Dethroning the Dairy Queen

I used to reign Queen in the Kingdom of Dairy.

Don’t believe me? Think that I’m exaggerating my personal importance to (and sway over) the dairy industry, when all along I would only eat a modest pat of butter every few days? Ha. Consider this: A typical breakfast for me consisted of two (or three) granola bars washed down with 500mL of milk at least. Every day. Lunch would include a cheese-flavoured bagel smeared with cream cheese and topped off with generous slices of cheddar. (No, I am not making that up.) Dinner would be homemade macaroni and cheese, a Greek salad tossed with large chunks of feta, or a large bowl of pasta topped off with a cream sauce and an avalanche of parmesan. My favourite desserts? Cheesecake. Ice cream. Frozen yogurt. Milk chocolate. Iced cappuccinos. Anything milky, creamy, and full of dairy.

There is a whole *magazine* called "Dairy Today". Who knew? Cover courtesy of Pentagram website.

It would be an extreme understatement to say that I simply liked dairy. I loved dairy, craved dairy, and clung to dairy with the fevered grip of a woman possessed. Even though it made me feel phlegmy, congested, and wildly bloated within mere minutes of consuming it, I refused to give it up. Dairy was my right, my vegetarian prerogative. And even when numerous health professionals advised me to take dairy out of my diet, I resisted vehemently. No way, man– I’ve already taken out meat. You can’t make me take out anything else, especially something as ‘harmless’ and ‘innocuous’ as dairy.

My Herbivore sticker

Dairy wreaked havoc on my digestive system, but it took me all the way up until last year to acknowledge and admit this to myself. Even as a young teenager, I literally sounded like a creaky old house when I tried to digest anything with dairy in it. My intestines would gurgle and sputter like rusty old pipes, and occasionally I even had to raise my voice to be heard over the groans of my churning bowels in conversation. (Classy!) Quite often, my belly would distend after eating dairy (which was basically after every single meal), and I would waddle around uncomfortably like an 8-month pregnant woman. Dairy did not agree with my system– at all– but I would not agree to cut it from my diet. At all.

Dairy also had its way with my complexion, but I didn’t realize (or respect) this fact until just last year again. I had a considerable case of acne from the age of 12 onward. New and painful sores appeared daily, and older ones scarred my face and neck:

My best friend and I in early university. Notice her gorgeous peaches and cream complexion. Notice my not-so-gorgeous fire ants in the olive grove complexion... This was on a "good day", otherwise I would have been too embarrassed to have my picture taken from close-up.

I hated having acne, and I tried (what I thought was) everything over the span of many years to get rid of it: special creams and face washes, zit-zapping lotions, specific brands of birth control pills, and even two courses of an incredibly potent (and expensive! and dangerous!) anti-acne prescription medication called Accutane. Alas. Relief was always temporary, and my acne would return with an angry vengeance soon after I discontinued whatever treatment I had been using to keep it at bay. It was a very discouraging and self-confidence-sapping cycle. (Because who wants to have fire ant replicas crawling all over their face?)

If somebody had told me in high school that dairy (not “my hormones” or “an oily constitution”) was the prime culprit for all of my skin problems, I probably wouldn’t have quit eating milk products. I wasn’t ready to give it all up at that time in my life (eating dairy = social acceptance), and I was more comfortable with the idea of just taking expensive, extremely abrasive medications instead– even medications that were correlated with birth defects, much-higher-than-average risks for blood clots, and depression/suicidal tendencies. Cut out dairy?! No way, José!! Look at pictures of horribly deformed fetuses and then sign a waiver that promises my doctors, their extensive legal teams, and Jesus himself that I won’t ever get pregnant while taking Accutane, forever and ever amen? Meh. No big deal. Give me those documents to sign! And bring on the celibacy!

Obviously, things have changed a lot since then. 🙂

After gaining some modest ground in the clear skin department circa 2006-2008, my complexion started getting more, um, rugged in late 2009/early 2010 again. I noticed more acne scarring and more pimples appearing on my cheeks, forehead, and along my jaw line. (So yes– basically all over my face.) While I was complaining to my dear mother about this, I discovered that she had a dairy sensitivity of her own, which manifested itself in breakouts on the skin. Who knew? Genetics! Well. I resolved to cut dairy out then and there, just to see how it would impact my complexion. (Screw my sorry-assed digestion– I just wanna be a Cover Girl!)

Lo and behold, eliminating dairy from my diet worked. Like a charm. (Or a genie!)

Within mere days of cutting dairy out from my diet, I felt lighter, less bloated, and way less phlegmy. By the 3-month mark, I had dropped nearly 15 pounds from my average-sized frame (and that’s without changing even one other thing about my diet and exercise habits!) Today, about 15 months after cutting out all dairy (even butter) from my diet, I haven’t gained any “dairy weight” back. It’s off for good (as long as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter are off the menu). I’ll get the occasional breakout still, but only if I am very stressed out, tired, or if I’ve eaten a whole bunch of flour the day before. It’s incredible to see how much my skin gauges and reflects my diet and lifestyle as a whole– I really can read it like a map now, whereas before I gave little to no credence to the idea that our skin reflects our inner health.

Kimberly Snyder (she of “The Beauty Detox Solution” fame) recommends that everybody cut dairy out from their diets. Completely. She’s fine with people keeping some meat and eggs on their menus, but when it comes to dairy, she puts her foot down. Take it out. Too acidic, too congesting, too laden with hormones and antibiotics, too not-meant-for-adult-human-consumption, too calcium-leaching, too contrary to inner and outer health. (Of course, she is very eloquent, professional, and encouraging in her book when outlining her arguments against consuming dairy. She’s not nearly as tantrum-prone and ultimatum-laden as I’m making her sound in my overly simplistic summary! :))

I consider myself very fortunate to have already cleared this particular hurdle in my personal Beauty Detox Journey. (I first came across Kimberly’s blog when I resolved to examine the connection between dairy consumption and acne on a personal level– her post “The Acne-Dairy Connection” confirmed what I was suspecting about dairy products based on my own body’s symptoms and inspired me to take dairy out for good.) Anyway. Eliminating dairy from my diet was difficult on many levels, especially because I loved it and also because it is so prevalent in restaurants and a surprising number of packaged foods. (Read the labels– dairy, milk, and sketchy “milk ingredients” are everywhere!) I do think that having a sensitivity to dairy makes it easier to cut out; feeling horrible and/or getting acne because of dairy makes for a pretty powerful motivator to take it out! The biggest motivation for me, however, has been noticing the drastic differences between my body “on” dairy and “off” of it. Clear skin, better digestion, not as phlegmy or full of mucous, plus 15+ pounds lighter without having to think or worry about it? I’ll take it.

The Dairy Queen: Off with her acne-ridden head! 🙂

38 responses

  1. I’m lactose intolerant, so I shouldn’t *technically* have dairy products. For the most part I’m a rice and meat kind of girl, but dangle a hot chocolate made with whole milk, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce in front of my face and I’m going through them like water.

    It does make me feel horribly ill after I drink it, so I only have it after I’ve had a particularly bad day. But I couldn’t never say good-bye completely. You’re incredible.

    • I didn’t think I would be able to do it, either, but my vanity ultimately won the battle! Even though dairy made me feel terribly ill, I was willing (like a masochist) to suffer through that GI distress, if only it meant I could “indulge” in some cheesecake. Sad but true. Give me pimples on my face, though, and I’VE HAD IT!! OUT WITH DAIRY!!! 🙂

      It actually helps to know how horrible dairy REALLY makes my body feel. I thought it was bad while I was still eating dairy regularly, but now that my body is used to being dairy-free, even a smidgen of milk products sends me into explosive, painful cramps. It’s not worth it. Even for cheesecake. 😦

      Thanks for reading and good luck managing your own dairy-induced symptoms.

  2. Hmm… the only thing that cleared my skin up completely was a particular brand of birth control pills, but since I stopped taking those my skin has gone back to “normal”… I know I won’t stop dairy completely though! I can’t! I love milk and cheese and yogurt! I’ve been reducing a bit though, and I’m sure eating more fruits and vegetables would help too. I might try a month without dairy just to see what happens…

    • My word of warning: if you seriously and earnestly try to take dairy out of your diet for a few weeks, you might discover the horrible truth that you can’t ever incorporate it back in again! I can’t even do a *teensy* bit of dairy now without going into severe GI distress. It’s out forever. Just so you know…

  3. Dana–
    I too had terrible acne, and took accutane in college–it never once occurred to any health professional that milk could be a contributing factor.
    I have all but cut out dairy from my diet (I have half and half in my coffee) and the occasional bit of cheese–
    but this week, I made a big pierogie casserole with cheese all over the top, and then I went to costco where they were sampling gourmet cheeses (my favorite? Norwegian Butter Cheese…how could you go wrong???) and then I’ve had a bowl of cereal with milk each night before bed…

    holy smokes–my dreams are violent and awful (both my kids have died terrible deaths in my dreams the last few days) my stomach has been…upset, and my digestion…um, active…and I am like, “DUH!” dairy.

    I am with you on this one…take it out, get rid of it…

    I love dairy.
    my body doesn’t.

  4. Okay, okay ,.. now I am really sold. Yours is a very convinciing testimonial. Currently I drink about 2L of milk a day because like you, I just really like it ,.. and more really because I am plain thirsty, especially after being outdoors in the wind. That, and the sun really does dehydrate one, so …
    The alternative solution? .. drink more water obviously.
    For me it has always been not just milk, but milk mixed with that wonderful Nestle Quik powder offering thirst quench and glucose boost in one hit, enough that I felt like I might as well be injecting in my arm.
    This account today is going to give me the push I needed.
    Thanks Dana.

  5. This is so convincing I am pretty darn close to tackling the Dairy Addiction Monster. In any given day a whopping bajillion percent of my diet contains dairy, so the idea of cutting it out before seemed a little overwhelming!

    • It’s definitely daunting, but like you, I was eating about 1000% dairy and another 500% starches every day before I took the plunge. Baby steps! The easiest thing for me to give up was straight milk– I subbed that with rice or almond milk. Yogurt and cream cheese were the next to go, followed (gradually) by cheese. When the day finally came for me to take dairy out completely, I really only had to tackle butter and milky desserts (like chocolate– I LOVED milk chocolate). Butter was the most difficult thing to wean myself off of, by far. Who doesn’t love butter? But I did it. And lived to tell my tale! (In a clear-skinned, 15-lbs lighter body, to boot!)

  6. I am a cheese addict. I couldn’t care less about milk or ice cream or yogurt or anything dairy other than cheese. A few years ago, due to health reasons, I went “no meat, no wheat, no dairy.” I felt wonderful. Within a week or two, my skin glowed. I got a “veggie tan” from eating so many vegetables. I learned about all sorts of whole grains that had nothing to do with wheat. Extra weight melted off effortlessly even though I was eating what felt like tons of food. The usual arthritic aches and pains disappeared. I couldn’t remember a time when I’d felt so healthy and full of vitality.

    And then the cheese crept back into my life. At first it was “just” strong cheeses, where a little goes a long way. Like any addiction, there is no “just.” (I’m kidding, a little. I know what it’s like to deal with a serious — smoking — addiction so it’s hard to equate cheese/dairy with that, but even so… it’s close.) Somehow, the cheese became a gateway drug and wheat crept back in too. Then meat, on special (??) occasions.

    Lately I’ve been weaning myself off the dairy and wheat again. (Meat is not much of a problem as I rarely partake.) Your post is a wonderful reminder of how much healthier life is without certain foods. It’s not about deprivation. It’s about feeling (and yes, looking) good.

    • Thanks, Robin! I had tried unsuccessfully to take dairy out of my diet completely before, and it always amazed me to find myself back on the dairy wagon, especially because I knew how great I felt without it! Cheese is a tough one to tackle– especially ‘decadent’ cheeses like brie, so I can sympathize with your gateway comparison. “It’s just a little slice…”

      For a while (back in 2009), I was deliberately partaking in a little bit of dairy every day, even though I knew it didn’t make me feel well. I figured it was better to keep my body in a constant state of inflammation than to risk a single explosive GI episode, but it was the return of my acne that finally convinced me to let dairy go completely and forever. Call me shallow, but I wanted to put my ‘best face forward’, even if it meant giving up a food group I loved. I still can’t believe how quickly those pounds dropped off my body, even though (like you) I was still eating a ton of food… just not dairy.

      Good luck weaning yourself off of dairy and wheat again. Focus on the good feelings! 🙂

  7. Holy COW (as it were)! It’s the bloated, pregnant feeling that’s been screwing with my self-esteem (read: vanity) lately. I dumped just cheese from my diet about 10 years ago and lost 40 pounds in about three months. Went from a size 14 to a size 5 – a size that had always seemed like a mythical impossibility to me since I’d skipped right over when I went through puberty.

    After seven years (during which i produced two children), I’m back at 14 and I’ve been hanging around here all but hating it. Taking out dairy is frankly terrifying. Not that I’m unwilling to consider it; on the contrary, I’ve been forced to acknowledge that I’m just plain unwilling, certainly not incapable.

    Maybe a slow elimination is better for me – I was slow to incorporate veggies, slow to accept that fast food had to go and stay gone, slow to relenquish a perceived *need* for pre-packaged foods…

    Well, good luck to us all on our journeys!

    • Holy cow! Haha– that made me laugh. 🙂 There’s a big difference between being unable and unwilling to take out dairy. I’ve discovered I was definitely in the latter camp, and I think that would be true for most of us! If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or daunted by the task of taking dairy out, just remember that slow and steady wins the race! It doesn’t have to be an overnight thing– baby steps is my new motto.

  8. Cheese on cheese on a cheese bagel! And I thought I had a love connection! I never tried dairy abstention for my skin, just wheat (which didn’t help). I’ve done three different no dairy months, though the third time I ate goat cheese because they don’t really mean “cheese” when they call it that – sigh – and can say that each time I reintroduce it is painful as all get out. Though for me it’s headaches and upper back tension, the GI stuff is only mild bloating (thankfully). What always ends it for me is visiting other people. But I’m on day two of making it happen – wish me luck!

    • GOOD LUCK!! I have become accustomed to being the dreaded dinner guest that nobody knows quite how to feed, but it helps to *own it*. Yes, I am difficult to feed, and I AM PROUD!! 🙂 Dairy is really tough to take (and keep) out, so I’ll be rooting for you!

  9. I had a test about ten years ago and it came back that dairy was a definite no no. I managed four months and my skin cleared up (in my case excema) and weight dropped off. Alas, I was unable to resist the pull of a pizza and fell off the dairy wagon. Safe to say that my excema came back with a vengeance!

    Anyway, after having a baby a few months ago, I decided to give it another go after the baby started to fart like a Blackpool donkey (whilst obviously eating other calcium rich food). He’s breastfed and I’m convinced he’s a bit intollerant too. So far so good. My excema has gone, I’ve noticed I’ve lost a load of weight and the baby no longer sounds like a scooter backfiring! I don’t know if it’s a coincidence but he’s sleeping a lot better and is much less crabby.

    I ate a LOT of dairy foods. Apparently, the withdrawal symptoms can sometimes be worse than the actual symptoms from an intolerance so it causes cravings for it. So the less it disagrees with you, the more you crave it.

    It’s in EVERYTHING and it’s really hard to cut out but I’ve found it’s worth it.

    Good to read your post. X

    • Hey, thanks for stopping by Louise! I had a startling realization about dairy (just today, in fact). I was looking into food allergy testing and one of the places I researched said they could give people a special sort of treatment to help them overcome specific food intolerances and start eating those foods again. I discovered (to my complete surprise) that I didn’t *want* to start eating dairy again, even if I could! It’s been 2 and a half years since I cut it out and I finally don’t miss it at all. I never thought I’d get to a point where I didn’t even desire dairy a teensy bit. I thought I’d always yearn for butter and cheese, but look at me! I’m actually dairy free by choice, too. 🙂

      I hope that you can continue resisting the siren call of melted cheese, too. It’s hard to avoid dairy, but like you say, it’s so worth it for people with sensitivities.

  10. I want to soak my newly pierced ears with sea salt, but I’ve been told only to use non iodized salt for this. I bought “sea salt for baths” by Life brand at Shoppers Drug Mart but I don’t think it’s non iodized. Anyone know where in Ontario or Canada I could buy this stuff? Many Thanks!.

    • YOU are AWESOME! I got your e-mail yesterday and almost bawled on the street reading it. You caught me at a sensitive moment, but it was the perfect message to receive yesterday. 🙂

      So glad you are enjoying the posts! Warms my heart like a Broil King grill. Or something.

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