The inadvertent ingestion of gluten is unfortunately an inevitable part of being a celiac. Given the seemingly omnipresence of gluten there are only two real scenarios in regards to being gluten free; 1. Try your hardest to prevent inadvertent gluten ingestion. 2. Deal with the consequences when you haven’t been able to prevent it. This post is concerned with scenario 2, defining and implementing your own personal contingency plan for dealing with gluten ingestion.
Fortunately, the frequency at which I am contaminated with gluten is minimal, but it definitely does still happen. At the start of my journey with celiac disease, I was frequently ill from gluten contamination. Although debilitating, these occasions provided me with the opportunity to refine, perfect and practice my contingency plan. It also taught me to recognize the early signs of gluten ingestion, allowing me sufficient time to prepare for the impending physical and psychological side effects.
How your body and mind reacts to gluten contamination will differ to mine, but there will be a theme common to all celiacs. Once you recognize the tell tale symptoms of gluten ingestion, its your decision how you react. Although you cant alter the impending symptoms, having a plan and choosing the most appropriate coping mechanisms can have a positive impact on an awful situation.
The following are steps I take to try and alleviate the physical and psychological consequences of gluten ingestion. Your symptoms may well be very different, but I hope you find how I cope with mine, at least inspiration to devise a strategy that works for you.
1. Be Kind to Yourself
It’s easy to beat yourself up with “why did I eat that?”, “I should know better?” and “why didn’t I check?”. Don’t dwell too long on the past, analyze the situation in order to learn where the gluten contamination occurred and how it could be prevented, but don’t let your thoughts become negative accusations. Accept what has happened, what is about to happen and treat yourself with kindness. There is nothing to gain from being horrible to yourself. Not everything is in your control and we all make mistakes. You wouldn’t treat anyone else in your predicament with anything but kindness and compassion so why treat yourself any differently?
2. Don’t Be a Martyr
Pushing through the pain will make you feel worse, and will probably make everyone around you wish you would have called in sick. If you can take a sick day off work, this would be the time to do it. Fulfilling your normal routine is just unrealistic, if its possible cancel as much as you can and focus on rest and recovery. The Earth will still be spinning in a couple of days.
3. Accept Help
If you have someone offering to run you a bath, cook you a meal, and listen to your woes, then gratefully accept their help. Any assistance will allow you to focus on rest, and getting back on your feet quicker.
4. Eat Small and Regular
Personally, ingesting gluten causes severe abdominal bloating to the point where I have no desire to eat anything. Your body needs nutrients and healthy calories to fuel your immune system in its battle against gluten. Eat small and regular meals of healthy and unprocessed food.
Keep well hydrated by drinking sufficient water. You will lose fluids from diarrhea, night sweats, elevated temperature and all of the other symptoms. In addition, an increase of fluids will help to flush the gluten toxins out of your system. If you don’t drink enough water, dehydration will make your symptoms more acute, and can cause constipation. The last thing you want is to retain the gluten inside your intestines, prolonging the immune response and subsequent symptoms.
6. Love Your Muscles
The term Muscle Ache takes on a whole new meaning when I’ve ingested gluten. The visceral surging of blood through my muscles renders them useless, causing muscular twitching and intense pain. The only two things I have found which alleviates the ache are; massage and a soak in an Epsom Salt bath.
Get as much sleep as you can. Not dozing on the sofa in front of the TV, proper in bed, lights out, restful sleep. Sleep will help you in all aspects. It will allow your body time to recover, and will ensure that your mind is well rested to keep fighting.
8. Keep Perspective
For me the psychological side effects of ingesting gluten are just as evident as the physical ones. I start to think that I’m always ill and that I’m a burden to my family. The symptoms chip away at my self image and I start to think that I’m obese. Even though I’m normally an optimistic person, I will begin to feel depressed and anxious, causing my negative thoughts to spiral. Of all of the symptoms caused by gluten contamination, it has been the mental ones which have been the hardest to deal with. In order to combat these I try and remind myself that these thoughts and feelings are temporary, and are a product of an immune response and are not a true reflection of what I really think. In order to help myself and those closest to me, I have been very honest regarding the psychological impacts gluten ingestion has. This has facilitated an increased understanding of what I’m going through, and it means my family can help with words of reassurance and support. Most importantly, I never make any important life altering decisions until I have fully recovered!
Even though the physical symptoms of ingesting gluten only last a few days, the psychological repercussions can have a longer lasting effect. Each episode can wear down your confidence, your feeling of well being and your ability of coping with celiac disease. Finding a system that helps you cope with these inevitable periods of illness is very important. Take the course of action that prioritize your health and recovery. Once you’re through to the other side, dust yourself off, remember what worked, what didn’t, and get busy living.
What does your contingency plan involve? Any tips and tricks I’m missing?