Will a Gluten-Free Diet Help You Lose Weight?


You’ll never guess my surprise when Maureen McCormick of Marcia, Marcia, Marcia fame (hey, I’ve had to live with that a long time, even though she spells it wrong) announced in commercials for the upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars that her newfound body size was due to cutting out gluten.

Well, maybe you would guess if you are familiar with my dismay over nutrition advice from those who don’t really understand nutrition.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that some of us have serious problems with gluten. But I cringe when I hear broad statements that imply, without any qualifications, that cutting out gluten can solve weight issues.

I know, it’s the dietitian in me.

But to back me up, a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that the numbers of people following a gluten-free diet had more than tripled in recent years — a statistic that doesn’t reflect an increased prevalence of celiac disease.

Many of these folks may be dealing with gluten sensitivity, a relatively controversial subject that researchers haven’t quite figured out yet.

Still, if you go by the confusion we hear from participants at Green Mountain, it’s likely much of the increase comes from the desire to find something that will help a person lose weight and keep it off, not from any gastrointestinal or other problems they may be experiencing that are commonly associated with gluten.

First, a word from our sponsor

To be absolutely clear, at Green Mountain at Fox Run, we don’t encourage anyone to do anything just to lose weight.  A focus on weight loss often leads to unhealthy attitudes and behaviors that cause us to gain weight, not lose it.

We encourage instead a focus on health because healthy behaviors take our bodies to their natural healthy weights and keep them there.

Many people do find they lose weight when they cut out gluten for two primary reasons:

  1. They start eating more healthfully. They are forced to stop eating gluten-containing foods like muffins, pizza, cookies, cakes, etc. (gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley, and oats are often contaminated with it), and they often start eating more fruits and vegetables. While gluten-free versions of muffins and the like are often available, they are harder to get and more expensive.
  2. People who are truly sensitive to gluten may have associated health problems, such as chronic inflammation, which can knock our bodies out of balance.  That can mean disturbed cues for eating, water retention, fatigue and other problems that interfere with leading a healthy lifestyle and can lead to weight gain.When they eliminate gluten, many of these problems resolve and their bodies move to a healthier place.  Read more about this in our article “Do You Need to Go Gluten Free?”

So it sounds like gluten-free is the way to go?

If your goal is purely weight loss, it may help you achieve it (emphasis on the “may” — see the last bullet point below).  But as experience with different weight-loss schemes has repeatedly shown, if it’s not sustainable, we’re likely to end up weighing more, not less.

While it’s easier to eliminate gluten today than it was in the past, it still means forgoing lots of foods.  If weight loss is the only reason you have to give them up, feelings of deprivation might win over weight loss dreams.  And deprivation leads us all too often to eating more than we really want.

If you do decide to cut out gluten

Digestive disturbances, painful joints, skin conditions such as eczema, and more health problems have been linked to gluten intolerance.  So it may be a worthwhile exploration to see if you do feel better by eliminating gluten.

But before you do, here’s some important information from Shelley Case, RD, a leading nutrition expert on celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.

  • Those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity need a gluten-free diet. This is not a fad but a medical necessity.
    •  Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that affects 1 out of 100 people yet only about 5-10% with the disease are diagnosed.
    • Research from the Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore indicates up to 6% of the population may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
  • People who claim they feel better on a gluten-free diet may have an undiagnosed celiac disease or have non-celiac gluten sensitivity [Editor note: or a sensitivity to other carbohydrates]. Without a confirmed diagnosis a) the person may not be motivated to follow the lifelong strict gluten-free diet to prevent complications of celiac disease such as osteoporosis, development of other autoimmune disease and cancer and b) first degree relatives may not be tested because the family member does not have a definitive diagnosis.
  • It is critical that people get tested for celiac disease before going on a gluten-free diet because once on the diet it is difficult to get an accurate diagnosis.
  • A gluten-free diet does not always equate to a healthy diet. Many gluten-free products are higher in fat, sugar and calories; lower in fiber, iron and B vitamins because they are often made with refined flours and starches (e.g., white rice flour, potato, corn and tapioca starch) and not enriched with vitamins and minerals as their gluten-containing counterparts.

Have you been thinking about going gluten-free? 

7 responses to “Will a Gluten-Free Diet Help You Lose Weight?”

  1. Delores says:

    Hey there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers!

  2. kim says:

    Hi Marsha.
    While at Green Mountain last year, I saw the book Wheat Belly’s, and heard some of the talk about it, but as I loved my carbs, I was reluctant to even give it a try. I left GM feeling fabulous. Over the course of the last year, some of the health that I obtained started to decline, and yes pounds started to creep back on. In January, I finally bought the book, and read it, gave it some serious thought, and then a while later committed to give it a try. It is over 8 weeks now,I know it was the right decision. I am feeling better, more energy, better sleep, less joint pain. I am not sure how much weight I have lost, as I don’t weight myself very much ( I did not want this to be about weight loss), but my clothes are fitting better. I am not 100% gluten free as I do have the occasional slice of organic Kamut, or Spelt bread, made locally at an artisinal bakery. My goal is to not feed my body any of the nutrient void, genetically modified wheat products that are the mainstay of the modern North American diet. As I learned at GM, this is an evolution, not a revolution, I am a work in progress, and every step forward leads me on the path to being happier, and healthier. So while eliminating wheat from my diet wasn’t some thing that happened when I was at Green Mountain, I do consider if part of my GM experience. Next stop, I think I will do a little juicing!
    Thanks again to GM, the best thing I ever did for myself. Special thanks to Darla and LynnAnn! You ladies helped me start down this path, and I will forever be thankful to you.

    • Maureen Windisch says:

      Hi Kim…not sure if you know but there is genetic testing now for gluten sensitivity. If you are truly gluten sensitive you definitely do not want to be eating gluten. You could cause permanent tissue damage to your nerves. I have raynaud’s disease very likely due to gluten. Best Wishes.

  3. Marsha says:

    Wonderful to hear you are doing well, Kim. If you are feeling better without gluten, I really encourage you to get tested for celiac disease. As you haven’t gone completely gluten free, you may still be able to get accurate results.
    It’s just so important for us to know if we do have celiac disease because it becomes crucial that we eliminate gluten completely. Otherwise, we risk developing some nasty health problems. If we don’t have a diagnosis, it’s easy for us to sometimes choose to eat a little gluten here and there and often not feel like we have any real negative effects. It’s not clear if someone who isn’t celiac has to be as vigilant as someone with celiac disease in avoiding gluten. But someone who has celiac disease must be very vigilant.

  4. kim says:

    Thanks, Marsha. I totally agree. I was tested a year ago, just by a blood test, not a biopsy, it was negative. I can’t argue with the fact that I feel so much better. I am inclined to think that it is has more to do with the elimination of the toxic genetically modified wheat that we consume to day, rather than being “gluten free”, that has made the difference.

  5. […] Gluten-free diets are the craze at the moment, but despite their popularity, many people would have difficulty answering the question, “what is gluten?”  Even people actively attempting to avoid eating gluten may not realize exactly what it is. […]

  6. Lizabeth says:

    Great post! My husband was just asking me about this and whether it’s a fad, or in-line with a cleanse. I couldn’t articulate it, and now I can just share! Thanks for your super smarts!

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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