Can You Be Overweight and Still Have Celiac Disease?

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Are people with celiac disease always thin, or can they be overweight? Overweight people can definitely have celiac disease. The myth that all people with celiac disease are thin is one that turns out to be pretty far from the truth.

Why Is Celiac Disease Associated With Being Thin?

There are two main reasons why people often associate celiac disease with being very thin. First, years ago it was thought that celiac sprue—which is what celiac disease used to be called—only developed in babies and young children. These young patients were usually extremely underweight for their age and don't grow fast enough, which is known as failure to thrive. This problem is one of the main celiac disease symptoms in children. But this is not the whole story for either children or adults.

Another reason why celiac disease is associated with being thin is that the disease damages the lining of the small intestine. Celiac disease can cause malnutrition due to malabsorption, in which nutrients can't be absorbed properly by the body. People with malabsorption are often underweight, which is why doctors did not usually consider a diagnosis of celiac disease in people who are overweight.

It's Possible to Be Overweight With Celiac Disease

Now, however, medical research has been showing that people with celiac disease are not always thin.

For example, in a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 15.2% of adults with celiac disease were overweight when they were diagnosed and 6.8% were obese. Together, these outnumbered the 17.3% who were underweight. This is still a far smaller number of overweight and obese people than in the general population, but it shows that it is not rare for a person with celiac disease to be overweight.

A 2014 review focused on overweight and obese people with celiac disease and found that a variety of factors could cause the link, including greater absorption of calories by more developed intestines, the potential lack of nutritional balance in strict gluten-free diets, and the worldwide trend toward weight gain and obesity.

More and more doctors are realizing that the diagnosis of celiac disease should be considered in patients who are overweight, too.

One benefit to going gluten-free if you have celiac disease: Studies have shown that weight tends to normalize, or revert to normal, once people with this condition adopt a gluten-free diet. If you're underweight, you may gain some weight and if you're overweight, you might actually see your waistline shrink.

A Word From Verywell

It is possible to be overweight and have celiac disease. While most people with celiac disease have one or more digestive symptoms, some do not. Screening for celiac disease is not done routinely if you don't have symptoms. Discuss any problems you have with your doctor so you can receive the appropriate tests, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Article Sources

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  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Symptoms & causes of celiac disease. Updated June 2016.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & facts for celiac disease. Updated June 2016.

  3. Cheng J, Brar PS, Lee AR, Green PH. Body mass index in celiac disease: beneficial effect of a gluten-free diet. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2010;44(4):267-71. doi:10.1097/MCG.0b013e3181b7ed58

  4. Diamanti A, Capriati T, Basso MS, et al. Celiac disease and overweight in children: an update. Nutrients. 2014;6(1):207-20. doi:10.3390/nu6010207

  5. Freeman HJ. Dietary compliance in celiac disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(15):2635-2639. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i15.2635

Additional Reading

  • Cheng J, Brar PS, Lee AR, Green PHR. Body Mass Index in Celiac Disease. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2010;44(4):267-271. doi:10.1097/mcg.0b013e3181b7ed58.