Dairy and I have had a very strange relationship throughout my life. I have always been a big fan of dairy since I was younger. I often ate macaroni and cheese, went out for pizza every Friday with my friends, and lived at the ice cream shop during Summer. However, dairy has not always been a big fan of me. When I was in elementary school, the doctors were convinced that there may be a possibility that I was lactose intolerant. I was having occasional stomach issues and bloating, so medical experts felt that it might have been tied to dairy. When they told me to limit my dairy consumption, my 8-year-old self was not having it. I gave up my morning chocolate milk for chocolate soy milk (I still remember the brand — 8th Continent) but drew the line there, always finding a way to get myself to the cheese and the ice cream even if I knew I was not really allowed to have it.
Fast forward a few years and I grew out of those dreaded stomach issues (therapists think it had more to do with anxiety than diet, after all). However, I had the nagging feeling that the small issues I did still experience — the bloating, the postnasal drip, the interrupted sleep cycles — may still be connected in some way to my dairy intake. So I devised a plan!
For one week, I cut dairy out of my daily routine. This meant no cheese (my biggest problem), no butter, no ice cream. Here's what happened.
I Had to Stock Up on Healthy Snacks
I'm one of those people who, when hungry, will eat anything that is immediately available to them at the moment. To help prepare myself for those hungry moments and keep myself away from the quick dairy-filled fixes, I made sure to stop at Trader Joe's at the start of the week. I picked up a bunch of different fruit and vegetables that I knew I could just grab and snack on while in between meals. If you are afraid you won't have time to go food shopping beforehand, look into convenient and affordable meal delivery such as Freshly — they have plenty of dairy-free options that arrive fully prepared to your door. I also made sure to keep an eye on my water intake each day. I noticed that staying hydrated and drinking water often helped me with my dairy cravings.
I Had to Find Good Dairy Alternatives
Thankfully, eating nondairy has become increasingly easier as time goes on. In the beginning of the week when I was craving Cheez-Its, I instead picked up the vegan version. Cheese doodles, which I eat only on occasion but love more than anyone will probably ever know, were subbed out for Hippeas, a vegan chickpea puff snack.
I Found a Way to Substitute Dairy For Something Else I Love
I am a big fan of sandwiches and would usually get a grilled chicken, brie, and apple sandwich for lunch or another version with cheddar cheese. To help satisfy my craving for certain tastes, I replaced the dairy in my takeout and home cooking with other tasty alternatives like spices and dressings. For instance, instead of having brie in my sandwich, I added in some turkey bacon, or I would replace the goat cheese in my salad for zucchini, yellow squash, and a squeeze of lemon.
My Bloating Went Away
Ever since I can remember, I've always had an issue with bloating — I wake up feeling light and energetic, but by the time evening rolls around, I feel full of air and sluggish. From cutting dairy out of my diet, I did notice that my bloating was nearly gone, which meant less pain and more comfort. Cheese, which usually contains high amounts of sodium, causes me the worst kind of bloating. By going cheese-free for a week and drinking more water in lieu, the decrease in bloating proved to be significant.
I Could Breathe Better
I have always had an issue with my sinuses. I am known to get a sinus infection at least once a year, and I can't fly without neti-potting after. I usually wake up with a stuffy nose. However, when I cut dairy out of my diet, I found that I was not getting postnasal drip anymore and my throat didn't have that annoying tickle in it that usually appears during the warmer months.
I Slept Soundly
By the middle of the week, I started noticing that I was falling asleep at a decent hour and actually staying asleep. Although dairy contains tryptophan, which is said to help people sleep, the high-fat content of dairy-filled dishes were giving me painful indigestion and stomach discomfort. By canceling them out of my meals, I was in turn making my meals lighter and easier on my body's digestive system.
My Final Thoughts
Although I don't know if I would be able to give up dairy completely (I just love my cheese too much!), I will definitely become more aware of how much dairy I eat each day. I have set a goal for myself that I will only allow myself to have dairy with one meal each day to help remedy some of the issues that I believe are linked to it — this means either cheese in a lunch sandwich or cream in a dinner pasta, but not both. You never know, maybe one day I will take the plunge and go fully dairy-free.