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How To Gain Weight With Celiac Disease

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive condition that can damage your small intestine, making it harder to absorb nutrients and stay healthy. 
  • Eliminating all sources of gluten from your diet is essential for celiac management. These include all wheat-containing products, like bread, pasta, cereal, soy sauce, and beer. Other grains may contain gluten like barley, rye, durum, faro, and spelt. 
  • People may lose weight before they’re diagnosed with celiac disease. After making dietary changes, you’ll heal your gut, confidently pick gluten-free foods, and stabilize your weight.

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive and immune disorder that affects children and adults all over the world.

To stay healthy, you’ll need to eliminate all sources of gluten from the diet, a protein naturally found in wheat-containing foods and by-products, like sauces and condiments as well as other grains.

Accidentally eating or being exposed to gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine.

Over time, villi (tiny projections in your digestive lining that help grab and absorb nutrients) shrink, making it harder to get enough nutrients from your diet. 

Without the ability to absorb nutrients, people with celiac disease may experience weight changes (usually weight loss) before being diagnosed. 

Keep reading to understand the link between celiac disease and weight and why a registered dietitian can help you achieve your goals.

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Does Celiac Disease Cause Weight Gain?

Some people with celiac disease may experience weight gain, but it’s more common for people to experience weight loss, mainly if they haven’t been diagnosed yet.  

Everyone’s metabolic response is unique, and it’s difficult to predict if celiac disease will affect your weight.

To better understand your symptoms, you should follow up with your healthcare team for individualized advice. 

How Celiac Disease Affects Weight 

If you unknowingly have celiac disease, you may still be eating gluten.

In the presence of gluten, the villi in the small intestine are damaged and fail to absorb essential nutrients that promote a stable weight.

This autoimmune response can increase your risk of malnutrition and weight loss. 

Fortunately, the villi can recover after eliminating gluten, and you might experience a gradual increase in weight.

This can be a positive sign that indicates your digestive system is healing as your weight begins to stabilize

Additionally, people may be unaware that gluten affects them, and they’ll associate unpleasant digestive symptoms with all foods.

They may result in limiting their intake of more than just gluten-containing foods to avoid painful symptoms, which could contribute to even greater weight loss.

A Dietitian’s Tips to Gain Weight with Celiac Disease

You can gain weight with celiac disease by making dietary changes, most importantly following a gluten-free diet in addition to choosing energy-dense foods, foods high in other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, and planning your meals. 

Follow a Gluten-Free Diet 

Gluten is a type of protein found in all wheat-containing foods and certain other grains and grain-based products.

This includes wheat bread, certain breakfast cereals, condiments and sauces like soy sauce, and beverages like beer.

Consuming gluten disrupts normal digestive function and causes symptoms like diarrhea, stomach ache, bloating, gas, or indigestion. 

To lead your healthiest life after being diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s essential to follow a gluten-free diet.

Some healthful foods to eat include: 

  • Fruits and vegetables: Fresh (and most frozen) options are naturally gluten-free. 
  • Nuts and seeds: Ensure the product packaging doesn’t have gluten or wheat labeled as an allergen, was not packaged or made in a facility that also handles gluten, and ideally has a gluten-free symbol to help limit your exposure to potential cross-contamination.
  • Animal proteins: Avoid more highly processed forms such as sausages, deli meats, breaded meat or seafood, and some ready-to-eat products. 
  • Plant proteins: Beans and plain tofu are naturally gluten-free
  • Gluten-free grains: Quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, rice, teff, corn, and oats (check the label to ensure they’re made in a gluten-free environment.) 

Use our gluten-free grocery list for more delicious ideas. 

Incorporate Healthy, High-Calorie Foods 

Calories in food and certain beverages provide your body with calories and essential nutrients.

You’ll need to consume more calories than you burn to gain weight. 

Healthy, calorie-rich foods can help you satisfy your calorie requirements.

Gluten-free options include: 

  • Avocado: A bright green fruit rich in health-promoting fats and calories. Mash it on a slice of gluten-free toast or add it to a salad or smoothie.  
  • Nuts: Choose various unsalted raw or dry-roasted options whole or as nut butters to maximize your nutritional intake, like almonds, walnuts, pecans, and peanuts. 
  • Seeds: Similar to eating nuts, you’ll want to choose a variety of seeds to get complete nutritional benefits. Enjoy pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds sprinkled on salads or mixed into stir-fried vegetables.  
  • Dairy products: Yogurts and milk contain protein, calcium, and other vitamins to contribute to your overall health. High-fat dairy products are more calorie-dense than non-fat options, and you can moderate your saturated fat intake by choosing a mid-level dairy product (3-7% milk fat). 
  • Olive oil: Many plant-based oils are rich in healthy unsaturated fats and calories. You can use when baking or stir-frying vegetables and drizzling a tablespoon of olive oil on soups, salads, or sandwiches for additional energy. 

Eat More Frequently

Eating enough food to meet your energy goals can be challenging.

The plan sounds manageable on paper, but in real life, it can be hard to double your portion sizes without feeling uncomfortably full.

A strategy that can help is to eat smaller amounts more frequently throughout the day.

Instead of the conventional three meals a day, try to have five to six meals (or more if it helps.) 

Spreading your nutrition across several meals can help you feel more comfortable while staying on track with your goals. 

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Plan Meals and Snacks Ahead of Time

Planning your meals and snacks is one of the best things you can do to help you achieve your health goals. 

You don’t need to have every dish figured out, but knowing what you’ll eat at least 60-75% of the time can help you feel more organized. 

Additionally, preparing more foods at home reduces your chances of accidentally eating gluten while dining out.

Restaurants and other professional kitchens do their best to keep gluten-free products safe, and even in dedicated gluten-free locations, there is always a risk of cross-contamination. 

Track Your Nutrient Intake

Vitamins and minerals are vital for a strong digestive system and support overall health and wellness.

Try tracking your nutritional intake in a journal to see if your meals are nutritionally balanced and rich in diverse food choices.

Your dietitian can review this data and offer meal suggestions if necessary. 

Vital nutrients to eat more of include: 

  • Iron in red meats, beans, and dark leafy greens.  
  • Calcium in dairy, fortified foods, dark leafy greens, oranges, nuts, seeds, and beans. 
  • Magnesium in dark leafy green vegetables, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, and certain soy-based foods. 
  • Vitamin D in fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, herring), fortified foods. 
  • Zinc in oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, and beans. 
  • Folate in beef liver, spinach, beans, peas, green vegetables, fruits, and nuts. 
  • Niacin in poultry, beef, nuts, seeds, brown rice, and fish. 
  • Vitamin B12 in all animal meats, including fish and seafood, eggs, and animal-based products like dairy foods. 
  • Riboflavin in eggs, organ meats, milk, clams, and almonds. 

Your doctor may recommend a supplement to try and boost your nutrient levels, if necessary.

Consult with a Registered Dietitian

A 2021 study demonstrated that people with celiac disease could follow a gluten-free diet with some education, but their nutritional risk was still high. 

There are so many moving parts of a healthy diet, especially for those living with celiac disease, which is why working with a dietitian is so beneficial.

They offer individualized nutrition solutions to help you improve your symptoms and gain weight. 

Through one-on-one counseling, you’ll learn how to identify gluten-containing foods, build nutritionally balanced meals, and feel more confident managing your long-term health. 

Other Considerations for Managing Celiac Disease

There are food and non-food sources of gluten that you should avoid with celiac disease. Some of them are less obvious than others. 

  • Vitamins. 
  • Candy. 
  • Communion wafers. 
  • Lip balms. 
  • Skin cream. 
  • Medications.
  • Shampoo. 
  • Toothpaste. 

Learning how to detect gluten in foods and other products becomes easier over time.

You’ll know which ingredients to look for (and avoid) and which brands could be more reliable go-to's that you can enjoy as staples.

Takeaway

Celiac disease is a chronic condition, but it can be managed through diet changes—starting with the elimination of gluten. 

As your small intestine heals, your villi function will gradually be restored, and you’ll absorb more nutrients.

This should help you gain weight and feel healthier overall. 

Other tips that may help you gain weight include eating more frequently, choosing nutrient-dense high-calorie foods, safely preparing meals and snacks at home, and working with a dietitian. 

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How a Dietitian Can Help

Working with a dietitian specializing in celiac disease can help you feel your best.

They’re nutrition experts who provide compassionate care through individualized counseling. 

You may not know what to expect if you’ve never met with a dietitian before.

Here are questions to ask: 

  • Which foods are safe to eat with Celiac disease?
  • What happens if I eat gluten?
  • Do beverages contain gluten? 
  • Should the rest of my family get tested for Celiac disease? 

Find a dietitian who accepts insurance through Nourish, and start learning how to gain weight while following a gluten-free diet. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you gain weight if you have celiac disease?

Yes, you can regain weight if you have celiac disease. 

Your small intestine will heal after you eliminate gluten from your diet, which will help your weight eventually increase.

Is it harder for people with celiac disease to lose weight?

Living with a chronic health condition might affect your metabolism, but it’s difficult to say how celiac disease can affect your weight. 

Following a healthy diet, staying active, and managing other areas of your health (like blood sugar levels) could help you successfully achieve your weight loss goals.

What is the last stage of celiac disease?

The stages of celiac disease refer to the functionality of your villi, which are projections along your small intestine that grab and absorb nutrients.

At the final stage of celiac disease, measured clinically using a Marsh score, which includes chronically eating gluten, the villi will have atrophied and won’t be able to heal.

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