I like ice cream and cheese—a lot. Sadly, I’m also lactose intolerant. I was diagnosed at age 17, after a bout of severe stomach pain landed me in the emergency room. But despite the diagnosis, I was never been able to completely give up dairy. Instead, I managed my symptoms by taking Lactaid pills and consuming dairy in small amounts (well, usually). For the most part, a little skim milk or butter here and there hadn’t affected me too much.
But after a recent string of stomach cramps and bloating left me feeling awful, I started to wonder if omitting dairy from my diet might actually be a good idea. After all, elimination diets are all the rage, and other people claimed to have success with them. Supposedly, not only did people feel better after cutting out dairy, but many of them also noticed improved complexions and a thinner waistline.
So I decided to give up dairy for an entire month: yogurt, coffee creamer, pizza, everything. I admit I was hoping for a big change, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected.
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I planned out my meals and stocked up on dairy-free groceries. That part was easy. What wasn’t easy was the realization that while many restaurants have vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, it was a lot harder to eat out on a dairy-free diet. When I asked servers which meals contained dairy, they’d usually have to check with the chef, since nothing was labeled that way on the menu. And inevitably, most items would be prepared with at least a little butter.
As a result, within a day or two of giving up dairy, I found myself loading up on carbs. I tried to choose whole grains, but I was also snacking on more chips than usual. I think I was compensating for the fact that many of everyday diet staples, such as Greek yogurt, were now off the table—and I admittedly wasn’t as excited to replace those foods with veggies.
I felt good. My stomach aches had started to go away, and I was also less bloated. I figured out dairy-free substitutions for many of my go-to meals, such as peanut butter instead of butter on toast, almond milk instead of half-and-half in coffee, avocado instead of mayo on my sandwich. (Later, I discovered that mayo is dairy-free—mind blown.) My husband and I wouldn’t always cook with dairy prior to my experiment, so I didn’t notice much of a difference at dinnertime, but I did miss shredded cheese on taco night. Tacos are not the same without cheese, in case you were wondering.
By this time, I had a handle on which foods were dairy-free, and I started getting a little more adventurous with my meals. I even made a dairy-free mug dessert, which has since become my go-to whenever I’m craving something sweet. I also noticed that my diet had become more balanced than when I first started the experiment, and I was consciously trying to replace dairy with healthy alternatives.
Before I even hit the one-month mark, I had decided to continue a mostly dairy-free diet—something I did not see coming. What really convinced me was the fact that my stomach aches had disappeared. In fact, I didn’t have a single bout of nausea the entire month. I was also surprised to find I was craving fewer sweets, maybe since ice cream was off-limits.
What didn’t change? My skin, for one. My weight stayed exactly the same, too—I didn’t lose or gain a single pound. In that sense, eliminating dairy wasn’t the magic fix for everything I’d heard it might be. But I did feel better. I’ve even been more motivated to hit the gym—I don’t know if that has anything to do with my dairy-free diet, but I’ll take it.