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Gluten Free “Diet” vs. Gluten free Lifestyle


Living gluten free has received quite a bit of mainstream press lately. The Dr. Oz feature of course comes to mind, and there was a 12 page special report in USA today in November, and numerous other articles in publications including the NY Times.

With the rising awareness of a gluten free “diet” comes increased numbers of people trying the “diet.” Here’s the reason I am adding quotations every time I use the word diet here. There’s a method to the madness, I promise.

“Diet” as per has several different meanings and uses. It can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective:

  1. Food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health
  2. A particular selection of food, esp. as designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition or to prevent or treat a disease
  3. Such a selection or a limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight
  4. To select or limit the food one eats to improve one’s physical condition or to lose weight

This is only a small selection of the 10 potential meanings.

Gluten free and weight loss?

You can see how this one little word has multiple conotations associated with it. Most people associate the word “diet” with the 3rd definition, from my experience. A lifestyle approach to diet would be definition #1. With the media exposure of the gluten free diet, there are some who are associating the gluten free diet with a weight loss diet.

Not so fast, buttercup. This is not necessarily the case. Any method of eating can be a weight/fat loss diet. It depends on activity level, what you eat, but most importantly how much you eat. Can you gain weight on a gluten free diet? Hells yeah. You can lose it too. You can gain/lose weight eating anything. The laws of thermodynamics do not change.

Popular diets

Let’s take a very quick and admittedly non-complete look at some popular “diets.”

  • Atkins: Taken in it’s purest form, the idea of eating meats and vegetables, and fats only. Excludes a complete food group.
  • South Beach: A balanced diet including all food groups eventually, but in their whole forms.

At their inception, people by and large did quite well using these methods of eating, provided their daily caloric intake was less than their daily expenditure. Then, there was the advent of the Atkins bars, and pancakes, and the South Beach cereal, and more bars, etc and so on. These foods made it easier for people to consume more calories. It’s much easier and quicker to eat several to many hundred calories worth of a nutrition bar than of chicken and broccoli. The satiety (fullness) factor is less, so more is eaten. And guess what? No more fat/weight loss.

The gluten free “diet” in it’s purest form is a very healthful diet, and can certainly aid in controlling calorie intake.

Peter Bronski just did a blog post (here is his Gluten Free Athlete profile) on a brochure he found at his local market.

Check this out:

  • Eat more non-processed foods.
  • Eat an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit.
  • Eat a serving of beans or legumes and nuts daily.
  • Eat fish twice a week, especially wild salmon.
  • Pay attention to your calcium and vitamin D intake to maintain healthy bones.
  • Choose lean poultry and meats as well as low-fat dairy products.
  • Balance the food that you eat with daily physical activity.

Sounds like an awfully nutritious way to live to me.

Getting into trouble

Where we can get into trouble is just like in any other “diet.” The gluten free cookies, candies, cereals-these are items where it is very easy to overeat calorie wise.

So when people ask me if they can lose weight on a gluten free diet, the answer is yes. It’s not rocket surgery. You can lose weight eating Burger King if you keep your calories where they need to be. (I DO NOT recommend that-it’s just an illustration.)

Does this mean that everyone should go on a gluten free diet?

Heck no. For those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, living gluten free is not an option, it’s a necessity. And you can choose to eat gluten free in whatever manner you wish. For those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, this is not just a “diet.”

It’s a lifestyle, and a medical necessity. It’s a way of life and a way of living. It’s extremely important that manufacturers and restaurants understand the medical implications of the gluten free distinction and follow good practices, not just jump on the gluten free bandwagon.

There are those have not been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or celiac disease who choose to live gluten free. They may be part of the many who are undiagnosed. It may be a personal decision. Honestly, the description provided by the brochure above would be a beneficial way for most people to eat.

Bottom line-there is no “magic” in a gluten free diet. If by going gluten free you cut out processed carbs, then by default your calorie intake may drop, which will cause weight loss if your activity stays the same. It’s not magic. It’s math.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced people asking you about a gluten free diet? Speak your mind in the comments below!

7 comments on “Gluten Free “Diet” vs. Gluten free Lifestyle

  1. Jon Fernandes

    awesome article erin! I’m glad that i am not the only one that feels the same way. I 100% agree with you about the context of the word “diet”. i tend to tell people that i eat gluten-free instead of saying i am on a gluten-free diet.

    It is funny too. Some people think since i have different food sensitivities (and that i intermittent fast) that i don’t eat anything.

    I’m bulking right now and i am eating tons of food LOL!

    • Jon,
      Funny the power one little word has, isn’t it?
      And yes-epitomize the life well lived-and food well eaten-with food sensitivities. There is a boatload of great food just waiting for us to eat!

  2. When I discovered I was gluten intolerant (still pending celiac diagnosis), several friends thought it was a ploy to lose weight and when they saw me eating a potato chip they said with a knowing chuckle, “you’re not gonna lose weight that way!” I tried to explain but I don’t think that particular group of people ever “got” it. But oh well. And I didn’t even use the word “diet” when speaking with them…!

    And yea, you can gain weight on a GF diet — at first I lost a ton of weight b/c I had to figure it all out and then I gained some back — there is still chocolate out there and GF treats and potato chips and and and…. Like this article!

  3. That is exactly why the tagline of my blog is “Living and loving a mobile gluten free life.” I’m no “dieting”, I’m eating what is healthy for ME. It IS my lifestyle.

    • Absolutely Karen. Even if something is a “diet” in the sense of one of the other definitions, it still has to be a way of life. Otherwise it won’t work-hence the frequent loss-regain we see in people who are trying to lose fat.
      Keep living the life-and thanks for stopping by!

  4. Vania Lindholm

    Thank you very much for your amazing post!
    People usually have no idea why they cannot burn fat or get a better shape. The point is they all the time search for a magic pill that brings them what they want immediately while all they have to do is reading useful posts like this as well as implement the exercises.

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