Can a Gluten-Free Diet Make You Thin? Miley Thinks So

The rumor mill has been swirling around Miley Cyrus again!

A noticeably thinner Miley has prompted concerns that the 19-year-old singer/actress is anorexic.

But Miley is speaking out against these rumors, tweeting:

What’s more, she’s touting the diet for everyone:

@RealFloydCyrus everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing! U won’t go back!

What is Gluten and What’s Wrong with It?

Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, oats, and barley. Gluten is found mainly in foods but may also be found in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, and lip balms.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with gluten, that is, unless you have a disorder called celiac disease, or gluten sensitive enteropathy (GSE)!

Photo Credit: Boston Childrens Hospital

GSE is an autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.  When exposed to gluten, the body produces an abnormal immune response to it, attacking the lining of small intestine (specifically the small fingerlike projections called villi) where digestion takes place.

This leads to the symptoms of celiac disease:

• abdominal bloating and pain
• chronic diarrhea
• vomiting
• constipation
• pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
• weight loss

About 1% of the population has GSE. But there may be another 9% or so who have what is called gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance. These people may have similar symptoms to those with GSE but do not show the same damage to the bowel as those with GSE.

The only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong, gluten-free diet.

Can a Gluten-Free Diet Make You Lose Weight?

Yes, and no.

The answer is complex for several reasons.

First, it depends on whether you have gluten sensitive enteropathy or not. Studies have shown that if you have GSE and you were underweight,  going on a gluten-free diet can increase your weight. If you have GSE and were obese, then you may lose weight after starting a gluten-free diet (GFD).

What about if you don’t have GSE? Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah have touted a gluten-free diet as a way to lose weight, but there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to prove this. Large scale studies just haven’t been done.

According to Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (who also happens to have celiac disease):

There is nothing magical about eliminating gluten that will improve your health or enhance weight loss unless you are intolerant to gluten.

Many confuse a gluten-free diet with a low carb diet (which can help you lose weight).  Although it eliminates foods such as bread and pasta, it doesn’t eliminate other high carb foods, such as rice, beans and corn. Gluten sensitive individuals must also be aware of, and eliminate, the small amounts of gluten found in foods like cold cuts, salad dressing, and even lip balm.

The popularity of GFD has lead to an explosion of gluten-free foods becoming widely available in local stores. This is great if you need to be on the diet. However, you have to be aware that these are not low calorie foods! Some prepared foods have additional fat and sugar added mixed into substitute flours such as white rice flour or potato starch to make them more palatable.

What about all the anecdotal stories about people who have lost weight on the diet? Maybe they lost weight solely because they were more aware of what they were putting into their mouths? Or they started to be more active? There are too many factors involved to say that just because someone lost weight while eating certain foods, that the change in food type CAUSED the weight loss (association does not equal causation). Certainly more research needs to be done!

So, bottom line? A Gluten-free diet is not a panacea for weight loss. It is, however, an important diet for those who suffer from GSE or intolerance.

Have you tried a gluten-free diet? Did it change your weight?


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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