It's a scenario that's too familiar to many of us: A few hours after a pleasant meal, you start getting ... symptoms. It's clear that the food contained some gluten, and here come the repercussions: digestive, neurological and skin-based symptoms from that gluten exposure.
In many of us, it takes only a microscopic amount of gluten — too small to see — to trigger symptoms. And for some people, these "glutening" symptoms can take up to several weeks to disappear.
Obviously, the long-term solution is to avoid all gluten. But that's tough to accomplish, especially if you're particularly sensitive ... and it doesn't do you any good in the short run, when you're suffering from exposure.
So what can you do to feel better? Here's a list of five tips that may help while you're waiting for the gluten exposure to run its course.
1. Get Plenty of Rest
Gluten exposure leads to a dreary combination of fatigue and insomnia in many people. It's tough to feel normal when you can't sleep at night, and want only to sleep during the day.
The solution? Get as much rest as you possibly can, whenever you can grab it. If you're lucky enough to work at home, or if you have a flexible schedule, try to build in a nap. Even if you can't actually sleep, lying down may help.
I find that short cat naps — even five minutes long — can make me feel more refreshed while I'm coping with the effects of a glutening. Try closing your eyes for just a couple of minutes — you may find it helps you be more alert until you can actually go to bed.
2. Avoid Difficult Tasks
Many of us suffer from brain fog when we are exposed to gluten, leading to fuzzy-headedness, absent-mindedness and sometimes outright confusion.
Needless to say, that's not a good recipe for tasks that involve heavy lifting, quick thinking or deep analysis.
If you're suffering from the effects of gluten contamination, try to avoid those types of tasks. Reschedule what you possibly can. If you can't avoid this type of work (most people can't simply take time off ), exercise plenty of caution when performing potentially dangerous tasks.
Extra sleep (again, if you can manage it) can help some with brain fog, but in most cases you'll just have to wait for it to lift.
3. Skip Lactose-Containing Foods
If you've been heavily exposed, you may temporarily become lactose intolerant. That's because we digest dairy proteins with the very tips of our intestinal villi, and gluten ingestion can damage those villi.
Lactose intolerance occurs commonly in celiac disease, especially in the newly diagnosed. However, many people report improvement once they've followed the gluten-free diet for a while, indicating their villi have recovered.
After a bad episode, it's possible to find you no longer tolerate lactose. Don't worry it's likely temporary. Just avoid milk and products such as yogurt, ice cream and cheese until you feel recovered.
4. Revert To Whole Foods
Now is not the time to try a new type of "gluten-free"-labeled product or to challenge your digestion with something radical. Your best bet to a speedy recovery is to revert to eating a whole foods diet made up of foods you know don't bother you.
Many people do well on a modified "BRAT" diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Obviously, you would need to substitute gluten-free toast, and skip the butter if you can't have dairy.
If you don't eat grains, the BRAT diet won't work for you. However, it's likely you can find something easily digested to eat. When I'm not feeling well due, I eat plain omelets, bananas and other fruit.
5. Don't Take Chances
It goes without saying that you should avoid the food that got you in trouble in the first place — I've lost track of how much food I've given away over the years to friends who aren't gluten sensitive.
However, you also should avoid taking chances while you're recovering. That means skipping restaurant meals, bringing your own food to friends' houses, and sidelining any temptations you feel to indulge in something you know may be questionable.
This is the rule I have the hardest time following. When I am suffering from gluten exposure, I often feel out-of-control, and it's easy when you feel that way to rationalize taking yet another chance on something.
Don't. Your key to as speedy a recovery as possible is prudence, not careless behavior. Maintain a strict gluten-free diet, and you're more likely to feel better sooner.