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Here’s the truth: Gluten detox is real.
Back when I was in nutrition school and training to become a health coach, I was first introduced to the idea of detoxing.
I’d heard the concept thrown around before that your body would rid itself of toxins when it was healing from the inside out. That it would purge all the icky stuff that didn’t serve it any longer to make space for all the fresh turned-a-new-leaf cells that would help your body thrive in a healthy way.
The term detox is thrown around these days as a fancy word for depriving yourself of real food and expecting to feel miserable in order to lose a few pounds. Its a nice way of saying starve yourself to lose some weight to many many people. Ick.
But the truth is that food detox is a real thing. Just ask any sugar fiend. Or caffeine junkie. Or me. Boy, do I have detox stories.
Like when I had a headache and strange head tingling in the right side of my head for 5 days after cutting gluten out of my diet the first time and then thinking “Wow, I must really need to be eating gluten or I feel TERRIBLE.” So then I ate it again hoping it would solve all my problems only to realize that eating it made my headache WORSE. I had to cut it again and start all over with the 5 days of detox headaches.
Cutting yourself off at the source isn’t pretty. Detox can be brutal and it often means life will suck before you start to feel better. Its just the truth of healing yourself from the inside out.
So when people ask me Is gluten detox actually real? I simply smile and say “you have no idea.” In this post, I want to take you through some of the most common questions – and my take on the answers all about gluten withdrawal and gluten detox.
There are many symptoms and side effects of gluten detox and gluten withdrawal.
Detoxing looks different for everyone. Detoxing from different things looks different for everyone.
Here are just a few symptoms and side effects you might experience as you are coming off of gluten and experiencing gluten detox and gluten withdrawal:
- Feeling tired, sluggish, lethargic
- Trouble concentrating and staying focused
- Unusual tingling sensations
- Joint pain
- Susceptibility to catching colds & viruses
- Trouble sleeping
- Bad breath
- Unpleasant body odor
- Frequent gas, bloating or indigestion
- Allergies and/or food sensitivities
- Skin problems especially acne and eczema
- Constipation, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal upset
- Feeling depressed
- Anxiety and anxious feelings
- Irritability and crankiness
- Back pain
- Mood changes
- Sinus congestion
Remember that just because you don’t experience ALL of these gluten detox symptoms, doesn’t mean that you aren’t detoxing. Your experience will vary from mine or anyone else’s. You could have one or two of these withdrawal symptoms and it’s still important for you to give your body a break while it heals itself.
In addition to these being a sign of gluten detox, many of these symptoms can be mistaken for other food intolerances too. If you feel like there may be more going on in your body than just gluten detox, you might consider doing an elimination diet to chart what’s going on in your body and how you feel. This food journal is a great resource for getting started with that.
And if the idea of doing an elimination diet overwhelms you, then maybe consider starting with a food sensitivity test kit that can help point you in the right direction of which foods to start eliminating. I recommend the EverlyWell Food Sensitivity Test Kit, because you can test your intolerance to 96 different foods all without leaving your house. Check out the demo video I created below.
Now that you know what’s going on – and maybe have a little validation that you’re not the only one who’s experiencing these things from gluten detox, let’s talk about how to handle some of these symptoms.
The biggest gluten withdrawal symptoms that I hear about are bloating and digestive upset (aka diarrhea). Here’s what you can do about it.
Bloating and digestive upset is often uncomfortable and you likely will hate wearing anything form-fitting and feel like you’re popping out of your own skin – let alone your skinny jeans. That’s been my experience anyway.
Any changes in your digestion is simply your body’s way of letting you know something isn’t right. It isn’t digesting, absorbing nutrients, and assimilating the food into your body properly. The fact that everything is just uncomfortable inside and out is a sign that you need to take a step back and let your digestive system rest.
So what can you do about the bloating and digestion in the meantime? Here are 5 things you can do
1. Flush with TONS of water
Gluten will stay in your body for as long as it stays in your body. Duh, right? But you can speed it along by flushing as much water through your system as quickly as possible.
Give your body all the hydration it needs to keep things flowing. If you have diarrhea at all, the water will keep you from dehydrating. Dealing with dehydration after going through any kind of gluten detox would frankly would be awful after already having such an uncomfortable experience.
Do yourself a favor and drink up! If it helps, grab a water bottle and take it with you everywhere you go. This is my favorite water bottle and I keep it with me both in and out of the house.
2. Pull back on sugar, caffeine and alcohol
When gluten is sitting in your digestive tract, the proteins are struggling to break down, allowing the bad bacteria to multiply, and causing excess gas. This is where the crazy bloating unpleasant bathroom trips come from. What makes this problem worse? Anything with sugar.
Cut back on sugar, caffeine and alcohol in your diet to ease up on the work your digestive system has to do. This also includes carb-heavy foods that will immediately convert to sugar in the body as well.
You can introduce them back in slowly. You can even take digestive enzymes (these are the ones I use) to help break foods down during this time, if literally everything is giving you an upset stomach.
If you’re super super addicted to caffeine, I would not pull completely back on it 100% because you’re going to have withdrawal symptoms there and potentially low blood pressure issues. That’s not a good idea. Just pull back a little bit on it. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be completely. You’re going to feel a lot better if you don’t add more fuel to the fire when you’re already feeling bad.
3. Skip the dairy
Dairy can be hard work for your digestive system to process, so give your body a little bit of a break until you start feeling better to bring it back in if you happen to include dairy in your regular diet. Or if you’re like me and intolerant to both gluten AND dairy, this might be an easy step for you.
Either way, double down on making sure your diet is dairy-free to ease the digestion process and let your gut get some rest and healing time.
Want an easy resource to help you identify gluten and dairy ingredients?
Check out my GFDF Take-Along Cards!
4. Skip processed foods and eat whole foods
Now isn’t the time to stress your body out further with more processed foods or more gluten-free friendly options you find at the store. Return to fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and protein sources.
Not only will you give your body a break, but you’ll be amping up the amount of nutrients you’re giving your body allowing it to heal even more quickly. Again, flush out the bad with tons of the good. Smoothies are a must and my blender gets more use than at any other time when I’m detoxing.
If feeling good is the goal, eat good-for-you food to get you there.
5. Get on a good probiotic supplement.
Probiotics help to not only get rid of the gluten from your gut, but also help to replace some of that bad bacteria which is probably thriving in your gut at this point with some good bacteria. Out with the bad, in with the good probiotics!
Look for probiotics with L. acidophilus, B. longum, and B. bifidum and that come in opaque packaging so the bacteria can stay alive while you store them before taking them. You also want to make sure to check expiration dates before purchasing so you don’t spend money on probiotics that are essentially dead and useless once ingested.
Now that you know some things you can do to start feeling better quickly, you’re probably wondering how long this whole detox phase will all last.
Gluten detox and gluten withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
When you experience gluten detox, you can expect to feel off for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Many health experts say that it can take years for you to actually rid your body completely of gluten in the digestive tract. But glaringly obvious (and annoying) gluten detox symptoms should fade within about a week.
You very likely might feel worse before you start feeling better. Thats the non-sugar coated truth you might not want to hear.
If things don’t start clearing up for you, definitely chat with your doctor about other health issues that could be causing your symptoms. Also, you may consider an elimination diet to test for other food intolerances.
You might be thinking “well, isn’t there anything I can do to detox from gluten faster?”
I’m often asked if there’s anything you can do to speed up the gluten detoxing process or if there’s some special supplement or pill you can take. Or (heaven forbid) a colonic to flush things through.
Let me be super clear about this: I believe that your body knows what its doing and unless you are in really bad shape and are seeing a doctor for a specific condition, these things aren’t necessary.
You can speed things up by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, drinking loads of water, getting more-than-enough sleep, and allowing yourself to rest until you feel good again. Its really and truly the only way that I recommend detoxing with whole real foods. Not supplements or having areas of your body flushed that don’t see the light of day.
That said, if you want something tangible to help you along, here’s what I can share that may help with speed up your gluten detox symptoms and get you feeling better overall as quickly as possible:
Extra sleep and rest
One of the major things that gluten does to your body is slow you down. For me, one of the things that comes up whenever I have gluten is I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. I get super exhausted, and my body has had enough pretty much right away.
With gluten in your body, your immune system is going haywire trying to fight off the gluten proteins that are already wreaking havoc inside your gut. Give yourself a break, tone down the heavy workouts and let your body just cope with working overtime.
Getting extra sleep is really important because it helps your body fight off that gluten. It’s helping it process along to get it out as quickly as possible. Give yourself a chance to rest and get that extra sleep if possible. It really does make a difference in how you feel and how you feel better more quickly.
There is no magic number on hours, so just get sleep when you need to. Take a nap during the day or go to bed early. Wake up a little later if you can afford the time in your morning schedule.
Take Epsom salt baths
Soak in an Epsom salts bath. Epsom salts are inexpensive at any grocery or drug store, and the magnesium in the salts help to pull out toxins out of your body. This is a really nice feel good idea, especially if you have achy joints as a symptom of eating gluten.
Soaking in a hot bath always makes me feel better when I’m having not a great day, but also when I have had gluten and my body just needs a little extra TLC.
Take activated charcoal
Activated charcoal is a supplement you can take right after consuming gluten to help bind with the gluten and other toxins to prevent them from being absorbed in the intestines. You can take this right after consuming gluten and once the day after, although this shouldn’t be a free ticket to consume gluten if you know it affects you negatively.
Of course, just like any other supplement, be sure to check with your doctor to make sure this is a healthy and wise choice for you if you have any medical conditions or issues that may react with it.
Make and drink bone broth
Bone broth is great for detoxing from gluten, because it contains gelatin and collagen which helps to seal up your gut lining. This is particularly useful if you have a gluten intolerance and want to start healing your leaky gut.
You can now buy bone broth in stores and online, but the easiest and best way to enjoy bone broth is by making your own at home using bones, water, and a little apple cider vinegar to draw out the minerals. Stick all that in a stockpot and let it go for 24 hours or better yet, you can pop it all in your crockpot.
Plus, there’s nothing better than homemade chicken broth or beef broth to perk you up when you arent feeling your best.
Now, this might seem silly, but Ive really found that my attitude is everything when it comes to healing and feeling better. Instead of getting totally down and mopey when I make a mistake and eat gluten, now I just try to remember that its a reminder lesson from my body to treat it right. Your body knows what you need, so listen to it!
Consider it a blessing that your body can send you signals that it knows what it loves and what it doesn’t. So try to keep a positive mindset while you’re healing from gluten detox. One idea that helps me when Im feeling down and going through health issues is turning back to gratitude. Pull out a journal and write a gratitude list. A great idea when you’re trying to heal is to write the things you’re grateful for about your body or your health.
I know it seems a little woo-woo but there’s a power of healing in a positive mindset.
If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this short video I put together all about these 10 tips on detoxing from gluten:
It’s not always easy to get through the dark days of gluten detox, but its more than worth it to get to the other side and feel even more vibrant and healthy in your body.
So the bottom line is this: It is VERY normal to feel worse before you feel better when you cut gluten out of your diet for good.
Plus it takes persistence and patience to get to the other side of that feeling. But once you do cut the gluten out for good you’ll feel a million times better than you did before.
If you’re interested in learning more about gluten detox and how to take on a gluten-free diet that lasts, I have an entire bonus class dedicated to detoxing from gluten inside my GFDF Living for Beginners course. Check out the details of the course here.
Now its your turn tell me: what has your experience been with gluten detox? Leave a comment below to let me know!
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