Why A Cheese-Lover's Dairy Allergy Wasn't The Apocalypse
I loved cheese. Sometimes I couldn’t even believe how much I loved cheese. I ate it every day. Not every meal, but probably every day. And all kinds of cheeses—hard, soft, local, exotic, raw, pasteurized. As a mostly-vegetarian-who-sometimes-ate-fish for almost 20 years, I ate cheese and dairy as one of my main sources of protein. That all changed two years ago when I found out I had a dairy sensitivity that was making me sick.
I'd been sick for months. I had a cough that would not go away, severely low energy, persistent sinus infections, and laryngitis. I went to countless allopathic doctors and specialists, but they could find nothing wrong with me. Their solutions? Try this pill to see if it might be gastroesophageal reflux disease. Not that? Then try this pill to see if it's allergies. No? Well, how about this pill? This approach to my health was not working for me. I also saw my acupuncturist, my chiropractor and an energy healer, but nothing seemed to be working.
I finally saw a naturopathic doctor and got a food allergy test. The results: sensitivity to dairy.
My heart broke. In the months that I'd been on an elimination diet, dairy was what I missed the most. I know this sounds dramatic, but I really felt a great loss at no longer being able to eat cheese. What initially got me through it, though, was the belief and the hope that I would finally start feeling better.
And I did. The cough went away and my energy returned. But there were some unexpected results as well. I lost a lot weight, and my body took on a leaner, slimmer shape.
The most fantastic result had to do with my asthma. I'd been on an albuterol inhaler since age 13. I took it almost every day because my asthma was “exercise induced,” and I worked out or walked almost every day. Any kind of moderately strenuous activity could induce my asthma, like walking to the grocery store. I had wanted to get off my inhaler for years but just didn't know how to do it.
Well, going off dairy was the key. Just a few months after going dairy free, for the first time in more than 24 years, I did an entire workout without needing my inhaler and without getting even the smallest amount of wheezing.
If you've ever had asthma, you know what a miraculous feeling this is! Now, over a year and half since that first workout, I'm off my inhaler almost entirely. I used to panic if I left the house without it, but now I go to workouts, hikes, and yoga classes without even thinking of it. I finally feel free from my inhaler.
Do I still miss cheese? Yes. Do I sometimes indulge and have some cheese? I do. Do I know that ultimately I will feel stronger, healthier, cleaner and happier without dairy? Absolutely.
If you find yourself suddenly with a food sensitivity or allergy, here are a few of my suggestions:
1. It’s ok to mourn the loss of the food. That’s natural, healthy, and is just a part of the process.
2. Be open and willing to experiment. This new information might mean you have to make some pretty big changes to what you eat, but if you treat it like an adventure, the transition will go much more smoothly.
3. Think about healthy foods you can substitute for the allergen, instead of “replacing.” For example, instead of going for soy cheese, which is pretty processed, add avocado to a sandwich to get that yummy umami flavor and texture. Or use coconut milk to make dishes “creamy.” Again, get creative!
4. Get professional help if you need it. Many health coaches and nutritional consultants like me specialize in helping people with food allergies and sensitivities. These professionals can help make the process so much easier by providing menu plans, recipes, healthy substitutions, and nutritional advice. Most importantly, they can offer the support often necessary to make such a change.