Not All Celiacs Are Skinny

When the doctor confirmed I had celiac disease AND allergies to dairy, corn, eggs, soy, and a bunch of other foods, the first thing I thought was What would I eat?  The second thing that popped into my mind was At least I’ll lose weight! Trying to shed pounds for decades, I figured all those food restrictions would surely make that horrid digital scale go down.

That was eight years ago and I’m still overweight. This embarrasses me. I’m the person who orders grilled salmon or chicken and a salad with olive oil and lemon, yet I’m the fattest one at the table.

IMG_4321My weight also makes me angry and a little depressed. I mean if I can’t eat cheesecake and lasagna for the rest of my life, let me at least look good in a pair of skinny jeans.

Before diagnosis and for a long time afterwards–while I was learning how to eat sans gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn–food didn’t last long in my body, if you know what I mean. So one would naturally assume, I’d lose weight. Nope. Didn’t happen.

So I went to see a nutritionist. After much testing, she said I was malnourished. This seemed funny considering my pant size was creeping up. She put me on a nutrient-rich diet with much more protein than I’d been consuming and I felt great for the first time in years.

But I didn’t lose weight.

Okay, time to come clean. During these early years of food-restricted eating, I did test the gluten-free products. I mean I was feeling pretty sorry for myself that I’d never eat pizza or a croissant or an omelet ever again. So when I came across a processed gluten-free product that was also dairy-free and soy-free, I had to give it a try. Prime example: Amy’s Rice Macaroni with Non-Dairy Cheeze  Plus companies kept sending me free food in hopes of a blog review. I had to eat them–it was part of my job.

IMG_3129 2Turns out a lot of those allergy-friendly treats are high in calories, fat, carbs, and sugar. That Amy’s Mac & Cheeze? 400 calories, 16 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat, 47 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar. Sure my metabolism was out of whack,  but those gluten-free/soy-free/diary-free chocolate chips I popped into my mouth weren’t helping either.

Also turns out I’m not the only fat celiac. A 2008 study from Northern Ireland found weight gain is common in patients following a strict gluten-free diet. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center summarized three possible explanations for weight gain based on this study as well as some other European studies (Impact, Spring 2008, Vol. 8, Issue 2).

First, when the small intestine heals after eliminating gluten, nutrients are absorbed more normally. Dietary  carbohydrates, proteins and fats then contribute calories to the body. For many celiacs who lose too much weight, this is a desirable outcome. For those of us struggling with too many pounds, not so much.

Another possibility for packing on the pounds is gluten-free substitutes often contain higher amounts of fats and sugars than the wheat/gluten versions. So many of us food-restricted folks are so busy reading the labels for gluten and allergens that we forget to check for calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sugar. I have also noticed potion sizes for gluten-free foods are often smaller than foods with gluten, and I eat two servings instead of one. Oops.

Finally, adults with malabsorption from undiagnosed and active celiac disease may consume more food and not gain weight. Once on the gluten-free diet, they may find they must eat less to maintain a healthy diet. Before I knew what was wrong with me, I was often hungry–food never stayed in me long–and I even craved the very foods that I later learned were making me ill. After diagnosis of celiac and food allergies, I felt so restricted I didn’t really look at how much I was eating. Sometimes, especially when I travelled, I overate because I never knew when my next meal might come. Sure, I often ordered the salad or the plain burger without a bun, but I also grabbed that bag of gluten-free potato chips in case I got hungry later.

IMG_4307I’ve come to realize I can’t keep blaming my tight pants on a broken metabolism. Starting WeightWatchers last summer–Is this my third time?–was a game changer. I began to start paying attention to the portions of the allergy-free food I put on my plate. Rather than just examining labels for caramel coloring and maltodextrin, I paid attention to the nutritional labels as well. With WeightWatchers allotting me 30 points to eat each day, whole foods are much better choices than processed foods such as Amy’s Rice Mac and Non-Dairy Cheeze (16 points!). I now know the dairy-free yogurt, the agave nectar I added to my morning coffee, even the Ruby Red Grapefruit in juice I ate as a “healthy snack” are all loaded with sugar.

I’m losing around two pounds a week and feeling better than I have in years. The WeightWatchers program encourages me to track everything I put in my mouth and it’s been easier pinpointing what foods contain an ingredient I react to. For example, I thought I could eat a little corn but every time I eat citric acid derived from corn I feel sick. No more citric acid for me.

I’m not endorsing WeightWatchers here, but I am suggesting if you’re food-restricted yet struggling with unwanted pounds, you may want to take a closer look at those allergy-friendly food labels and the amount of food you’re consuming.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Not All Celiacs Are Skinny” first appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Return of an Allergic Foodie

How difficult can it be to write a blog post once a week? After all, I LOVE to write. I enjoy helping others with food allergies and celiac disease. I don’t mind sharing embarrassing details about my life with complete strangers.

So why haven’t I written anything these past weeks . . .  uh, months. I’d like to tell you I found a cure to my food woes and have been travelling around the world teaching others how they, too, can cure their leaky gut. I’d like to tell you I discovered a magic pill to make my and my son’s celiac disease disappear. I’d like to tell you I’ve been out promoting a book that remedies food allergies within weeks.

Of course, none of these things are true. The truth is I haven’t felt like focusing on my health issues.

I got SICK of being SICK.

When I was first diagnosed with multiple food allergies, I was told I could stop my leaky gut by eliminating offending foods. Once my gut was healed, I could slowly re-introduce those foods.

Didn’t happen. I am STILL allergic to soy, dairy, corn, capers, asparagus, vanilla, nutmeg. I know this because every so often some waiter or a well-meaning friend poisons me with one of these foods.

I recently began Weight Watchers. Yes, even though I cannot eat anything, I am fat. I sit in those meetings listening to the leader say how I can eat ANYTHING if I just keep track of those points. Pizza. Cake. Cookies. Nothing is off limits.

Uh, she hasn’t met anyone with severe food allergies or celiac disease or eosinophilic esophagitis, has she?

Having so many food restrictions as well as a broken metabolism just doesn’t seem fair. At least if I have to eat fish without butter sauce, or ribs without barbecue sauce, or rice noodles without teriyaki sauce, let me look good in a bathing suit!

In addition to getting sick of being sick, I also started a pity party.

Without making any sort of formal decision, I took a break from blogging. Rather than read the latest allergy studies, I went to the golf range. I stopped writing and began a new boutique business. I read fiction instead of allergy-free cookbooks. I helped a foster care mom with her foster kids and took over my elderly mother’s finances.

Doing all these things rejuvenated me. I may have a lousy autoimmune system, but I can still swing a golf club. I can build an entire business from the ground floor. I can make a difference in other people’s lives.

What I discovered while taking a break is this: My illness is a part of me, but it does not define me.

Though I hadn’t written anything new in months, people continued to read my old posts and comment. They emailed me their food allergy stories. They told me I helped them.

And this is why I am returning to blogging–to help. In return, you always help me.

I’d love to hear how your food restrictions don’t hold you back from living life to the fullest.

The Return of an Allergic Foodie” first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie