Before we get into it, let's get this straight: I like ice cream, cheese, butter, a lot of butter, my coffee extra creamy, and a little bit of sour cream here and there. All of those have one common denominator: dairy. So as you can imagine, going dairy-free wasn't exactly easy-peasy for me. It sounded like a great idea for a while, well, until I actually had to commit to it. I've been on a bit of a health kick, and becoming keenly aware of what I put into my body has been top of mind lately.
I started to notice that every time I consumed a lot of dairy, I immediately felt sick to my stomach afterward. It was like a food baby was sitting my pelvic area for hours, sometimes full days—like bloating on steroids—and nothing I did could solve it. I suffered from extreme acid reflux issues after eating dairy, and one day it got so bad that I had to call out of work because I was having breathing issues. Overall, I felt a severely sluggish after eating dairy and wouldn't do as well during my workouts. I wasn't sure if it had a direct correlation to my breakouts, but they were alive and prominent on my skin.
"There is more carbohydrate, aka sugar, in lower- or nonfat dairy products, and without the fat to balance the nutrients, this disrupts the endocrine system, which means hormones getting out of wack. It interferes with weight management, increases acne, and a whole host of other problems," explains Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Nutritious Life. "Those who are intolerant to lactose will experience discomfort, cramping, and bloating upon consumption because they lack the proper enzymes needed to properly digest this milk protein. So aside from those who are lactose intolerant, and of course those with milk allergy, I recommend portion-controlled, full-fat organic dairy in limited amounts—usually one serving per day."
Based on my symptoms and the side effects Glassman described, I most certainly could be lactose intolerant. So I decided to give up dairy for 21 days (since that's how long it takes to form a habit). Here's how it all went down when I made these changes.
I Ate a Lot of Greens and Protein
No matter what, I always crave butter, cheese, and every other form of dairy when I'm eating unhealthy. So I started with a completely clean diet. I filled my plate with mostly greens, protein, and whole grains. Yes, I most definitely missed the taste of dairy-filled foods on my plate, but I enjoyed forgoing that sluggish feeling from heavy foods.
After changing my diet, I woke up with more energy and stamina to start my day. I killed my workouts and didn't feel extremely burnt out by the end of the day.
I Drank My Coffee Black or With Dairy-Free Creamer
I love creamy coffee. It tastes so good yet makes me feel so incredibly uncomfortable. I never thought I'd see the day I'd drink my coffee black, but I tried it, and guess what: It wasn't that bad, my friends. It gave me an extra pep in my step and that's all I could really ask for.
Other days when I needed to add a little something for taste, I traded out my regular coffee creamer for this dairy-free option you can get at any local grocery store.
It tastes phenomenal, but the best part? I didn't deal with any stomach side effects afterward. This has become a staple for me that I'll use beyond this experiment now.
I Tried Other Healthy, Energy-Boosting Alternatives That Are Dairy-Free
Although I'm very into my new soy creamer, it was hard giving up my coffee the way I've always liked it. I'm a creature of habit, but I decided to venture out and I uncovered a newfound love for matcha. I swapped my coffee for matcha in the mornings and experienced a huge leap in my energy levels. The claims are true: This Japanese gem will boost your energy just as much (if not more than) coffee. I sprinkled a bit of this Trader Joe's Green Tea Latte Mix ($18) into hot water every morning. Besides the fact that it's dairy-free, it's also worth mentioning that I didn't experience any of the jitters or acid reflux issues that drinking coffee with creamer gives me.
I Ditched Ice Cream for Healthy Sweet Treats
It's my favorite thing to curl up on my couch with a tub of Talenti Ice Cream in my hands. Sigh. This might've been the hardest indulgence to give up. I've heard amazing things about Halo Top from all my fit friends and thought this was the perfect time to give it a go. I'm a fan of this dairy-free, candy-bar flavor. It tastes delectable without making my stomach feel like it's up in flames afterward.
My Breakouts Reduced Significantly
Every time I'm super carefree when it comes to eating carbs and dairy, my skin goes crazy. "Those who eliminate dairy sometimes report clearer skin, improved digestion, decreased bloat, and it has also been linked to reducing inflammation in the body," Glassman told me. My skin didn't 100% clear up because a lot of other factors play into having perfect skin. However, I did see a significant decrease in my breakouts after cutting dairy out of my diet for 21 days. I felt confident enough to wear no makeup for an entire week—and that is not like me. So yeah, I'd say that's progress.
Nutritionist-Approved Dairy-Free Alternatives
Overall, I feel lighter, if that makes sense. Consuming a lot of dairy had a way of weighing me down and making me feel sluggish. I saw a noticeable shift in my energy levels and a clearer complexion. I didn't have an acid reflux flare-up the entire 21 days, and every sign of bloating completely disappeared. Will I give up dairy altogether? Not quite. But I will certainly consume way less of it. Everything's better in moderation and now that I've seen how my body and skin flourish without it, I'll make an effort to be more conscious about my dairy consumption.
If you're thinking about going dairy-free and need a little direction on your new-and-improved grocery list, Glassman outlines her favorite dairy-free alternatives below.
Coconut yogurt: "This is an alternative to traditional dairy yogurt and contains healthy fats which will help contribute to satiety."
Avocado: "This will add a creamy consistency, fiber, and healthy fats and will serve as an alternative to dairy in any dip, dessert, soup, or my favorite breakfast, a smoothie. For a perfect dairy-free smoothie, I recommend adding a form of fat (avocado, coconut, or even almond butter), nut milk, leafy greens, and a boost. Superbeets ($40) is one boost that will help promote your nitric oxide production, which is important for healthy circulation and cardiovascular health."
Soaked cashews: "This is a dairy-free alternative in creamy, cheesy sauces or can be blended with water to make cashew milk as an alternative to dairy milk."
Nutritional yeast: "This can be used as an alternative to cheese because of its naturally nutty, cheesy flavor. Use it in sauces or in any recipes in place of cheese, or even simply sprinkled onto veggies or added into dressings in place of parmesan."