What Going Dairy Free Taught Me

A few years ago, I went dairy free. Now, don’t get me wrong. I totally appreciate dairy. I have an affinity for cheese in particular. Here’s what happened… I got some blood work results back with less than desirable borderline results. I also was experiencing some inflammation. Knowing that inflammation often stems from the gut, and dairy is a huge culprit, I decided that I would go dairy free for a month to see how I felt. 

If you know me, you know that dairy was a big part of my everyday diet. Cereal with skim milk, cheese on everything and milkshakes were regulars in my life. This was a huge shift for me. A good friend recommended that I try to eliminate dairy from just one meal a day at first and then ease into the change in other meals once I was successful with that. What I learned about myself in those first couple of days was that I will exploit any and all loopholes I can find. If I avoided dairy at dinner, then I was sure to have an overload of dairy in my lunch. This was silly and all mental. So, I decided that I had to just do it. You may find a stepped approach more successful for you, but for me, it wasn’t going to work.


I was challenged planning meals for my family. I was trying to make a change for me without thoroughly disrupting their lives. This meant finding alternatives to make those meals without dairy. We love to do baked potatoes for dinner. I found that there are great dairy free butter-like spreads available these days. This meant that I could have a baked potato, minus the cheese and feel okay about it. When we made burgers for the family, I just made mine without the cheese. This was one place where I actually didn’t have major feelings of regret. In most instances, the cheese on a burger is not a strong flavor, so I could handle that. 

If I was going to eat out, I had to research and make a plan. Mexican restaurants are tricky to do non-dairy. My go-to order went from chicken enchiladas to tacos al carbon. Chips and queso gave way to chips and salsa. (Some money saving right there!) It’s totally manageable, but you have to do the mind shift.

Being dairy free meant that I was no longer making mac and cheese for the family, because plain macaroni just doesn’t satisfy like the original. I also stopped making grilled cheese sandwiches because there was not a suitable alternative to my tastebuds.


I learned to substitute various milk alternatives depending on what I was wanting. For example, I learned that unsweet coconut milk works great for cooking and baking. Vanilla almond milk is great for cereal or with cookies because of the little bit of sweetness.  I found that cooking with the vanilla almond milk works if you are mindful of what you are making. It works great for pancakes, but not so well for a tater tot casserole. We could eat that casserole, but the sweetness threw the taste off much more than expected.

The Aftermath

I was happily surprised that I managed to make it through the month trial of being dairy free. I found that I was much more aware of ingredients listed on items. I had to decide at some point if I was going to be militant about labeling and avoid all things that had trace amounts of dairy or if I was ok with those amounts. For my sanity, I decided that since I didn’t have a legit allergy, I could handle items that were processed in a facility that also does dairy. 

Some changes were permanent. I no longer buy cow’s milk for my family, even years later. We have all adjusted for the better. When I order my lattes, I use a milk alternative. Thankfully, these are readily available now. We use non-dairy butter that is olive oil based as our only butter in the house. We don’t notice the difference, so that’s an easy swap. There are amazing dairy free ice creams available these days too. The flavors are top notch! You can have treats without dairy, you just have to plan for it. One of my favorite things is that one of my local fast food places gives you a choice of dairy or non-dairy shakes. Wait, I can have that delicious treat and not pay for it later….yes, please!

Going dairy free also gave me skills for when my youngest daughter decided to be vegan. No meat is one thing, but no dairy and no eggs add a whole other layer of challenge in dining. Understanding where dairy is hidden in your food was key to her success. 

Do I add cheese to things now? Yes, in moderation. Now, I still load up cheese where it matters, but I’m more mindful now. If it truly has an impact on the flavor, I’ll do it. If it’s just because the picture of that item usually has cheese, I may not add it. I actually have a better appreciation of cheese now that I am adding it more frequently. I’m not wasting my time or gut for unimpressive cheese! 

How do I feel? I feel great! I know that I’m overdoing the dairy when I start to get achy joints or an upset stomach. I can better read my body’s signals now that I know what it feels like to feel great. I have a clear benchmark to reach for. 

If you are looking to make a change for the better, you may want to try going dairy free for a month. It could be life changing! 

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