How Celiac Disease Contributes to Weight Gain and Loss

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot process gluten, leading to intestinal damage and problems with digestion. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, which can be found in common foods such as pasta, bread, baked goods, and crackers. Celiac disease is becoming more common, though experts say that cases are still underdiagnosed as the disease can manifest in a variety of conflicting symptoms. Many experience irritability, headaches, fatigue, and digestive issues. Many will lose weight, though a minority will actually gain weight. Here are some of the ways that celiac disease can contribute to weight gain and loss, and how to manage those symptoms:

Weight Loss

Most people who suffer from celiac disease will experience notable weight loss or the inability to gain weight even through increasing consumption. The reason is that the digestive upset and intestinal damage caused by the disease makes it hard for the body to absorb nutrients from food, leading to malnourishment. Fat can also pass through the body undigested, leading to fatty, foul-smelling stool. Weight loss, chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain and swelling, and smelly stool are some of the most common, classic symptoms of the disease.

Weight Gain

In a minority of cases, those who suffer from celiac disease can actually experience weight gain, even to the point of obesity. Because the body becomes malnourished, the sufferer experiences severe cravings as the body attempts to make up for the lost nutrients. The malnourishment can also lead to hormonal imbalances that affect the function of the thyroid, leading to weight gain. An impaired ability to metabolize fat and sugar further compounds the weight gain.

Treating the Symptoms

Every person who suffers from celiac disease can experience a different range of symptoms, and there is no cure for the disease. However, the treatment for all the symptoms is the same: Adoption of a 100% gluten-free diet. Your diet should focus on high-quality calories from lean meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Grains should not include gluten, such as brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, and millet. Slowly, the body will heal itself and start to absorb the nutrients it needs. Those who need to gain weight will start to do so because the needed nutrients will be received. Those who need to lose weight will do so because the body will start to receive the nutrients it needs and will need to eat less to receive them.

Celiac disease can cause a number of symptoms for years without a proper diagnosis being given. Some may experience weight loss, while others may experience weight gain. If you suspect you may have celiac disease, you can talk about your symptoms with your doctor and get the proper screening. You can also try a gluten-free diet to see if your symptoms alleviate and you start to feel better.

Amanda Tradwick is a grant researcher and writer for She has a Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Delaware, and has recently finished research on college grant and federal pell grant.