I thought I was once alone in packing on the pounds after a celiac disease diagnosis, but apparently I'm just part of the crowd.During my recent trip to the Celiac Disease Foundation Education Conference in Pasadena, I listened to a presentation by Pamela Cureton, R.D. from the Center for Celiac Research. She spoke about this all-too-common weight gain, and how it's not necessarily a bad thing.
Pamela Cureton and her research found that weight does change on a gluten-free diet. In a study of 679 subjects, 15.8 percent increased from normal to overweight BMI. It also showed that 22 percent of those who were overweight at their time of diagnosis increased their weight as well. Those who more closely followed the gluten-free diet were more likely to gain weight. This is ironic, since so many people who are not celiac or in need of a medically necessary gluten-free diet are following a gluten-free "diet" for weight loss.
However, this weight gain shows that the body is healthy and healing, since the villi (once damaged from celiac disease) are absorbing more nutrients, and more calories. Also, people tend to eat more because they're feeling better; the food is no longer making them sick, so they tend to eat more and enjoy eating more than before.
But, I wish I had only that good news to report. Those on a gluten-free diet after a celiac diagnosis are often eating more higher-calorie food items like packaged and processed foods. This is no surprise to me, since I ran out and bought every package, box, or bag that had the words "gluten free" on it after my diagnosis. Historically, the calorie content of gluten-free food was higher in fat, sugar and calories to make it taste better, but now more and more gluten-free processed food is looking more like its wheat counterpart. That said, a cookie is still a cookie and a brownie is still a brownie (gluten-free or not, they aren't the best choice).
What can you do about the unwanted weight gain after a celiac diagnosis? Here are some tips that I've found, and that dieticians have shared, to control an out-of-control weight gain (while staying away from gluten).
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You might be less likely to have that third or fourth gluten-free cookie if you know that you'll have to have some personal accountability for it later (go ahead and have two though, you have my permission).
Eating whole foods (meaning those that don't come from a box or plastic package) can help you avoid calorie-laden foods. It can also help you explore new foods, like vegetables beyond just your average carrots and broccoli (kale, bok choy, romanesco, rainbow chard, yucca, etc.). Not that all packaged foods are terrible for you, but learning to replace meals from a box with fresh ingredients can help with getting filled with nutrients instead of calories.
If you go bonkers for gluten-free cake or cookies, don't keep them in the house. If you know that you have your go-to trigger food for overeating in the cabinet, it's a lot easier to grab for that instead of having to leave the house, go to the store, and purchase the trigger food. If you know you have a problem controlling yourself around a food, keep yourself away from it.
Learn to embrace yourself, and not the number on the scale. Don’t get me wrong, all of the tips before are great. And I truly do have a desire for people to be healthy. However, you shouldn't make yourself miserable trying to stay the weight that you once were, especially if that previous weight was an unhealthy one. Focus on keeping your body healthy and full of nutritious gluten-free food and focus on your ultimate recovery.
Love your new body, without gluten, whatever size you may be. Learn to nourish your body with gluten-free foods, and allow it to heal and recover from previous damage with healthy food.
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