5 Strategies for Gluten-Free Weight Loss Success

Many people who decide to use the gluten-free diet to lose weight do so because they're encouraged by how well it seems to work for others. But how can you make sure the diet will work for you?

The truth is, the results you've seen some celebrities get may seem magical, but they're actually not. Instead, those results are the result of careful eating, plenty of exercise—and yes, a diet devoid of wheat and gluten.

However, it's far from clear which of these factors is the most important, and it may well be that a healthy diet and lots of physical activity turn out to be much more important than eating gluten-free.

gluten-free dairy-free lunch
Lew Robertson / Getty Images

Does It Work?

It may even turn out that eating gluten-free doesn't do anything for your weight at all, beyond just limiting your food choices. There's certainly a debate about whether ditching wheat and gluten actually does help you lose weight more easily than simply dieting.

Some nutritionists say that dropping gluten from your diet means that you've got less you can eat, and therefore are consuming fewer calories overall... which naturally leads to weight loss.

However, other experts—notably, cardiologist Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly—argue that wheat (and not just the gluten protein in wheat) actually augment your appetite, causing you to eat more.

In an interview, Dr. Davis said that wheat contains appetite-stimulating compounds that encourage your body to produce more insulin, a hormone that can cause you to store fat. However, there's no independent research to prove his claim.

In his own practice, Dr. Davis said he has seen people drop an average of about 15 to 20 pounds in a month when they simply eliminate wheat.

Yes, your mileage may vary—there's certainly no guarantee you'll see those kinds of results, and despite the positive anecdotal evidence, there hasn't been any published research on this yet to show whether or not it truly works.

The good news is, though, you can try several strategies that may maximize the results of your gluten-free weight loss efforts.

Avoid Processed Gluten-Free Foods

That gluten-free cake mix looks yummy (and it tastes pretty darn close to the real deal, too), but to really lose weight wheat- and gluten-free, you'll need to steer clear.

A few grain-based gluten-free products like snacks, bread, pizza, cookies, and cakes actually have even higher calories (and potentially can provoke an even more vigorous insulin response) than the wheat-based staples they're replacing.

In addition, lots of people seem to think that the term "gluten-free" on the label actually means "calorie-free." Remember this: Eating more calories just because they're found in gluten-free foods won't help you lose weight. Quite the opposite.

Count the calories in gluten-free foods, because they count too, just like calories in non-gluten-free foods.

Watch Your Total Calories

Many people do find they drop weight seemingly effortlessly when they go gluten-free, but only up to a point. That point, says Dr. Davis, seems to come at about 15 to 20 pounds worth of weight loss for many people.

The truth is, going gluten-free tends to decrease your cravings and appetite overall (at least after your initial cravings for wheat-based treats have subsided), and a decreased appetite leads to fewer calories consumed.

To keep the weight-loss ball rolling, you'll probably need to start counting calories and try to stay within recommendations for your body.

Low-Carb, Grain-Free, or Paleo

This is controversial, but Dr. Davis and other advocates of a wheat and gluten-free diet for weight loss believe a low-carb diet is best for weight loss. It isn't just the wheat-based carbs that stimulate insulin production and make you hungry, the theory goes—it's all the carbs.

Dr. Davis advocates limiting high-carb foods like legumes and fruits and entirely eliminating gluten-free grain-based foods like cereals and bread, most snack foods (like gluten-free potato chips), and foods containing high-fructose corn syrup.

It's possible to mind your nutritional needs and follow a low-carb, gluten-free diet, if you're careful. Make your carbs count.

Keep in mind that the jury's still out on the Paleo diet—some experts warn that you'll be passing up valuable vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients if you skimp on foods like fruit, beans, and whole grain rice.

Be Truly Gluten-Free

Lots of people think they're gluten-free when they're really not (gluten hides in many places you wouldn't suspect), and in some people, anecdotal evidence indicates even small amounts of wheat and gluten appear to curb weight loss when they're consumed on a regular basis.

There's no research on this, but if you're serious about trying to lose weight gluten-free, you may want to consider trying to eliminate all wheat and gluten. Otherwise, Dr. Davis warns, you may not completely stop the insulin response that keeps you from dropping the pounds.

Don't Forget to Exercise

This could be the most important tip of all.

Cutting the wheat and the gluten may help you lose weight more easily, but if you really want to accelerate your efforts, you're going to need to break a sweat.

Exercise can help you build more muscle and lose fat, and muscle burns more calories, helping you lose even more fat. Don't view your new gluten-free diet as a replacement for hitting the gym—make time for some healthy physical activities.

A Word From Verywell

Going wheat-free/gluten-free may jump-start your weight loss efforts, but it's no magic bullet—to get the best results (and the body you want), you'll need to put in much more work than looking for the words "gluten-free" on a bag of cookies.

Incorporate some good exercise and a little bit of calorie-counting, and you should be on your way to success.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a gluten belly?

    The term gluten belly may be used to refer to excessive and painful bloating that occurs when someone with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), and wheat allergy eats food with gluten in it.

  • Will I lose weight on a gluten-free diet?

    Studies show that people with celiac disease who are overweight or obese can lose weight when they follow a gluten-free diet. However, there's no research showing that people who do not have celiac will get the same weight-loss benefits.

  • Is a gluten-free diet healthier?

    For those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, wheat allergies, or conditions such as IBS, a gluten-free diet offers benefits like improving nutritional intake and reducing pain. However, for the general population, there's no proof that gluten-free diets help. On the contrary, there is some evidence that it may lead to nutritional deficiencies. Trying to adhere to the restrictions can also be a financial burden or create stress, which could negatively affect your overall health. 

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jones AL. The Gluten-Free Diet: Fad or Necessity?. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(2):118-123. doi:10.2337/ds16-0022

  2. Marcason W. Is there evidence to support the claim that a gluten-free diet should be used for weight loss?. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111(11):1786. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2011.09.030

  3. Miller T, Mull S, Aragon AA, Krieger J, Schoenfeld BJ. Resistance Training Combined With Diet Decreases Body Fat While Preserving Lean Mass Independent of Resting Metabolic Rate: A Randomized Trial. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018;28(1):46-54. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0221

  4. Roszkowska A, Pawlicka M, Mroczek A, Bałabuszek K, Nieradko-Iwanicka B. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: a review. Medicina. 2019;55(6):222. doi:10.3390%2Fmedicina55060222

  5. 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

  6. Niland B, Cash BD. Health benefits and adverse effects of a gluten-free diet in non-celiac disease patients. Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018;14(2):82-91.

Additional Reading

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.