I started with what I felt were the easiest products to replace: I substituted regular cow's milk, which I didn't drink much of to begin with, with coconut or almond milk. Then I swapped butter for a vegan spread, and ice cream for nondairy alternatives. But cheese was the last to go. Because, I thought, what warm-blooded, decent person doesn't eat pizza — or worse, refuses it when offered at a social gathering?
It took a while for the social factor to fade. When you decide to make a lifestyle change like giving up dairy, you experience unsolicited feedback from friends, family, and co-workers. Some of my favorite responses were "I would DIE if I were you!" and the classic, "I feel like I don't even know who you are anymore!"
I did cave every once in a while and had a bite of brie or a piece of bread with real butter — but I didn't beat myself up about it. Instead, I used it as a lesson in why I'm making my food choices: am I eating consciously or am I being influenced by societal trends?
After a couple of weeks with no dairy, I decided to incorporate it back into my lifestyle. I hadn't noticed any dramatic changes in my body other than increased regularity and ease with bowel movements. I had given it a try and proved I could do it. But now it was time to get back together with pizza. Absence made the heart (and cheese craving) grow fonder.
But something happened after I embraced cheese again. Within a couple of hours of eating pizza, I felt physically ill. It felt like a brick fell into my stomach and was surely going to remain there for the rest of my life. Plus, my nose was stuffy. I couldn’t breathe that night when I went to sleep. And finally, I couldn’t poop! It totally messed with my regular schedule and made me feel icky.
It took a few more instances of eating dairy products and feeling the wrath of their hangovers to be done with that experience of feeling yucky and stopped up. I realized I was holding on to the mental attachment of the cheese — the melty, stretchy visual allure — rather than acknowledging how it was affecting me physically.
All that time I was consuming dairy, I was ignorant to how it was actually making me feel. It took detoxing to fully understand the results that were showing up in my body.
Ever since then, I've stayed dairy-free and I love how I feel, physically and mentally. I’m no longer a slave to cravings. I operate more from a place of needs rather than wants when it comes to food. Plus, giving up dairy lent itself to a bunch of other empowering changes in my life, like releasing other unhealthy lifestyle choices, losing weight, and sleeping more soundly.
Honestly, I don’t even feel deprived or miss any of it. But as someone who once cherished cheese, I know how hard it might seem at first to give up dairy. Here are four tips I used to make it easier: