The Dairy Dilemma

I eliminated dairy for three weeks and this is what happened…

Might as well use the giant spoon...because once I start, I just can't stop.

Might as well use the giant spoon...because once I start, I just can't stop.

I just got done with a three-week dairy elimination challenge. I’m not big on dairy to begin with (more on why below), so it wasn’t a huge part of my diet.

However, I had noticed that dairy was creeping back in – namely in the form of ice cream and yogurt. I had also noticed an uptick in headaches, low energy, bloating and gas (sorry…TMI), and my clothes felt tighter (bloat or fat gain? I’ll just go with bloat).

It also happened that I was guiding a client through a dairy elimination to help her identify her triggers and sensitivities. I decided that since I was experiencing symptoms myself, this was a perfect time for ME to eliminate dairy AND support my client in a very real way.

What I learned

Weight loss: None. In fact I may have gained weight because I ended up simply replacing my dairy-based ice cream for non-dairy based junk, AND I ate the non-dairy sweets more often than I’d eat regular ice cream or yogurt!

Headaches: No change. My headaches appear to be due to a pulled suboccipital muscle in the base of my neck (according to my chiro, who Lord bless’er, fixed the problem).

Energy and mental clarity: Big improvement without dairy!

Bloating and gas: Totally resolved…until I added back the yogurt and ice cream. BINGO!

Take away: I’m mildly sensitive to some forms of dairy. Namely ice cream and yogurt.

Upon adding these back to my diet, my reaction to both was fairly immediate: my belly blew up like a balloon and my husband and kiddo were the unfortunate recipients of the aftermath.

On the other hand butter and cheese do not seem to affect me at all. (More on why some forms of dairy tend to cause more reaction than others is below.)

What’s up with dairy?

As my health journey has progressed, I’ve moved farther and farther away from dairy. I used to drink a lot of milk, eat a lot of cheese, and yogurt was a staple food for me.

I started removing dairy because I wanted to lose weight and I realized that all of the dairy I was consuming was simply an additional source of calories that I didn’t really the time, I never even realized dairy could be causing some of my other symptoms!

Sure dairy products have some calcium and protein…but they are NOT the optimal place to get those things. Yogurt, ice cream, frozen yogurt, and even milk are high in sugar. Cheese and butter are high in fat and calories. I also found myself overeating cheese, ice cream, and butter...every time.

I mean, who stops at the recommended serving size of one ounce of cheese? And let's be honest...who gets 1/4 of the way through a pint of Halo Top and decides to stop? 

Not I, friends. Not I.

Side note: Ever wondered why you can't stop eating cheese? Cheese is a concentrated source of casein which causes your body to create a substance called casomorphin. Casomorphins attach to the same receptors in your brain as morphine and heroin, causing a calming and addictive effect. That explains a lot.

But wait, isn’t dairy supposed to give you strong bones and teeth? Isn’t dairy supposed to help you lose weight?

Negative on both counts.

In a landmark 1994 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, it was found that “Consumption of dairy products…was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture in old age.” Ouch.

And in 2007, a lawsuit forced a dairy industry ad campaign, which claimed that consuming three servings of dairy per day would help people lose weight, to retract those ads…because dairy is not helpful for weight loss and in many cases, probably causes weight gain.

Dairy is an allergen and causes inflammation.

Dairy is number one on the list of foods that cause allergic reactions in humans. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed allergy to dairy, you may be sensitive and not even know it. In fact, up to 75% of ALL people may have a mild to moderate allergy sensitivity as reported by the Food Intolerance Institute of Australia.

As Michael Klaper, MD, would put it "You're drinking baby cow growth formula". Milk from cows is meant to make baby cows grow big...and it does the same thing in humans.

Humans are the only species on earth that drinks the milk from another species of animal, and continues to do so after the age of 2 years. Even more interesting is that most adults would shun the idea of drinking human breast milk past the age of 3, yet they will freely drink the liquid coming from the mammary glands of other animals.

Hmmm. Well-played dairy industry advertising execs. Well-played.

Possible symptoms of a dairy intolerance

The symptoms of dairy sensitivity are ambiguous and are often not easily tied together as being related to consuming dairy.

  • Bloating and gas
  • Indigestion/reflux
  • Abdominal pain
  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Headaches and/or migraines
  • Weight gain or inability to lose weight, especially around the midsection
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Itchy skin, rashes, eczema, acne
  • Persistent cough, sinus pain, or post nasal drip
  • Fertility issues

What causes dairy intolerance?

There are two main culprits found in dairy that seem to cause people problems. The first is lactose, which is basically milk sugar. The other is casein, which is the protein found in dairy.

The reason I can eat cheese and butter with almost no problems is because the aging and culturing process used to make cheese and butter removes most of the lactose (milk sugar). Similarly, I can eat whey-based protein powders without any issues because I do not appear to be sensitive to the protein in dairy...only the lactose. 

So it’s pretty clear from the results of my elimination that I’m sensitive to lactose, but not necessarily to casein. This means I can eat butter, cheese, and many protein powders without issue, but should mostly avoid milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream.

Is dairy bad?

I don’t really believe in labeling foods as “good” or “bad”. Certainly if a person has a true allergy to a food (usually requiring them to carry an Epipen), that food is bad for that person and should probably be avoided at all costs.

After reading this far, I know it may seem like I’m anti-dairy, but I’m not. I think we’ve been falsely led to believe that dairy is healthier than it actually is, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

The poison is in the dose.

Bear with me for a quick story. There are anecdotal tales about when Native Americans would kill a lactating animal, they would cut open the mammary glands and drink the milk. Whether or not this really happened, how often would you imagine they were doing this? Probably not too frequently and certainly they were not consuming dairy on a daily basis. Further, when they did happen to eat dairy, it came from wild animals that were eating what wild animals are supposed to eat.

So while there is evidence that consuming dairy has a place in human history, our hunter gatherer ancestors probably didn’t consume it very often. And when they did eat it, it came from animals that were eating a natural diet.

Compare that with today. The average American is eating one, two, three, four and sometimes more servings of factory-farmed dairy every day. Most of us don’t even know just how much we’re consuming because dairy and its derivatives are in everything from salad dressing and croutons to crackers and granola bars.

So it’s not necessarily that dairy is bad. Broccoli is bad for if you eat too much of it or if the broccoli you are eating is loaded with pesticides! I think it has way more to do with the quality of the dairy we consume and the frequency with which we consume it.

My personal protocol

Reduce consumption of the types of dairy that cause me problems, but no need to eliminate dairy altogether…because I do enjoy it occasionally.

This is fairly simple. As I mentioned, I don’t eat a lot of dairy because my goal is to maintain a lean body and be as healthy as possible. Dairy just doesn’t fit into that scenario for me.

Ice cream and yogurt had crept back into my diet on a more frequent basis prior to the elimination, and since ice cream and yogurt appear to cause the majority of my GI distress, I’m going to back off on these foods and make sure I’m eating them less often.

Of course, I love ice cream and I love yogurt. Because my symptoms are fairly mild I won’t swear off of them forever. When I do choose to eat them, I’ll simply live with the consequences…and maybe consider moving to a different state for a short time to save my family.

Tell me about your experience with dairy! Have you ever tried an elimination diet? I'd love to hear from you!


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In my upcoming Six Months to a New You course, I will be guiding a group of women through several elimination diets to help them identify their individual sensitivities and reach their health goals!

I still have a few spots left, so if you need guidance in identifying YOUR food sensitivities, regulating hormones for weight loss, or just want to start living a healthier lifestyle, click HERE for more info!