Managing the Stress of Getting “Glutened”

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Getting “glutened” is an unofficial (and non-medical) term for consuming gluten without realizing it until it is too late. After being so careful about avoiding gluten, getting glutened in an unexpected way can be especially stressful. Feeling emotionally stressed can also compound the physical reactions you might have when gluten gets into your system.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can affect your body in many ways, including causing symptoms such as stomach pain that overlap and amplify possible physical symptoms of gluten consumption. Stress can also affect your mood, and make you feel overwhelmed.

There are some valid reasons you might worry – or even be fearful – about being able to stay safely gluten-free – especially when eating away from home. These worries can be magnified after an experience of being glutened. Managing – and minimizing – your fears can help reduce the stress you could be feeling and make you feel more confident moving forward.

Let’s look at some of the reasons you might be fearful.


The Unknown

Not knowing what to expect once you’re diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can make you fearful and stressed. Asking experts — like a primary care doctor, GI specialist, or dietitian — a lot of questions can help overcome this type of fear. The more information you have about gluten-related disorders and the gluten-free diet, the less you should experience fear of the unknown. Also check out our article Dealing with the Stress of a Celiac Disease Diagnosis for additional tips.


Being Sick

Nobody likes being sick, and nobody likes to be in pain. When you get glutened, you may experience nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain, just to name a few of the symptoms. There is no way to “flush” gluten out of your system quickly to lessen the discomfort. Finding the best ways to reduce the symptoms in case you get glutened – and being prepared – can help minimize the fear of getting sick. It may happen, but when you are prepared, it can be less stressful.


Getting Accidentally “Glutened”

Have you ever been caught off-guard by getting sick from eating gluten without knowing? That could lead to new fears. What if it happens again? What if it was that last place I went to? These are all legitimate concerns. You may want to take that restaurant off your list or communicate with restaurant staff regarding your experience and what they are doing to avoid repeat situations.

A new place, or a social situation where there is a higher risk of accidentally consuming gluten, can be even more stressful. Asking questions, providing information about gluten-free eating, and researching in advance can help alleviate these fears.


If you’re not in full control of your kitchen and practicing safe cooking techniques, the possibility of cross-contact with gluten is a real one. Any kitchen that prepares both gluten-containing and gluten-free food runs the risk of getting gluten crumbs or particles into the gluten-free fare. Asking the right questions when you go out to eat can help alleviate fears. Calling in advance can also help you reduce the worries you might feel, especially if you are dining at a new place. Read Restaurant Dining: 7 Tips for Staying Gluten-Free for some tips.

When visiting friends or going to a social event, speaking in advance with the host can help you feel more confident when having something to eat. When appropriate, ask if a special plate can be prepared for you or if you can bring your own food. Taking control of food prep where possible can help you manage your fears.


Repeat Incidents

Whenever you experience something traumatic, you can feel fearful that it might happen again. Getting glutened, especially if your physical reaction is severe, can lead to feelings of anxiety when faced with similar situations. For example, if you get glutened at a friend’s house, you may be wary of eating there again to avoid a repeat of the experience.

Be upfront regarding your concerns, provide information and education, and offer to bring your favorite gluten-free dish for everyone to share and enjoy. These fears are valid, but with anything related to staying safely gluten-free, being prepared is one way to reduce the chance of a repeat incident.

For more ideas on reducing stress, check out our articles:

5 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Shopping Gluten-Free

Setting Healthy Boundaries When You’re Living Gluten-Free

5 Ways to Reduce Stress When Living Gluten-Free


Supporting a gluten-free child

Sometimes, it isn’t you who is affected by the possibility of being glutened but a child in your care. If you are caring for a child who needs to avoid gluten, you can help calm their fears of getting sick.

Educating yourself is a good place to start. According to Dr. Monique Germone, a pediatric psychologist and lead psychologist with the Colorado Center for Celiac Disease at Children’s Hospital Colorado, “Younger children rely a lot on their adult family members to help them switch to a gluten-free diet and lifestyle. They look to adults to help them read food labels, find places to eat outside of the home, and know what they can eat when with friends and at school. This can be difficult when most adults don’t know all the special things people with celiac disease need to think about with food and activities.”

Read up on how to get the support your family needs and how to help a child adhere to a gluten-free diet. Here are a few articles to get you started:

Building Your Healthcare Team

Supporting & Encouraging Gluten-Free Loved Ones

7 Tips for Avoiding Gluten Cross-Contact at Home

Not all families approach the transition to a gluten-free diet the same way, says Dr. Germone.

“Some families choose to all go gluten-free together. Some families continue to keep food with gluten in the house. Some families are in-between. While some families make a switch immediately, others may take a little bit of time. There is no right way as long as the child with celiac disease stops knowingly eating gluten and takes precautions to avoid cross-contact with gluten.”

Dr. Germone recommends practicing reading ingredient labels together and ways to talk to others about how to safely prepare food for your child.

“This could be with relatives, friends, at school, and even at extracurricular activities,” says Dr. Germone. “Some families have found it helpful to create lists to give to others of the child’s favorite foods and a short statement on what celiac disease is and how to prepare foods safely.”

For additional support, reach out to dietitians, social workers, and psychologists who have expertise in celiac disease as well as GIG support groups and resources.

Special thanks to Monique Germone, a pediatric psychologist and lead psychologist with the Colorado Center for Celiac Disease at Children’s Hospital Colorado and co-chair of the Celiac Disease Behavioral Sciences Consortium, for her input.

The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.

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