Two years ago, I was the biggest cheese addict known to mankind. In fact, I don’t think my friends would have been surprised if I’d announced I was changing my middle name to “Cheese.”
I lived, ate, and breathed it. Cheese for breakfast, cheese for lunch, and cheese for dinner. Any kind of cheese would suffice; Gouda, cheddar, camembert, Edam. I wasn’t fussy. As long as I was getting my daily dairy fix, I was content.
But around the same time I was also having huge problems with my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which had plagued my life since the age of 14. By the age of 21 I couldn’t understand why I didn’t have a hold on it yet. Surely after years of trying different medications, something should have helped control my frequent toilet trips and agonizing abdominal pain?
As a last resort, I sent off for an intolerance testing kit, drew a blood sample to send back to a lab, and awaited my results. Imagine my surprise (and shock) when a huge red flag arrived back, outlining cow’s milk as the potential main cause of my gastro issues. How could the thing I loved so much be the problem? Surely, they’d made a mistake?
But then I started keeping a food and symptom diary and, sure enough, red flags started to crop up when I consumed cheese, milk, butter, and cream.
And then memories of similar occasions started flooding back to me. That time I had a cheesy pizza on my lunch break on my first day at work and spent the next few hours rushing to the toilet and back, trying desperately to ensure none of my new work colleagues would notice.
How could I have not seen this before?
And so pretty much overnight, after a consultation with a nutritionist, I made the decision to give up my beloved dairy. The plan was to trial it for a period of three months and monitor improvements.
Within just a few weeks, things were very different. Two years on, I still haven’t touched a bite or drop of my once-favorite food group. And here are eight ways it’s changed me:
My main motivation for cutting out dairy was to feel better, not to lose weight — but I must admit, it was a nice bonus. Rather scarily though, it showed me just how much dairy I must have been eating before, and how much it was affecting my body. For someone to just drop 33 pounds over a period of a year, without even really trying, is quite intriguing. All that dairy clearly isn’t good for our waistlines!
Before cutting out dairy, I naively never really looked into what I was putting into my body. Sure, I’d glance over the calorie count, just to check it wasn’t hugely excessive, but I’d never give a second look to the ingredients. Now, I have to keep a close eye on the ingredients list. You’d be very surprised at how often dairy sneaks into the everyday foods we love, and how much we really eat. All too often, people hear of my allergy and say, “Oh yes, well, I don’t eat too much dairy myself either.” But you probably eat far more than you think you do. Rosé wine? Often it has skim milk powder in. Salt and vinegar Pringles? You guessed it, milk!
I’ll be totally honest here: Prior to cutting out dairy, I had absolutely zero willpower. As a teenager, it’s a shame to say that I was on every diet going (something I wouldn’t recommend) because I desperately wanted to lose the puppy fat that no one else seemed to have. But these diets never worked because I gave up after a few weeks. I didn’t want it enough. But when you have something as important as your health and well-being as your motivation, it makes all the difference. I surprised myself by how much willpower I actually had!
Admittedly, I’ve never had awful skin. But there seemed to be a huge change in the luminosity of my skin after giving up dairy that even cynical me couldn’t deny. Friends commented on how I was looking “radiant,” and family said I was “glowing.” They asked if I’d had a new haircut or had bought a new dress. But the only thing that had happened was that I’d cut out dairy and my skin no longer had that dull gray tinge to it. The redness and angriness that occurred whenever I applied a little too much of the wrong cream also diminished.
My main reason for cutting out dairy was to improve my digestive system’s health. But I think the most surprising thing for me was the lack of bloating. Previously, I just expected to have to unbutton my jeans after a big meal, rather than questioning whether it was normal that my stomach ballooned. It used to be so bad that I’d have two or three different dress sizes in my wardrobe at any one time, because I never knew if I’d be able to squeeze myself into something with all the bloating going on. That’s now a thing of the past, and I can stick to one dress size.
It was only when I started looking in-depth at our behavior around food that I understood how much of our lives revolve around it. I adore food as much as the next person, but I couldn’t believe I was basing my daily life around my meal plans. There’s so much more to life than food. Planning active dates and activities is much better for the mind — and bringing your friends along can add a whole other dimension to your relationships!
Although the first week or so was initially quite difficult, when the improvements started to show, I became more and more motivated and stopped craving the dairy. Plus, I started to associate dairy to those horrible symptoms, and it became rather unappealing. That gooey chocolate cake might taste amazing for the five minutes it takes you to consume it, but the cravings stop once you correlate it with the hours of sitting on the toilet and the tear-inducing stomach cramps.
When the creamy, cheesy dishes are off the menu for you, it’s then time to get creative with other recipes and experiment with flavor. Two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have eaten a tomato even if you’d offered me a lifetime supply of cheese. I just wasn’t keen. But I started introducing tomato and other vegetables into my pasta dishes and roasting them for dinner, adding herbs and spices on top, and they’re now staples of my everyday meals.
Obviously when you cut something out of your diet, you do have to ensure you’re getting those nutrients elsewhere. I would recommend seeing a nutritionist to ensure you’ll be following a healthy meal plan while you make the change.
In my case, the benefits of cutting out dairy definitely outweigh the first week of wondering how you’ll ever live without it. Because soon you’ll wonder why you ever put up with its hideous side effects in the first place.
Scarlett Dixon is a U.K.-based journalist, lifestyle blogger, and YouTuber who runs networking events in London for bloggers and social media experts. She has a keen interest in speaking out about anything that might be deemed taboo, and a lengthy bucket list. She’s also a keen traveler and is passionate about sharing the message that IBS doesn’t have to hold you back in life! Visit her website and tweet her @Scarlett_London!