The gluten-free lifestyle is a healthy choice for millions of Americans who are intolerant to gluten. While it's not really a diet meant for weight loss, many people who choose to make wise dietary choices while eating gluten free can lose weight naturally. By going gluten free, you can also lose the "wheat belly" -- caused by inflammation and water retention -- which is a common side effect of a gluten intolerance. Similar to any other diet, a healthy level of physical activity and savvy food choices will make or break your ability to be gluten free and lose weight.
One obstacle to losing weight on a gluten-free diet is if you are still ingesting gluten unintentionally. Now that you've gone gluten free, you want to lose that wheat belly, right? There are a number of ways in which gluten can sneak into your diet, which will perpetuate the abdominal bloating and water retention that easily melts away with a truly gluten-free diet. Cross-contamination in restaurants is one easy way to continue eating gluten unaware – there are now a number of restaurants and bakeries that cater to the gluten-free lifestyle through diligent avoidance of cross-contamination or by operating a truly gluten-free kitchen. Check out the Gluten Free Registry to find restaurants in your area.
Other Sources of Hidden Gluten
In order to fully benefit from the gluten-free diet, both in improving health and and in losing weight, it is important to diligently read food labels and become educated about hidden sources of gluten. According to Amy Myers, M.D., an expert on going gluten free, there are a number of innocent-looking ingredients which may contain gluten, including food starch, artificial color, baking powder, caramel color/flavor, dextrins, diglycerides and maltodextrin. Naturally gluten-free grains like oats may be cross-contaminated with gluten in the field or during processing, so look for certified gluten-free oats.
Avoid Processed Foods
Supposing that you are truly avoiding gluten, another important factor for losing weight on a gluten-free diet is to avoid junk food. Just because it says “gluten free” on the label, doesn't mean it's a healthy food choice. Many pre-packaged gluten-free foods contain high levels of sugar, refined carbohydrates, chemical preservatives and other fillers which will not support weight loss. It may seem hard to give up the bread altogether, but most people find that if they remove gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, barley and spelt and resist the temptation to eat gluten-free starches in their stead that they both feel better and lose weight. If you want to opt for a gluten-free bread or pasta, go for one that contains whole grains like brown rice instead of products full of refined gluten-free grains.
Focus on Whole Foods
To lose weight gluten free, eat whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and high-quality protein sources like organic dairy, grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish. Eat protein in the morning to reduce carbohydrate cravings and provide lasting energy. An anti-inflammatory diet, such as that promoted by Dr. Andrew Weil, focuses on healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil and fish oil supplements to regulate inflammation and support overall health. Avoid fried foods – both to lose weight and because they are often cross-contaminated with gluten – processed foods and omega-6-heavy vegetable oils like soy, corn and canola. Limit sugar and refined carbohydrates and focus on whole grains – of the gluten-free variety – for the best results in losing weight on a gluten-free diet.
Amy Myszko is a certified clinical herbalist and nutritional consultant who has been helping people find greater health and balance through diet, lifestyle and natural remedies since 2006. She received her certification from the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism in Boulder, Colo. Myszko also holds a BA in literature from the University of Colorado.