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What happens when a celiac eats gluten?

I get this question a lot. And until a few weeks ago, I was never really sure how to answer. 

… There was that one time I took a sip of a beer when I thought it was cider, but other than that I haven’t knowingly digested gluten since being diagnosed with celiac disease nearly six years ago.

I told people who asked about the side effects that I’d feel groggy, breakout with acne and get bloated – all symptoms I experienced before going gluten-free. I also said that, in the long run, I’d likely become anemic again and increase my chances of intestinal cancer. 

My response seems to satisfy most people’s curiosity, but I wondered in the back of my mind if my response was right. It’d been years since I’ve digested gluten, after all. 

Regrettably, a few weeks ago, I survived to tell the tale of a celiac eating gluten. 

It all started with a typical grocery trip. I headed to the gluten-free section and stocked up on one of my favorite staples – frozen pizza.

Later that week, I popped the pizza in the oven and polished off the entire thing by around 7 p.m. I tossed the box in the recycling bin, finished my TV show and went to bed.

Around 10:30 p.m. I woke up feeling nauseous. I tried to fall back asleep, but my body fought me. Without even realizing it, I found myself running to the bathroom. I didn’t make it to the toilet before throwing up everywhere. Projectile-style. 

I slept on the floor in the bathroom in between vomiting sessions, and I can now say with certainty my body forced out every ounce of gluten in there that night. I woke up around 3:30 p.m. with nothing left to give and crawled back to bed.

When I woke up in the morning, I still felt off. I wondered how I could have caught the stomach flu for the 5th time this year. I somehow felt different from when I have my normal stomach flu symptoms, so I pulled the pizza box out of the recycling bin to make sure there wasn’t any funny business.

Turns out, I ate a pizza that was organic, but not gluten-free. In fact, it said “wheat” right on the front of the box. Looking back, it did taste better than normal gluten-free (but it was organic, so not that much better). How could I have been so dumb?

I carelessly assumed that the pizza was gluten-free because it was located in the gluten-free section and it was a brand I was familiar with.  

I ate this pizza:

When I meant to eat this one:

Honest mistake.

As a celiac, we owe it to ourselves to take our health seriously. Because who else will?

Please, please, don’t find yourself making a similar “honest” mistake. Learn from this terrible lesson. Always. Always. Check the label. 

And yeah, bad things do happen when celiacs eat gluten. Bad, bad things.

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