You’ve planned carefully, alerted all your hosts and hotels about your dietary needs, and packed plenty of emergency rations. You’ve even printed out cute little cards in other languages to ensure that people really do understand that you cannot have gluten in any form…. you should be good to go, right? You might be. Or you might be good to go-and-go-and-go… and in the worst way possible. It’s inevitable that at least once, despite your most vigilant attempts, you will get glutened when you are traveling or away from home. Having just returned from a lovely trip to Costa Rica with Montezuma’s-celiac-revenge, I know this all to well. If you’ve got celiac, then getting glutened means you will likely experience the bloating, cramping, and other bathroom ‘issues’ that arise.

Here are three essential things you should do right away to help you deal with those times you find you’ve been glutened:

1) Reduce Your Pain

The first thing you want to do is to reduce your discomfort. DO NOT use ibuprofen or naproxin, which have been shown to help increase bowel permeability. Instead try one of these remedies (It should go without saying that I’m not offering professional medical advice of any sort – always check with your doctor to make sure these comfort measures are appropriate for you, and know that ymmv):

  • For stomach pain,bloating and cramping, Drink:
    • Chamomile Tea: You’ll want to let your tea steep for at least 10 minutes to create a medicinal tisane. Drinking this natural anti-inflammatory agent up to 4 times a day will help your gut to calm down and will also rehydrate you (really important if you get the Big “D”!)
    • Rice Gruel/Water: A mixture of 2tbsp rice to 1 cup of water can be cooked for about fifteen minutes, then blended to create a mixture that will help coat your stomach and intestinal linings. Add a very small pinch of cinnamon and perhaps a bit of honey and you’ll increase the anti-inflammatory properties and make an easy, tasty ‘horchata’ that you can drink hot or cold for the same benefit! You might want to multiply this amount greatly and sip all day on the mixture.
    • (real) Ginger-ale or ginger tea – ginger contains compounds that relax smooth muscles (such as intestinal linings) and can help reduce cramping in the bowels. You’ll need to grate about 1 tbsp of fresh ginger per cup of hot water (and once again allow it to steep for at least 10 minutes) to get the medicinal effect. This can be strong, so sweetener (such as honey) can help it go down easier!
  • For joint Pain:
    • Use the Hot/Cold approach: try alternating 15 minutes of very cold treatment (a cloth covered ice pack or an ice bath) with 15 minutes of very hot treatment (a cloth covered hot water bottle or bath). This method has been known to improve circulation and speed healing when joints become inflamed due to sports injury and may also help your pain and swelling during the first flush of joint pain following a glutening
    • Add Turmeric (a LOT) to your diet: Turmeric is a natural inflammatory. Taken as a food supplement or tea, it will help bring down inflammation throughout your body. You’ll need about a tablespoon per day, and you must have it in hot (boiling) water or some form of fat (like in a stir fry) for your body to absorb the anti-inflammatory agents. If you’re not up to eating this much turmeric, try taking it in capsule form (always make sure to have a bit of fat or a hot cup of tea right after!)
    • Try Ginger or Cinnamon – studies have shown these anti-inflammatories to rival NSAIDS in effectiveness. You will get roughly the effect of ibuprofen if you take a teaspoon of either one of these per day for a few weeks following a glutening. I’d recommend brewing these into a half gallon of chai tea, or working them into your food (such as sprinkling on your toast or applesauce), as taking them dry can be irritating to your lungs if you breathe them in. You can also find these in capsules, as with turmeric.

2) Increase Your Sipping and Sleeping

During your glutening time, try increasing your liquids as much as possible – if you’re sipping any of the tisane recipes above, you will naturally be more hydrated – and also try sleeping as much as you can. Both of these methods will help your body to flush out the gluten and the inflammation more quickly and will aid the healing process. For those of us on the road, this may mean skipping the after work social hour and heading to bed very early.

3) Decrease Your Consumption of Cross Reactors

Unfortunately, there are a lot of foods which may trigger cross reactions in those with celiac, even though they themselves do not contain gluten. These include foods like milk, corn, coffee, and – worst of all! – chocolate! You will want to try and eliminate foods that may trigger cross reactions in a compromised system and focus on eating simple, high fiber foods instead. I find when I have been glutened, it’s best to go back to a very simple diet of fruits, vegetables, rice, and plain proteins for about a week or two. The more you allow your digestive system to rest, the more likely you are to heal quickly.