Getting Glutened On Campus: How To Deal

Stories and Advice from Gluten-Free Students

By Julie Borne of The Campus Celiac 

I was a happy, healthy and lively college student looking forward to the busy, yet exciting week ahead. Valentine’s Day, two birthday parties, and a long anticipated Young the Giant concert were within a few days’ reach. Fast forward 4 days and several doses of newly prescribed medicine later, and I was locked in place atop my dorm room bed, unable to eat, unable to drink, and dropping pounds by the minute. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to any birthday parties or concerts anytime soon.

Turns out, the medicine I had been prescribed (yes, by a doctor!) did in fact, contain gluten. For someone with celiac disease, that’s essentially like giving a dog a chocolate crème filled doggy treat – no bueno, folks.

So what’s a college student, miles away from home and family to do when the big-bad gluten monster comes along? I’m no expert, but having had this very recent gluten run-in, I can fill you in on how I personally dealt with this unfortunate situation.

First things first, identify your malaise as gluten ingestion- we have all played the misleading symptom game, so by now you probably know your body well enough to claim the culprit as gluten.

This next step can vary for different people, but let’s just say for the sake of cohesive advice that you’re at a level of being completely out of commission. In this case, contact your professors as soon as possible, either by email or phone call. (And no, you don’t have to go into detail about your out-of-control puking and/or number of trips to the toilet Just get the basic point across.)

At this point, you can expect to be missing class until further notice. It could be a couple days. It could even be a couple weeks. Your classes are not the priority anymore. Getting healthy is your new priority, period. Stressing out about what you might be missing in class will not help your cause, so now is your time to relax. You can make up exams later, negotiate an incomplete, or even drop the class if you need to. With that being said, however, it will truly benefit you to alert your professors of your absence ahead of time, and coming back to class with a doctor’s note in hand will always help your case.

When I got glutened, I had to be rushed to the ER twice due to dehydration. It is absolutely vital that you are drinking something: water or Gatorade.

While we are supposed to be grown-ups at this point in our lives, there is still nothing better than having a close family member with you in times like this. If you live close to home, you may want to go home. If you’re many miles away from home, request a visit from mom, dad, sister, brother, whoever. If they are able to come, welcome their help for the next few days. They can drive you to the hospital, fetch requested food and drink from the grocery store, let you choose what to watch on TV, and of course, simply be there for support.

As we all know, there is no quick fix for someone with celiac disease once they’ve been glutened – an unfortunate truth. However, with rest, plenty of liquids, support, and a worry-free state of mind, you’ll find yourself back on track faster than you can say “autoimmune disease.”

Getting sick at college can make for trying times, but with a little bit of knowledge and a lot of perseverance you can go on to conquer the world one gluten-free day at a time!

– Julie