I often hear the question posed, "Should I go gluten free to lose weight?” There is a long pause and then a hopeful sparkle in the eye until I utter the unexpected two-lettered word "No”. You see, the gluten free diet was not designed to be a weight loss diet although that can certainly be a positive side effect from following it. This diet was originally developed as a means of managing celiac disease by avoiding foods and food products that contain gluten. Naturally, however, this diet caught wind in Hollywood and has since been touted as the next diet that promotes weight loss.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and is laden in many processed, packaged food items as well as in bread, staples of many people’s diets. There is some truth to the point that a gluten free diet will aid in weight loss, both because of what the diet eliminates and promotes eating more of. When processed foods are eliminated from the diet there is a natural shift to consume more whole, fresh foods, which innately lowers fat, sodium, and caloric intake in the diet. Eliminating traditional processed, packaged foods is the number one reason that a gluten free diet can aid in weight loss. Most people who embark on a gluten-free diet because of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease find this as a secondary benefit to the increase in energy and stamina derived from eating a generally cleaner and whole-food based diet. While there are numerous gluten free products now available on the market, remember they are still processed and therefore not as nutritious as whole-foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, and low-fat dairy.
The bottom line for losing weight remains the same as it always has. The focus must be to burn more calories that you take in. Period. This is often referred to as "negative energy balance”. While doing this, you should also pay close attention to the quality of the calories you consume focusing on real foods grown or raised close to the farm. In other words, the more processed a food is, the further "away” from the farm it is and the less nutritious it becomes.
Everyone has a unique caloric need based on measurements such as: gender, age, height, weight, exercise level, and body composition. If weight loss is your goal and you have not been diagnosed with celiac disease focus on the appropriate amount of calories you need to consume to create an energy deficit and map out your meals and snacks from there. If you need help in figuring out a plan that is tailored to your personal needs contact Taylor Larson, Registered Dietitian at The Houstonian, to set up an appointment.
The road to weight loss should not be carried out as a sprint, but rather a marathon. It is a journey in which you are learning and implementing sustainable lifestyle changes that will aid in a healthier "you” and a healthier relationship with food.
Taylor Larson RD, LD