We’ve all had those nights when, after indulging in an extra-cheesy pizza for dinner and half a pint of ice cream for dessert, our stomachs begin to rumble, and we feel… not quite right. Although for some, these feelings may be simply indigestion, and for others, it may be a sign of lactose intolerance. Worldwide, nearly 70 percent of people are intolerant to lactose, according to a 1987 study published in the Journal of Dairy Science, with certain populations having a greater percentage of occurrence than others.
Whether or not you suffer from this condition, some people choose to give up dairy for other reasons. Despite the popularity of the “Got Milk?” campaign in the ’90s, there are increasing health concerns about the consumption dairy, which led to a $1.1 billion decrease in milk sales in 2018. But not everyone is necessarily jumping on the milk alternative bandwagon. When it comes to the question of giving up dairy, many people—vegetarian or carnivore alike—just aren’t sold yet. If you have a contentious relationship with dairy, though, perhaps it’s time to take the plunge.
Why you might want to give up dairy
One of the top reasons people give up dairy is because their bodies reject it, says Lillian Daniels, a wellness coach and founder of The Happy Knee. “This is in the form of extreme stomach cramps, abdominal discomfort, and inflammation, which is a huge contributor to joint and knee pain,” Daniels says. Typically, an adverse reaction to dairy is related to a person’s body not being able to digest dairy products.
Once dairy has been eliminated from the diet, a person will normalize and begin to feel better than ever. Here’s the crux, though: Because bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation may have been a constant part of your adult life, you may not even be aware that you have a sensitivity to dairy, explains Donna Savage, the president and founder of Empower Fitness. “Most adults have a hard time digesting dairy products, but because we always consumed them, we assume that our stomachs and bodies are supposed to feel that way, so it goes unnoticed,” she told Domino.
Of course, things need not be so dramatic for a person to give up dairy. “Some people are doing it simply because they hear that milk is bad for them or they see that there are often times fewer carbs and calories in dairy alternatives,” says Staci Shacter, MS, RD, LDN, a nutritionist at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort. She doesn’t believe that all dairy is bad for everyone but admits that many people have a dairy sensitivity that could be contributing to such health conditions such as IBS, acne, sinus issues, seasonal allergies, asthma, joint pain, brain fog, and autoimmune conditions.
“Elimination diets using dairy-free alternatives is a great way to see if you feel a difference off of dairy,” she says. If you suspect you may have a sensitivity to dairy, the best way to know may simply be to cut it out and see how you feel. But then what?
After One Day
Since it can take from 10 days to three weeks for your body to fully eliminate lactose remnants, you might not notice a huge difference right away—unless you have a serious case of lactose intolerance. If you truly have a low tolerance to dairy, you will immediately start missing the after-meal stomachaches you thought were normal and your visits to the bathroom will lessen. At this point, the effects of cutting out dairy are small, but they’re still significant and will become more noticeable as days go by, even for those with lighter sensitivities.
After One Week
Just one week without dairy consumption can make you feel less bloated and your skin look clearer if dairy had been affecting skin conditions. Depending on your level of sensitivity to it, you might also start to feel a bit more alert, since dairy is known to make some people feel sluggish.
Shacter, who has a dairy sensitivity herself, reminds that results will vary depending on whether you’re lactose intolerant, sensitive to dairy, or neither. If dairy isn’t an issue for you, the result may not be quite as dramatic as for someone like Daniels, who says, “You can feel the difference in the tightness of your joints when you increase your dairy consumption.”
After One Month
It will take two to three weeks before you can “really feel the difference in your body and mind,” says Savage. “When your body no longer has to work to eliminate foreign substances that it cannot digest, everything just works better,” she adds. “Your digestion, metabolism, sleep improves, and mood improve.”
After Six Months
Six months in, your body is completely dairy-free and you will have the full benefits reflected in all aspects, so you can judge accordingly: Your gut will be happier and your mind clearer. “When you give up dairy, you’re really clearing up a lot of traffic to your body functioning and healing at its best,” says Daniels. “You experience a lower level of internal inflammation, and it allows your body to operate better by absorbing essential nutrients from foods that contribute to great circulation and body function.”
Giving up dairy isn’t for everyone—after all, the call of Friday night pizza may be too strong for some. For those individuals, Schacter recommends an 80/20 approach, where 80 percent of choices are dairy-free and the other 20 percent are better or reduced portions. “I often recommend starting with only known tolerated foods, if any, and making changes for any identified foods known to be problematic. You may also want to avoid trigger foods or foods that are extremely difficult for you to keep portioned. For instance, if cheese is a known trigger, maybe consider a non-dairy swap or choose ‘crumbles’ of feta or goat cheese as a measure of portion control.”
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