Soooo, I got “glutened.” Despite all my best efforts, it happened. If you’re not familiar with the verb, (don’t worry, it’s not technically a word, you’re not NOT in the know) it refers to accidental ingestion of gluten by someone who is either intolerant or who has Celiac Disease. In a word, it’s NASTY. And I’m not even referring to what most people think of when they hear reference to food allergies; which is usually images of endless trips to the bathroom or anaphylactic shock. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some digestive issues that pop up for me during an episode, but that is the least of my concerns during the subsequent weeks it takes me to recover. Yes, I said weeks. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not as clear cut as bout with the 24-hour flu, which is why those of who can’t eat gluten-containing grains work so hard to avoid them. What some may consider to be annoying or picky food habits can literally make or break my month.
In curiosity, people often ask me what happens when I eat gluten, which is a fair question. In light of that, I figured what better time to shed some light on the situation than after an incident. Here’s the thing, I call it an incident to be somewhat amusing, but honestly, it ends up feeling that way when all is said and done. During a “glutening,” my immune system flares up so intensely that it takes a while for the anti-bodies and inflammation to resolve. It’s like leaving troops on the ground long after the war has ended. They just sort of stick around to clean up loose ends and make sure everything stays kosher. Unfortunately, their presence makes me feel like shit. Keep in mind that these effects kind of depend on how much I am exposed to. Even small amounts of gluten will lay me out, but not necessarily in the same way that stuffing my face full of my favorite blueberry donuts would. The last time I tried to incorporate some fermented sourdough into my breakfast sammies, I paid dearly for a few months. This time around, having simply come into contact with some cross-contamination, the effects should clear up in a week or two.
So, what am I referring to exactly? Well, for me personally these are the most crippling symptoms I experience:
Brain fog – like forgetting words and spitting out sentences that don’t make sense and staring at my computer desperately trying to remember that I know anything at all. Feeling as though I am watching the world happen around me from afar and not being interested in joining the fun.
Fatigue – Not like the kind you get after a hard workout, but the kind that feels like someone poured Nyquil in your water bottle instead. The kind that makes opening up your mouth to speak seem like exercise, so you just sit quietly, thinking about all the things you’re probably forgetting.
Anxiety – The kind that pops up for no apparent reason and smacks you in the face. The kind that doesn’t make any sense because you don’t feel anxious anymore since changing your diet and meditating every day. The kind that makes you want to vomit and curl up in a ball until it goes away.
Digestive Issues – These are fun. These usually show up like a rock sitting in my belly all day. From my first bite of food to the time I go to sleep, I FEEL my stomach. Churning, churning churning. Again making me want to vomit.
Period Problems – I have struggled in the past with cramps so intense they required opiates to get through and periods so heavy I’d soak through a tampon in less than an hour. This is not the case anymore, but the month or two after a glutening, you’d think I hadn’t done an ounce of work around my hormones.
Emotional outbursts – Speaking of hormones … Enough said.
Breakouts - like the kind that could be confused as hives from far away. And always on my forehead – right where I don’t want them. Well, actually, there isn’t anywhere I want a breakout, but you get it.
So, I could probably list a few more, but those are the worst of the worst and the ones that seem to stick around the longest. And look, I am REALLY careful about where and what I eat. I am not that person who will just “eat a little bit to make everyone comfortable,” and then suffer later. It doesn’t make sense to me to forfeit my health so that those around me don’t feel bad for inconveniencing the waitress. Trust me, I’ve felt the shame that comes with being a difficult eater, but I’ve also learned that I am truly a better friend, daughter, sister, coach, lover when I am careful about what goes into my body, which makes it worth it for everyone. That being said, even our best efforts can fall short sometimes when restaurants, family and friends aren’t fully aware of the necessary precautions to take. And why should they be? (well, actually I think restaurants should be if they are going to advertise as such, but that’s for another post) They aren’t the ones suffering and that’s totally understandable. It’s not anyone’s job to ensure my needs are met but my own and I can usually do a pretty good job - until I can’t.
So what do I do when up against this wheat-filled wall? Well, over the years, I have learned a few coping strategies that I would LOVE to share with you, because it can be rough if you’re new to the game.
1. First of all – realize that what you’re experiencing is temporary. It may seem like a simple shift, but being kind to yourself during this rough time can do wonders for your recovery. Knowing that you won’t feel dumb, tired and cranky forever can really help to minimize the stress around it. I always try to cut down on physically stressful tasks like working out, and eliminate any to-do items that don’t require my immediate attention as well. I also try to add in extra nice self-care items like Ginger-Epsom baths, gentle yoga and dry brushing to help my system eliminate the gunk. Pushing yourself during a “glutening” is like going balls to the wall when you have pneumonia – it’s honestly pretty dumb. J and I say that with all the love.
2. If you catch it early, like an hour or two after eating, you can take some Activated Charcoal tablets to help absorb those nasty little proteins. While it won’t completely void out the gluten, it will help to minimize the effects and maybe even shorten the suffering. Charcoal is known for it’s ability to absorb toxins, chemicals, viruses, bacteria and foreign proteins that are potentially harmful to our bodies and carry them out of the body via our digestive tract. I usually take 5-7 tablets if I know I’ve been glutened and then a couple more a few hours later to help mitigate digestive distress. Note: drink lots of water with your tablets, as they have the potential to provoke constipation in high doses.
3. Add in lots of anti-inflammatory foods and avoid sugar, grains, dairy and other common food sensitivities. I don’t always avoid these foods in my everyday diet, but after a gluten exposure, my digestive tract is usually wrecked and a bit leaky. This makes foods that are usually harmless, seem like gluten themselves, so I avoid the ones that are hardest on the average system for a few weeks until things calm down. I also add in foods like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and omega-3 fats which are known to have systemic anti-inflammatory effects. I make a mean Golden Milk recipe with turmeric which you can find on my Instagram.
4. Add in gut healing and fermented foods to build the gut biome back up and repair the intestinal lining. My favorites include long-cook bone broth, collagen peptides, un-denatured whey protein, sauerkraut, milk kefir and a probiotic supplement like Dr.Formulated or Prescript Assist.
5. Sleep and rest! Your body is in MAJOR repair mode. In a matter of hours, your entire immune system can be on high alert and the only time our body can actually work on repairing itself is when we are resting and, better yet, sleeping. If you get those major fatigue moments, I highly suggest you just give in. Maybe that means a couple short naps during the day, or perhaps it means taking the day off of work to just rest. Treating my gluten exposures like a really bad flu it the best shift I ever made in terms of recovery time and intensity.
So, there you have it. Those are my absolute necessities when recovering from an exposure. While there are probably tons more, these are just the ones that have proven the most effective for me personally. What do you do after an exposure? I’d love to hear your favorite tactics in the comments below, or find me over on Instagram and let us know! I don’t know about you, but I’m always willing to try out new tips when it comes to feeling better. Until next time…