Let’s say, for whatever reason, you got glutened. Yes, insert the dramatic and ominous music. This may be the first time or the twentieth time (I sincerely hope not) since you've removed gluten from your system, but you do know that it’s going to suck. It’s essentially the five stages of grief and loss: you’re in denial that it happened, I mean, you’re always so careful; you’re angry, maybe feeling betrayed by the food in question, the people who gave it to you, or you for eating it; you try to bargain with your body, and quite possibly telling yourself that it wasn’t very much and so it can’t be that bad; then you get depressed, as you start feeling the tremors in the tummy and digestive tract, knowing that a lot of the fun things you were getting ready to do did not include this; and finally, acceptance, because it’s happening, so you may as well do whatever you can to alleviate the discomfort.
Maybe you’re so zen that you just shrug and go right to the taking care of yourself part. In that case, I salute you, glutened zen master.
How you take care of yourself is vital to a speedy recovery, but know that while there is physical damage that takes place (inflammation, tightness, constipation, headaches), it is a lot worse when you are panicking.
Panicking amplifies the pain, and it also keeps you from having a steady head when you have to deal with the result of being glutened. After realizing you’ve been glutened, the next step I usually take is keeping myself calm or taking something for the anxiety. Deep steady breaths and self-compassion will lower your chances of hyperventilating and freaking out. (Also, if you know you experience terrible symptoms to the point you need to go to the doctor’s or the ER, seek medical help immediately.)
As you’re calming down, if you haven’t discerned the culprit, take a moment to trace back what possibly happened, and how much you actually ingested. Was it contaminated cooking oil or a prep space? Was it a thickener? Was it a food, such as breadcrumbs or a grain?
Once you’ve figured out the dastardly gluteny villain, let a few people know, especially those you’re living with. For one thing, you’ll have support and help in taking care of you if need be. For another, it really just helps in knowing that someone has your back. It can feel very betraying to be glutened. You can feel untrusting of anyone else but you with your health, which is completely understandable. But even if you decide to take charge of your healing for the next few days, the people who understand what you’re going through will remind you to keep calm, drink plenty of fluids, eat easily digestible food, and take as much rest as you need.
For me, the amount of the gluten ingested dictates the amount of discomfort and healing time that follows. It’s not the same for others. Sometimes, one crumb of wheat bread can be just as bad as eating an entire loaf for some people. It really depends from person to person. When I was glutened with that green apple drink over three years ago, I was bed ridden for days. When I was glutened this weekend, it wasn’t as bad because I didn’t directly ingest it. But kitchens sometimes forget the cooking oils. Sometimes they forget how crucial it is to keep gluten free orders at separate prepping stations. So while the discomfort wasn’t fun, and I did experience the typical symptoms of being glutened, it was less so and only for about a day.
During that time water and probiotics are your two best friends and allies. I typically use FiveLac, but kefir, yogurt, kombucha, and miso are also good choices. Remove as much allergenic or inflammatory foods as possible from your system, and focus on the foods that are high in minerals and vitamins. I typically lose my appetite from the experience, but herbal teas with honey and thin, spice-laden broths (like turmeric and garlic) are fantastic. Congee, smoothies, and blended soups are my preference.
Since your tummy is going to feel like a battlefield, try to wear comfortable, loose clothing. Nothing constricting or skin-hugging to promote further discomfort. If you can get away with wearing pajamas all day, I say go for it. But for those having to go to work and look sharp, soft fabric and loose clothing (such as sweaters, wraps, drawstring or elastic waistband bottoms, or dresses that don’t hug the waist) will help raise your morale in knowing just how wonderful you are despite feeling like crap.
Finally, listen to your body in what it’s capable of doing activity-wise. Try to keep yourself mobile, but not at top speed. If you feel you can, do some light stretching or yoga. Meditate. Take a nice, long hot soak with Epsom salt. Do some housework. Work on a hobby. If you do need to nap, by all means nap. But I do know that I tend to spiral in the crappy feeling, so doing things I love helps promote a faster recovery simply because I’m not wallowing. That may mean hanging out with friends but not rock climbing, or cleaning my room instead of working on the whole house.
There are a lot of “What to do when you’ve been glutened” articles out there, but these are the ones that work for me. What about you? What really helps you on the road to recovery?