Body Image and Celiac Disease

Body image and celiac disease might seem related but when our body changes (like it does with celiac), 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 and heal celiac. And as our body changes, so can our 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

Before we talk about body image with celiac, first we have to get on the same page on what body image actually is…

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

celiac disease and body image - Tayler Silfverduk, RD - celiac dietitian, gluten free dietitian, celiac and body image, body image and celiac, self-esteem and celiac, intuitive eating and celiac

Celiac can impact body image because with celiac:

  • physical symptoms can change which can change how we interact and feel about our body.
  • weight can change which can cause us grief and pursue our old body.
  • 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.
  • 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.

A Note on Weight Gain with Body Image

Before we get into weight gain with celiac and how it impacts body image, I want to note, there are thousands of more things that can play a role in why someone may gain or lose weight (like medications to manage mental health, trauma, food access now, food access as a child, etc.) and celiac is just one of them.

And for someone living with celiac, gaining weight can feel absolutely fking terrifying.

Because if there’s anything I’ve learned doing my own body image work, and helping clients with it…

The fear of gaining weight is often a surface-level fear. This is why a lot of body image work like positive affirmations and surface-level reframes doesn’t usually work.

This is also why when you do lose weight, body image usually doesn’t improve and why you may wonder how you could have hated your body when looking back at photos of your younger self.

If we dig deeper behind the fear of weight gain – if we ask ourselves “what happens if I gain weight?”.

What I usually see pop up as we dig deep into the stories behind the surface, are the fears of no longer being accepted, valued, worthy, or loved.

  • The fear of no longer being accepted because your body doesn’t meet societal norms or expectations.
  • The fear of no longer being valued because our society puts thin bodies on a pedestal.
  • The fear of no longer being worthy because our society and even healthcare system push the idea that people are fat because they have no willpower, they’re weak, they’re lazy, or [insert any fat stereotype here].
  • The fear of not being loved because if society hates this body so much, how could anyone love it?

And fear of gaining weight can also be tied to fear of getting adequate care from providers. In a weight-centric healthcare system, a larger body can come with the fear of your problems being written off by your weight.

And when being anything but thin in a society that obsesses over it so much… gaining weight with celiac disease becomes terrifying…

Because now, the fears of being unworthy, unaccepted, and/or unloved with a larger body is now compounded with the fears of being unworthy, unloved, and/or unaccepted because of your gluten-free needs.

Sit with that for a moment.💜

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 make body image feel more manageable.

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 body image and celiac is hard. In fact, liking your body or loving your body might feel impossible. If this is you, I offer you an alternative, body respect.

What if we start with not chasing the fantasy of everlasting love for our body and instead, start with respecting it? We might not like our body, we might not love it, 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)
celiac and body image - Tayler Silfverduk, RD - celiac dietitian - coeliac dietitian, coeliac and body image, celiac body image, coeliac body image, diet culture and celiac, gluten-free intuitive eating

Let Yourself Grieve Your Body Changes

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
  • fight your body’s protective mechanisms
  • 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.

Find Health Care Providers Who Are Supportive

Another thing that can help with body image and celiac is finding a healthcare provider who you’re comfortable with. If you’re able, know that it’s in your right to find a provider who makes your feel heard and respected.

If you’re trying to find one, I’d say trying to search for a HAEs aligned provider can be helpful. The Association for Size Diversity and Health has a database of providers for this. You can compare and contrast the results in this database to your insurance network database to see if anyone matches.

If that’s not an option, you can also set boundaries with your healthcare providers. Let them know you want treatment options outside of weight-loss. If they keep bringing it up, remind them that you asked for options outside of weight. You can even ask to have this added to your chart so the precedent is set for future visits.

If you’re feeling extra spicy or it seems your provider is having trouble figuring out other treatment options, consider asking them “what would you tell someone in a thin body to do if they were struggling with what I’m struggling with?”.

And if all of that isn’t an option, I’m holding so much space for you. I know it’s not fair.

Check Your Fat Bias

When healing your body image with celiac, an important part of it is checking your internal fat bias. The internal dialogue you have around larger bodies is going to contribute to your body image dialogue.

For example: when a friend say “I’m fat”, what do you do? Do you immediately tell them “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful?” While there is good-intentions behind it, you’re signaling to both you and your friend that you can’t be both. And that if they were fat, they’d not longer be pretty.

Let Go of 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 an Intuitive Eating for Celiac.

Share this:

Like this:

Like Loading...