Will a Gluten-free Diet Help Me Lose Weight?

If you have celiac disease then the question is moot. You cannot eat gluten. Ever. Even a bite. It’s dangerous for your health. But what about the rest of us? It’s all the rage these days to give up gluten. Usually I’m anti-fad, but I’ve already talked about why I don’t necessarily think that cutting out gluten is such a bad thing for people who are doing it to feel better, even if they don’t have celiac disease.

But cutting out gluten only to lose weight? Maybe not so much.

Here’s the thing. Jelly Belly jelly beans are gluten-free. Whipped cream is gluten-free. Pork belly is gluten-free. White rice is gluten-free. If you stop eating gluten but continue to eat refined sugars and grains and overeat calories, no, you won’t lose weight.

Historically, I think people without celiac disease or a gluten intolerance have lost weight on a gluten-free diet because it has been harder to just grab junk. No more muffins at Starbucks. No more Krispy Kremes from the break room at work. But these days gluten-free foods are abundant in most urban and many suburban areas. And many gluten-free substitutes for bread products are highly refined and quite high in sugar.

If you go from an unhealthy or high calorie gluten-filled diet to an unhealthy or high calorie gluten-free diet you likely won’t lose any weight at all. And, if your goal is to lose weight and you don’t have any signs or symptoms of gluten intolerance (though really the lion’s share of people really do feel better cutting it out) then this may not be the best way of going about it. But, if you want to stop eating because you have symptoms that may be related to gluten intolerance or sensitivity* and you want to lose weight, it can be a great way to get a kick start on weight loss while you simply get yourself feeling better.

So, if you’re going gluten-free for your health, and you’d like to lose weight, here are some important basics about your new food plan.

  1. Make sure that if you buy gluten-free foods packaged products that they are whole grain, and keep all packaged foods to a minimum.
  2. Educate yourself about where you might find gluten in your diet.
  3. Plan ahead. Make sure you have snacks at work, in your bag, in your car, so you don’t find yourself hungry and in a pinch.
  4. Keep your carb and sugar consumption down.
  5. Eat 3-4 cups of low-carb veggies a day.
  6. Make sure you don’t feel deprived, that’s a sure fire way to undermine your progress with any dietary changes. That said, I’m not a huge fan of ‘moderation’ with foods that don’t work for your body. Find other ways to make yourself feel good, either foods that are healthy for you, or even better, ways that don’t include food at all (a bath, a walk in the woods, etc.)
  7. Get moving. And if you’re already moving, move more. Sitting at your desk all day then going to the gym 3 nights a week might not be enough for you to meet your goals.
  8. Chew your food well. Give your body time to decide if you’re full or not.
  9. If you are having cravings, before you give into them, sit with yourself. See what it is you really want. Usually it’s not actually food. It’s comfort. It’s quiet. It’s numbing. Not easy work, but well worth it.

Perhaps you noticed that much of that has nothing to do with a gluten-free diet. Exactly my point. Figure out what foods and what food plan works best for you. If that’s gluten-free, great! If you need help figuring out what the right plan is for you, find a fabulous nutritionist (without an agenda of one particular plan being best for everyone), or a naturopath, or someone that can assess your personal health and nutritional needs. Then check in with yourself. Does this make sense, period? And does it make sense for me?

A gluten-free diet can be a game-changer for many people (myself included) and I recommend it often. But don’t confuse it with a diet. And really, that’s a good thing. Since when do diets work, anyway?

-Dr. Samantha

* Symptoms and conditions that I have seen improve with removal of gluten from the diet include (but are not limited to): IBS, headaches, migraines, depression, PMS, peri-menopause/menopause symptoms, joint pain, water retention/bloating, fatigue, neuropathy, irritability, autoimmune conditions, thyroid symptoms, and more.

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