The Dairy Question

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A lot of people ask me the dairy question. Sometimes they ask how it fits into the paleo diet (if at all) or, what my opinion is from a health coaches perspective.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer.

What I can tell you is my personal story and a few facts about dairy that will hopefully help you form an opinion of your own.

I’ve changed my diet a countless times. From eating a pretty standard American diet, to being a vegetarian, to consuming mostly raw foods, to hardcore paleo to now, trying to stay away from labels and simply focusing on whole, nutritious foods that makes me feel good. The one constant thing that never changed was my consumption of dairy products. Until a few months ago.

I hadn’t had a full on glass of milk in quite a while (not since I was a small child) but up until a few months ago I was regularly consuming cheese (mostly organic & raw), half and half (normally always organic) in my tea or coffee and cooking literally everything in butter (mostly organic & grass fed). A salad wasn’t a salad unless it had some sort of crumbled cheese on it and you could often find me substituting something like coconut oil in a baked goods recipe for butter. Because, come on, it’s butter. Sure, I’d heard of the potential negative side effects of eating dairy (anything from acne to bloating to shredding our intestinal lining) but I also knew many people who seemed to tolerate it just fine, especially those who committed to organic and minimally processed, grass-fed and/or raw forms of dairy.

While so many of my health problems dissipated when I stopped eating processed carbohydrates, grain and excess sugar, one thing that I never quite resolved were my skin issues. Birth control kept it at bay throughout my teenage years (I assume) but I developed countless skin issues on my face after I stopped when I hit my twenties. I even developed persistent styes on both eyes at some point a few years ago. While that thankfully went away within 4 months or so, I never could quite get to the bottom of my skin problems.

I was always determined to figure it out on my own. I eliminated a sorts of foods, assuming that was the problem, even eliminating dairy for a month or so more than once. Nothing seemed to really work, but more importantly, nothing seemed to be working quick enough for me. After just a few weeks of changing one of my dietary or lifestyle habits, I would get frustrated and give up. I never gave anything a chance to work.

A few months ago, out of sheer frustration, I decided to visit a Naturopath. I did this because I knew an ND would agree to test me for all sorts of things related to allergies, dietary & digestive issues, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, etc. What I found out was nothing short of illuminating. Among many, many other things, my tests showed I was allergic to dairy. I have to say, I wasn’t entirely surprised as I’d always had a hunch but I also didn’t understand why if I was allergic to dairy had I never experienced any sort of immediate discomfort or pain after having it?

While that last question kept me from eliminating it for longer the first few times, I quickly came to my senses. We’ve all inaccurately come to associate all allergies or sensitives to immediate, uncomfortable reactions. But there are many things that our bodies aren’t meant to come into contact with, which lead to longterm damage over time, that have zero immediate effects. Most people don’t normally break out into hives when they consume a fried Oreo or Big Mac, nor do they stop breathing right after smoking a cigarette. We do many things to our bodies that we aren’t meant to do and it isn’t always blatantly obvious.

But, back to my point… I quickly realized, especially after my doctor told me that change “will take time”, that I needed to be patient if this was going to work. I teach everyone else how to be patient with their health goals and I needed to take my own advice.

So, it’s been just about three months dairy-free. I was told I could still tolerate whey, so I have been having a bit of Mark Sisson’s Primal Fuel, mostly for the glutathione (an essential antioxidant many of us are lacking in), but other than that, as far as I’ve been able to control it, I haven’t had any dairy.*Read update below.

The results thus far have been slow and steady. My skin has not improved overnight. And, I am taking a number of new supplements, vitamins & enzymes in addition to changing my skincare routine, so I can’t exactly credit all of my improvements to the elimination of dairy. But, what I can say is that for the first time I am starting to really understand how it might be making a difference. My stomach pain & digestive issues (which were still very few and far between) have been literally nonexistent and my skin is steadily improving across the board for the first time in a very long time. I don’t think all of my skin problems are related to the dairy sensitivity alone, but I feel pretty confident that it has always played a leading role in a number of factors that were always me from achieving overall health as it related to my skin.

This is not to say that everyone should stop consuming dairy. But, I do think it’s worth reading up on in order to make a smart decision for oneself, especially if you regularly experience any skin or digestive issues. For starters, I recommend reading Mark Sisson’s Definitive Guide to Dairy.

For now, I am going to continue dairy-free and see where it takes me. It’s actually been a lot easier than I thought it was going to be giving it up, mostly because I came to realize avocados do basically everything cheese does, but better. Not to mention Homemade Almond Milk. What I also know is that as our bodies grow and change, our reactions to certain foods and habits change as well. Perhaps down the line I might improve my digestive system to the point where a little of bit of dairy doesn’t bother me. For now, I am doing okay with it out and am excited to see how my skin continues to improve.

At some point I will be sure to share my skincare regimen as well. I’ve recently discovered a few amazing products and tricks that have made a huge difference in my complexion and helped to curb flare ups.

*UPDATE February 14th, 2016:

I decided to update this post because a lot has happened over the past 9 months. I am still dairy-free. Although I mentioned above that I continued to have whey, I decided to cut whey out of my diet because I didn’t feel that my body was reacting well to it. The only dairy I currently consume is ghee and it does not seem to have a negative effect. This has led me to believe that it is in fact both proteins in dairy (casein AND whey) that don’t agree with me.

My skin issues have improved significantly, however, I attribute that to much more than just eliminating dairy, which I plan to write about soon. Aside from my skin, I have noticed an improvement in my digestion that I have never in my life seen before. As I mentioned above, I did notice some improvements after just a few months, but after 9 months in, the effects have become pretty obvious. Although eliminating most grains and processed carbohydrates from my diet healed my digestive system a great deal, the elimination of dairy has resulted in the COMPLETE elimination of any sort of regular digestive distress.

Post-paleo, I would still suffer from debilitating stomach aches about once a month. I could never pin point what had caused them but at this point, I think it’s obvious that they were in large part caused by my long-time consumption of dairy. No, they didn’t normally happen immediately after I ate dairy but now that they are virtually nonexistent, it’s hard not to see how dairy was affecting me long-term. An important lesson that just because something doesn’t immediately disagree with you, doesn’t mean it’s what your body wants!