This article was originally published on NationalPainReport.com and is being reprinted here with permission from the editor.
I’ve always said I will never starve as long as I have two things in my house: peanut butter and cheese. These have been dietary mainstays since I was a kid because they both have protein, they’re easy to grab and eat without any food prep, they’re comforting and they just taste good!
Unfortunately, my body has grown to hate both of them since I developed fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme. I gave up my beloved Skippy peanut butter last year after I became nauseous whenever I ate it.
But I held onto cheese for dear life until I started to suspect that it, too, was causing my symptoms to flare. My hunch was confirmed when I tested positive for a casein sensitivity. My doctor advised me to forgo all dairy, except products from goats and sheep.
Since my diet is already super limited (no gluten, soy, processed sugar, fast food, soda, etc.), I ignored her advice for more than a year until my body forced me to take action. Last month, with a sad heart, I downed a big chunk of cheddar cheese and a cup of soft serve from my favorite ice cream shop, then committed to giving up dairy for at least 30 days.
Here’s what I learned from my experiment.
Lesson #1: Dairy is addictive
Over the years, I’ve read articles about how dairy is addictive, but I never really believed it until I cut cheese out of my life. My withdrawal symptoms reminded me of all those times in my 30s when I had tried to quit smoking. Day 3 was always the hardest because that’s when my body really went into mega withdrawal, and my willpower would start to fade.
It was the same when I gave up dairy. On days 3-5, I was so grumpy I fantasized about smacking random soccer moms in Target. When my hubby would arrive home from work, I had to warn him not to talk to me because I might start throwing things at him. I felt like I could chew through roofing nails!
Thankfully, these feelings of anger and anxiety were short-lived. Once I got through the first week of my 30-day experiment, I didn’t have them anymore.
Lesson #2: Dairy is a problem food for me
Gut problems go with fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme like, well, cheese and crackers. It didn’t take long to realize dairy was obviously a culprit behind my daily stomach discomfort. From day 1, I had less bloating, gas and gastrointestinal pain. For the most part, my tummy troubles disappeared during my month of being dairy free. Huge win!
Lesson #3: Dairy triggers my histamine response
The biggest reason I finally gave up dairy is that I’ve been dealing with a runny nose, watery eyes, excess mucous and facial flushing for the past 6 months. I was taking over-the-counter allergy medications to reduce my body’s histamine response and constantly toting a tissue around in my pocket.
I started to notice I needed to blow my nose and wipe my eyes a lot more after I ate moderate amounts of dairy. When I researched this, I learned cheese and some other dairy products are high histamine foods and can trigger the symptoms I was having.
Since giving up dairy, I’ve seen a reduction in my histamine reactions, but it wasn’t as great as I had hoped. I still have a tissue in my pocket; I just don’t use it as often.
Obviously there are still some offending foods in my diet, so my journey of figuring that out continues.
(Read: What is histamine intolerance?)
Lesson #4: Always read food labels, everytime, no matter what
I didn’t realize how many foods contain dairy until I was avoiding it. For example, I didn’t know my favorite brand of gluten-free crackers has milk. During another shopping trip, I was going to buy some cauliflower rice from the frozen food section, and you guessed it, it had dairy.
Reading food labels is a requirement when going dairy free (or doing any elimination diet). Thankfully, most food manufacturers list common food allergens (wheat, soy, nuts, etc.) at the end of their ingredient lists, so it’s not too hard to quickly spot dairy-containing foods. It’s just frustrating there are so many of them!
Lesson #5: I can’t ignore my dairy sensitivity anymore
Last night, I ate cheese for the first time since my 30-day experiment started. An hour after eating, I was nauseous. It took me another two hours to realize my nausea was likely a reaction to the cheese I’d eaten with dinner.
I have this same reaction when I eat gluten, so now dairy not only makes my tummy hurt and my nose run, but I feel sick when I eat it, too. Big sigh.
(Since I wrote this article, I’ve tried a couple of other forms of dairy, but it’s a no go. I either end up with nausea or severe stomach pain. Extra big sigh.)
What I didn’t learn
I had expected giving up dairy would reduce my fibro/Lyme pain by lowering inflammation in my body, but I didn’t notice a change in symptoms other than reduced gastrointestinal and histamine issues.
That being said, I was going through a major flareup of a herniated disc in my back throughout April. That caused an increase in pain in general, so it’s possible that’s why I didn’t feel more of an improvement.
I’m recovering from back surgery now and am hopeful my overall symptoms may still improve.
(Read: 6 ways dairy leads to pain)
Update 6/25/18: As more time passes, I’ve concluded dairy does increase my pain levels. 🙁
I’m continuing the no-dairy experiment. I’m treating dairy like I do gluten and the other 5,000+ foods that I avoid (I’m only slightly exaggerating the number here). I’ll stay away from it 95% of the time, only indulging on special occasions.
I’m sad I won’t be able to nosh on cheese sticks or sprinkle parmesan on my marinara sauce. It sucks I’ll have to watch my hubby eat ice cream every night and won’t be able to steal a couple of spoonfuls from his bowl.
But my journey of healing Lyme and fibromyalgia is more important than any particular food group. I have to do what I have to do in order to get better even if that means sacrificing cheese and peanut butter. Maybe one day my body will stop warring with my food, and I’ll be able to enjoy a big, ooey-gooey slice of pizza again. Fingers crossed!
Now it’s your turn: Have you given up dairy? If so, what were your results? Share in the comments!