Losing Weight While Living Gluten Free

gluten free potato vindaloo

Sometimes I read articles that, on the surface, seem logical, but don’t hold up upon close reading. One such article was posted on Glutenfreeworks and entitled “How to Lose Weight on the Gluten-Free Diet“. I’m guessing this was a linkbait headline.

The core premise of the article is that celiac disease creates different levels of malnourishment. For some people, this means unexplained weight loss; for others, weight gain. I fell into the latter group. I remember my doctor murmuring something about “getting enough nutrition”, though in retrospect, it was the wrong nutrition.

The article gets that point right, though I cringed when it was suggested a gluten-free diet and balance of nutrients cured someone of bipolar disease and schizophrenia. If those were true medical diagnoses, then, no, removing gluten from your diet will not cure these illnesses. Maybe it will someone better manage them, but it will not cure them.

The truth of the matter is that losing weight on a gluten-free diet is pretty simple, though, if my email and Twitter feeds are to be believed, the antithesis of what our gluten-free goals are. Basically, all you need to do, if I may quote Michael Pollan, is“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

What Pollan means by “food“, is real food, not highly processed food. If you’re gluten free, this means avoiding the gluten-free specialty foods, particularly breads, pastas, desserts, cookies, crackers, and other foods that we consume to fill that supposed void in our diets.

The basic formula for weight loss is simple: more calories out than calories in.

The problem being faced is not unique to the gluten-fee community.

However, not every calories is created equal. The breads, crackers, cookies, and their relations break down to sugar (or glucose) fairly quickly. This is great if you’re looking for immediate energy, and, as a runner, I totally rely on these carbs, mostly in the form of rice and potatoes, for this purpose. These high-glycemic foods can turn to fat, and they can raise your blood sugar.

Low- or lower-glycemic foods, such as whole grains, many vegetables, and some fruits break down more slowly. They tend to provide sustained energy, and because they’re fiber-rich, fill you up in a way the higher-glycemic foods cannot.

And, of course, fruits and vegetables tend to have a host of vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need, which, getting back to the article I mentioned in the first paragraph, is essential for rebuilding nutritional balance in our bodies.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two other key factors real food possesses: fiber and fat. Fiber is critical to our overall health. Water-soluble fiber, generally found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes, helps lower cholesterol and blood sugars. Insoluble fiber, often found in grains, helps keep your whole system clean.

While fat has been public enemy number one for decades, it’s really important. I’ve become a fat advocate, especially fats in the form of avocados, oils, nuts, and even eggs. Yes, saturated and trans fats remain on the limited-to-avoid lists, but good fats provide a host of health benefits — and there is no evidence that avoiding fats leads to weight loss; in fact, after decades of shunning fat, we’ve gotten fatter as a people, mostly because we’ve replaced satisfying and filling fats with the dietary equivalent of white sugar.

So, how do you lose weight while remaining gluten free? Replace your GF breads, cookies, etc with more vegetables and fruits. Exercise more; I make it a point to walk everywhere I can. Count calories, especially when you eat out (seriously, the number of calories you get served at a restaurant for a single meal can equal the number of calories many people consume in an entire day, depending on your size, gender, etc).

If you have nutritional deficiencies, work with your doctor to address these (please don’t self-diagnose!). And remember that weight loss is a long, slow, steady process.

I’m in the maintenance phase after losing over 50 pounds, due to following the plan above. Years after being diagnosed with celiac, I remain healthy, active, and blessed with a rich and varied diet that includes butter and avocados (plus a bit of bacon every now and then!). I saw the greatest results when I shifted from bad carbs to good carbs, and the last time I saw my doctor, she was practically giddy about the results of my blood work!

How are you managing weight loss and living gluten free?

Tip of the Week

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks are breeding grounds for bad carbs. I manage those moments with lots of veggies and hummus. Eating just two tablespoons of hummus with carrots, celery, radishes, or jicama fills me up and keeps me going for the rest of the day!

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

I have been reading — and by reading, I mean drooling over photos — Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More. These cookbooks are focused on amazing ways to prepare vegetables, while not being strictly vegetarian in approach. While Ottolenghi comes to food with a Middle Eastern perspective, he presents a wide range of cuisines. The recipes are a great inspiration of other dishes.

To celebrate Meatless Monday, I decided on a two-potato vindaloo. My husband loves the spicy, vinegary flavors of a good vindaloo, and I’ve been on a bit of a sweet potato kick recently. This marries our food cravings perfectly. I’m serving the vindaloo over spaghetti squash (because it’s use it or lose it time for the one on my counter!), but you can serve it with a bit of rice.

(Note: like most vindaloos, the ingredient list is long. This isn’t a weeknight dish, unless you make it on the weeknight and reheat during the week, which is how I do it.)

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