lbs. I’ve never lost weight on the gluten free diet. I can’t imagine anyone going on this diet unless they are allergic to wheat or gluten.

  31. I was diagnosed with Celiac disease about 5 years ago. Before that I lost aprox 60 pounds. Now strictly GF i have gained that and then some. Can’t seem to lose any. The Dr. says it is because I have exellent absorbtion now. Bummer need to do something.

  32. I was diagnosed 7 years ago and have been gluten free ever since. However, I’m one of those rare cases who have not completely healed. My Doctors feel that I may have had it all my life and didn’t know it. I’m 5ft and 5inches and weigh 110lbs. It’s not extreme, but I’m always on the edge of weakness. My teeth are still breaking, my hair is thin, and my skin slightly gaunt. So, to all those who gained weight after diagnoses, it may not seem like it, but congratulations. Your on your way to health. Be beautiful and be strong.

  33. My husband was diagnosed with Celiac Disease exactly 2 years ago. His mother, brother and sister were all diagnosed along wtih him. While none of them showed symptoms for the disease, they have all gained a significant amount of weight. I feel very bad for my husband because he used to be in a great shape and his physique was a source of pride for him. Now he is always hungry, he used to eat a ton of bread pre-celiac, and he fills himself up with very unhealthy corn chips and gluten free pretzels. I worry now that he will have heart disease and cholesterol problems to contend with in addition to the celiac, due to his excessive weight gain. So which is worse: the damage done to his intestines from the celiac or the strain put on his heart from the weight gain?

  34. If someone follows a GF diet you really don’t know what they’re eating without asking them. Since GF is a broad diet classification it won’t tell you much about whether it will cause weight loss or weight gain. I follow a GF diet, but not what I call the “standard GF diet,” since I seldom eat grains, beans, starchy vegetables, or processed food. I replace the grains with meat and fresh vegetables. The majority of my calories come from fat. Not exactly your typical GF diet. I did lose weight and have kept it off on this diet, although I was never overweight to begin with, just “skinny fat.”. Oh, and my lipid profile is fantastic!

  35. I was put on a GF diet about 2 months ago by my doctor. I’ve always been on the skinny side (underweight as a kid, but filled out as I got older). While I got to a healthy weight as I got older (I just turned 21), I was still barely in the normal range when it came to my BMI. Since going GF, i have lost about 7 lbs. I mostly attribute this to my low funds (I can’t afford most GF alternative foods…a college kid’s budget) so I now eat significantly healthier. I used have a diet that was mainly carbs, but since cutting them out, weight has been falling off. While I’m not worried about this yet, I know if it continues I will become too skinny. I’m now 121 lbs at 5’5” and I get some weird looks where I donate blood since I started losing weight. Hopefully I won’t lose too much more weight, but for me just skipping the processed GF foods and living an active lifestyle is enough to hinder weight gain.

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