While I was trying to fall asleep the other night, which is when my brain always decides it’s the perfect time to write a blog post, I started to think about how long I’ve been dairy-free. When I first made the choice, I didn’t really know how much it would impact my life. I never could have predicted the negative ways my body would respond to a plant-based diet or that at some point I would go gluten-free as well. But since I made the decision 7+ years ago, it’s been a catalyst for all that has happened in my dietary life both big and small.
Now I do think it’s important before we dive into today’s post that I give a little disclaimer: going gluten & dairy-free isn’t necessarily for everyone. I’m going to share how I transitioned, why I lean more into the paleo side of things and what that looks like along with the best swaps to make your life easier. But I also want to mention that I’m 99% all in. And it’s taken me years to get to a place where my body can handle the occasional bit of something. More on that below. However, if you’ve been curious about making the transition, I hope today’s post will give you a bit of encouragement and a great place to start.
Why go dairy-free?
Tbh, a strong need to go dairy-free sparked any interest/curiosity in my life about alternative diets. I’d had friends who were vegetarian. I kind of had an idea about being vegan. But as I started experimenting with milk alternatives, my body started giving me a strong indication that the dairy I was consuming was not working for me*.
I would find myself at work with serve stomach pains after eating pizza. It took me a while to realize this was because of the cheese. Eventually, I caved and was over the pain. I have a peeve about complaining about something but not taking action. So I decided to do something about it. Eliminating dairy, as well as trying for a plant-based diet, was step 1.
Why go gluten-free?
Once my best friend was diagnosed with celiacs, I experimented with being gluten-free. I was curious enough to see how my body responded. The problem here was I was on set at the time. PAs aren’t paid very well. So we very much lean into whatever food is provided at catering & crafty. When you’re on a plant-based diet as well, you’re already limited in what you can eat. I quickly found that it wasn’t something I was ready to try to maintain with everything else in my life.
Flash forward to a few years later and I’m starting to realize that my hormones are all sorts out of whack. You can read all about how I balanced them naturally here. I’m also realizing my body is not enjoying something that I’m eating so I decided to take a food sensitivity test. And low and behold, I’m sensitive to wheat & malt. From there, I accepted that it was time to make a change and never looked back.
What can you have on a paleo diet?
The idea behind the paleo diet is that you’re eating like a caveman. So think the basics: meat, fish, poultry, fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, olive oil, etc.
What can you not have on a paleo diet?
Grains, which includes gluten, corn, wheat, rice, & barley. Beans & legumes. So no chickpeas or traditional hummus. Refined sugar is also out. Nothing with cane sugar, brown sugar, or traditional powdered sugar. As well as potatoes, you can have sweet potatoes but not the regular ones.
DID YOU LOSE WEIGHT?
Yes and no. I’ve made quite a few lifestyle changes over the last few years. But transitioning to a paleo-based diet definitely helped me to manage my blood sugar better which has allowed me to make better choices when eating.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES YOU’VE NOTICED?
Thankfully, a paleo diet has grown in popularity over the last few years and it’s easier to find quick foods on the market. But overall, my digestion is better. My skin is clearer. Before I ditched the dairy, I would find myself with spots on my forehead. But now my skin stays clear.
Unless I dabbled with refined sugar or gluten. Both tend to bloat me. I find that my skin is a great indicator of what’s going on in my stomach.
And overall, I’ve found my energy is better. The traditional American diet tends to be packed with things that spike your blood sugar. A paleo-based diet eliminates a lot of those foods. Additionally, it removes quite a few foods that cause overall inflammation in the body. By going gluten & dairy-free, as well as removing a few other foods from my everyday eating habits, I’ve noticed I feel better overall.
My energy stays stable throughout the day. I don’t need caffeine which is good because my hormones hate it. And my cravings are a lot more low key because my blood sugar stays balanced.
BEST ADVICE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO TRANSITION TO A DAIRY-FREE DIET?
Try lots of things. And accept now that dairy-free cheese is not the same. There are SO many great options on the market. You’ll find a handful in your traditional grocery stores. But if you want more options, they are all online. The biggest thing is finding replacements for the foods you consume the most because that will make the biggest impact first.
Brands like Miyokos and Violife are great for non-dairy alternative options when it comes to cheese & butter. As for your milk substitution, I tend to go for Malk, Elmhurst, and Good Mylk. However, if you’re transitioning from full-fat dairy, you might find that basic nut milks aren’t as sweet as you’d prefer. So give yourself time to adjust.
BEST ADVICE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO TRANSITION TO A GLUTEN-FREE DIET?
Become a pro label reader. If you’re looking to lean into a gluten-free diet vs a paleo-based diet, you’re more likely to find bread, pasta, and carb alternatives made with rice flour. And unfortunately, these tend to be quite dry. There are lots of great options for swaps out there. But my top recommended brands are Capellos, Base Culture, and Cali’Flour.
ARE YOU ABLE TO EAT GLUTEN & DAIRY NOW?
When we went to Paris in 2019, I decided to test this a bit. Of all the books I’ve read on food sensitivities, the one common thing is that gluten & dairy products are different in the US. These days I might have something that has a bit of milk in it like a bit of cake or cookie. But I don’t push it past that. My body doesn’t enjoy dairy and it’s not shy about telling me.
As for gluten, it’s pretty much the same. I find my joints suffer from inflammation when I eat more than my monthly chocolate covered oreo. I’ve made sure to have something once a month just to prevent my body from creating a full allergy that makes me sensitive to even a microscopic amount. But for the most part, I tend to avoid both.
ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO TRANSITION?
Knowing your why is major. There are some people who go gluten & dairy-free knowing it’s a temporary situation to help your body recover. For me, it’s become a lifestyle simply because I feel better. But knowing your why always makes a difference.
Also, going gluten & dairy-free doesn’t necessarily make things healthier. There are tons of foods with other hidden inflammatory ingredients that are wreaking havoc on your gut and brain health. So be sure to read the label.
When ordering at a restaurant, it’s important to know how something is cooked. Often times the same fries will be used so you’re still getting gluten or veggies are prepped with butter but you have no idea. If you need an adjustment, make sure to tell the staff ahead. And never assume that someone knows what dairy is. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve asked for non-dairy milk only to be told they don’t have any but have soy, coconut, almond, etc.
Lastly, all learn the names from gluten & dairy. You might see barley, wheat, or lactose on something but not gluten or dairy. If your body is impacted by a derivative of gluten or dairy, you might still be eating it even though you thought you’d cut it out.
Alrighty friends, if you want my go-to grocery list for all things gluten & dairy-free, you can find that here. And if you want new meal ideas or grocery store inspo, be sure to come follow me on Instagram. For now, I hope this helps you as your start your transition. Leave any questions you have below and I’ll be happy to answer/add them in the post. Until next time. Xoxo, Savvy
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