Courtesy Cori Delgado Photography
I’ve always been a picky eater. Anything new or outside my regular menu often elicits a wrinkle of my nose or a polite “No thanks.” I never ever thought I’d make a drastic change in my eating habits, especially when it comes to my beloved dairy—cheese! Ice cream! Butter!—until my baby’s health depended on it.
It all started in 2011, when my newborn son was diagnosed with a severe soy and dairy sensitivity. Since I was breastfeeding, I had to drop all soy and dairy from my diet, as the proteins from those nutrients pass through breast milk to baby.
At first it was a struggle to identify soy- and dairy-free foods that weren’t meat and vegetables—everything seemed to contain some form of one of them, including my favorite breakfast cereals, breads, and even oatmeal. I became a pro at reading labels, sussing out “soy,” “lactose,” “whey,” and “casein” on packages in the grocery store aisle. As the list of foods I could eat grew shorter and shorter, I found myself sinking into a bit of depression. I envisioned holidays and birthdays with no cake, pie, or pudding. It felt overwhelming and silly at the same time—that a change in my diet could affect me emotionally to such a degree.
To cope, I began reading dairy-free diet food blogs written by other moms who had walked this road before me. Thankfully, many had gathered some excellent resources. I learned that Oreos are dairy-free! So is barbecue sauce, one of my favorite condiments. I made a list of dairy-free versions of items that I used to enjoy and vowed to give them a chance. I hesitantly purchased coconut milk, coconut milk yogurt, almond milk ice cream, and a rice milk chocolate bar during my next trip to the grocery store. I bought a plant-based butter replacement and a dairy-free pancake mix. I found coconut milk vanilla coffee creamer on one trip, and suddenly life seemed a little brighter again (you cannot mess with a new mother’s coffee and expect her not to mourn the loss of what was).
[pullquote] It felt overwhelming and silly at the same time—that a change in my diet could affect me emotionally to such a degree. [/pullquote]
Suddenly, I had options, even if I had to travel to specialty stores to find them. Once I expanded my horizons to include these new foods, I found enjoyment in food once again. The dairy-free foods that I tried were different but no less tasty than their dairy filled counterparts—except for rice milk chocolate, which is less than delicious. There’s really no replacement I’ve found for milk chocolate. I also found that many restaurants and fast food eateries have dairy-free options if you ordered items a certain way (I got very familiar with the phrases “Hold the cheese” and “Can I see a list of ingredients?”), and many were extremely accommodating of dietary restrictions.
Not only that, but I dropped all the weight I had gained during pregnancy, along with a few more pounds. My skin became clearer, and all the digestive troubles that plagued me my entire life disappeared.
My son’s symptoms that first prompted the diet resolved, and I breathed a long awaited sigh of relief. I continued this diet for the next three years, and it became a comfortable way of life, no longer overwhelming me. The holidays and birthdays that I feared would be devoid of dessert became opportunities for me to bring my own dairy-free option and invite others to try something new.
The most important thing that came of it was personal growth. I learned that I could make any sacrifice necessary for my children, and that food should not be something that I depend on to fulfill my emotional needs. Many times we fear change, when it’s actually an opportunity to grow. I still choose the dairy-free versions of most foods when I shop, and it’s simply because I feel better without dairy in my diet. I would never say I am grateful that my son experienced the pain and suffering he did from his dairy sensitivity, but I’m grateful for the path that it has led me down, to a healthier way of living with more food options to enjoy.
Here are the dairy myths you need to stop believing, whether you quit the creamy stuff or not.