Body Image and Celiac Disease

When our body changes, our body image is likely to change with it. When someone is diagnosed with celiac, their body often has changed. Additionally, their body often continues to change as they adapt to a gluten-free life, thus, impacting body image.

Body image with celiac is something that I think is important and often overlooked by people. When your lifestyle is dramatically changed, it’s likely to impact your relationship with yourself, your body, food, and more.

In this post, we’ll be focusing on discussing body image with celiac with the hope that it might help you explore yours better.

Body Image defined

What exactly do people mean when they say body image? The National Eating Disorder Collaboration defines body image as “a person’s perception of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings, positive, negative or both”.

Meaning that body image is how you see and interact with yourself. Do you see your body in a positive or negative light? What kind of thoughts do you have around your body? What kind of feelings come up when you think about your body? These are things that play into body image.

These are things that celiac disease can influence. Something I talk about A LOT in the Intuitive Eating for Celiac Course.

impacts of celiac on body image

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Celiac can impact body image because with celiac:

  • our physical symptoms can change which can change how we interact and feel about our body.
  • our weight can change which can cause us grief and pursue our old body.
  • our self-care looks different, meaning the way we take care of ourselves is different (including our body).
  • we have to eat differently which can change how we feel about our body and food, and disrupt our eating habits.
  • we have to build new skills and starting a new road of mastery can feel overwhelming and defeating.
  • our body reactions are gas-lit by people telling us our symptoms are related to our body size, or to something else leaving us feeling unheard a distrustful of ourselves and healthcare professionals.
  • our body’s needs are doubted (see above).
  • our body often is the topic of discussion (whether we want it to be or not) leaving room for judgement and diet culture.
  • people evaluate the body on whether or not it’s “sick enough” further instilling doubt in ourselves.
  • what we eat is often the topic of discussion making us even more aware of food and its impact on our body.

All of these things can impact body image as they change the way our body interacts with the world and the way we interact with our body.

Not to mention, the only treatment with celiac involves dietary interventions which unfortunately is a big invitation for diet culture which is not good news for body image.

And diet culture is also not good news for celiac management as it can distract you from true body trust and health which is why I work with my clients 1:1 to remove diet culture from the equation using an anti-diet/intuitive eating approach.

Repairing your relationship with your body

Body image is one of those things that is often romanticized and I think this is why so many struggle with it. People often think that “good body image” means you like or love your body all the time.

The truth is, body image is flexible and responds to what’s happening around you.

That being said, there are some things you can start to do, to work on trying to more positive body image days than negative.

Things like:

  • Practicing body respect
  • Allowing yourself to grieve your past body
  • Surround yourself with supportive people
  • Reject diet culture

Practicing body respect

For some people, liking their body or loving their body might feel impossible and for others, it feels rare. Either way, I offer you an alternative, body respect.

What if we start with not chasing the fantasy of everlasting love and like for our body and instead, start with respect? We might not like our body, we might not love, and we can still respect it.

Ways to practice body respect include:

  • wear clothes that fit and fit comfortably (not wearing clothes that fit can make us hyper-aware of our body and how they don’t fit, bring up hurtful thoughts about our body. Remember, it’s not your body’s job to fit your clothes, it’s the clothes job to fit you).
  • take care of it (shower, get dressed, brush your teeth, let it rest etc.)
  • let go of the scale (it’s not giving you any positive feedback and it’s tying your worth to an arbitrary number)
  • stop the comparison game
  • practice gratitude for your body (consider listing things that your grateful for your body letting you do)
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let yourself grieve your pre-celiac body

The body changes after a celiac diagnosis and thus, feelings around the body might change too – for better or for worse. Take a moment and check-in, do you need to grieve your pre-celiac diagnosis body?

If so, let me offer the following thoughts:

  • you can’t heal if you don’t think you’re deserving of energy to fuel repair
  • you can’t heal if you fight your body’s protective mechanisms
  • you can’t heal if you are still at war with your body

Let yourself take time to grieve the body changes you endured, grieve the lifestyle you once had, give yourself permission to feel the uncomfortable feelings and give yourself permission to change and heal. Lastly, thank your body for what it does do for you.

Reject diet culture

Another way to start the process of building a better relationship with your body with celiac is to reject diet culture (the first principle of intuitive eating).

A great place to start rejecting diet culture might include:

  • practicing gentleness and kindness when you’re exposed to gluten
  • remind yourself of the many things food has to offer you besides just energy
  • remind yourself and thank your body for the things it does for your daily
  • give yourself unconditional permission to enjoy gluten-free foods
  • remind yourself that your body does add or discredit your diagnosis
  • remind yourself that a smaller body is not more important than healing after a celiac diagnosis
  • remember a smaller body is not more important than your quality of life

To learn more about body image, diet culture and intuitive eating with celiac, check out the course I designed on Intuitive Eating for Celiac.