So I forgot the brown rice that I’d pre-cooked for a client’s supper. I’m usually well-organized but NOT THAT DAY, so I used a bag of pasta from the client’s pantry instead, regular wheat-based pasta. And the thing about pasta is that you really need to taste it to test it, so I had two noodles. Two.
I should have done something else, I know. But I was rushed and in perfectionist mode and already pissed at myself for forgetting the rice and just wanted the meal to be right. I didn’t fully realize that I was reacting until later the next day.
It’s still surprising to me that two little noodles can cause several days of pain and discomfort when I used to deliberately eat wheat a dozen times a day. Of course, I received the “placeholder diagnosis” of IBS at age 8 and did experience varying levels of pain and discomfort throughout my life, so things were happening in my body all along even if it took a while to make the connection.
People with celiac do tend to become more sensitive to gluten when they adopt a strict gluten-free diet, because their guts heal. It’s the difference between being rear-ended in a wrecked car and being rear-ended in a vehicle that still has that new car smell. You’re going to feel it much more when your guts still have that healthy intestinal membrane smell. I think I lost my metaphor.
Every person has a different experience of gluten exposure. Some people aren’t symptomatic at all, though that doesn’t mean there isn’t damage. Others end up in the hospital. Most reside somewhere in the territory of fatigue, abdominal pain, bleeding, bloating, “brain fog,” joint pain, itchy skin, diarrhea and/or constipation.
I get to enjoy all of the latter, plus wheezing because gluten exacerbates my asthma. (By the way, that’s what was going on here. I’d been using my [banned, discontinued, stockpiled because I had no health insurance] inhaler 2+ times a day, which caused heart arrhythmia, tachycardia, and high BP. Going gluten-free stopped the daily attacks entirely, so I was able to stop using my inhaler, and my heart rhythm normalized. That doesn’t mean YOUR asthma has anything to do with gluten, that’s just my experience.)
I’ve been strictly gluten-free for a while now, but occasional exposure is nearly impossible to avoid, especially when you cook for a living. So I have a little action plan to help me feel better. I don’t know if any of these things will help you, but you’re welcome to try.
For me, fatigue is the most significant symptom of gluten exposure. Muscles weak, eyelids at half-mast, I feel like I’m walking through fog for a few days. I just go with it. I nap a lot. I get a lot of reading done.
Bone broth is the great healer. Gelatin is soothing to inflamed guts and minerals help with cramping and irritability.
The body uses proteins to knit structures back together. Tofu and eggs are my favorite post-gluten proteins; beef and pork feel too harsh on my system at that time.
Natural Calm, baby. Drink it up. It eases anxiety, and can help ya poo if you need it.
Also helps with nasty digestive problems that we’d all like to pretend don’t exist, but sadly cannot. I prefer soluble forms of fiber from oats, fruits, and vegetables. Insoluble sources like corn, crucifers, root vegetables, and raisins can be difficult to process in a pissed-off belly.
EASILY DIGESTED FOODS
This is not the time for that triple double-decker three-cheese burger on a gluten-free bun with a mountain of cheesy garlic fries. Save that for next week. Whole grains (except oatmeal), lentils, beans, cheese, red meat, nuts, and gluten-free goodies with binders & gums are all on hold, just for a few days. White rice, (certified) oats, non-cruciferous vegetables, eggs, and fruit are all ideal. Plain ol’ sugar in tea or coffee can be an easy source of energy; I find honey a little hard to digest after gluten exposure.
Oh, so much water.
Some nice deep stretches are good for the gut, help to ease stress and make it easier to sleep.
This is not a blanket rule. Some fermented foods do NOT help me feel better, such as sauerkraut. I have reflux continuously for a few days after gluten exposure, and although fermented foods help some people with reflux, they do not help me. For the most part I don’t do cultured vegetables during this time. Instead it’s yogurt and fermented drinks like water kefir or (even better) coconut kefir. These are very soothing and help to tamp down the bloating and pain. Kimchi sometimes helps, but it’s kinda hit-or-miss.
Yep, I put it on the list twice. It’s really the most important thing.
My favorite dish for any kind of illness is congee (also known as jook, and probably three hundred other things), a Chinese (and probably three hundred other places) porridge of rice flavored and topped with whatever’s around — herbs, scallions, pickles/ferments, leftover meat, chiles, sesame oil. In its most basic guise, congee is just rice cooked with lots of water. Even like this, it’s delicious, soothing, warm, and easily digested, perfect sick-person food.
It’s very simple to make. Start with a short-grained rice (white is traditional, brown is fine). Combine one cup of rice with anywhere from 5 to 10 cups of bone broth — I usually use 8 and add another cup or two at the end. I know it seems like a helluva lot of liquid, but that’s what makes it so unctuous and comforting. I like to add garlic and ginger to the cooking broth, but it’s not required.
Simmer the rice for about an hour, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking. Add a little more liquid toward the end if it’s thicker than you’d like. Then top with whatever you like — this time I used cilantro, chile-garlic sauce, scallions, and some crispy chicken bits.