Things You Only Know If You’re Gluten Intolerant (No Holds Barred)

From harrowing wind to doing things in the bathroom that you didn't know existed, here's what it's actually like to be wheat intolerant.

Things You Only Know If You're Gluten Intolerant (No Holds Barred)

by Tessa Coates |
Published on

About two years ago I joined a large group of girls at a party as the conversation turned to the idea of going gluten-free. For the sake of the tale we'll pretend it was a swanky cocktail party and my look was effortless yet devastating. Perhaps I've made several well-timed political quips, you get the idea.

'Oh, I know' someone was saying, 'gluten just makes me so fatigued'. 'Oh absolutely' another chimed in, 'and I get this little bloated tummy! Ha ha ha.' I'd never thought to associate those things with gluten but everyone was nodding vigorously and I was excited to realise that it wasn't just me.

'Haha yeah' I said, 'like when you really suddenly have to go to the toilet and then you get really hot and you have to take all your clothes off and then press the insides of your wrists against something cold'. Silence. 'No mate,' came the eventual response. 'Go to the doctors.'

So I did. He nodded before I'd even got through my symptoms and said I was classic gluten-intolerance, with IBS thrown in for good measure. The villi in my small intestine, those tiny finger-like things that waft stuff along, come into contact with wheat and then say 'wheeeeeeeeeeat' and shrivel and die like the cursed merpeople in the Little Mermaid.

I've actually got something quite specific where my tests say I'm 'a bit coeliac', and then everyone frowns and says 'you can't be a bit coeliac' and then move me on to someone else. I'm on my third doctor now; an older man with the floppy hair and freckled skin that suggests he's recently come off a yacht, and who I sort of fancy. I'm obsessed with making him laugh and always forget to listen to my new diagnosis when I go and see him and just congratulate myself on how much he liked my impression of my own villi dying - suffice to say, nobody's properly diagnosed me yet.

We're all sort of on the gluten-intolerance spectrum, but I'm afraid to say that if any of this list rings true for you, it might be time to see Dr. Yacht. Or your own doctor. That's probably best.

You've been offered a seat on public transport

I sometimes think about having a brioche on purpose and then taking a naked photo of myself a la pregnant Demi Moore, because honestly that's how big my stomach is when it blows up. Twice someone have given me their seat on the train, and twice I have taken it to spare everyone the embarrassment and the elaborate explanation (as in, I just pretended I was pregnant and sat down, as opposed to launching into a detailed explanation of how I ate some bread earlier). In their defence I was also doing this sort of squinty eye thing and on the second occasion sweating quite profusely, so they didn't have much option.

You know the Bristol Stool Chart by heart and sometimes you do ones that aren't even on there

In the space of a day I can go through all the options 1 - 7 and then some new ones of my own invention. After my first trip to the doctor I was instructed to bring back a stool sample and handed a tiny glass thimble. I took this home and eyed it up and thought very seriously about my life. I tried doing it straight into the bottle for my own amusement which is one of the most ill-advised things I've ever done, and then eventually walked sheepishly back to the doctors clutching my sample. The bored receptionists didn't even look up but gestured to end of the counter where I discreetly added my offering to a bucket of human shit and left. Giving people your poo will never not make you feel a bit wistful.

If you have to go, you have to go

I find conversations where people discuss whether on not they poo at work absolutely hilarious. Partly I think its an absurd taboo and everyone should just man up, but also because the idea of needing to do a poo, and choosing to not do a poo is so completely beyond me. It's like someone saying the room was flooding but they chose not to leave. I don't know if the internet is necessarily the place for this, but every gluten-intolerant person has a story about a place they've pooed that wasn't the toilet. I'm not telling mine but it doesn't NOT involve being locked out of the house and a shrubbery bush. My absolute favourite belongs to my friend who was working for a delivery company driving a van. It was her first day and she was nervously saying 'I'm a competent woman. Driving a van' as she drove along, at which point she hit a dog. The dog was absolutely fine but she was so upset a neighbour had to invite her in and give her a cup of a tea and three Hobnobs. She then hurriedly set off again on her rounds and shat herself in the van.

You do absolutely harrowing farts

I once accidentally went to a lesbian cheese and wine mixer where I ate a big baguette (I know the bread isn't the interesting part of that sentence, but the cheese and wine mixer is a story for a whole 'nother time). In fact, I ate a big baguette as well as an entire saucepan of melted cheese, and it wasn't a mini baguette, like you get in Pret. It was one you could feasibly use as a sword. And then I left and went to a dinner party. I arrived, late, and flew to sit down at the dinner table where the meal was just being served. I did a fart. It was silent but radiated as far as the boy sitting next me. I saw him, almost subconsciously, wrinkle his nose, his whole face trying register where that smell, like the death of an old animal, was coming from. The smell evaporated, his face relaxed, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then I did another fart. As soon as this one reached me I knew that both smell and potential radius had increased exponentially. There was nothing to be done. It would reach everyone in seconds, boys would be blamed, people would scream. I choose the only available option. 'Ladies and gentlemen, I have done an absolutely harrowing fart' I said, with the calm dignity of newsreader announcing that we are at war.

I am not exaggerating when I say that people took their plates and ran from the room. The hostess, unable to carry enough, was screaming 'get the bolognese! Get the bolognese!' lest any food be left in the room to curdle. We gathered in the hallway, holding our plates. One guest repeatedly shook his head and said 'I can't believe that came from a human woman'.


he human body is remarkable for its ability to forget pain. It's how anyone goes through childbirth more than once, or how the waxing industry survives. Everything I have ever experienced goes out of my head at the mention of Free Pizza. Maybe it's because I'm not actually coeliac, and the words 'you might get a horribly bloated and potentially shit yourself' seem like nothing when faced with free pizza. A good friend and excellent self-appointed Wheat Chief, who has smacked croissants out of my hands from twenty paces, keeps a video of me on her phone that I made specially for Free Pizza Scenarios. It's me laying on the floor in a party hat and, in a voice wracked with self-pity I say: 'oh please Me in the Future! I know you're hungry and I know it's free and everyone else is having it and you feel left out but please don't eat the pizza. I can't do my trousers up. I can't even stand up. I promise you'll regret it. Pleeeeeeease'. And then, even if I watch this, I almost always eat the pizza. And so, the circle of life continues.

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Follow Tessa on Twitter: @TessaCoates

Picture: Maggy Van Eijk

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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