5 Tips to Avoid the Pitfalls of Processed Gluten-Free Food and Weight Gain

May 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm 13 comments

[If you've gained unwanted weight on the gluten-free diet, you're not alone. Sometimes, it's because your body is finally absorbing nutrients. Sometimes, it's because you're eating too much gluten-free junk. We asked Erin Elberson Lyon of Gluten-Free Fitness to share her tips on keeping your weight in check while maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle.]

Ah, the siren song of the gluten-free label.

After being newly diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there’s nothing quite so comforting as walking down the aisle of your favorite grocery or health food store and seeing “gluten-free” on a package of crackers.

Or a package of cookies.

Or a cake.

Or a loaf of bread.

Learning you have to follow a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life can be an overwhelming moment.  You start thinking of what you can’t eat, of all the things you’ll miss, and then you walk into the store and see all this wonderful food labeled gluten-free!  Maybe it will be OK.

Erin Elberson Lyon

Erin Elberson Lyon

So, you walk through the aisles and fill your cart up with boxes and bags of all shapes, sizes and varieties. You never really ate crackers before, but these say gluten-free, so better buy them!  And look – cupcakes! Better buy those, too. You know, just in case Armageddon comes to fruition and access to gluten-free food is eliminated. And, well, you deserve it. Because you are “suffering” with celiac disease.

Right?

Nope. Sorry.

Many of us with a medical diagnosis that limits our food choices have been in that thought pattern. I know I have. The joy of seeing things that are safe to eat overcomes all rational thought of if this item would be something you would have eaten before. Or, if the item is a nutritionally sound choice at all.  I have bought mixes of things I would never have dreamed of eating prior to being diagnosed with celiac.

But I bought them. Because I could. And they were safe.

As time went on, I learned to look beyond the gluten-free label and look at actual nutritional value.  To examine if the food I was putting into my mouth was taking me toward or further away from my health and athletic goals.  Many times packaged and processed gluten-free food is rich in simple carbohydrate and starches.  It also may have a higher fat content than its “gluten-y” counterpart.  These are not necessarily bad things all the time, but certainly something to take into consideration.  If you would not ordinarily have cookies after every meal, having them now because they are gluten-free is not something I can recommend. Having this abundance of packaged and minimally nutritious food can contribute to the weight gain that some people experience, gluten-free or not.

Happily, there has been an increased movement toward higher nutrition in pre-packaged foods over the past few years, and now there are some quite good choices out there.

There’s the key.  Make an educated, informed choice.  Don’t just grab because it says gluten-free.

Here are 5 quick tips to help you avoid the pitfalls of processed gluten-free food and potentially associated weight gain:

1. Learn how to read nutritional facts and ingredient labels.

Ideally, we’d all eat whole foods and fruits for snacks all the time, but let’s be real.  Sometimes you’re going to have gluten-free pasta, and you want to make an informed choice.

2. Make the majority of your diet whole, unprocessed (without a label) foods.

Many foods are naturally gluten-free (YAY!) and so need no gluten-free label.  Think fresh meats, eggs, dairy, poultry, fish, veggies, fruits, potatoes, nuts, seeds, and oils. There is a bounty of delicious, nutritious naturally gluten-free food out there, and these foods give you a lot of nutritional bang for your caloric buck. There are naturally gluten-free grains such as quinoa and rice as well, just be aware of potential cross-contamination in processing.  If in doubt, don’t eat it until you do some research.

3. Learn how to cook.

I’m not saying you need to be Betty Crocker over here.  But learning how to make a few simple dishes and feed yourself (and your family, if appropriate) can go a long way to increasing your ability to use those whole, naturally gluten-free foods in tasty ways.  Preparing food at home lets you control the quality of your ingredients, as well as how those ingredients are prepared.  And as a bonus, you can reduce your chances of getting cross-contaminated when you prepare your own food and eat at home.  Plus, it’s cheaper. Here’s my suggestion of dishes to learn:

  • Roast or crock pot cook a whole chicken. The possibilities are endless for what you can use that meat and bones for.
  • Meatloaf/meatballs. Seriously. It’s still good.  Just use almond meal instead of breadcrumbs.
  • Grill steaks, chicken, tofu, etc.
  • A good marinara sauce. You can add protein of your choice like meat or chicken sausage and serve over spaghetti squash. Delish.
  • Chili (check your seasonings for hidden gluten)
  • Tacos with corn tortillas, lettuce cups, or as a salad.

Those dishes can easily take you through quite a few meals, and are easy to learn.  Cooking can actually be fun once you give it a shot.

4. Move your body. 

Most people do not get enough activity, and it has nothing to do with having celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Exercise/physical activity is important.  Period. You don’t have to run a marathon, but you do have to move.

5. When you pick up a package of gluten-free food, ask yourself if it is something you truly, genuinely want to eat.

That you want to eat it for the food that it is, and not just because it is “safe” or you are “entitled.”  If so, then eat it and enjoy.  If not…reconsider that choice.  Perhaps an apple?

While this is far from an all inclusive list, I hope this helps get you started on the path to making choices that go beyond just a gluten-free label.

Eat well and be well!

- Erin Elberson Lyon

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Audrey  |  May 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Great tips here! I had to figure this out when I first went gluten-free too. Trying to eat more whole foods makes such a difference!

    Reply
    • 2. Gluten Free Fitness (@ErinElberson)  |  May 9, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Hey Audrey! I think we all go through this to some extent, and even after living gluten free for the past 7-8 years I still am tempted by things I would ordinarily never eat-just because it’s new to the GF market.

      Reply
  • 3. Katherine Kelley  |  May 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I think it also helps to think of things like cupcakes as what they really are, treats. My mother-in-law sent my guy back from a visit with his favorite apple pie, which I can’t eat. She felt bad so she made a special trip to a bakery to get me a gf cupcake. It took me three days to eat that one cupcake. If I had even attempted the whole thing in one go, I would have been sick, but this was just enough of a treat for three days. Way better.

    Reply
  • 5. Emily  |  May 9, 2012 at 1:17 am

    Chocolate Brownie Larabars are what got me. Only dates to sweeten but still way too addicting. Three a day (I bought a case) at 200 calories a pop and I put on weight like you wouldn’t believe. The red flag and sirens never went off but should have since it’s an ENERGY bar, not protein bar, and has chocolate.

    Reply
  • 6. Catherine N.  |  May 9, 2012 at 8:58 am

    I wish there were higher fiber g-f breads. Udi has come out with a couple…. but most g-f readymade things have NO fiber.

    Reply
    • 7. Catherine N.  |  May 9, 2012 at 9:00 am

      Also, I wish they’d package ONE or two g-f cookies and cupcakes in one package. Instead I end up with a box of stale cookies because I only wanted one.

      Reply
      • 8. Gluten Free Fitness (@ErinElberson)  |  May 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

        Try looking into Jovial Foods. I just got their fig cookies to take on long bike rides and they come packaged in 2′s. I found them on Amazon’s subscribe and save.

    • 9. Gluten Free Fitness (@ErinElberson)  |  May 9, 2012 at 11:41 am

      Catherine,
      Yes, Udi’s is probably your best bet at this point for a higher fiber bread. Don’t forget that your best source of fiber will always be veggies and some fruit. Lots of vegs in your diet will give you all the fiber you need without any packaged foods.

      Reply
  • 10. Gluten Free Fitness (@ErinElberson)  |  May 9, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Emily, you are so right! Too much is just too much (calorie wise) even if it is good, “clean”, food. Certain foods can be very calorie dense, even if they are good ingredients. Being aware of how much you move and how many calories you actually need can go a long way.

    Reply
  • [...] out this really great article by Erin Elberson! Really helpful info. Awesome! http://celiaccentral.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/5-tips-to-avoid-the-pitfalls-of-processed-gluten-free-… This entry was posted in blog. Bookmark the permalink. ← Broccoli Cheese [...]

    Reply
  • 12. Brittany Arnett  |  June 27, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Erin, I love the attitude you take towards GF eating: It’s not the end of the world, nor is it an excuse- it’s an opportunity! Thank you for all your wisdom thus far on my life-long GF journey :)

    Reply
  • 13. Bean789  |  October 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Great article. Thank you. I was never one to eat a lot of sweets so the GL label on cookies and such, nah. But….Betty Crocker has come out with some awesome GF mixes that I can make when I want a sweet of some sort and the rest of the family finishes it all off for me. After trying some GF crackers, etc., well, I make my own now as well as my breads, rolls, muffins, cornbread, etc. Baking at home from scratch is like meditation and the results are something I can enjoy. I still haven’t perfected the bagel though. I wanted to gain weight and have only managed 8 of the 21 lbs. I need to gain back. I will keep working on it and please keep the articles coming.

    Reply

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