What Are the Phases of Withdrawal from Gluten?

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A recent diagnosis of celiac disease, wheat allergy or gluten intolerance may require you to consider a gluten-free diet. Adhering to such a strict eating plan can be quite challenging, often requiring the elimination of many common foods like bread, pasta, certain processed meats, cheeses and even some ice cream products. In addition to specific food restrictions, individuals pursuing a gluten-free diet may experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms, adding to the discomfort of the process.

Initial Symptoms of a Gluten-Free Lifestyle

It is vital to the health and well-being of celiac patients to maintain a gluten-free diet. It is important to recognize that while a gluten-free diet will have a positive impact on your health, it may be a difficult transition. Little scientific evidence exists to support these cases, but many website forums and threads exist for individuals reporting an experience of temporary withdrawal symptoms, similar to an alcoholic, when beginning a gluten-free diet. These may include depression, increased cravings for certain foods, irritability and mood swings. Most individuals report withdrawal symptoms lasting two to four weeks and seeing an overall improvement in well-being after this initial stage.

Emotional Disturbances

Anecdotal evidence relays personal accounts of emotional disturbances in the initial stages of strict adherence to a gluten-free lifestyle. These include depression, anxiety, irritability, aggressive behavior, hyperactivity and mood swings. Books like "Dangerous Grains," by Dr. James Braly, M.D., describe personal experiences with these withdrawal symptoms. He states that the diet change impacts neurochemicals in the brain, resulting in temporary imbalances.

Food Cravings

Other forums indicate the body will begin craving certain foods, much like other diets that eliminate specific foods. In this case, these foods are breads and other wheat-laced items. This symptom may be attributed to metabolic adjustments the body must make when you implement significant changes to your diet or physical activity. Your body's systems must reconfigure how to use the nutrients and energy you are or are not supplying.


One important side effect and fact to be aware of, discussed in a 2005 review in “Gastroenterology,” is the reported increase in obesity in individuals who pursue a gluten-free diet following a celiac disease diagnosis. Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist and author of "Track Your Plaque," recommends a gluten-free lifestyle but cautions individuals not to view the diet as a cure-all for weight management. With all the gluten-free products on the market, celiacs and other individuals who pursue a gluten-free lifestyle tend to believe that as long as they are eating gluten-free, they are eating right. Much like fat-free cookies are not a license to eat the whole box, a "gluten-free" status does not grant a free pass either. Gluten-free diets should be followed while also adhering to a balanced, appropriately-portioned diet.