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How to Maintain a Gluten Free Diet and Lose Weight Over the Holidays

How do you stay gluten free and lose weight during the holiday season?

December 11, 2013

Some of us might worry how the holidays will affect our waistlines, but there are many others who have to worry whether those fun holiday treats will make them ill. Imagine finding out that many of your favorite foods, especially those fun holiday treats, are making you sick. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many people who have celiac disease or gluten-intolerance symptoms.

What is Gluten?

Quite simply, gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. While oats are naturally free of gluten, it's important to note they're often contaminated during the manufacturing process. Also, byproducts of wheat, barley, and rye are used in many manufactured foods, serving as fillers, stabilizers, or thickeners. As a result, gluten can show up almost anywhere. Therefore, knowing and understanding the kinds of foods that may be manufactured or cross-contaminated with gluten is essential to adhering to a 100% gluten-free diet. This is especially true if you've been diagnosed with celiac or a gluten intolerance.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that can affect people of any gender, race, or age. With celiac disease, the body's immune system attacks the villi of the small intestines, resulting in a lack of nutrient absorption. Villi, by the way, are tiny structures that line the intestines and absorb nutrients. Gluten can prevent the villi from absorbing necessary nutrients. Over time, if the villi become more and more damaged, the body can become malnourished.

There are more than 300 symptoms related to celiac. The most common include:

  • bloating
  • diarrhea and/or constipation
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash)
  • osteoporosis
  • joint pain
  • headaches
  • mood changes

However, some individuals have asymptomatic celiac disease, meaning they have no present symptoms of the disease other than damaged villi. Gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can be diagnosed when an individual has many celiac-like symptoms but doesn't have a positive blood test for celiac disease.

Weight-Loss Tips for the Gluten Free-er

Just like anyone else this time of year, losing weight is also a concern for the gluten free-er. Fortunately, gluten-free weight-loss tips are very similar to weight-loss tips for non-celiac or gluten-intolerant individuals. Here are some things to consider:

  • Choose real foods versus processed foods. For instance, choose fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
  • When on a gluten-free diet, check labels to ensure that any packaged frozen products don't contain gluten ingredients. Going with fresh foods is the best way to avoid gluten additives and fillers. Reach for gluten-free whole grains like brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa.
  • Eat three meals and two snacks daily so you're eating about every three to four hours. Frequent meals and snacks help manage portion sizes and will keep you feeling satisfied throughout the day. After all, when you feel satisfied, you feel in charge of your food choices.
  • Make half of your plate fresh produce at meals. By filling up 50% of your plate with fruit or non-starchy vegetables, you make half of your meal very low calorie while still enjoying your favorite foods on the other half of your plate.
  • Pair proteins and produce at snacks. Proteins digest slowly, keeping you feeling fuller longer. And produce fills you up with high fiber.
  • Enjoy packaged foods in moderation. Remember, just because a product says it is gluten free doesn't mean that it's actually healthy. Whether they're gluten free or not, cookies are still cookies.
  • Alcohol falls into the same category as sweet treats, snack foods, and sugary drinks. They're all empty calories. But they're a part of life during the holidays, so we shouldn't deprive ourselves. Gluten-free alcohols include wine, hard ciders, gluten-free beer, vodka, tequila, and rum.
  • Men should have no more than two alcoholic beverages per day or a total of 14 per week. Women should have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day or a total of seven per week. Just keep in mind alcohol is full of empty calories, so consider how this will fit into your plan while losing weight.

How to Have a Healthier Gluten-Free Holiday

Staying gluten free during the holidays can be challenging to say the least. That's why the best advice is to plan ahead. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need to stay healthy, especially if it's around your friends and family. Besides, your loved ones wouldn't want you to become ill just because a few simple measures weren't taken to ensure gluten-free or uncontaminated items weren't around for you to enjoy.

Here are a few tips for planning a happy gluten-free holiday:

  • Search for gluten-free holiday recipes. These can be really fun to try.
  • Ask if you can bring gluten-free dishes to any holiday parties or dinners.
  • Bring the party to you. By having the event at your home, you can control all preparation of the foods.
  • If you're unsure if gluten-free foods will be available but don't feel comfortable asking, have a small meal or snack before going to the event. This way you're not hungry and won't feel deprived.
  • Seek out vegetables, cheese, fruit, and steamed vegetables without sauces. Don't be afraid to ask what's in a particular dish or how something was prepared. You may very well be able to eat any meat or fish that are available.

Gluten-free Celiac disease infographic thumbnail More >>

Just like anything else in life, experience makes gluten-free routines feel simple and comfortable. Reach out to support groups in your area to hear from fellow gluten free-ers. Learn how they navigate through the holiday season. You just might learn something great worth sharing.

If you have thoughts, stories, or ideas, please share "How do you stay gluten free and lose weight during the holiday season?"

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Stefanie Painter Retrofit Registered Dietitian

Stefanie Painter is a weight-loss expert, registered & licensed dietitian, and personal fitness trainer. Her years of experience span across clinical nutrition, foodservice, nutrition education, child nutrition, and weight loss. She’s currently pursuing a Doctorate of Health Education. At Retrofit, Stefanie dedicates her time and knowledge to helping clients develop realistic, lifelong habits to achieve a healthy weight. She helps her clients understand that they each have their own personal needs and paths for success. Stefanie believes there is more than one way to reach your goals, and she will work relentlessly to help you find yours.

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