Quitting dairy was the very last item on my “Find Out What’s Causing My Chronic Congestion” to-do list. I’ve been struggling with this issue since I moved to Tampa five months ago, and I am pretty sure it’s related to allergies, but I wanted to exhaust every possible scenario before opting for an ENT specialist. So far I have tried: prescription allergy meds, saline sprays, a neti pot, hypoallergenic pillows, a humidifier, an essential oil diffuser, nasal sprays, and Breathe-Right strips. I even had the maintenance team at my apartment community do a mold inspection. Though, since these apartments were built in 2014, I was pretty certain they wouldn’t find anything. They didn’t.
So, dairy. Dairy is on the list of things to eliminate if you struggle with congestion. I’ve always had a certain sensitivity to milk, but it’s never been something that has affected my life so much that I needed to eliminate it. I just… need to be close to a bathroom after drinking a Frappuccino, is what I’m saying. But, I figured, let’s try eliminating dairy! Who knows… maybe my sensitivity morphed into a full-blown allergy and just randomly coincided with my move. Stranger things have happened, right?
Last week, I eliminated dairy from my life and it led to some really interesting epiphanies on my end. First of all, I never realized how much dairy I consume on a daily basis. I drink a cup of coffee with full-fat creamer most mornings. I like pizza and pizza rolls and cheddar-and-bacon potato skins and cereal with cow’s milk and sub sandwiches with mayo and butter on my veggies. I like cheese – string cheese, feta cheese, mozzarella cheese, all of the cheese. And chocolate. Oh, do I love chocolate. Milk chocolate, not dark chocolate. I love creamy, delicious, soothing milk chocolate.
My diet? Was going to have to go through a drastic shift for this dairy-free experiment.
But I did it. I went a week without eating dairy. (Mostly, I had some oops-I-didn’t-realize-this-contained-dairy-until-I-ate-it moments.) It was a good week and it was a bad week, and I want to start with what didn’t go so well.
- It was boring.
I derive a lot of enjoyment from food, and I love looking forward to a meal. I did not look forward to any of my meals during this experiment. What I ate was fine: Nutrigrain waffles with peanut butter, salads, clementines, chicken and rice, etc. But it was just… food. It tasted good, but it didn’t excite me. I want my food to excite me.
- Dairy is in every good thing in this world.
Eating out was fairly impossible, which is why it only happened twice for me. I even had to turn down pizza and cake at my nephew’s birthday party, and I think I may have hurt my sister-in-law’s feelings in the process. (Oof. Not intentional!) And dairy is in everything. I didn’t realize this until I started taking a look at the ingredient list for many of my favorite foods. How does someone with a sweet tooth eat dairy-free? Riddle me this, Batman, I want to know.
- I was so hungry the whole week.
This was probably the hardest part of this week. I was hungry every single day. It makes sense, though: dairy has a lot of protein and in the process of eliminating dairy, I essentially eliminated a good chunk of protein. Rookie mistake.
- The first few days were outrageously hard.
But aren’t they always? It was hard not to give up. I desperately wanted to in those first few days when I was so hungry. I knew I just needed to get over a hump, and it would be smooth sailing from there, but man, getting over that hump is so damn hard.
Okay, so now that I’ve laid out the difficult parts of last week, let’s dive into the positive aspects of my dairy-free experiment!
- I enjoy eating healthy
I know this contradicts my first point above, but hear me out. Eating healthy does not come naturally to me. I don’t reach for fruits and veggies, lean meats and brown rice. I reach for the bad stuff and I love eating the bad stuff. I do not naturally love eating the good stuff, but when I do force myself to eat it, I realize I enjoy healthy foods and it’s tasty. Healthy food can taste good! (Rinse and repeat.)
- I slept better and felt more energized than I have in a while
Sigh, this always happens when I clean up my diet and start exercising more frequently. My sleep improves! I feel great! My energy levels are up! And yet… I’ve never been able to stick with eating healthy for the long-term. But this week… let’s just say I finally slept soundly, which leads into the next point.
- My congestion (mostly) cleared up
!!!!! Okay, okay, I was sorta hoping the congestion wouldn’t clear up because I didn’t want to actually have to consider eliminating dairy full-time. But my congestion really cleared up. Not completely, but enough to make a huge difference in my sleep and, to be dramatic, my life.
So, where do I go from here?
Essentially, eliminating dairy from my diet did exactly what I wanted it to do – it helped to clear up my congestion. That said, I am going to see a doctor about my congestion. My congestion never fully went away, so I think it’s time to get a specialist involved.
Even still, I am truly interested in eating mostly dairy free. It was a hard week, I won’t lie, but it also felt really good. I lost 3 lbs, which is a feat for me lately, and I was sleeping better. I want to aim for the 80/20 rule – 80% of the time I eat dairy free with 20% allowed for indulgences. Pizza with friends, dessert at book club, things like that.
My plan for the week after my dairy-free experiment was to begin reintroducing different dairy products into my diet to test how my body reacted to them. And I’ve been doing that, and in the process, my congestion has come back with a vengeance. It is quite frustrating, but it just shows me that my body is now reacting differently to dairy than it has in the past. That’s life, right? Bodies are weird, complex organisms and we have to learn how to adapt to them.
I’m really glad I experimented with eliminating dairy, and now I’m excited to figure out how to lead a dairy-free existence. I’ve already discovered vegan mayonnaise (“Veganaise”), which I find to be incredibly delicious. This weekend, I’m going to try my hand at vegan baking (<– something I never thought I’d say.)
Also? I’m really proud of myself for sticking with eating dairy-free, especially when it was intensely difficult, and not giving up. That’s something to be proud of, no matter what.