Diary of a Dairy Free Experiment

*Sigh* Goodbye ice cream. Goodbye whipped cream. Goodbye butter. Goodbye cheese. Goodbye dairy.  It’s not you, it’s me, and I think we need to take a break. Well, the day has come; the day that my headaches and migraines are so out of control and debilitating that I’m going to drastic measures to fix them. I absolutely LOVE dairy. I have some type of dairy product every single day. Heavy cream, cheese, ice cream, butter – these are some of my very favorite foods. But I’ve been getting headaches and migraines since I was four years old. FOUR! Hormones certainly weren’t my issue then, nor stress. So here we go – here’s my account of four weeks sans-dairy, emotions and physical status included, meant to inspire and encourage any of you who suspect you need to take a similar step! Pre-trial: Why Dairy? I’ve been reading a book by Suzy Cohen called “Headache Free,” and IMMEDIATELY she recommends trying a gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or soy-free diet. It’s no secret that HSL follows similar principles and we aren’t surprised that these would be recommendations for fighting headaches. For me, I’ve heard these recommendations before, but didn’t have the motivation to try it out. But all that’s changed now; I’ve been getting headaches or migraines at least 3 days of the week, usually 5, and I’ve got a baby, a job, a husband and a life! I’m done letting these headaches keep sucking me of my joy. So I started out with a gluten-free approach, intending on being incredibly strict for 8 weeks (or more, depending on how I was feeling). Surprisingly or not, gluten free is TRICKY!! There are SO many things that have hidden gluten in them, and I accidentally tripped up more than once. After I consumed gluten twice unknowingly last week, I decided to switch to dairy-free. I started suspecting that dairy is my bigger enemy after reading Is Dairy Free For Me?. Since dairy seems likely to be the main culprit anyway (I’ve got sinus issues as well, which is discussed in that post), I decided to switch my focus from gluten to dairy. I AM going to be very strict about removing dairy. While butter and heavy cream are mainly fats (and I love them), I want to be sure without a doubt that they aren’t contributing to my problems. For four weeks I can manage without, and if my headaches go away – it will be TOTALLY worth it! Week 1: I MISS BUTTER!! Well this first week has been depressing for me. Before this week I was having heavy cream in my coffee every morning, cooked my eggs and topped whatever else I could in butter, and ice cream is by far my favorite dessert. I will say that I have not been tempted by anything, but I have nearly consumed dairy a few times. It’s easy to forget when your lifestyle was so full of the stuff only a few days ago! It’s also been difficult to make sure I’m getting enough fats in during the day. Butter was such an easy fix to that, but now I’m finding creative ways of eating more avocado and coconut oil. I’m excited about finding new recipes and foods that I haven’t had a reason to try before. In the headache department, well… it’s hard to say. I’ve had good weeks and bad weeks, and I could chalk this up to a “good week,” so the real test will be consecutive weeks. I did have a couple headaches, but they were definitely tension headaches and I did not have any migraines (woohoo!). Stay tuned… Week 2: Another Good Week, Eh?  I’m still missing butter and my heavy cream in my morning coffee, but I haven’t had any day-ruining migraines…HOORAY! I’ve had a couple headaches, yes, but our weather has been crazy (typical Minnesota, hot/cold, dry/humid/thunderstorm, can’t make up its mind) and barometric pressure changes seem to affect me. The difference this week with those headaches, however, is that I was still able to have a full day. Typically when the weather is gettin’ me down, there’s no hope for my evening. Hubby’s on baby duty the minute he gets home and my bedtime is 7:30 on a “good day.” But this week… the headache was strong around the afternoon, and then just kind of faded to a dull ache and I could enjoy all the regular happenings of a regular evening at home. Week 3: Ok, I Think I’m On To Something Here! So three weeks have gone by and I haven’t had to miss any work or other activities due to a migraine? Is that…is that correct? Alright, I think I could adjust if this is my new normal! My husband has joined me in this trial (he doesn’t have any reason to suspect dairy is a problem for him, but he’s doing it to support me and if there was ever a time to try it, now’s that time! What a guy!) and he’s been pretty supportive but every once in awhile he bemoans the struggle and I have to remind him that this might be permanent for me. It reminds me of Cassie's post about thinking you could “never” give something up. The bright side is that for now he has to say no to the same things I do, and so we’ve found some nice alternatives together. For our Mexican food options, we just skip the cheese and sour cream and sub it for guacamole – not much of a downgrade if you ask me! For our ice cream cravings, we’ve discovered that Target carries a line of coconut based (totally dairy-free) “frozen desserts” that I think I’ll be completely satisfied with as a substitute to conventional ice cream. Week 4: I Could Get Used To This I guess I’m convinced! Four good weeks in a row in my post-partum, still breastfeeding body (read: hormones are giving me a run for my money) with hot days, high pony-tails, late nights and inconsistent nutrition have got to be more than just good luck. This is practically unheard of for me. I will again state that I’ve had some headaches still, but they are in no way to the same degree that they were immediately prior to these four weeks off from dairy. At this point, I see this as a lifestyle change. What I’m going to have to work on from here on out is choosing healthier alternatives. Since I’ve had to give up cheese and yogurt as snacks, I’ve subbed for easy fillers like peanut-butter filled pretzels and chips, just to curb the hunger. As I continue to improve my health, I’ll continue to make small steps so that I’m as balanced as can be and headache-free! Weekend 4: The Test One of my favorite family traditions is 4th of July homemade ice cream by my aunt. In fact, this was my goal to reach throughout my four-week trial. Well I made it to that point, ate the ice cream, and it was deeeeelicious. I did not have any headaches immediately after, or the day after. I felt a little more adventurous and had pizza and Special K bars, one dairy product per day (I was up at the cabin where treats abound). The pizza also seemed to go over well enough, but the Special K bars were the last (dairy) thing I had on Sunday, and Monday hit me like a ton of bricks. Bedtime was 6:00 and nausea was a close companion. My suspicion is that chocolate put me over the edge, but I can’t be too sure. For now, I’m just gonna continue to avoid everything dairy until I’ve “gotten a hang of it” and then I’ll begin to test foods a little more carefully so I can be sure about what affects me and what doesn’t. Conclusion In summary, I think I’ve figured out my problem. I’m at peace with the idea of saying no to dairy for good if it means I get my life back. This means I don’t have to fear a day at the beach because it’s too sunny, a day at the mall because it’s too noisy, a day trip up north because the drive is too long, or a day of playing with my kids because I’m out of commission for the afternoon. I’m at peace with the thought that this is a transition and I will continue to gain strength from making better decisions day by day, meal by meal, snack by snack. I hope that sharing my experience and dairy-free diary with you will give you the nudge you need to try whatever it is that has been sitting on the back burner of your mind. Might be food related, might be something else entirely. Just remember that you’ll never know until you try! *Update: Because of my dairy-free experiment, my breastfed baby’s diaper rash totally disappeared. I didn’t even realize it was an issue until I introduced cheese later on and she got a rash where I hadn’t seen one in weeks! Definitely a nice bonus and a very eye-opening experience about how important my nutrition is to her tiny body.   

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