So, I’m lactose intolerant. It’s something that has been a part of my life even before I could properly identify it. As a kid, my mom used to have to threaten me just so I would drink my milk. I never liked it. I’d have milk only in cereal . . . and even then it was just a teensy bit. I did like cheese though. Somewhere around middle school I started to realize cheese didn’t seem to like me very much. It didn’t seem like too big of a deal since cheese agitates lots of people’s tummies. What I did not realize was that this lactose intolerance I had was getting worse with age.
When I moved out of my parents house, my sophomore year of college, I thought cereal and milk would be a good staple to keep on hand for when I was hungry (or broke) but did not want to cook. I guess it had been a while since I had cereal for breakfast before i moved out, but on my new budget I was willing to eat it even though I didn’t really care for it much. Long story short, I haven’t had regular milk since I was 19. That one bowl of cereal had me in so much pain that I literally considered going to the hospital. Convinced my Mom would leap at the chance to make me move back home, I toughed it out and turned to soy milk. After a few years of being disappointed in how thin soy milk was, I switched to lactose free milk and mostly avoided ice cream. Other than that, it did not seem like too big of a deal. I’d have gelato when I wanted a cool creamy treat, since somehow it wasn’t so bothersome, and that was that. Until recently. When I was approaching my 20’s I had that lifestyle changing moment with milk. Now, in my early thirties I’m being forced to make even more changes in the dairy department for my well-being’s sake.
For the past several months I’ve had sleepless nights. I’d be awaken in the early night with sharp abdominal pain and a severely upset stomach that often times would mean I’d spend most of the night in my bathroom instead of my bedroom. It was exhausting. And as a mom of small kids, who wants to squeeze in every minute I can for working on my business, that time was so hard to part with. After a sleepless night I usually spend the day trying to play catch up while nursing a stomach that still wasn’t quite right. After I noticed it was becoming a cyclical, I decided to start paying better attention to the possible culprits. Apparently that little bit of cheese I used to be able to stomach was now causing me big issues. So I decided to challenge myself to cut it out for a month.
I went thirty days without milk, not even lactose free milk. I also cut out cheese of all kinds. I’ve never eaten yogurt. I cut butter usage down significantly and even noticed that butter could cause me some discomfort if I didn’t watch portions. I wasn’t sure what would happen. Mostly, I wanted to see if I could do it. I did! It took some thought. More thought than I thought it would take. The first day I went into the store to buy my favorite evol meal for lunch later that day. I was halfway down the aisle with it before I remembered “no cheese” and turned around to sadly put it back. Once I started to keep it on my mind, it became easier to do. There were only a few instances where I felt I was missing out. Not having to be scared that I would wake up in the middle of the night in cheese induced agony was a fair price to pay in my mind. One night I fixed tacos for dinner and thought some cheese would have really been nice. I wasn’t willing to throw the self-challenge so I pouted a little and ate my cheese-free tacos. Instead of lactose free milk I tried out new brands and variations of almond milk, for cereal and cooking. I accidentally slipped up at a friend’s bridal shower brunch – I didn’t know there was cheese in the grits until it was too late! The whole dairy-free experience was pretty great. I found that cheese wasn’t that big of a deal to me. For thanksgiving I made my widely requested Mac & Cheese and only had one bite. I was curious to taste it since I was serving it to a crowd. Even though my thirty days was over, I didn’t really want any more than that one curious bite. I also discovered that removing these things from my diet had two other benefits I was not anticipating. First, I feel a little less groggy/slow. I know that some of that is due to getting better sleep, but my body also seems less weighed down. The second benefit is that cutting out cheese and milk helped lessen my taste for meat. Some nights I’d find myself eating vegetarian even though I hadn’t really planned to. I didn’t feel like I needed meat to make a fully rounded meal, and for a lady with Texas roots, that’s a big deal.
Now that I have completed the challenge, I’ll be exploring what changes to my diet will stick around. I certainly will not be eating nearly as much cheese as I was – if any at all. Still haven’t decided. I’m also excited to try more vegetarian and vegan options now that I see that changes in my eating habits can be more empowering the depriving.