“You’re on that gluten free diet right”? “OMG I heard you can lose soooo much weight!” as I write those lines I have a stupid valley girl voice in my head. OK, NO! It’s not a diet, it’s not a choice, I will literally die if I continuously consume gluten. Well maybe not die…immediately, but I will be very, very sick and it will cause long term damage to my insides…so you know, same thing as a “diet”.
While living with celiac disease is not the end of the world, some days, it sure can feel like it. When you’re used to being able to eat anything and stay thin, it can be very hard on the ego to all of a sudden start gaining weight. Especially when people are asking how much you’ve lost being on this “diet”. Why the misconception? Why do some people lose and some people gain? Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones and no changes took place.
Celiac disease causes damage to the digestive tract making it harder (or even impossible) for the body to absorb nutrients. When the body begins to heal, once a gluten free lifestyle change has been made, the body must find its new settling point. Here are the two reasons you may be gaining weight.
Number 1 is Nutrient Absorption
Pre-diagnosis you were probably a mess inside. Villi all stunted, foods passing through the system half digested. Once gluten is removed from the diet, the body stops attacking itself. Natural cycles of growth and renewal begin to take place. Some people are able to heal completely while others may be left with micro villi damage. As the healing process starts, the body begins to gain weight, especially if you were underweight to begin with. This is due to the fact that the body is doing a happy dance inside. The foods you eat are finally getting absorbed! That means calories add up rather than passing through undigested.
Since the body has been taught that nutrients are in short supply it begins to stock pile; to be ready for that day when nutrients are not so readily available. Where do we store food energy to be used in the future; fat cells. Of course if your plan is to remain gluten free for life then the body has nothing to worry about. But try telling it that!
Second we have Calorie Dense Foods
Commercially produced gluten free foods are much heavier on the carbohydrates, simple sugars and fats than their glutinous counter parts. This is because gluten free flour sucks! It’s gross! Seriously! Not very scientific, I know, but very true. The flours that taste good are nutrient lacking so companies try to make up for that with the nutrient rich flours that taste like dog food….Have you ever opened a loaf of GF bread and said “Wow that smells like my dogs kibble”? it does! You’re not imagining it. Amaranth is a cheap, nutritious, gluten free flour that is used in the production of kibble. Sorghum is another culprit that adds to the bad smell, taste and texture. In order to cover up these undesirable features companies add in extra sugar and oil.
Extra oil, extra sugar means extra weight. There’s no way around that fact. Combine this with the healing process and we have massive weight gain.
That said we must remember that many of us NEED these nutrients! My hair use to break and refuse to grow, now (4 years post diagnosis) it’s almost to my waist and very strong. Weight gain is not necessarily a bad thing if the calories you are consuming are nutrient rich and contain properly balanced macronutrients. It’s important to find a way to come to terms with this and ensure quality over simplicity.
What can we do About it?
A proper diet analysis should be done to ensure healthy nutrient balance. If you are consuming an appropriate number of calories, from high quality foods, and exercising regularly the best course of action is time. The body needs time to heal, time to balance, time to find its natural rhythms. For you to become the weight that is appropriate for your body type and athletic build. This may be heavier than you are accustomed to. In this case mental health support is highly encouraged to ensure you keep a positive body image. I have struggled greatly with this. While I know I am healthier (hair growing) I still struggle with the image of my naked body, so much thicker than it used to be, but in a healthy way (I have muscle mass!). See; this is what I’m talking about. Happy in some ways but struggling in others.
Read, read and read again. Ingredient labels that is. If you are buying pre-made foods be sure to read the labels, noting the additives and amounts of fats and carbs. While we need these macronutrients to live it is very important that they are quality and not just empty calories. Remember too that the body may react to the increase in unnatural ingredients with weight gain due to water retention as the body adjusts to processed foods. Whenever possible shop the perimeter of the grocery store and make as much as you can from scratch.
Lastly, remember I am always here to lend a supportive ear, a shoulder to cry on or help in reaching your healthy weight goals.