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My Dairy-Free Month
If you’ve been following along here for, say, five minutes or so, then you know my favorite foods are pizza, macaroni and cheese, and ice cream. Also pasta smothered in butter. OK, pretty much anything smothered in butter. And grilled cheese sandwiches.
I am a dairy lover, through and through. But my most recent Crohn’s flare made me want to try life without dairy products, at least for a little while.
I’ve experimented with various diets in the past in an effort to quell my Crohn’s symptoms. I dabbled in going gluten-free for a bit, I cut out cheese for a short while, and I even did a 10-day juice fast for very non-scientific reasons. None of them cured me immediately, so I didn’t really pursue any of them for the long term.
It’s also worth noting that almost every time I tried to tweak my diet in hopes of feeling better, it was during a pretty serious flare. So yeah, no real surprise that a small dietary change didn’t immediately “fix me.” I was past that point, and definitely needed some medicine to get me back on my feet (and out of the bathroom).
This time around, I wanted to give this a fair shot.
I spent the majority of the winter holiday week in a ton of pain (and in the bathroom a lot). My flare was keeping me out of the game, and my first doses of Stelara hadn’t kicked in yet. I hated waiting on medicine that may or may not work, and wanted try and take matters into my own hands.
I historically don’t seem to have a problem with gluten. Pasta and rice are two of my safe foods that I stick to during flares, and unless I eat way too fast (I’ve gotten better about this!) or way too much (and this!), I tend to feel fine after eating them. But dairy?
Dairy doesn’t make me feel so hot.
I think in the past I’ve pushed that reality aside or assumed it makes everyone feel that way, or just refused to accept it because YOLO! Cheese is so good in every form! (Except bleu cheese.) I went to the allergist last month and didn’t test positive for any food allergies, but the doctor said I still might have some intolerances or sensitivities — and the only real way to find out would be to do some elimination testing.
When you’ve been sick for a while, you get to a point where you’re willing to give up your favorite things. For me, that meant going a month without eating dairy. (I know. So inspiring.)
Mid-post spoiler: It’s actually been longer than a month now and I’m still doing the no-dairy thing. So…it definitely didn’t make me feel worse.
Here are a few things I’ve learned and experienced over the past month.
1. Meal planning is not impossible!
I’ve resisted meal planning my entire life. It always seemed like such a big deal. (Anything is a big deal if you make it one. #normalizemealplanning.) I knew that if I enlisted a pro to help me out, I’d be more likely to stick to some kind of a plan. Kind of like with working out — get a coach or a trainer, and you’re more likely to stick to your workout plans and goals, right?
So I worked with my friend Kelly, a registered dietitian, to help me get started. Kelly and I have been friends for a long time (she was one of my first-ever running buddies!), and our first step was a long phone call during which she asked me tons of questions about my eating habits, what I can and can’t tolerate, etc.
Kelly didn’t give me a strict meal plan. I told her my main goal was to get into the habit of cooking instead of ordering dinner six nights per week (seriously). I said I wanted to cook more, and I wanted to get better acquainted with the grocery store. She gave me a bunch of different ideas (and, the best part, shopping lists!) for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, all with my goals in mind. I wanted to have leftovers, so I wasn’t constantly cooking, and I was into quick, easy meals that didn’t require a ton of obscure ingredients.
With Kelly’s lists and a bit of planning on my end, I learned that sitting down at the start of each week and actually planning out my meals isn’t impossible and isn’t that hard and actually makes grocery shopping and eating all week a lot easier. I didn’t have to wander around the aisles and come up with random meal ideas while I was at the grocery store. I went in with a plan and stuck to it! (Are you shaking your head because you’ve been effortlessly meal planning for years and think it’s pathetic that I’m just now doing this? Fine. Fair.)
2. I actually really like cooking!
I have loved cooking for the past month! I’ve learned how to cook new things, and I’ve experimented. Some things have been wins (the baked buffalo chicken nuggets were a major hit), and others less so. (The lemon and asparagus pasta I attempted last night tasted like feet. That’s what happens when I go rogue. That was not a Kelly recipe — it was an Ali Original.)
When I have everything I need in the house and a recipe to follow, I really enjoy the cooking process. And I definitely prefer eating home-cooked food after years of relying on Seamless deliveries. Plus, I feel like an absolute hero when Brian gets home from work and I have dinner on the table.
3. I stopped craving cheese and ice cream.
I buy the sprouted grain bread that’s kept in the freezer aisle at the grocery store — conveniently located next to all the ice cream products. And I was never tempted to buy ice cream during this experiment! I remembered how horrible I felt and how much pain I was in just a few weeks ago, and no part of me wanted to feel that way again.
Then, last week, I found myself checking out the vegan ice cream options, and snapped up a few coconut milk varieties. I came home and had a few bites and felt totally meh about them. I also haven’t wanted to drown myself in cheese because I immediately think about all those hours I spent in the bathroom in New Hampshire when I could have been downstairs playing with my niece and nephew.
4. I stopped eating to the point that I was going to explode.
I used to eat every single meal to the point that I was full and bloated. Now, I eat my meals and feel satisfied and content without being in pain. I haven’t felt that “I need to change into baggier pants” feeling after eating in a while. My educated guess is that’s because the foods I’m eating are filled with nutrients instead of processed garbage. I also snacked much less, even as I started working out again, because my meals kept me happy for hours at a time. (I know, this is all so Nutrition 101. We didn’t have that class in college. I took Advanced Franzia instead.)
5. I feel so much better.
I know, going a few weeks without cheese is not all that big of a deal. But on the other side, I’m thrilled with how much better I feel and how much better I’ve eaten. I’m tempted to do 30 days without sugar next…
(I should also note that my “no dairy” was more of a “no obvious sources of dairy” experiment. I’m sure there may have been small traces of dairy in some things I ate the few times I went out this month, but I didn’t use butter, cheese, or milk products in anything I cooked.)
I know the timing of my experiment coincided with the timing of the Stelara kicking in, but I’d like to keep this going. I’m still not back to optimal health, but I’m seen such major improvements in the past month, and I don’t think ditching dairy hurt my cause.
6. My skin did not clear up.
My skin has been a mess lately. I don’t know if it’s a side effect of the Stelara (I don’t think so) or something else, but it’s been really bad. I thought maybe cleaning up my diet a bit would help my cause, but it didn’t. Oh well. One victory at a time.
Here’s what a sample day of eating looked like for me during this experiment:
- A bowl of “oatmeal casserole” for breakfast (oatmeal, frozen berries, cinnamon, some carob chips, and almond milk, whipped together and baked = breakfast for the whole week)
- “Sunny avo toast” for lunch (sprouted-grain English muffins, smashed avocado, and sunny-side-up eggs topped with salt, pepper, cumin, and hemp seeds)
- Some kind of fish (salmon or cod), sweet potatoes (in some form), and asparagus for dinner (most veggies are still pretty rough on my stomach, like spinach and broccoli, but I can tolerate asparagus pretty well)
Other dinners included a chicken curry dish (I loved this one!), baked buffalo chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries, and “zoodles bolognese.” Everything I made was super easy and delicious. I am a hero!
So, yes, I am a food blogger now. And, at the ripe age of 31, I’ve finally started regularly grocery shopping and cooking for myself. LMK if you want to swing by West New York, NJ, to give me a pat on the back!
But seriously, if you’re one of those people who effortlessly meal plans and cooks every week, so much power to you. I was always a little intimidated because food bloggers and people who are naturals in the kitchen made it all seem so second-nature — and I’m not one of those people. I like cooking, but I can’t just see an ingredient and know exactly how to use it or what to do with it. I need a little hand holding. But I’m learning, and I like it! Next step: Top Chef.
FAVORITE DAIRY-FREE RECIPES? I’m going to keep this up, so send them my way! I don’t like beans, but I love eggs and am still eating meat, so this isn’t a vegan thing. Send me all your recipes, THANKS.