7 Reasons Why You Didn’t Lose Weight Going Gluten Free

August 8, 2012 at 9:18 am 15 comments

Seems every tabloid in circulation has a “how this celeb lost weight” headline, but these days we don’t need to be on the cover of People magazine to get the word out about how we lost weight. We simply Tweet, Pin or update our Facebook status to “I’m down a dress size thanks to being gluten free!” And all of us looking for a super quick fix for our weights loss woes, are willing to eschew just about anything with the promise of losing 10 pounds.

But why all of a sudden is everyone talking about going gluten free to lose weight? It’s not a new idea, but with health information now widely available on the web, what has always been going on in natural health circles (discussing food allergens, digestion and diet) is now a common conversation – and of course, a celeb or two has lost weight recently avoiding gluten.

And it’s not just those looking to shed the fat that considering a life sans gluten, people with conditions that aren’t managed well in our conventional model (like Hashiomoto’s Hypothyroidism, PCOS or many a digestive ailment) often turn to nutrition for answers. Going gluten (and usually dairy) free is often espoused as a treatment for these and whatever else ails you. And most often when people give it a shot -voila! They feel better.

Is this avoidance of wheat a cure all? No, but it does work some wonders. Well, for many of us at least.

Gluten avoidance is something I do with most of my patients because I work with a population that has hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, PCOS, female hormone imbalances, infertility, acne and stubborn weight loss. Going gluten free may not the answer for everything under the sun, but the proof is in the gluten free pudding: although some do not feel as dramatically different as others and some don’t lose 20 pounds overnight, most everyone at least feels BETTER and loses at least some weight. However, most do have dramatic improvements and joyously shed the brain fog, the fatigue, the puffy look and several unwanted pounds within a matter of days.

Did you go gluten free and unlike your friend, you didn’t lose 7 pounds in a week? Was your experience less miraculous than your co-worker’s who dropped 20 easy pounds in a month and looks 10 years younger? What’s up with that?

Here are the big reasons why your gluten free plan didn’t result in big time weight loss:

Gluten Free Junk Food
A gluten free cookie is still a cookie. Many gluten abstainers fall prey to the vast array of packaged, high carb – but gluten free – foods in our health food stores. Everything from muffins to cereal to cake is available without gluten – but not without weight loss consequences.

These simple carbs are not fat loss friendly foods. But the fear of feeling restricted by being on a gluten free plan scares many straight into the loving embrace of a gluten free, sugar laden, processed food frenzy. Although they can help you feel like you’re not missing out, steer clear of the gluten free packaged foods like breads, pastas, cakes, etc except when you want a treat or a bit of a splurge – but not every day. Keep your diet focused on vegetables, fruits and lean, high quality proteins.

You Could Be Reacting To The Gluten Free Grains You’re Now Eating
A sensitivity to gluten increases the chances that you’re also sensitive to many of the foods you’ll turn to on a gluten free lifestyle including sorghum, millet, tapioca, amaranth, quinoa, rice, hemp, corn, and potato. These foods do not contain gluten but may still be a problem for you, this is called “gluten cross reactivity”.  And if you’ve got a gluten issue, I’ve got some really bad news: coffee and chocolate are among the most common cross reactors. Tragic, I know.

Consider a grain free diet and utilize non-grain based starches such as sweet potato, pumpkin, squash, and legumes (note: autoimmune patents are also at high risk for reacting to the lectins in legumes, sorry! Best for you folks to leave them out as well.) Cyrex Labs offers a gluten cross reactivity panel if you’ve committed to gluten free and wondering which grains, etc might be good alternatives for you.  Visit www.cyrexlabs.com and look at Array 4.

Gluten Is Hardly The Only Factor in Fat loss
You still have to balance your blood sugar, get enough sleep, not overdo your carbs, manage your stress and exercise in order to lose weight – and consistently keep doing all these things. Even for those people that drop some instantaneous pounds, this other work still need to be done to keep losing fat. Losing the inflammation water weight is the easy part…that is if you can stay off those foods that cause it! And rest assured, if you’ve lowered your inflammation you will have an easier time losing weight as inflammation mucks up the works for every hormone in your body.

You May Have Increased Intestinal Permeability (AKA Leaky Gut)
This means larger proteins are getting through a leaky intestinal barrier causing inflammation and winding up you immune system. A “leaky gut” is due to inflammation in the gut that has caused a bit of swelling in the cells of your intestines, damaging the junctions between the cells allowing larger proteins to get through. Normally only small things pass through such as a single amino acid or a molecule of glucose. When these larger proteins end up in our blood stream where our immune system sees them and attacks, causing inflammation, bloating, puffiness and trouble shedding fat.

This creates inflammation in and of itself, which makes it hard to lose weight, but it also increase the chance that you’re have any of those cross reactivities I just mentioned.

We can get a leaky gut from years of a bad diet, eating foods that we are sensitive to, taking antibiotics or doing anything that disrupts the delicate balance of probiotics in our gut, various medications, having hypothyroidism or being under high stress.

Gluteomorphins May Be At Play
You may be reacting to gluteomorphins, a byproduct of our own digestion of gluten which act in the brain on opiod receptors causing a “high”. When we take that away, you obviously feel worse for a period of time as you go through a withdrawal period. Crazy huh? Our food is literally medicine!

When people have this reaction, they not only feel pretty lousy when they first come off gluten but their cravings for it sky rocket. If they manage to stick to their gluten free guns, they will usually end up eating a lot of other carbs to satisfy the cravings causing weight loss to stall….or worse, causing a weight gain.

Hidden Exposure
Despite your best efforts – you may still be eating gluten. Here’s a lengthy list of at least some of the more common places you’ll see it:

Gluten Containing Grains:
Most processed cereal
Oats (unless specifically labeled gluten free and note: oats are common cross reactors as well)
Bulgar wheat

Short List of Commonly Used Gluten Derivatives:

Alcohol made from grains: beer, whisky, vodka (unless purely potato), Scotch, most liquors and cheaper wines.
Artificial coloring additives
Chewing Gum
Battered Foods (i.e. fish sticks, fried appetizers, occasionally sweet potato or regular fries) and foods fried in same oil as battered foods (French fries).
Biscotti, pastries and any baked good made from flour, not specified as gluten free
Many juices and fruit drinks
Sauces in general, horseradish sauce and most premade salad dressings (unless gluten free)
Canned meat containing preservatives, canned vegetables (unless in water only)
Items containing hydrolyzed vegetable protein (often made with wheat)
Caramel (other than from US and Canada)
Imitation seafood (usually made with a starch, common in sushi)
Instant hot drinks (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc)
Ketchup and most condiments (anything made with modified food starch has corn and/or wheat)
Rice syrup (may contain barley malt)
Soups (most commercially made canned or frozen soup)
Spices including white pepper, curry powder, bouillon cubes or powder
Soy sauce (except Tamari wheat free soy sauce) and most Chinese sauces
Veined cheeses (may be made from molds that may be of bread origin)
Mustards (unless specifically gluten free, read label for modified food starch)
Flavor enhancers including MSG (monosodium glutamate), glutamic acid, monopotassium glutamate, ammonium glutamate

Note: gluten free grains include rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and teff.

And one final thing: gluten may simply not be as inflammatory for you as it is your friend who had the skies part and the heavens sing when they cut it out. In this case, there may be another reason why your weight loss has plateaued and some gluten containing foods on occasion will probably not make or break your health.

So, if going gluten free was less dramatic than you’d hoped, consider these things and take another pass accounting for the reasons above.


Well that’s my 3 part gluten manifesto. I hope this sheds some light on how complicated gluten reactivity is, what’s wrong with our current method of testing, how avoiding it isn’t always so clear cut and made the case for gluten being so very much bigger than Celiac Disease.

I’m sure these blogs incited a lot of questions as well. For more information on thorough gluten testing or to test your reactivity to those common gluten cross reactors visit www.cyrexlabs.com. For anything else email me at drbrooke@betterbydrbrooke.com or post questions here.

Be BETTER today!


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Should We All Be Gluten Free? (But It’s So Hard!!) Oops! I Did It Again…Well, Almost

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Becky Dodge  |  August 8, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Hi Brooke- I really loved these articles about gluten. I believe I’m one of those people who has that gluteomorphin reaction- I’m on that vicious carb cycle and am struggling with my diet and about 10 extra pounds. Do you have any suggestions for easy shopping lists, recipes etc. that help with going gluten free? The list of non-edible foods is terrifying for me! And I am also working a job that consumes 12-15 hours of my day (swing shift work…which also plays into the 10 extra pounds) and don’t have a lot of time for shopping, cooking, prepping, etc. I’ve even considered hiring a personal chef. Any ideas? Thank you!

    • 2. betterbydrbrooke  |  August 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      Hi Becky! Part of this could be the gluteomorphins and part could be the carb/blood sugar/stress cycle too (with the 15hrs of work, etc adrenals are probably involved). If you want to give the gluten free a go, focus on the biggies – the gluten containing grains, breads, pastas, soy sauce, baked goods, etc and worry less about all those misc. ones on the list. So keep in a small amount of other carbs so long as they are gluten free: fruit, sweet potato, legumes, or gluten free grains. Have a bit at every meal, eat regularly – even if its just 10 almonds, but a bit of something in your mouth every 3 hours. I think this is important for you because I’m guessing blood sugar is at least part of the problem. After a week or so, try taking all the gluten out and still be mindful of how much carbs at each meal (try 5-10 bites per meal). When you start to stabilize on this you can focus more on the weight loss part, then try decreasing those carbs a bit to say no more than 5 bites per meal.
      I go into the carb management and give loads of recipes – even a whole chapter on prepping and pulling this off – in the book I wrote with Joe Dowdell, Ultimate You. You can just focus on the nutrition part if you want and skip the exercise part. And you may want to consider some adrenal adaptogenic herbs such as aswhwaganda, rhodiola, and holy basil to help with the stress/blood sugar part of this.
      Hope that’s helpful! Here’s another post on blood sugar: https://betterbydrbrooke.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/the-sugar-swing-blood-sugar-fat-loss/
      And I have lots of gluten free meal ideas on my Better By Dr Brooke Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/betterbydrbrooke

      • 3. Becky Dodge  |  August 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm

        Thank you so much! I’ll have to check out your book. Wish I lived a little closer to the east coast…I’d love to come see you! 🙂

  • 4. Karen Cunningham  |  August 8, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I am so thoroughly enjoying your blog Dr. Brooke…Thank You

    • 5. betterbydrbrooke  |  August 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      Thank you Karen! That’s great to hear – I hope with baby girl nearly a year old I’ll have more time to keep up with blogging now 🙂 I do love it!

  • 6. JJ  |  August 8, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Hi Brooke,
    Maybe I’ve missed it, but I haven’t heard you mention gluten as it pertains to people with autism. I know it is a touchy subject for medical Dr.’s to lean one way or the other because of the AMA’s opinion on it. What has been your experience with your patients with autism? Do you try to avoid this subject or have you just not seen a significant difference either way? Love your blog by the way. So proud of you : ) JJ

    • 7. betterbydrbrooke  |  August 13, 2012 at 11:38 pm

      Hi JJ 🙂 I don’t work with Autism at all, so I can’t speak from a large amount of experience here but anything inflammatory or especially neurlogically inflammatory like gluten and casein (in dairy) I would certainly recommend avoiding in any neuro or brain based condition. Autism is certainly a complicated issue, but I’d definitely recommend a gluten free trial for a bit longer in this case, maybe 6 months and do a good food allergy panel like the Cyrex ones to be sure there’s nothing else.

      Thanks for reading!!

  • 8. Starla  |  August 9, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Interesting reading! Funny thing – I have celiac disease and after shifting to a gluten free diet, saw a fair amount of weight loss -but so much of that was due to a distended, swollen abdomen from the damage I was doing to my intestine. Friends and family saw the weight loss thing and thought they would try the diet for weight loss purposes. Doesn’t work that way, silly people! If anything, keeping weight down can become even MORE of a challenge when trying to incorporate gluten free processed foods. Breads are higher calorie – pastas are higher calorie- rice, while fat free, is a calorie and blood sugar nightmare… just a lot of things to watch for and consider. Gluten-free is the way to go for those of us who need it – but to use it strictly as a weight loss methodology – ugh. Just say no. 🙂

    • 9. betterbydrbrooke  |  August 13, 2012 at 11:39 pm

      Hi Starla – yes, sadly there is no magic bullet for weight loss 🙂 Everyone’s got multiple factors to work on – the main one being getting to know what works for each one of us!
      And those gluten free goodies are certainly tempting!

  • 10. TS  |  August 12, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Thanks for the Gluten Derivatives list, it was good to have a reminder of some foods that I rarely eat. I have RA, hit the gym, started Paleo 8 months ago, so went grain/legume free, started raw milk Kefir, however my FBS’s still are in the 105- 110 range, any suggestions on next step?

    • 11. betterbydrbrooke  |  August 13, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      Autoimmune disease are very complex and the immune system is triggered by so many things – foods such as gluten are just one facet. Blood sugar, vitamin D, estrogens, etc all need to be looked at. Paleo is certainly the best autoimmune diet in my opinion (for most people) so you’re on the right track there – but as you can see from your FBS’s there’s still much inflammation going on. Lots you can do though – if interested you can contact my office for more info at admin@betterbydrbrooke.com.

      Best of luck!
      Dr Brooke

  • 12. Nikki  |  August 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I am a recently diagnosed Celiac – Jan 2012. My normal weight was around 117/120 lbs (I’m 5’4″ tall) before I got pregnant 2.5 years ago. I then gained 18 lbs with twins, had them two months early and went down to about 100lbs within about 4 months. I believe that my pregnancy triggered the Celiac and while my kids were in the hospital for 2 months and I was pumping – I ate anything and everything I could to keep up. I struggled for 2 years not knowing what it was. Everyone told me it was my lifestyle – working too hard, raising twins, not getting enough sleep not eating right, etc. Then I went to a doctor – I now feel 10 times better than I did and GAINED 25 lbs!! I am higher than I was before my pregnancy because my body wasn’t absorbing anything – so I am one of those few who have gained! But I needed it – however, i would like to shed a couple now 🙂 Amazing how your life changes in an instant.

  • 13. Cyndy Bunn  |  August 18, 2012 at 1:12 am

    Found your blog and love it! I’ve not been diagnosed with celiac officially, but my homeopath has suggested staying wheat free due to my EAV readings. I’m 5’4″ and had lost from 185 to 135 over the past few years using the homeopathic HCG (about 5 rounds–pretty much gluten free that whole time). When I stopped each round, my body would always gain back up. I’m now at 160 on a paleo diet (no grains, no legumes, no dairy but heavy cream, fruit 1x/wk, protein, veges, no starchy veges). It’s SO frustrating. Have you seen any bad effects of the HCG not “resetting” the hypothalamus and causing me to gain back this much weight?

    • 14. betterbydrbrooke  |  August 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      Hi Cyndy, I have see quite a bit of post HCG/low calorie diet hormonal chaos when it comes to weight regain. I’d recommend a more livable plan and come off the HCG and get your adrenals and thyroid recovered. Your diet looks lovely – some starches/fruit might be necessary to lose weight though (depends on your adrenal status, blood sugar problems, etc), highly individual when it comes to just how many carbs we can tolerate but something to think about. If you add any back in use your symptoms of blood sugar getting too high such as feeling sleepy or low energy after eating or post meal carb cravings increasing, then you know you need to lower the carbs a bit.

      Some great books to work with your individual carb needs are my book Ultimate You or check our my colleagues/friends at http://www.metaboliceffect.com.

      So happy to hear you are enjoying my blog – thanks for reading!

  • 15. Geo  |  February 23, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I lost 30lbs in weight when I first went gluten free (and I still ate really well 🙂


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