I’ve gone gluten free – why don’t I feel better?

You've been diagnosed which coeliac or gluten intolerance and you've gone gluten free. Yay! Now you can be pain free straight away forever, right!?

Uhm. Well. Hopefully! But. Probably not. When we went gluten free the changes were subtle at first…a sort of slowly coming out of the fug and pain of the last two years, as though our old self was unfurling from a long, deep slumber. What it was, was a long healing process. What it wasn’t, was immediate relief from our symptoms. So, if you’ve cut gluten out of your diet but are still feeling ill, here are some reasons why that could be:

You’re not 100% gluten free

Do you know how sneaky gluten is? Okay well not gluten itself – it’s not a sentient being yet, thank goodness. But it gets EVERywhere. It’s binding things together and thickening soups and sauces and in flavourings and sometimes in medicine (medicine!) and we can’t stress enough how much you need to 100% check the labels to make sure you’ll be safe. And don’t forget that gluten isn’t just wheat – it’s malt and barley, and for some people, the avenin (similar to gluten) in oats can produce painful symptoms. Check every packaged product you buy.

You’re cross contaminating somewhere

You’ve double and triple checked the labels, and you’re absolutely certain that none of that tricksy protein is getting into your system intentionally. But are you being meticulous about your work spaces? Do you share a toaster, are you cutting food on the same board as someone else has cut bread, is there flour on a surface, are you using the same pans that have had ordinary pasta and whatnot in them?

And, as meticulous as you need to be at home, you need to be the same level of aware at the restaurants and pubs and eateries you visit. You know what really sucks? Not being able to have chips at a pub because they fry them in the same oil as other breaded things. That, my friends, is absolutely rubbish. But it’s the level of detail you have to learn to think in when you’re new to the no-gluten life.

You haven’t given it enough time yet

We know, we know, you want it to feel better now. Trust me, we have all the sympathy. But the sad truth of the matter is it’s not going to feel better straight away. It might not even feel better for weeks or months. For us personally, we felt quite a bit better after a few weeks of being gluten free, but it probably took 6 months to feel 75-80% better and over a year to feel back to ‘normal’. That’s our journey – yours will be different. But it’s unlikely to feel perfect instantly, so give your body time to heal.

You have other triggers as well as gluten

Did you know dairy can temporarily cause pain after a stomach upset? GPs and dietitians often suggest to ease up on the dairy (and peanut butter) for a few days after experiencing a stomach bug or diarrhea. So if you’ve had stomach pain following a glutening, dairy could be temporarily giving you some trouble. Similarly you could have some sensitivity to FODMAPs…but how would you figure that out? You write it down! Write it all down in a food diary. Your symptoms, the timings, the resulting bowel movements – get it down on paper in all its Technicolor glory.

You’re clenching those muscles

A few months after going gluten free, our mouth ulcers had disappeared and so had the near constant nausea and dodgy bowel habits we’d endured for over two years… but we still had some residual stomach ache. Because we’d heard a lot about mindfulness and stress and IBS links, we thought…why don’t we try meditating? (We hadn’t before because we’re useless at sitting still unless our body forces us to). But actually it was a godsend. That stomach ache? Turned out we were gripping our stomach muscles so tightly, pre-emptively clenching in the hope that we wouldn’t throw up. But now we didn’t feel like we needed to vomit any more, but our abs hadn’t gotten that memo. 10 minutes a day with a guided meditation app that brought us greater awareness of when we were unknowingly gripping on tightly, and we began to relax and release…and so did the pain.

Did you go gluten free to ease your symptoms? Share your journey with us! Leave us a comment here or on our Instagram or Facebook pages. If you're looking for a food diary, you can buy one right here.