During this self-indulgent, sickeningly glutinous time of the year, when everyone else is going to be guzzling down chocolates and Baileys and brandy butter, I’m going to be enjoying my own delicious alternative/looking on longingly. Because this year, for the second time in my life, I’m going dairy free.
I’ve previously blogged about several diets I’ve tried: the 5:2 diet, the ‘All You Can Eat‘ diet (note: the name is misleading – you will go hungry), but with my focus on a lifestyle change rather than a short-term fix, I’m now favouring sacking off the cow’s milk in favour of almond, coconut and soya. Mmmmm.
In the run up to my wedding, when I was exercising like crazy and probably in the best shape of my life, I went to see a nutritionist. Why? Not to lose weight. I’d done all the hard work already: reduced my BMI from ‘overweight’ to ‘ideal’, dropped three dress sizes, lost close to 50lbs, but more than that, I was fit and healthy and happy. Seeing a nutritionist was just the icing on the proverbial cake (which I wasn’t eating). I wanted to know if there was something that I was consuming that was inflammatory, causing my stomach to bloat and my eczema to flare.
When I was a baby, I was severely allergic to milk, to the point that I wasn’t eating anything and was seriously underweight. My Mum always recalls the time when the nurse refused to believe I was allergic, force-fed me milk, until I vomited all over her face and hair until she conceded to my Mum that yes, perhaps I was allergic. The allergic reaction passed, and I reintroduced dairy, but always had eczema pop up in various places, year after year. I never even thought that the two were related, until I showed my food diary to the nutritionist.
Yeah, it was obviously dairy. I gave it up about a month before my wedding, and what do you know, my eczema vanished (which, considering I was pretty stressed and eczema is also put down to stress), was a small miracle. Then I went on honeymoon, where I ate and drank everything in sight (while putting on a healthy few pounds), and my eczema came back with a vengeance. You try resisting a Piña Colada while on honeymooon…
Since my return, I’ve been avoiding the cow again, and my eczema has mellowed. At home, it’s pretty easy. Tesco does a brilliant ‘free from’ range, with tasty substitutes for cheese, butter and yoghurts. You do have to be mindful about checking the labels on stuff though, as dairy pops up in places you wouldn’t expect. However, eating out is a bloody nightmare. They put milk in EVERYTHING. Most of the time, there’s only about three dishes I can eat according to a restaurant’s allergen menu. Quite amusingly, I went to a Caribbean restaurant the other day where ALL the dishes had milk. When I questioned this with the kitchen, it was because they put milk in the rice and peas, and all the dishes came with rice and peas! So I just went without.
And now it’s Christmas, and I’m going to be munching on Booja Booja chocolates (pricey free from fare), dairy free mince pies, coconut-based Wensleydale cheese and cranberries, and oil-based vegetables (rather than butter). I’m really into brands like Alpro, Pure, Coyo, Booja Booja (as mentioned, for truffles and ice cream), and of course, Holland and Barrett for selling most of these. Honestly, I’m eating so much more than usual (or at least way more than I did before my wedding), and I haven’t put on any weight. Plus I’m about half a stone down from this time last year, which is a bonus.
I’ve said to myself that I’m going to continue to do it for as long as it doesn’t get annoying. After all, I’m not massively allergic (like people with serious nut or gluten allergies), but I know that for as long as I keep this up, my skin is in better condition and I can stabilise my weight. Obviously, January is going to involve some serious detoxing and gym bunny-ing, but for now I’m feeling good about the festive season and convinced that I’m going to stick with it, even on Christmas Day at my in-laws, where every year they out-do themselves with a fantastic feast (and where to find it: Kent).
Do you dare to go dairy free? Or is the thought of Christmas without milk chocolates and cheese platters simply terrifying? I’ll let you know how it goes…