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being coeliac

What to do when you've been glutened 🤒

Top tips to tackle an accidental gluten exposure and how you can try to prevent it from happening again

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We’ve all been there. You’ve eaten out at a friend’s house or at a restaurant and then later on that day the stomach cramps start, you start to feel nauseous and you realise, you must have been glutened.

And sometimes you don’t even know how it happened or it could be days later when the feeling jumps on you out of nowhere. I got glutened just before Christmas and I couldn’t pin it on anything; I’d cooked in my own kitchen, eaten out at mainly 100% gluten free restaurants and been my usual questioning self when eating out at the non-gluten free restaurants. All I could presume is that it came from some sort of cross-contamination.

There’s no quick fix to getting over a gluten attack but there are things you can do to help you feel better after you’ve accidentally had gluten like knowing what to eat after a gluten attack or if there are any medicines that can help relieve symptoms.

⚠️ One of the most important things coeliacs must understand is that regardless of how severe your symptoms are after eating gluten, by consuming gluten, you are damaging your gut which can lead to serious complications. So if you’re a ‘silent coeliac’ with no symptoms, make sure you don’t get tempted to eat gluten every now and again. You can’t see the damage it’s doing to your insides.

Symptoms 🧑🏼‍⚕️

There are many different reactions people get when they accidentally eat gluten. For me, it’s usually extreme fatigue, a tender, bloated stomach and clusters of mouth ulcers; seriously, I’m talking about 10 ulcers in one area of my mouth. It’s hell.

Some of the most common symptoms of gluten exposure include:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Headaches/migraines

  • Bloating

  • Stomach cramps/tenderness

  • Constipation

  • Brain fog

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Body aches

  • Feeling anxious/depressive

  • Skin rashes

If you’re one of the unlucky ones, you might experience most of the above within the course of one gluten attack but even having only one or two of the symptoms can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. 😖

We’ve put together a list of things you can do to help your body recover from being glutened. Please note that this is a list to aid the symptoms of being glutened and not the treatment for coeliac disease. As we all know, the only cure for coeliac disease is to stick to a strict gluten free diet.

💦 Drink plenty of fluids

GIF of men drinking lots of water

Flush that gluten out!

Drinking plenty of fluids and keeping hydrated when you’ve been glutened is so important to help restore your body back to full strength, and even more so if you’ve been sick or had diarrhoea.

  • Drink at least 2 litres of water (more if you can)

  • Drinking electrolytes is good to aid rehydration

  • I find Lucozade sport is a good way to rehydrate and keep your energy up

  • Try to avoid carbonated and caffeinated drinks

  • Herbal tea (more on this below)

💤 Sleep it off and rest

Small dog in bed resting

Just like when you have the flu, a stomach bug or a raging hangover, your body needs time to recover. Most of the time, if you try and fight something, you’ll just end up feeling worse and dragging out the recovery time.

  • Try to sleep as much as you can; have a nap, get an early night and if possible, don’t set an alarm; listen to your body

  • Relax; get cosy on the sofa with your duvet, binge watch an entire Netflix series or read a book and let your mind and body relax

  • Take time off school or work if you can, or see if it’s possible for you to work remotely so that you’re in the comfort of your own home

🔥 Heat helps

Chandler Bing in bubble bath

Heat is a great way of loosening muscles and providing relief from body aches and stomach cramps, why else do you think every advert for period pain features a girl with a hot water bottle!

  • Use a hot water bottle or a microwavable wheat bag - wait a minute, can we use wheat bags?! I’m guessing they’re safe as long as we don’t take a nibble…

  • Heated blankets are perfect for soothing whole body aches

  • Taking a long soak in a hot bath or a shower will help you relax and feel less muscle tension

🍵 Tea, tea and more tea

Kermit drinking tea

My absolute go to when I feel bloated from eating something is peppermint tea. In fact, I’d go as far to say I am addicted and have at least one a day because it just makes me feel so good! There are lots of different herbal teas which all have their own benefits but my top 3 are:

  • Peppermint tea- great for easing digestive issues and bloating

  • Chamomile- has calming effects so good for sleep aid

  • Ginger- fights antioxidants and helps with sickness (as my mother-in-law says ‘There isn’t anything that ginger can’t fix’)

If flavoured tea isn’t your kind of thing then hot water and lemon is always a good option.

💊 Medication for the GF nation

Woman pouring pills into mouth

Make sure you check what medicine you should be taking by speaking to a specialist and only use the below as a guide. Some of my suggestions for over the counter medicines to help reduce the symptoms of being glutened are:

  • Basic painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen will help with aches and pains, high temperatures and treat inflammation

  • Buscopan is great at relieving stomach cramps (I always carry them with me)

  • Peppermint tablets help reduce stomach cramps and bloating

  • Probiotics help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut when it’s been disrupted by an illness

  • Bonjela and salt washes will be your best friend if you’re like me and suffer with mouth ulcers

I frequently see activated charcoal recommended on coeliac support groups from others but I am yet to try it - let me know if you’ve used it and if it helps?

🍞 Simple grub = happy tum

Bananas, potatoes, bread, crackers, applesauce, rice, porridge

Ironically, what is everyone’s favourite food to recommend when you’re recovering from stomach pains and problems? Bread! Gluten free bread will still do the job though!

Whilst you’re recovering from being glutened you might not have the appetite to eat anything and that’s ok, try a little bit at a time until you feel like eating something more substantial.

  • Avoid anything that is too rich or spicy

  • Stick to plain, ‘boring’ food that won’t upset your stomach further

  • Take inspiration from the ‘BRAT’ diet to ease you back into eating; the acronym stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast but things like crackers, potatoes, porridge etc are also good options

  • If you’ve been sick or had diarrhoea then try avoiding dairy

  • Bone broth is hugely raved about for gut healing

💆🏼 Know that it will pass

Nemo being told it will all be ok

‘Hard times don’t last’

So although you might be feeling completely rubbish, know that it will pass and you’ll be back to your old self in no time. Make sure you focus on getting better and I know it sounds silly but try to enjoy the downtime - I have some great Netflix recommendations so next time you’re struck down by a crumb of gluten, drop me a message and I’ll plan you a 3 day cinema experience…

💗 Don’t be hard on yourself

Cartoon woman patting herself on her back

It’s really easy to be frustrated at yourself for getting glutened but regardless of how you managed to get sick, give yourself some love. Being glutened is hard enough without the self blame so just take it as a learning curve and move on.

🛑 Could it have been prevented?

Living with coeliac disease is a challenge. Every. Single. Day. It’s something that we get used to living with and you know what, accidents happen! So don’t blame yourself for being glutened but do take the time to check that you’re being as careful as you can be when avoiding gluten.

  • Don’t ever presume things will be safe when you’re eating out at restaurants and always make your server aware of your allergies or intolerances. Even if you’ve been there a thousand times and know the gluten free menu off by heart, they could have made changes to their ingredients or cooking processes which would make it no longer safe.

  • When a family member or friend is cooking for you, kindly remind them of ingredients to look out for and issues with cross-contamination. You might feel awkward doing it but don’t, I’m sure they’d rather you gave them the advice!

  • Get into the habit of checking ingredients for everything you buy at the supermarket. Yes you may well have bought it for the past 5 years and it’s been gluten free, but brands can very easily change the ingredients to include gluten and you’d have quite the surprise!

  • Make sure you are properly cleaning your kitchen appliances and surfaces if you share with someone who eats gluten. Use separate toasters and chopping boards and keep gluten food away from gluten free food. Watch out for condiments like butter or spreads that might have been contaminated with gluten.

  • If you have children who eat gluten, be extra careful when you’re preparing their meals. You might not even realise that you’ve just licked your finger or taken a taste test before it’s too late.

  • Don’t be afraid to let everyone know what it’s like to be glutened. Okay, you don’t need to send a company wide email or tell everyone in the restaurant but I think you’ll find it can be quite eye opening for your friends and family to hear exactly what it’s like living with a gluten intolerance, coeliac disease or another medical condition requiring you to remove gluten from your diet.

🧑‍🤝‍🧑 Speak to your community

Gluten free community

One of the best things about being gluten free? Having an incredible community of like minded individuals around you to help and support you. Reach out to people on Facebook groups, organise local meet ups and share your journey with others.

What advice do you have for someone who’s been glutened?

Drop us a message!