Celiac and Weight Gain
Celiac weight gain is a completely normal body response. The body pre- and post- diagnosis naturally gains weight for a few of reasons.
Firstly, weight change is normal following any life change. Life change like a celiac disease diagnosis.
Additionally, everyone’s body responds to damage and healing pre- and post- diagnosis; some people might experience larger bodies and other people might experience smaller ones. Again, it all depends on your unique body.
So let’s talk about celiac disease weight gain, why it might happen, and how to deal with it.
Why do Some Celiacs Gain Weight?
First, let’s get one thing straight, celiac weight gain is never as simple as someone is just eating too many gluten-free processed foods or eating too much. This accusation is fatphobic and fails to address the complexities behind body size.
Second, weight is not a behavior. Meaning someone’s weight does not define someone’s habits or well-being. You can’t look at someone and define their eating habits or health based on how much space they take up, (as much as people like to try to do it).
Third, well-being and health are so much more than just a number on a scale. And they are subjective and up to the individual to define for themselves.
All that said, there are a few reasons why celiacs gain weight. These reasons include the small intestines healing, the body renourishing itself, continued exposure to gluten, being able to enjoy food again, and the re-establishment of hunger/fullness cues.
So, let’s dive into the specifics of why people with celiac disease gain weight and what to do about it.
Your Small Intestine is Healing
The first reason behind celiac and weight-gain is that your small intestine is healing. Meaning, you’re finally able to absorb nutrients and re-nourish your body.
Essentially, your body is moving out of a malnourished state. At diagnosis, you may be deficient or lacking in nutrients (which the body interpreted as starvation). As your gut heals, you body may respond by absorbing and storing nutrients (weight-gain).
This storing of nutrients is done as a survival mechanism by your body. It’s meant to not only renourish you but to prepare for another potential period of starvation. It does this because your body is smart; but not smart enough to know that you now know how to prevent it from starving again.
This is entirely normal. This weight gain can be a sign that your body is healing from celiac – yay!
You're Finally Able to Enjoy Food Again
The second reason behind celiac weight could be that you’re finally able to enjoy food again and thus are finding delicious gluten-free foods to enjoy.
When I was first diagnosed, it seemed like everything upset my stomach. After figuring out what was causing it, I suddenly wasn’t as afraid of all foods. Meaning I was able to enjoy food again – and there is nothing wrong with that.
In fact, food is meant to be enjoyed.
Enjoying food again is a natural process of switching to a gluten-free lifestyle (you might also mourn other foods but that’s for a different post). If you find yourself eating more and enjoying more, that’s a beautiful thing and it should not be shamed.
Let your body learn that it can trust food again and don’t fear the few extra pounds that might come along with rebuilding that trust. (Working with a dietitian might be able to help with this process).
You're Still Being Exposed to Gluten
The third reason behind celiac weight gain is that gluten is still getting into you diet. Gluten exposure with celiac can cause continual damage to your small intestine. This damage can lead to malabsorption which can cause weight gain in two ways.
First, it can cause weight gain as your body tries to hold on to what ever nutrients and energy it can. Second, it can cause weigh gain by increasing your hunger cues to try to compensate for the nutrients missed.
If this is the case, you’ll have other indicators to support this theory. Such as celiac follow-up testing coming back positive despite eating gluten-free.
you're trying to learn how to tune into your hunger/fullness cues
Reason number 4 behind celiac weight gain might be that you’re trying to re-establish and trust your hunger and fullness cues.
Often before diagnosis, hunger and fullness cues are masked by GI distress. The nasty symptoms associated with consuming gluten when you have celiac disease can make it difficult to tune into the cues of your body. For example, celiac bloating and constipation can mask hunger and other symptoms can mask fullness.
As your gut heals and you experience fewer symptoms, tuning into your hunger and fullness cues will become easier. With that, you might also notice weight gain as you begin to nourish your body as it desires.
Weight change with this is also normal. Honoring your body’s needs is important and should not be shamed.
How to Deal With Celiac Weight Gain
A lot of people who gain weight following their diagnosis, want to lose it again. My response to those people would be, why? Is it truly because you want to be healthier? If it is, I’d argue that health and well-being can be measured in ways OTHER than your clothing size.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- I’ve gained weight with my diagnosis, but what else have I gained?
- What will a smaller body offer me that my current body won’t?
- How can I support my health without trying to manipulate my body?
I’d also argue that having healed your small intestine from potentially years of damage would suggest that you are healthy. The weight gain in response to finally being able to nourish yourself would suggest health. Something I’ve been doing more recently to cope with my weight gain is reminding myself that “I’ve gained weight and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been”.
For me, losing weight would be fighting against my body’s needs and desires. Instead, I focus on other things that can help support my body and health goals. Like engaging in enjoyable physical activity, getting enough sleep, limiting stress, and honoring my hunger and fullness cues.
That being said, I respect your choice if you choose to pursue weight-loss. In that case, I’d encourage you take inventory of your current habits and ask yourself what is realistic to change in support of your goals.
Do you need help dealing with your weight change? Check out my coaching services.