Thursday, November 10, 2011

Getting Glutened & the Healing Qualities of Congee

I wish I could say I have a happy story to share with you all, but there is a very good reason as to why I’ve been so quiet this week. Not only have I been losing my voice off and on since last Thursday, I also was glutened, badly, at a health store of all places.

Despite not having the blood work that backs up my gluten intolerance or my hypothyroid condition, I do have both and being on Armour Thyroid as well as a gluten free (soy free and refined sugar free) diet has kept my body in tip-top shape. In fact, I started intermediate training for a 5K in December last Monday and couldn’t have felt better. But I didn’t realize just how gluten intolerant I was until Monday around noon, and now because of that incident I’ve been bedridden, unable to go to class or run.

I’m curious how others, gluten intolerant and those with full-blown celiac, are affected when it gets into their system. It took less than an hour before I started to feel the effects. Just above the naval I started to feel something along the lines of needles poking my stomach and intestines. It then progressed to a severe headache, something I felt from the frontal lobe that ended up going all the way down to the spine. All of this was happening right when my first class of the day started, and I was able to leave after the quiz.

Truthfully, I was surprised I was able to drive those fourteen miles home. I felt, for lack of a better word, intoxicated, but the kind no one enjoys. I was nauseous, with blurred vision and the sharp pain spreading throughout my lower torso. The bloating was beyond painful, and the image of sausage casing bursting in the skillet was the image I visualized. My intestines felt inflamed, enlarged, and tight. When I attempted to sleep, I kept waking up only to roll on my stomach to lessen the pain. And despite this, there was a pressure on my lower back as well, like someone was applying a consistent force with their fists on my kidneys and adrenals. I kept getting up at three in the morning, only because I was hungry and queasy at the same time. Tea was essential, with milk and lots of honey.

Ginger - Lemon Tea

Throughout this ordeal my voice was totally gone, so I am taking my compromised immune system into account. I kept dragging myself to bed and have been sleeping the majority of the late morning to the early afternoon, doing my best to sleep the worst of it away. In these situations, I refer to it as “the hangover without the fun.”

How did I get this way, you may ask, at a health store? Well, consider Snow White and the Apple. She was told not to accept anything from anyone who wasn’t one of the seven dwarves. And then this [supposedly] harmless old lady offers her a delicious apple. She knows she shouldn’t, but she figures the dwarves couldn’t possibly mean sweet old ladies in the middle of the forest who offers pretty girls delicious apples for no apparent reason, so to be polite and respectful she takes a bite.


And if you’ve read the Brothers Grimm or seen Disney’s movie version, we all know what happens to her.

In a way, the same thing happened to me, although I highly doubt it was malicious or done on purpose. After working for nearly six hours with over forty kids, I thought it would be a good idea to get a bottle of G.T. Kombucha and a snack before class. As I was browsing the gluten free isle, one of the employees approaches me with a small paper sample cup, slightly bigger than a thimble, halfway filled with a green drink of some sort. She compliments me on my hair (think Hermione Granger with thickness and curls), and asks me if I’d like to try it.
Me: What is it?
Her: Oh, it’s just apple juice with green powder. It’s just fabulous. I love it.
Me (throat raw, parched and hungry): Does it have added sugar in it?
Her: Nope. Just organic, freshly pressed, unrefined apple juice with the powder.
Me: Well… (Sniffs the drink and it smells like apples and spirulina) okay.
Takes the drink like a shot.
As I go to check out, a bag of raw ginger “cookies” and cranberry kombucha in hand, I look at the display and see what I was offered just a few minutes ago. I think, what the heck, I’ll read what’s in it. And as I do so, this heavy weight falls to the pit of my stomach and I do my best not to panic.
Me: Ummm… do you know if this is gluten free?
Her: Huh, I don’t know. I’ll read the ingredients.
Guy behind the counter: (Dismissively) The gluten protein is only found in the berries, and only a handful of people with celiac are affected by the grass.
Me: (Silently panicking) Oh.
Like Snow White and the Apple, so it was with Morri and the Green Apple Juice Drink. I didn’t die, but golly, there were moments where I felt like I was. For two days and an evening I’ve spent clutching my stomach and doubled over in pain, kicking myself for not thinking clearly and drinking something without all the facts. It wasn’t malicious, and I know that. I mean, I know these people! I like these people.  I spent much of my time at the store talking to them about my dietary lifestyle, so I just assumed they would remember. More than anything, I was disappointed. Disappointed in the store for not being more empathetic to what just happened, and disappointed in myself for getting glutened in the first place. I have emailed the store headquarters of the incident and what I recommend so that it never happens to someone else. I’ll post their response when I receive it, including the copy of the letter I sent.

Regardless if I am miraculously healed by tomorrow, I still have to go to school. If I want to graduate, I need to put my big girl pants on and deal with being in the classroom for three hours. All I need to do is put one foot in front of the other, slowly and carefully.

Now, in order to speed the healing process, I figured going grain-free would be a good idea until I felt better. But oddly enough, my body wanted rice in a love-hate sort of way. Meaning, I wanted to eat it and my stomach wanted to eat it, but I was also nauseous and didn’t want to eat it. It was like that for everything actually. I had rice and potatoes and, I think though I may be mistaken, rolled oats (as always, the CGF kind). I ate apples and peanut butter, and craved fruits more than I have in a while. My body couldn’t get enough tea, milk, honey, or raw veggies either. Eggs were also in demand. I wanted to give my body what it asked for, and I also wanted to be smart about it. With an inflamed digestive tract, I wanted something simple, hot, and good for an unhappy and sour gut.

This is where congee comes in.

Congee is a kind of porridge made with rice, though it can also be made with other grains. In the future I’m thinking of making a multigrain congee with rice, quinoa (red for texture and white for creaminess), buckwheat, CGF oats (steel-cut for texture and rolled for creaminess). The beauty of congee is how adaptable it can be based on what your body wants and needs. It can be sweet or savory. It can be thick or thin. It can be traditional or contemporary. And it keeps in the fridge for days, a great thing for the flu season (or when you’re glutened).

The ratio of water to rice for congee differs on the desired thickness: for thick, 8:1; for medium, 10:1; and for thin, 12:1. One source says to use less water when using the rice cooker as opposed to a slow cooker or via stovetop. And remember, you can always add more but you can’t take away.

Four Rice* Congee

45 g Jasmine rice
45 g Sprouted brown rice
45 g Sweet brown rice
45 g Medium grain brown rice
64 oz Water (or more, for a runnier consistency)
1/4 tsp. Sea salt
1 tsp. Unrefined apple cider vinegar

Combine the rice, salt, and vinegar to 8 oz of the water to soak for up to an hour (overnight is preferred).
Place the rice-water mixture and the remaining water in the rice cooker (or slow cooker, pressure cooker, etc) and cook at the lowest and longest setting.
When the grains of rice begin to break up, the congee is done but you can cook it for longer or slower amounts of time depending on your personal preference.

*A cup of rice equals 180 g (or 6.35 oz). You can choose whichever rice or grain you have on hand and mix and match to your favorite grains.

Serves 2 – 4.

With 1 serving, I mixed in peas, additional sea salt, cracked pepper and garlic and topped it with one fried egg, sunny-side up, as well as black sesame seeds, sesame seed oil, and chipotle powder.


  1. Hey Morri,

    It's Vittoria from class. To answers this question: I’m curious how others, gluten intolerant and those with full-blown celiac, are affected when it gets into their system.

    I have celiac disease and a very severe case of it. I get immediate migraines and have the runs everyday for 2 weeks. I feel miserable and get severe dehydration as a result of the runs. I am generally prone to being fatigued and irritable to the point where no one can say anything or I snap. I also get bloating - I look like I'm 6 to 7 months pregnant - hence my yoga pants all day everyday leaves room to grow. Moreover my sleep is all thrown off - either I cant sleep at all which has been the latest development or even though i sleep 8 to 10 hours I feel like I've slept 2. I have a really hard time concentrating on anything. Also maybe my symptoms are more severe because I'm in a healing period and no matter what I eat I can't seem to win. I'll update you when I'm finally healed and I eat gluten for the first time.

  2. As far as having celiac, V, the only way not to get the reactions is to eat a gluten free diet. There is talk about a pill being developed for those with the condition, but it is considered science fiction to some.

    It is very possible that your body is also reacting to something else you are eating, whether it be the usual suspects (i.e. dairy) or not so usual suspects (candida overgrowth or refined sugars). You may have to go on an elimination diet to really figure it out, and getting specific blood work done may help also.

    But please keep me informed! Many of the bloggers listed under "My blogmances" have celiac, as well as their own "getting glutened" stories. You aren't alone in this, and many (if not all) the bloggers I have linked are willing to share if it will help.

    Best, M.