A self-confessed dairy queen, I once ate a half block of cheese in one sitting without any care in the world. But were the subsequent skin breakouts, upset stomach and lack of energy worth it? It was time to end my love affair with dairy.
My love affair with dairy has spanned my entire life. As a child, my mash wasn’t complete without a heaped spoonful of butter and a dash of milk (still isn’t to this day), and a cold ice-cream on a hot summers’ day cured skinned knees and sore elbows. My heart beats for late-night cheese melts after a night out dancing. Copious amounts of tea with a heavy dosing of full-fat creamy milk provided a comfort like no other during many of life’s stressful moments – and a dip of a dairy milk along with it is simply heaven. Heck, is a meal even worth eating if it doesn’t have cheese? Me and dairy got on like a house on fire for so long, so why did our relationship have to end?
It’s Not Me It’s You
After a prolonged period of illness, my body felt run-down and out of sorts. I was experiencing skin breakouts below my chin and cheek areas, which affected me physically and emotionally and wholly knocked my confidence. To my dismay, I was also really gassy after eating dairy and it was causing me a lot of embarrassment because other people were noticing it too. Flatulence doesn’t exactly scream chic, even if it is a natural thing our bodies do.
I always had a good diet and, thanks to the Irish mammy gene, I was taught the importance of good nutritious food from a young age and it’s a mantra I’ve lived my life by. Yet every time I queried my symptoms or talked to a doctor, the conversation reverted back to my diet.
I researched – a lot – which hugely opened my eyes to the dairy industry. The biggest tipping point was realising that humans are the only beings that continue to drink milk long after they’ve matured. Think about it: milk – which is full of growth hormones – is given to baby animals which in turn turns them into strong and healthy adult animals. We practice the same habits with our own offspring. We feed our children milk to give them the right nutrients their body requires to grow. But once they’ve stopped growing they don’t actually need those extra growth hormones.
Remember that weird wooden man-thing in the 90s that taught us that our bone’s our bone’s need calcium?
The reason I was being affected by dairy now in my adult life and not as a child is because, like up to 75% of the population, I am lactose intolerant and my body is unable to breakdown the lactose from which our beloved dairy products are made. This condition is most common in Finland, where it affects an estimated 1 in 60,000 newborns. Identifying dairy intolerance is not easy though, and can regularly be bypassed for IBS or gluten intolerance. Thankfully, I fall on the lower end of the tolerance spectrum and my symptoms are confined to feeling bloated and stomach cramping.
What’s more, with cancer research and scientifically-backed studies like that of best-selling author T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and Professor Jane Plant, who proclaim that anti-cancer treatments are vital – but so, they argue, is a dairy-free, and plant-based diet, the concern I feel with every drop of milk in my tea is growing. It’s known that the risk of cancer arises when we have abnormally high levels of “unbound” growth factors (or hormones) circulating in our blood. As a cancer survivor – and on top of my skin and stomach problems – cutting dairy from my life seemed like a no-brainer.
I began my dairy-free existence on a high and I was in it to win. It started to go uphill from the second week after realising how many everyday foods contain lactose as a binding agent (crisps and sweets, for example). During month two my body was craving the chalky delight of an aged cheddar, but I killed my cravings with new delicious treats like Alpro plant-based vanilla yoghurt with fresh fruit, sprinkles of dark chocolate and a squeeze of honey. Working in a busy office like IMAGE means that contraband foods are always close by, and a couple of times I’ve had to bend to the power of the Almighty butter croissant.
People were eager to know had my problems subsided. The truth? Yes, my skin has marginally improved and my stomach is less bloated and less gassy. I’m not yet convinced that I have higher energy levels but based on my readings (like that of Dr Frank Lipman, Huffington Post, and even Teen Vogue), I’m willing to give it more time.
I still frequently find myself salivating over the thoughts of a melted sandwich and cheese and onion crisps, but the benefits of giving up dairy far outweigh the difficulties I’m facing in giving it up.
Here’s to months four, five, and six.