How Soon Will I Feel Better on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Watch for hidden gluten

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There's some good news if you're about to start the gluten-free diet: Plenty of people—half, or more in my experience—start to feel better within just a few days.

Some Symptoms May Improve Soon While Others Take Longer

However, that doesn't mean you'll be back to feeling absolutely normal within a week's time. It will take a lot more time than that to recover completely, especially if you had severe celiac disease symptoms prior to being diagnosed.

Many people report their digestive symptoms start to improve within a few days of dropping gluten from their diets. Fatigue and any brain fog you've experienced seem to begin getting better in the first week or two as well, although improvement there can be gradual.

Other symptoms, such as the itchy rash dermatitis herpetiformis, may take much longer to clear up.

Hunger Can Be a Side Effect

You may feel constantly hungry during the first several weeks you're gluten-free, and you may want to eat all the time. This is completely normal—it's your body's way of trying to make up for not having been able to absorb food. Your ravenous appetite should calm down eventually.

Watch for Hidden Gluten

You may also find that you feel significantly better for a few days after starting the diet, but then experience a strong recurrence of your symptoms. If this happens to you, check your diet for hidden gluten—it's quite possible you've accidentally ingested some.

It's easy to make mistakes when first going gluten-free.

Unfortunately, it's normal for your reactions to gluten—even to a tiny bit of gluten—to be very bad once you've gone gluten-free. You'll need to guard against gluten cross-contamination at all times, but don't worry, that soon will become second nature to you.

Gluten Sources

Unless a food is labeled gluten-free, be sure to read labels and check for the following sources of gluten:

  • Wheat
  • Derivatives of wheat, such as wheatberries, spelt, farina, durum, graham, farro, emmer, semolina, khorasan wheat, and einkorn wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Malt
  • Brewer's yeast
  • Triticale
  • Wheat starch

Foods That Normally Contain Gluten

Also, be aware of foods that commonly contain gluten, including:

  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Breakfast foods such as pancakes, waffles, crepes, and biscuits
  • Granola
  • Breads
  • Pastries, such as pie, donuts, and rolls
  • Croutons
  • Flour tortillas
  • Crackers
  • Breading
  • Beer
  • Baked goods, such as muffins, banana bread, and cookies

Focus on Your Gluten-Free Nutrition

In addition to feeling better sooner, you may need to address any celiac-caused malnutrition. Lots of celiacs find they have vitamin and mineral deficiencies when they are diagnosed that can interfere with their well-being. Talk to your doctor about what supplements you should consider, and make sure to use only gluten-free vitamins.

Feeling Completely Better Takes Time

Although you should start to feel a little better quickly, it takes most people who were very sick prior to diagnosis a long time—months, usually—to feel completely "normal" again.

Don't get discouraged if you don't bounce back immediately. As long as you continue to see gradual improvement, you're going in the right direction. However, if you don't feel as if you're making enough progress, talk to your doctor about your ongoing symptoms.

Sources:

Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. Diet: Gluten-Free Diet.

Celiac Disease Foundation. Sources of Gluten.