I am lactose intolerant. I wasn’t always that way, but when my doctor told me I should reduce my dairy intake for the sake of my endocrine health, I cut out milk and all its creamy counterparts cold turkey. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in early 2015 and due to that, I was to lessen my exposure to processed foods, refuse meat with additives or antibiotics, and cut out soy and dairy wherever possible in order to aid in the balancing of my hormones. My PCOS journey has been a relatively gentle one compared to many women with the same diagnosis, but hearing stories from bloggers and YouTubers with PCOS has been a huge help when it comes to managing symptoms and feeling like there’s a system of support out there.
As for going dairy-free, I’ve managed to live my life relatively unscathed when it comes to avoiding the stuff. Yes grilled cheeses, ice cream, mozzarella sticks, certain soups, most pasta dishes, and a ton of packaged snack favorites go out the window when you give up the ol’ cow juice, but none of those things are particularly amazing for one’s health (or waistline) anyway. That being said I’ve found some pretty good cheese alternatives out there, but I use them in extreme moderation given they hardly ever come from nature and wouldn’t exactly help my (PCOS) cause anyway.
Being almost three years dairy-free, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had some interesting experiences for sure. Listed below are some of those things.
8 things I got when I gave up dairy:
1. I got more energy.
When I cut out dairy, my energy levels were the first big change I noticed. I suddenly felt like I could take on the world. I was nowhere near as sluggish as I used to be when I finished heavy, dairy-laden meals, and I felt like my food actually energized me instead of making me feel like it was time for a nap. I couldn’t deny the connection of my newfound energy with the absence of dairy.
2. I got clear skin.
I noticed clearer, more radiant skin within my first few weeks of switching to a dairy-free lifestyle, and in the almost three years since then, I’ve only had a small handful of breakouts, all of which have been very minor.
3. I got lots of questions.
To avoid telling people a long, drawn out story about hormones and PCOS, I simply tell them I’m lactose intolerant, which since cutting out dairy has (unfortunately) become true, but since I don’t eat the stuff, my life isn’t usually interrupted by being LI. When I meet someone new, my sensitivity to dairy usually comes up within the first few times I share a meal with them (it’s not something I lead with, but maybe “Hi, I’m Jess and I can’t digest lactose!” would be a good introductory statement from now on lol) This news, a lot of times, comes with a barrage of questions from cheese-lovers.
Here are a few of the most popular ones:
“So you can’t have cheesefries? What about pizza?”
“What happens if you eat it?”
“So if you ate ice cream you would sh*t yourself?”
“I would die without cheese. How do you do it?”
“Come on! Try this! Not even one bite?”
and so on.
4. I got more creative.
Dairy-free cooking has been a rocky road for me. Some things really work well and others fall flat on their face. I’ve perfected an awesome coconut chicken curry, garlic clam pasta with a faux-cream sauce, and possibly my favorite, dairy-free s’mores pie. I’ve experimented with new ingredients like nutritional yeast, boiled cashews, tahini, and quite a few different vegan cheeses. It’s been really fun, and a lot of the times I make things one would never guess lack lactose.
5. I got less cravings.
While sometimes I do miss a good plate of nachos, for the most part I’ve gotten over my dairy cravings. The idea of drinking a glass of milk grosses me out, the stretch in cheese seems unnatural to me, and watching people get huge dollops of sour cream at chipotle makes me gag a little. I assume this aversion comes from going so long without the stuff, but I don’t mind. Now I mostly crave things like chips and salsa, asian cuisine (which is almost always dairy-free!) and veggies with hummus. My one big remaining craving is biscuits and gravy, but being a southern girl I doubt I’ll ever shake that one.
6. I got myself in trouble.
One thing to note about reducing dairy intake is that you could very well become lactose sensitive if you take the plunge. Once it’s out of your system, I imagine one would have to slowly ease themselves back into eating dairy-rich foods again. I learned this the hard way when my friend and I were presented with a gift card to Coldstone Creamery. Given that Coldstone is probably one of the richest ice cream that exists to boot, I paid dearly for that free scoop of ice cream with a full day of intense stomach cramps. Nothing free is worth getting sick over, even if it is mint chocolate chip.
7. I got pizza all to myself.
One cool perk of not eating cheese is that you rarely have to share your food. It may sound silly, but ordering pizza is still one of my favorite treats, and I could argue that it’s even better without cheese. You get all the toppings you want, it’s usually less greasy overall, and unless you can finish a whole pizza yourself, there’s always leftovers!
8. I got educated.
Did you know that humans are the only animals on earth that drink another animal’s milk? Pretty creepy right? I learned so much when I started doing my research on the dairy industry and milk’s influence on our health. Not only are dairy farms horrible for the environment, reducing dairy is a great way to improve respiratory health (especially if you have asthma) and there are a ton of other health issues that can help be prevented with a decrease in dairy consumption. Here are some dairy-free resources so you can do some research too! Plant Powered Kitchen, Draxe, Go Dairy Free.
Have you considered going dairy-free?
What would be / was the hardest thing for you to give up?