It was happening again. Hanging out with my new boyfriend late one night, I felt the familiar, awful rumbling in my stomach, accompanied by uncomfortable bloating that, of course, made me feel oh so attractive! We had just devoured a pizza, a rare treat for me. Most of the time I followed a strict vegetarian diet. I also exercised religiously every day and felt mostly healthy. It was just this damn bloating that kept plaguing me at odd times. I hadn't quite worked out what caused my new discomfort. Job-related stress? Alcohol? On this particular night, we had enjoyed a few glasses of wine. It couldn't be the pizza; I'd eaten pizza my whole life! And it wasn't only after I ate pizza that I got bloated. It seemed to be happening more and more often, and out of nowhere.
I'd sip a cup of coffee with milk, and the bloating would set in. I started experiencing the pressure and pain in my belly after eating foods I relied on for protein, from cheese to yogurt. And the next time my boyfriend and I ordered a pizza? Oh. God. The pain. I could no longer deny that dairy was responsible for my misery. But how? Why? Until recently, dairy products had never bothered my stomach. I'd have eggs with cheese for breakfast, salad with a different kind of cheese at lunch, yogurt for a snack. It's not like a person could develop an intolerance to dairy out of nowhere, right?
A quick online search proved that theory wrong! I would learn that lactose intolerance, the inability of the body to digest lactose found in dairy products, typically has its onset in adulthood. So, yes. At 25 years of age, I could suddenly experience painful bloating and stomach cramps after I ate dairy, even if those same foods didn't bother me before.
So I cut out dairy altogether and my bloating magically went away. While not having to suffer through dreadful cramps and the feeling that my stomach was going to pop the button on my jeans was a relief, it took a while to get used to my new dairy-free life. Ordering in restaurants was particularly challenging. I already didn't eat meat, and now cheese was a no-no. I had to get creative, as well as get over my paranoia about being the pickiest customer a server ever waited on!
Now, a decade-plus later, I am used to life without dairy and bloating. Almond milk tastes just fine to me, even if it's an acquired taste. I haven't had cheese on my pizza since that last fateful pie 13 years ago with my now-husband. And I have found other ways to fortify my vegetarian diet with protein, from upping my tofu intake to incorporating beans and nuts into most meals. Some hard cheeses no longer bother my stomach, nor does yogurt, and I do OK with very small portions of dairy products like cottage cheese.
Interestingly, a lot of people in my family have since developed dairy sensitivities later in life. And it seems many friends who suffer from bloating and stomach upset end up linking their problems to dairy consumption. The bottom line: if dairy doesn't bother your digestive system, consider yourself lucky! If you experience bloating after eating, even if it's a few hours later, perhaps try cutting out dairy and see what happens. Like me, you may learn that the milk and cheese you formerly ate without issue are to blame.