Coping with accidental exposure – How to make it better
You’ve been gluten’ed! -What now?
Isn’t it just the worst feeling? You know it’s coming, you know far too well how it’s gonna pan out, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to rewind it. The donut’s been eaten and punishment is on it’s way..
Gluten strikes with a hard hand, the effects are inevitable and it really does suck. There are however ways to make it easier.
Let me share with you my 5 best tips for coping and getting better faster!
(For impatient readers, scroll straight to Remedies 3 sections further down..)
One incident stands to me as the epitome of exposure panic. I used to love this special Norwegian dish, a flavourful soup with meatballs and vegetables. It was with great sadness I let go of it along with other glutenous treats. Imagine then my excitement when my mum called me up to say that a lady from work with a coeliac son had assured her my favourite soup is in fact gluten-free! Off I went to dinner at my parents, and I scuffed down the deliciousness like it was going out of fashion.
Mid-dinner I was for some reason hit with a flash of scepticism.. the meatballs tasted a tad bit too good perhaps. I decided to check the packaging just in case, and surprise surprise.. wheat flour.
This was fairly early in my recovery, and good days were few and far between. I had just had a good run for a few days, and my spirits were high. Then right there, at the dinner table, upon realising what hell the next couple of weeks would bring, I panicked. My eyes welled up as I looked down at the spoon still in my hand. “Stick you finger down your throat!” my mum exclaimed in crazy despair, all flustered with guilt. I wanted that food out of there so much that I did in fact run to the toilet. I didn’t go through with it though, and neither should anyone else. It’s a bad, unhealthy idea that has no effect on the gluten. I simply had to deal with it, relax and let it take its turn. On the bright side I got to scuff down a whole heap of my once favourite food.. My big lesson was to always read the labelling. No matter what your mum’s friend’s colleague’s dog’s brother says.
If you’re quite new in the GF game, exposure can be a bit scary and overwhelming too. Not knowing your body’s reactions yet, not having stabilised your gut, and most of all not knowing the right remedies.
For a while after being diagnosed your body might go through all kinds of antics. You might find yourself suddenly symptomatic on and off without any exposure, or you might have been unknowingly exposed through sources of gluten that you haven’t yet learnt. You might even find that your body struggles with the mere withdrawal from this poison that has been a massive part of your life for so long. In the midst of all these random symptoms it can be very hard to know what’s a genuine exposure and what’s just a part of the healing process. Lord knows I had troubles. I had no one to ask any questions, and I was continuously symptomatic for at least 6 months after going gluten free.
I’d like to share a few personal experiences with you in the paragraphs to follow. Just in case you’re in the thick of it right now, and you need to know that you’re not the only one who’s gone through this, and that it really does come to an end!
I distinctly remember the giant disappointment I went through every time I hit a setback at a point where I thought I was just getting better. It happened time and time again. Some times I even started doubting the diagnosis.. did they make a mistake? I was so meticulously gluten-free, and still I got terribly sick on and off, and on and off again. Usually I would slowly get better over the course of two week. At the best I’d have 5 days or so of feeling ok, then boom it would hit me again like a thunderstorm, and I’d spend another two weeks recovering. Once in a while I’d have to cling on to the fact that those few days of health were more than I had when I ate gluten.
Most of all I struggled with fear. The year leading up to the diagnosis I had been ridiculously sick. I could not keep any food for much longer than 15 minutes. It wanted up and out. Eventually I reached a peak where the mere smell of food triggered my stomach. Apart from what felt like a year-long food poisoning, I was otherwise sick in every way shape and form you might imagine. Continuous antibiotic treatments, migraines, inflammations, dizziness, stomach ulcer, anemia, throat infections, flu’s.. you name it. In and out of hospitals, test upon test and medications galore.
Then there was the pain. The stabbing, crippling, unbearable pain that shot through my stomach and had me curled up on the floor praying to pass out. At my lowest point I was in my mums bed, clinging on to her and shaking from what I thought for sure would be the end of me. At one point I though “here I am, thirty years old and in my mums bed. That’s pretty bad”.
Gluten steadily broke my body and stole my spirit, and towards the end I had times where I genuinely wondered if I could actually bare it any longer. Hence the fear. Every time I got symptomatic after the diagnosis the fear came welling over me again. It seemed as though it had left an imprint in my physical memory, and similar pains would prompt the same fear yet again. It took me a very long time to deal with the emotional side effects of coeliacs disease, but even that gets better in time. I had no help with that part of my recovery. If help is available to you then I highly suggest you seek it out. I am convinced it would have been the best way to go.
If you have gone through something along those lines, then a glutening at any point in your recovery can trigger a whole number of physical and emotional reactions. I never knew what was “normal” and what wasn’t, which made it worse again. And as I didn’t know anybody who had been through the same experiences, I had no way of knowing if it would actually ever get better. Not having a certainty of recovery is gutting, so I’m here to tell you once and for all: IT DOES GET BETTER! You need not worry about that part. We will all take different amounts of time, and we’ll all have a different pattern of recovery, but one day you will wake up and the fear will be much like a faded memory; still a part of you, but not in control of you anymore.
So to the good part!
There are things that can help you get better faster, or that make you more comfortable when you’ve been exposed. These are my top 5 tips:
(photo credits: news.upickrevies.com, nursesnetwork.com, wikipedia.org, wisegeek.com)
Drink plenty, drink more than you like. No coke or coffee, stick with water and herbal teas. A weak cordial (no artificial sweeteners) will do the trick too. My absolute and total go-to is my own mix of fennel/peppermint/ginger. I use fennel seeds, fresh peppermint leaves and fresh ginger, and I drink and drink and drink… If you live in a hot climate, let the herbs soak in half a cup of hot water, for 5 minutes, then fill the cup up with cold water. Makes it a bit easier in the heat.
The fennel and peppermint have anti-spasmodic qualities, and the ginger aids digestion and is slightly anti-emetic (stills nausea).
Apple juice also helps nausea and contains nutrients. The best juice is of course home pressed, but if you can’t get to that then at least make sure it’s fresh juice without preservatives or added sugar. No concentrate. That being said, the first day might be best without the acids from juices. Leave it till the storm calms a little.
2) Get plenty of rest! Although getting your mind off of the discomfort might alleviate some of the distress, it is so very important to listen to your body. If your body says sleep, then sleep. You’re not being lazy, you’re being sensible.
Gluten can also cause brainfog, it certainly does for me. Don’t be so hard on yourself, let it go and try to wind down. It will do you good.
3) Eat easily digestible foods. At the height of a glutening I eat mainly plain crackers, mashed potato and rice. Gluten free bread often contains eggs, and obviously yeast, so I try to avoid toast for a while.
Grated apple is good for nausea, and mashed banana will give you lots of needed nutrients whilst being easily digestible. Try paw paw, mango and pineapple for natural digestive enzymes. You can buy capsuled digestive enzymes, they are said to help the healing of a gluten’ed gut. However the ones I’ve tried have been quite hard on my stomach, so I don’t really feel like promoting them. Instead I swear by paw paw. Closer to the source is always better when it comes to food methinks.
Drink broth. It’s really nice for an upset stomach.
Stay away from: Dairy, anything artificial, processed foods, sugar, fats, nitrates (often in meat), red meats, alcohol, carbonated drinks and coffee!
(photo credits: naturaltherapypages.com.au)
4) Take Epsom Salt baths! I read this somewhere early on, and never gave it a second thought. When I finally tried it I was amazed; it really does have an effect! When I’m gluten’ed I try to have a couple of baths a day. The key is for the water not to be too hot, and use plenty of salts. It really does feel as though the evil is being pulled out of your body. Really good stuff!
5) Keep an emergency kit handy: I always prefer to go natural, and swear by limiting drugs. However if you don’t find yourself in a place where you can lie down at your leisure, or if symptoms hit you when you’re out and about; there is help to be had.
My kit contains:
- Peppermint capsules, namely Colpermin which are enteric-coated.
- Anti-spasmodic, in my case Buscopan. In some countries they are prescription meds, others are over the counter.
- Charcoal/fennel tablets, I love Gaia Herbs – Rapid relief gas and bloating which does more than relieve bloating. Fennel is as mentioned antispasmodic.
- Paracetamol, which is gentle on the stomach as opposed to ibuprofen (NSAID) NB: ALWAYS ask your doctor or pharmacist if a drug (any drug) is an NSAID or is hard on the stomach. Quite a few drugs that aren’t outright ibuprofens will still on some level hurt your stomach lining.
As for the medications, use only as directed by your healthcare professional! Also, always make sure any drug, capsule or coating is gluten-free!
It has taken me a few tries to work out what signals my body sends out at any given time. With trial and error I’ve been able to figure out which tablet to take most effectively. My stomach will twinge in different ways and tell me what’s gonna happen. Your stomach will work with you instead of against you if only you give it a chance. Listen carefully, and be kind.
6) Re-build with probiotics once you feel better! Waiting until the worst is over makes sense. A lot of probiotic supplements contain lactose, and when your villi is damaged it doesn’t respond well to dairy.
As soon as you’re stable again it can be a great benefit to add a probiotic supplement to your diet for a period in efforts to build up the good bacteria in your gut. Source out a good brand by talking openly to your local health food supplier, talk to your physician or read reviews from coeliacs. I’ve had to try a few brands before I found the one that works for me. I recommend buying a small packet at first just in case you need or want to swap, as they can be a bit pricey.
My every-day probiotics are fresh and need to be kept in the fridge, but I keep a separate brand for travelling that do not need refrigeration. You can also buy cultures and make your own fresh yoghurt. Yoghurt can be made with soy and coconut milk for a dairy-free alternative.
Find what works best for your body, be kind to yourself. Most importantly, this too shall pass!
How do you deal with accidental exposure? Do you have any tricks that you would like to share? Please comment!
Take care of yourself.
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