26 answers

Gaining Weight and Keeping It on w/Gluten Free Diet

Hi Moms, I'm fairly new to Gluten Free Diet (less than 6mos). My oldest son (8yrs old) has been looking very gaunt lately. Not sure what his current height is probably somwhere in the 10th percentile. Current weight maybe 50lbs! As a baby he was extremely chubby, as a toddler he rapidly lost all his baby fat. He definitely dropped in the growth chart from well above avg to well below normal. Dr. wasn't concerned even though I was alarmed. Around 4yrs old he became so incredibly hyperactive (not exaggerating I'm a teacher and have been around all types of children from ADHD, aspergers, attachment reactive disorder etc.) He burns more calories than he consumes, acts like the tasmanian devil during the day, crashes and burns at night. I am not worried about the amount of food he eats. He's still a voracious eater. Not really a picky eater either. He'll eat anything! We were already eating pretty healthy, so going gluten free wasn't a problem. I'm just wondering how to get him to gain weight and keep it on while maintaining a gluten free diet. I have not gone casein free yet, but have slowly started to give him less. Have you discovered your sons are just thinner on a gluten free diet? Is my son just thin from being so hyper and has nothing to do w/the diet? I wasn't too concerned before the diet, but his ribs are sticking out now.

I want to add that I took my younger son (5yrs old) to a Dr.'s appt today and was quite surprised when the nurse mentioned that he looked thinner than most kids, even though he still hasn't lost all his baby fat. My husband and I are both concerned because 1) we have both boys on a gluten free diet 2)we have noticed him losing weight this past summer, but contributed it to him being more active 3) he's becoming as hyper as his older brother, but not quite sure if he's modeling his brother's behavior. Should we continue w/gluten free diet? Our traditional pediatrician does not believe anyone should be on a gluten free diet except those w/celiac disease. Our holistic pediatrician believes our kids will benefit from the diet. Asking the two Dr's won't help me, any advice? Thanks for your help!

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Featured Answers

If you are asking the question you already know the answer. It doesn't sound like it is benefiting either child.

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When my son was on the diet I gave him a lot of things like avocados and nuts. I also have some friends who added olive oil to things like smoothies, but I never did that. My son lost some weight too, which concerned me. It was one of the reasons I eventually took him off the diet. Good luck.

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I hope I don't sound mean but I feel very sorry for your children. There have been a proliferation of people who advocate food restrictions and I believe that 20 years down the road we'll look back on gluten-free as a fad. I know that you're trying to do a good thing but just let them eat a balanced diet.

3 moms found this helpful

So, your one child you describe as gaunt and the other is now being described by a health care provider as too thin? Children need fat and calories and well balanced diets. Honestly, your children really don't need to be on a gluten-free diet unless there is a medical reason to be on it. While a few doctors suggest gluten-free diets for ADHD like symptoms, this is still because of an intestinal absorption problem - it is not a cure all. Since things have gotten more dire since beginning this diet, please consider stopping it.

For you older son, having some specialists look at him and his history, such as a gastrointerologist or endocrinologist, is really important. Many things could explain his burning through calories. You haven't said what your traditional pediatrician says about his high metabolism. While I have respect for alternative medicine, recommendations for diet and other treatments should be based on research and I am betting money that the research on gluten-free diet effectiveness in children without celiac disease is scant. Just because there might be a lot on the internet does not mean it is supported by evidence. An example is blue-green algae, which was recommended by people about 15 years ago for ADHD. There were lots of advertisements on the web, but no clear scientific evidence and it has now faded away.

Good luck!

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Scary. Are you really keeping your kids on some fad diet that isn't prescribed for them even though they are exhibiting signs of not thriving? Do you also give them meds they don't need? PleAse see a nutritionist and let your kids eAt normal food.

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I personally think, barring any food allergies or gastrointestinal disorders, that kids need a well rounded and varied diet. They need calories and nutrition while they are little and their bodies and brains are still "building". To me, it doesn't make any sense to have already super thin and energetic kids on a restricted diet. I was so skinny as a kid that everyone called me Olive Oyl. My mom was constantly trying to get weight on me.
My daughter decided to go on a gluten, egg, dairy and just about everything else free diet. She got so thin I was worried about her and she's super tiny as it is. The LAST thing she needed was to lose weight. She finally gave it up because she was starving. In fact, last night she came and got us and took us to dinner. She had a big garden burger and french fries.
I'm sure you'll get a lot of varied opinions, but since your kids are so thin, you might want to reconsider the extent to which you restrict their dietary intake.

I wish you well and hope you get some really good advice!

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If you are asking the question you already know the answer. It doesn't sound like it is benefiting either child.

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My 2yo dd has celiac disease. SHe was very underweight upon diagnosis and until recently she gained very poorly on the gf diet. Though I am quite sure her poor weight gain was because of malabsorbtion. We eat lots of brown rice and corn tortillas along with quinoa, buckwheat and other gluten free grains. We have found she needs supplemental fat although the rest of the family (on a gf diet) does not. We add peanut butter, olive oil, whole fat coconut milk and avocado in every way we can to her foods. We have alos found that we all eat a much more healthy and balanced diet if we plan out our meal and snacks. Our favorite gluten free blogs are http://glutenfreeeasily.com/, http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/ and http://www.elanaspantry.com/. The last one uses mostly almond flour which would be higher calorie and more nutrient dense. Everyone has a different metabolism and different caloric needs. Our two year old eats about 1800 calories a day and weighs 22 pounds. Our 3 1/2 year old eats a little less and weighs 45 pounds. I would pay attention to the doctors if they are concerned about weight but you do not need to eat gluten to gain weight or to have a well balanced diet. I want to add that my 8 year old is 48 inches and weighs 52 pounds and the doctors have never been concerned about his size. These are the same doctors who are very aware of our 2 year olds underweight issues.

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Hi! I would lean towards your holistic pediatrician, especially after reading "Dangerous Grains: Why Gluten Cereal May be Hazardous to Your Health". Celiac is not a well-understood disease in the US, and there is such a thing as the Silent Celiac, not recognized by most medical doctors in the US. If your sons are hyper, they may have food sensitivities. You can get them tested with the ELISA pin-prick blood test (test for IgG) to identify the food sensitivities or just start by cutting out two of the most problematic ones: gluten and diary. My 3-year-old is sensitive to gluten, milk and egg. He was chubby but not gaining in height. After moving to the tropics he started developing high fevers every 2 to 3 weeks. But not anymore. On the restricted diet he doesn't fall sick, is catching up on height, and overcoming mild sensory integration issues. My son was the opposite of hyper - he was so sedentary he'd rather sit in the stroller all day long. With food sensitivity, you can't tell which way it's going to affect the child.

The other thing about children is that they need carbs to grow - well, they need it for everyday energy but if they don't have enough, the body will get it from some other sources, and that may be the reason why your sons are getting thinner. Try substituting with rice, potatoes and the like. Cutting out diary may actually help if it's what's causing them to be hyper.

If you're still not sure, try following your holistic pediatrician's advice to the letter for a couple of months to see the effect. There's probably a good reason why she recommends what she recommends. I'm a total convert to the theories on food sensitivities even though a lot of medical doctors have told me it's BS.

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Every body is as different as every doctor's opinion. For some people, gluten free may be marvelous. But it doesn't sound like that's the case for your family. Sometimes I think people get way too carried away with trying to be more "healthy." I feel like this: my family has never been overly health conscious notwithstanding the fact that we have several nurses in the family. We all do fine - most have had excellent health all of their lives and we certainly have longevity (into our 90's). So, my advice, if everyone was doing fine with gluten in the diet, bring it back! P.S. I also am very thin. Your boys will come to know that it is just as irritating to have people talk about how thin you are as it is to have people say you're over weight. In fact, people don't hesitate to talk about how "skinny" someone is but they rarely will tell someone they think they're "fat." Why? It is just as rude and your boys will come to find that out if you don't do something to help them gain weight never mind that they don't have any to lose if they get sick and don't feel like eating for a day or two!

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hmmm, I might be somewhat concerned. Here's a few ideas to explore:

Roundworm infection can cause a ravenous appetite and also weight loss at the same time. it is the most common nematode, some say 25 % of us have it. Restlessness, anxiety and nerves are common signs of worms. It has other symptoms as well, you can look up online.

You could also look into hyperthyroidism. It will cause overactivity, increased hunger and thirst, and weight loss.

You could look into hypoglcycemia, diabetes. I have read that there is always abnormal glucose metabolism in hyperactivity.

Food allergies are another cause of hyperactivity.

Magnesium deficiency causes increased levels on adrenalin and caused hyperexcitabiliy,compulsion, inattention, ADHD.

If it were me I would increase animal protien, add iodine in the form of Idoral (to support the thyroid- the thyroid regulates metabolism)(and vit E with selenium with it for uptake)and certainly add b complex drops under the tounge 2 x a day. B vits will help support nerves. I would also add magnesium malate to the list, which acts as a chemical gate blocker to keep nerves relaxed.

Our neighbor behind us - they dont eat much protien, they do seem to eat a lot of fruits, and both of their children are VERY slim. If you ever watch old movies form the 40-50's the people were SO very tiny back then. ADULT MALES were even small. I think that normal weights are suppose to be much smaller than the average person of today. No doubt the processed carbs and increased sugar,corn/soy additives have a lot to do with the weight problems now adays.

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I was unclear, does someone in the family have celiac's or is gluten sensitive? The research I've done basically states that this is a 'fad' of food diets aimed at making people believe gluten is evil and bad for your system. The only people that benefit from this type of diet are those who have shown sensitivities to gluten. Otherwise, it just makes for higher grocery bills and more struggles at food time. I'm all for organic shopping and cutting back on bleached foods & chemicals, but gluten is not bad for your system unless you have a sensitivity or celiacs. Just my humble opinion. I'm in for less stress at in the kitchen unless there's a specific reason to be otherwise.

Good luck

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If your children don't have celiac disease why keep them on a gluten-free diet? I'm starting to wonder about the whole celiac diagnosis - it seems like every third person has celiac disease these days, and that's not likely.

In any case, I don't think gluten will affect your sons' hyperactivity one way or another, maybe that's just their nature. Being "active" was not always considered a fault, as it seems to be nowadays.

I would give them lots of foods with oils - nuts and especially avocados. Both are very healthy and high calorie. If you could get at least 1/2 or even a whole avocado down your boys each day you'd probably see them gain some weight. Try a snack of corn chips and guacamole sprinkled with cheese. Thin children (and I have one extremely thin child) are not the kind of children to put on a restricted diet.

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You have a lot of advice on the gluten stuff; mine is from the angle of restricted diets. I a vegetarian and I have a 2.5 year old. In my opinion, it's my job to model a healthy lifestyle for her. In our house, we don't eat meat. We eat fresh fruits and veggies everyday, a variety of legumes, pastas and homemade soups and salads. We do organic whenever it's feasible. I steer away from processed foods whenever possible and believe that having a variety of colors (natural colors, not added in color) on the plate means that a variety of vitamins and minerals are being taken in. This is how we eat at home, but I would never tell my daughter not to eat the ham sandwich at school because 1) that makes it more interesting to her and 2) I don't believe in being really strict because then you move from a "habit" to a "diet" and unless there is a real reason for it, "diets" tend to be short-lived, extreme, and cause more negative than positive. You can model the habits you believe are healthy at home, and let your children make their own choices~ see what their bodies crave. Perhaps a eating habit that works well for your body doesn't quite work the same for theirs? They are growing, a whole different stage than adults...

By the way, my daughter has had candy, but would rather eat an apple or grapes, she has had brownies, but will request string cheese or green beans first. She is almost never sick (knock on wood) and gets through colds in 2 days. Moderation, moderation. Let your kids develop a healthy relationship with food and listen to their own bodies. If their bodies don't look healthy, what is the point of being on the "healthy" diet?

Good luck! I know it's challenging to look at food from a different perspective than most of America! I live that too! :-)

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From what I have researched especially for kids without celiac disease it doesn't make sense. It seems to me like sticking to primarily whole grains might benefit themmore. In fact I have had a variety of nebulous stomach issues and went gluten free and found many products stillmademe sick vs eating flourless sprouted and whole grain products. As a result my kids eat healthy whole foods but still get gluten so they build upimmunities to all foods

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i don't have experience with a gluten-free diet, but i do have a reading recommendation for you. i totally rep this book because this DR has some amazing things to say. check out the book The GAP Syndrome. also, here is a link to an article that is a condensed version of the book, which i have read.


best of luck!

Why are you having your young children on any diet at all? Have you looked into the gluten free diet enough to know that what you are taking away from your boys may be needed in their proper growth? Feed them good, healthy food with plenty of excercise and I would think they would be fine. I personally don't think young children should be on any diet unless doctor ordered for a health condition. You are very lucky to have a child that is not a picky eater and with that he would eat all healthy foods.

So I guess I'll be going against the grain a little here...I have experienced what you have with my daughter except she does have celiac disease. There is absolutely a connection between grains and hyperactivity in her. She is like a completely different child when she is gluten free. Much more calm, understanding concepts better in school able to reason, instead of a wild child continually being loud, irritable and cranky. Digestion has a huge bearing on our overall ability to function whether you have celiac disease or not...and if you don't digest grains well, you don't digest grains well. I do have celiac too, and realize how hard it is to do anything well when I am feeling horrible because of it.

That being said, there are many ways to help keep weight on (although all things being considered those who eat the non-average American diet will be naturally thinner than the "average" kid). One person mentioned avocados, we also include lots of raw nuts, sweet potatoes, reg potatoes, brown rice and pour oil and sprinkle nuts on almost everything at the dinner table. You may want to go to one of the celiac sites to explore more options.

Another thing is that my daughter has always been small and below average weight-wise. I am always concerned about keeping that weight on...and building up a little fat store for when she is sick. Ironically, after figuring out everything she was allergic to (through prick tests and an elimination diet suggested by a mainstream allergy specialist) and got her off of everything that was bothering her digestive system, she gained a whopping 4 lbs in 3 months. Considering she was only 34 lbs at the time, this was huge for us. Apparently the reason for this is because formerly she was not digesting her food well, nor receiving all the nutritional benefits because of all the foods that were messing with her system.

Anyway, I realize everyone's experience is a little different. I hope this helps!


Hi, my girls are both thin and have been once they lost their baby fat. I breast fed them both until they were two years old. I am on a gluten free diet and my kids are on a semi gluten free diet. My girls eat six times a day as they are very active and in some type of athletic afterschool activity every day. I make breakfast, a full lunch (sandwich with healthy lunch meat, mayo, lettuce), healthy chips (ie no nachos), a fruit, and some type of cookie plus a full water bottle of water. They also carry around packets of nuts, energy bars, and assorted snack for snack time at school. When they get home from school, they have a snack. Their friends are the same. They then have a full dinner and desert. When we have pasta, I have found good gluten free pasta made with quinoa. Lots of potatoes, sweet potato fries, rice, meat and fish, and salad every night. Sometimes salad and a veggie if my husband grills. Now that my older gal is a teenager and developed, she is regaining curves despite over 20 hours of ballet training a week. Were you thin as a child? Was your husband? MY husband and I were thin as children and I believe genetics have at least 50% to do with how you look. I would think that a blood test with your holistic pediatrician could help you identify celiacs. You could also try giving them lactase free milk first before removing dairy. I find that it is people with lots of sinus problems and asthma who are dairy intolerant. Do your boys have this situation going on? Be careful as you eliminate. You can get goat cheese cheddar and other goat cheese variations of standard dairy items (I get mine at Trader Joes) to add into your dairy mix. Make goat cheese casadillas with corn tortillas for a snack and see how that goes over. Since what you think is hyperactivity is only escalating, perhaps it is something else or just boy behavior. Dr. Richard Kunin in SF is a pro with working with situations such as yours. You may want to take your kids to him.

It sounds neither of your children is a celiac? I personally think you need to be careful with this if your boys are not celiacs. However, there is certainly some evidence pointing to gluten as a source of hyperactivity in children. Has the gluten free diet curbed your son's behavior? If not, then I would rethink the gluten free diet if he is losing too much weight. Might I recommend that you contact the Feingold Society - they can probably help you with the "putting on weight issue." They help kids with just your sort of problem. They have food lists for every possible diet. I've not used them myself, but I used to do promotions with them when I worked for a Natural foods company and they seem to have worked miracles for some families.

If you do decide to keep the gluten free diet, perhaps buying some natural/organic gluten free comfort food might help your kids because the calorie count will be higher. For example, Amy's Kitchen makes a ton of gluten free meals such as Rice Mac and Cheese and Rice Cheese Pizza - there's a ton. You can go to their website (www.amys.com) and actually sort by diet. Also, there are rice chips out there such as Lundberg Family Farms Rice chips or their Risottos are going to give calories - my kids actually like some of the rice chips quite a bit. I am not sure this fits into Casein free diet, but I'm sure some of the gluten free products out there are casein free.

Good luck.

When my son was on the diet I gave him a lot of things like avocados and nuts. I also have some friends who added olive oil to things like smoothies, but I never did that. My son lost some weight too, which concerned me. It was one of the reasons I eventually took him off the diet. Good luck.

cant really comment on the gluten free. ultimately, i think we eat too many grains (or ex-grains that are overprocessed) but what i want to say is that all kids need fat and protein. our culture is so phobic about fats, but they build our kids brains and other tissues and help hormone regulation and they help fill out the body. just choose a healthy medium for the fat -- good quality animal products, nuts, avos, oils.

I am not 'read up' on celiac disease or on gluten free diets, so this is just my 'gut reaction' to your request. I tend to go with the people who say a good varied diet is likely your better option. On the other hand, it sounds like your son's activity level is something you need to have checked. I hate the labels such as ADD, ADHD, and such, but if you can get another opinion ... see a third doctor and be proactive about having all these doctors do the testing required to rule out or affirm any problems that you might be able to address in order to help your son, do so. I know this can be a hassle with insurance not wanting to pay, etc. but it may even be worth sacrificing to pay for it out of pocket, if it helps your son have a better life.

i don't know much about it, but i'm curious about the responses...

I tend to agree with most posters here - unless there is a medical reason to go gluten free, kids need a good, balanced diet, everything in moderation.

As for the skinniness, I think some kids are just naturally more skinny than others. One of my sons is super skinny, and he eats just fine, is very active, and it is just his normal!

As for the hyperactivity, I don't have experience with that - but would probably get some professional help!

I am not an expert, but putting a child without celiac disease on a gluten free diet, when s/he can't tell you how he feels on it seems irresponsible. For an adult to try a gluten free diet to see if there health improves is a reasonable choice, buy an adult can say if he feels better or worse. Also, your sons are having two significant problems - keeping weight on and hyperactivity - with no other explanation for these symptoms. It seems wise to try them on a regular diet to see if these symptoms will get better.

A little about me: Child psychiatrist with two children, 19yo boy and 12yo girl, married 21 years to a supportive husband and good father.

check out www.glutenfreeclub.com. Someone on that site is sure to have had this issue.

I agree with the poster who said that if your sons do not have Celiac disease, they can eat a varied healthy diet. My sister has the disease and she hates not being able to have gluten. She was diagnosed years ago and we had never even heard of it. Feed your kids a healthy, varied, diet-fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meat, poultry, fish. A good, varied diet is good for the brain and the body. Boys tend to be hyper because they are boys. Personally, I'd rather have active kids than lethargie ones. Mine are older, and they have outgrown most of the hyper stuff.

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