Full disclosure: this post may get icky and/or super personal. Yet I think that sharing my own experience discovering a mild lactose intolerance might help some of you out there.
Two years ago I wasn’t very good at listening to what my body was telling me. I had a stressful job that came with a floor-to-ceiling “snack closet” full of Cost-Co sized bags of chips, candy and even giant liquor bottles. Working 12-14 hours a day, I subsisted mainly on the contents of the snack closet, plus our nightly “catered” dinners (which generally were full of fat, butter and oil). Needless to say, I felt GROSS, and gained weight at a pretty rapid clip.
In terms of the “gross”-ness, well. I was sick to my stomach A LOT. I felt heavy and sedentary. Occasionally I was nauseous, but mostly it was queasiness in my tummy area and all the added super gross things that come with an unhappy intestinal track. I figured it was all the fatty, gross food I was eating. I stopped eating it as soon as summer was over, but the icky body feelings didn’t go away! My symptoms reminded me of friends who are gluten intolerant, and I had this panic-inducing moment of OMG PLEASE DON’T TELL ME I HAVE TO GIVE UP WHEAT.
Then I talked to a friend who, for various medical reasons, had to drastically alter the way she ate (and dropped a lot of weight and got ridiculously healthy). She mentioned to me that she had developed a lactose intolerance during college, and that my symptoms sounded very similar to what hers had been. So experimented with an “elimination” test — namely I cut out dairy completely for a week.
Um, yeah, it was the dairy! It was a complete newsflash to me that you can *become* lactose intolerant as an adult. Now I am hyper aware of all dairy products, how much of them I can eat/drink (if at all), and how they make me feel afterwards. There’s an amazing positive feedback loop you get from feeling good (fit, lean, light, not too hungry/not too full) – when you feel good, you eat better (and less). I imagine that for years I would eat my beloved dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cream based soups, etc. etc.), feel heavy and gross afterwards… and then figure “whatever” and eat more!
Now of course, I am not completely lactose intolerant. I don’t get deathly ill, like people who are fully lactose intolerant may. I’ll survive if I have diary. But I’ll feel like incredibly ill for a few hours.
The good news? Not all cheese is high in lactose. THANK GOD. I can eat hard cheeses (I have no problem with sharp cheddar and Parmesan), but have to really limit my favorite soft cheeses. I’ve experimented with Greek yogurt and it doesn’t make me sick — YAY. But I no longer drink milk, put milk in my coffee (woe), eat ice cream (rarely, at least) and I avoid cream-based food items like cheesy soups.
I’m writing this because I feel that I’m not unique in this situation. Since opening up about it, I’ve found several of my friends are exactly the same when it comes to dairy! If you’re out there reading this, struggling with your weight and feeling gross, try an elimination diet. Definitely stop eating greasy fatty foods. If you still feel gross — cut out dairy! It’s been a lifesaver for me.
Also a lifesaver? Lactaid. When I really want cream cheese on a bagel or ice cream, I take one of these pills with my food. You can buy knock-off brands from pretty much every major drug store. I also use Lactaid brand “milk” for my cereal. For coffee, I’ve switched to Soy Creamer, though if I use just a *tiny* bit of half & half I feel fine.
There is a life after dairy… and it feels MUCH better!