As some of you know, I am lactose intolerant. Intolerance is different from allergies since your body doesn't just react adversely to it, but cannot build tolerance to it-- hence intolerance. Although I wrote this post for other struggling lactose intolerant people, I also wrote it so that people who are interested in being more healthy can get some tips as well. A dairy free lifestyle can be very healthy if done correctly! Let's begin!
Throughout my journey, figured out a lot of issues that lactose intolerant people would particularly face that I thought I should share.
Why are you lactose intolerant?
Several years ago, I developed a scratch in my small intestine my senior year of high school from college preparation stress. I stayed home for a week thinking I had something like the stomach flu when it turned out to be a cut in my intestinal lining. I recovered shortly after but did not know the consequences of small intestinal cuts. It turns out that your small intestine actually works with dairy a lot.
"Lactase is the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose in the small intestine. If the lactose is not properly broken down it will sit in the colon where it ferments via the bacteria present there. This will cause pain and diarrhea. This condition is called lactose intolerance, milk intolerance, lactase deficiency or lactose malabsorption." -Enzyme-Facts
My doctor never warned me about this so I continued to intake dairy (which I ate a lot of at the time) and it caused a lot of intestinal pains and skin problems. My skin began to break out into a mixed type rosacea my freshman year of college that got... really bad. I already had other allergies that caused a lot of hiving so this in addition to that was terrifying. I decided to drop dairy since I know it can be bad for your skin. The problems persisted and after a year, I fully dropped dairy out of my life. It was really hard and the transition wasn't easy for my body but I could tell my body couldn't handle it.
What happens when you don't have dairy in your diet?
NOTE: These might not apply to everyone. I was also a stressed college student during this time and all of our health histories are different. I only wrote the general things that I know affect most if not all lactose intolerant people.
Dairy is.. simply in everything. You don't realize it until you can have it. Most foods are prepared with butter, cream, skim milk... and often dressings of anything are cream-based somehow. It took me a year to fully adjust to saying "no cheese" or just asking what if this sauce made out of?"
However, I made the transition and a lot of things changed...
1. I lost a lot of weight. I'm sure it's partially because I was losing my teenage weight and becoming a young adult but cutting out cheesy foods will make you lose weight. Plus, desserts like ice cream go out the window. I lost over 10 pounds in the long run-- not instantaneously.
2. My skin cleared up. My skin now only breaks out hormonally or due to dry weather.
3. The lack of calcium will weaken your bones and also your skin. I often felt weak and the skin on my legs became tight and sensitive in a different way. I felt like the layers of my skin weren't developing completely and my body wasn't circulating blood that well either.
4. You will have a hard time eating at places with limited menus. At bbqs, a lot of people melt the cheese into the meat patties. I always need to ask for one made without one. Cheese is a staple food in the U.S. People may not think of it that way but think about it.. cheese fries, cheeseburgers, almost every Italian dish, pizza, and not to mention every dessert out there.
5. Ladies, the reason I wrote lactose intolerant "girl" is because I recently discovered why I went from care-free periods to extremely cramped up ones in the past year. During hormonal changes, your body needs to stay as tense-free as possible.. which is why they recommend exercise and heat to loosen you up. Calcium and Vitamin D are known to reduce PMSing because it keeps you strong while keeping those pesky cold symptoms away during your period.
Any advice for lactose intolerant folk?
I'm going to talk about the mental implications of being lactose intolerant first because I think that is just as important as taking care of yourself physically.
I know it's a tough transition to make.. and I don't think it's something that you will ever completely get used to. It's limiting and people seem to understand it differently and that can be annoying.
Some people are born lactose intolerant... some develop it overtime. Some people ignore their lactose intolerance and deal with the repercussions of it in order to eat what they want. This is especially everyone defines it differently. You'll always hear the "I know a friend who" story about someone who is lactose intolerant like you but eats everything anyway. We all react differently to intolerance and hold different sensitivities and thresholds to it.
My parents didn't understand lactose intolerance AT ALL. Even today, they occasionally offer me things I cannot eat. I do not hold people responsible for lactose intolerance ignorance... especially because I was once one of them and if they aren't exposed to it, why would they be an expert?
What got me the most was when people would be like "So no dairy at all?" "No." "So no ice cream , no pizza, no.... *add a list of foods that I know I can't eat here*" Although this is probably a lot of people's way of understanding the severity of my dairy free diet, it's so painful to listen to things that I cannot eat and already know "sucks".
Anyway, just know that you will build plenty of patience during this process. You will survive. In fact, you will become a more resilient and empathetic towards other people as well.
Keep supportive people around you and make sure they are comfortable eating/talking dairy. Also, explore different foods and recipes out there. It gets fun knowing that you are being healthier because of your intolerance with food and exercise. I discovered a lot of little restaurants that serve really amazing vegan food. My whole family drinks silk soy milk with me now because they like it more than milk and know it's healthier too. :)
Any advice for my lifestyle exercise and diet-wise?
NOTE: I know that there are pills to negate your lactose intolerance for a day or whatever but I haven't tried anything like that out. I seem to be allergic to the milk in general and not just the lactase. I've tried lactaid milk and lactase free products but some of them still upset me. Those is a list of advice for fighting lactose intolerance by other means.
1. Exercise regularly. You need to be active in order to keep your blood flowing, bones strong, and stay stress-free. This will not only help your body stay fit, but also help you avoid skin problems and cramping during your menstrual cycle if you are a woman. It's okay to be be creative with workouts if you aren't into certain activities. I do light weights and yoga on days where I don't want to move and swap to aerobic/dance workouts on other days. If the weather is nice, take a neighborhood walk... fresh air is great for you!
2. Take calcium supplements. I'm either really good about taking vitamins or terrible. I recently found some other products that might work better for different people's lifestyles.
They are affordable. This is a jar of 100 for $8 on Amazon. This is great for people who aren't good pill poppers and have a hard time swallowing standard pills.
Plus..they just taste good so when I see them, I want to eat them.
Emergen-C makes great drinkable supplement mixes that taste like fizzy sparkling water. They are easy to carry around in your backpack or purse...even pocket. I keep some on me for when I dine out or spend the night out. You just need water!
I had some anxiety-related joint pain by the heart and purchased the joint health one. It also comes with lots of vitamin C which is good for dairy free people. The vitamin D and Calcium is an even better fit for us lactose intolerant folk. I haven't tried this one yet but I plan to!
Here are the varieties you can choose from on Amazon.
Another product that I enjoy is this natural herb supplement I found on Amazon by Dr. Christopher. This one is particularly for bone and skin tissue. It's all natural and the ingredients are literally just plants and roots. If you don't have any allergies to plant extracts, then this is great for you.
Since it's natural, you don't have to take them with food or face any side effects. I'm almost done with my first container. It's funny because I can't tell if it's doing any good but it's also not doing anything bad for me since there are no side effects.
They make one for Calcium only also but I'm allergic to one of the ingredients called nettle so I opted out for this one.
I'm sure there are more supplements out there but these are the ones I've tried. Do share in the comments if you have more suggestions.
3. Eat healthy. Yeah yeah I know I know. Then do it! Eat more natural foods with leafy greens. They digest well and supply a lot of nutrition to your body that you will never get with fast food. You need to be well rounded diet-wise if you can't have dairy. Don't let your body suffer over a nice serving of salad or fruit once in a while.
4. You may have waves of food cravings because of your limited diet. I found dark chocolate to be a good remedy since it's not strongly milk based but cocoa based. Plus, its good for your heart. I hate bitter or overly sweet dark chocolate though so here are my favorites.
Oh man is this stuff good! Nuts are great protein and energy builders so I really love Ritter Sport's dark chocolate with hazelnut. This ranges from $2-3 a bar and I purchase one from time to time to satiate my sweet tooth.
Ghirardelli's dark chocolate collection is easy to carry around and great as well.
Almost all chips and crackers are chocolate or cheese based. So...
These are my fave crackers and chips. Lays kettle cooked jalapeno and cracked pepper chips are dairy free. Lots of wheat based crackers like Triscuits and Wheat Thins are also fairly dairy free. And honey Teddy Grahams... hehe. Seek flavors in herb based flavors.. that seems to work!
Just remember your body will slowly change and you will feel good about your lifestyle once you adjust to it. I actually prefer my dairy free life right now. It's cleaner and richer in a healthy way. Our taste buds will change and things like ice cream and pizza won't be on your craving list forever. Cheese actually repulses me now... haha. You really notice how it just smells like fungus after you can't have it!
Oh my gosh. This post got really long.
I think that completes my guide for today. Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments.