I've been wanting to tell about my journey to being milk-free for quite a while, but it's such a long story (not that many of my stories are ever short!), so here we go...
Let's start with some background... [Disclaimer: I'm not a dietitian, nor a doctor. These are my personal opinions and a recounting of my direct experiences.]
I used to love cheese. Sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, mozzarella, shredded cheese, queso dip, cream cheese, cheesecake, parmesan cheese, but surprisingly, not sour cream. I loved cheese the way people love chocolate. (As amazing as it might be, I do not like chocolate - I never have and doubt I ever will.) When answering those surveys that asked "if you could choose one food to live on for the rest of your life, what would it be?" my answer would invariably be cheese-related. I used to buy a block of sharp cheddar and slice it and eat it for a snack. I would shred it for certain dishes and hardly end up with enough for what I was making, because I kept eating it as I was shredding it. Have I sufficiently established the love I had for cheese?
Now, as I write about all that cheese, I get a queasy feeling in my stomach. I never thought that would happen. I was known for my love of cheese and may still be, to those who haven't talked to me in a long while.
How did this happen? Well, it was through a series of events that I did not plan, nor foresee. As some of you might know, my daughter is anaphylactic to milk protein. I was so addicted to my precious cheese that even though I stopped buying it at the store, I would bring home take-out foods that had cheese in them, and just wash my hands feverishly, brush my teeth, etc. (She never reacted to cheese contact, but I am still super-careful and now we just don't have it in the house, at all.) At least a year and a half ago (I'm losing track of time) I was going over our finances and realized we were spending a ridiculous amount of money on take-out food. We made all our daughter's meals, but for ourselves, I'd often just pick us up some admittedly very unhealthy fast-food meals, thinking that I didn't have time for anything else. I made a decision to cook more meals at home and since we didn't keep cheese in the house, that incidentally lead to a dramatic drop in my cheese intake. (I was never a milk drinker, so the majority of my "milk" intake was from cheese products, and lots of them!)
Another thing I should explain is that for the past several years, I had chronic sinus problems. After Morgan was diagnosed with food allergies, I decided to get blood testing done, just to see if anything came up and no foods showed up, but I did the skin prick testing for environmental allergens and I was allergic to all kinds of things - Mountain Cedar, different grasses, dust mites, etc. I figured that explained why I had a 400 mg/day ibuprofen habit. I had tremendous sinus pressure that sometimes made me wish I had a hinge on my nasal area, so I could open it up and take out whatever gunk was inside, torturing me. (Sorry for the graphic image, but that's how terrible I felt, sometimes.) I took ibuprofen, almost daily, for around 3 years. That could not have been good for me. I was in and out of Urgent Care facilities every few months, with sinus infections. Whenever the pollen levels rose, I would sit and try and press on pressure points on my face and try to make the pain go away, because I didn't want to take any more medicine. Oh yes, I was also taking Allegra and Nasonex. All 3 of these medications still didn't keep the sinus infections at bay and I would be on antibiotics a couple of times a year. One time, I had to get a steroid shot and it triggered an episode of my periodic paralysis (I have a condition called Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis and I really do need to blog about that, some day).
So, after a while of not having mega-quantities of cheese in my diet, I was sitting around one day and thought, "Hey, I haven't made the drive to Urgent Care, lately...I haven't taken any ibuprofen in a while..." I also noted that, um, how do I put this...I had become more "regular" and didn't seem to have any "issues" in the bathroom department, lately. For the longest time, I thought I suffered from undiagnosed IBS (sorry for the TMI, folks, but it's part of the story) and I was realizing what it was like to have a regularly functioning system.
I thought to myself, "Could it be my beloved cheese? No way!" As any addict in denial, I didn't want to believe that my precious cheese could be causing me any harm, so when I had the chance to eat queso dip, outside our home, I ate a whole bunch and felt terrible, afterward.
D'Oh! I almost forgot, I also used to get super itchy skin! I have dermatographic urticaria/dermographism, which is a condition where the skin basically gets a hive and/or turns red where it is scratched. It's not quite as dramatic as some of the pictures shown and I can't make "art" with it, but I used to lie in bed at night and itch and itch and itch and I'd have to go borrow my daughter's eczema lotions and prescription-strength hydrocortisone. I'd go look in the mirror and see that I had scratched myself all up in my sleep. I had a definite glimpse into the eczema life. The dermatologist just said, "yeah, eczema can pop up in your 30s, even if you never had it, before." OK, thanks. I also had keratosis pilaris on the undersides of my arms, which made me self-conscious about wearing short-sleeves, sometimes.
After my cheese binge, I was so itchy, again, and later in the week there were high pollen levels and I was not enjoying myself. That was all the convincing I needed and I was done with cheese. I hadn't eaten ice cream in a long time, so I didn't have to give that up. The last thing I had to switch was my butter, which I changed to Earth Balance Organic Whipped Buttery Spread. I didn't go so far as to avoid traces of milk, since I'm not anaphylactic like my daughter, but I avoid it as much as I can.
Since ridding my diet of dairy, I'm now free of so many ailments that I had absolutely no idea were tied to my dairy consumption. No more sinus problems, no more tummy troubles, no more itchy rashes, no more bumpy/KP-ridden arms, and I lost 8 pounds! Another thing I should note is that about 8 months after giving up dairy, I also gave up Coke, which was my other beloved "food item". I was equally enamored with Coke. Not Diet Coke, not Cherry Coke, but Coca-Cola Classic. I had Coca-Cola Christmas ornaments! When I gave up Coke, I lost 7 pounds and stopped getting the headaches that I thought my Cokes were helping all that time. Like any drug, it treats your pain, then gives it right back to you, so it can "treat it" again, for you. I also thought I needed my Cokes for energy, but it turns out they were responsible for my afternoon "crash" and not treating said crash, at all. I still get a little tired in the afternoon, but not like I used to feel, by far. The only thing I drink, now, is some fruit juice in the morning with breakfast and water the rest of the day.
If you do some research on cow's milk, you're in for a world of surprises. I strongly suggest you check out www.notmilk.com. Click on the article links for "asthma", "allergies", and "sinus". Look at all the other conditions linked to casein/milk. Read "The Famous Milk Letter". It is LONG, but full of interesting information. If I had read this before my accidental "milk weaning", I might have thought it to be a bit too "tin foil hat", but boy do I believe it, now. Nobody with asthma should have milk in their diets, in my humble, yet now passionate opinion. Anyone with internal organs that they care about should seriously consider how reducing/eliminating casein from your diet might positively impact your life. I think if more physicians handed out prescriptions like these, we'd see a dramatic drop in a long list of health problems:
|Image edited from emeddecorandmore.com|
I personally think the slogan "Milk - It Does a Body Good" is one of the biggest untruths perpetuated since the days when cigarettes were recommended for asthmatics. Ridding your body of milk protein is something you can do to "cure" yourself of so many ailments, without taking a single pill. There's no special set of herbal remedies that you need to take for this magic to happen. I didn't need any supplements. I didn't need to add anything; I needed to SUBTRACT something that was hurting me. The issues I had with milk were not like my daughter's. I'm not anaphylactic to it - I wouldn't have immediate, acute, obvious reactions, so I might have gone on my whole life, suffering all those problems, thinking that's "just the way it is" and that "I just have seasonal allergies" and "I just have a temperamental tummy", etc. I loved cheese so much that there was no impetus for me to stop eating it, until I was forced to by circumstance. There is a very short list of things I am thankful for with my daughter's food allergies, but this is one of them.
I hope if anyone else is out there suffering, that you will really take this to heart and consider doing something about it. I know it can be hard to make changes, but I also know it's completely possible. My daughter has a healthy diet that does not include cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, peas, mustard, or flax seed. She is living proof that cow's milk is not essential to survival! I used to think nothing was worth eating, if it didn't have cheese and now I think, "why must they add cheese to everything?" It's funny how your perspective can completely shift. All I know is that when the pollen levels rise, now, I hardly even take notice. I don't have constant sinus pain. I don't scratch in my sleep, anymore. I'm not taking a handful of pills and squirting steroids up my nose, daily, anymore. I also promise that I do not miss cheese, at all. If *I* can live a life without cheese, I think anyone can do it!
(Note: Dairy is not the only culprit in the "usual suspects" lineup, so if you do eliminate milk and don't feel completely alleviated, you might also have an issue with gluten, which is another top offender. You might have to do an elimination diet to find the exact mix of foods that are causing your particular problems, as everyBODY is different, but don't discount for one minute that food can be behind the majority of your chronic ailments. I wish you the best of luck in your quest for better health.)