Six Simple Steps to Successfully Going Dairy Free (or Gluten Free!) for Good


You’ve probably heard it many times, “fail to plan, plan to fail,” but it couldn’t be truer than when tackling a new diet. Beyond my own dairy-free transition many years back, my husband and I have successfully made other dietary changes in our household using a simple six-step process that can be easily customized.

Six Simple Steps to Successfully Going Dairy Free (or Gluten Free!) for Good

Whether you are going dairy free, gluten free, soy free, or making a healthy overhaul, I think you will find our strategy useful:

Step 1 – Find Your Purpose: Without a solid reason, any diet can be easy to sway from. Does it cause digestive upset? Will your acne or eczema flare up? Are you supporting a milk allergic loved one? Make sure you know exactly why you are going dairy free or generally changing your diet, and find a way to keep that forefront in your mind. And remember that even little slip-ups can have long-term repercussions. Here are a few examples:

  • Your irritable bowel symptoms may only last for one day after a cheese cheat, but the repeated damage may take a long-term toll on your digestive tract leading to more serious conditions. And while you may think of it as a one-time thing, cheating can reintroduce cravings, making more little slips likely.
  • What we see on the outside is a reflection of what is happening on the inside. If you are seeing rashes, acne, and/or eczema, odds are something is amiss internally, too. Not to mention, who wants more scars?!
  • Eating ice cream in front of your milk allergic child may send the message that they are somehow being punished or missing out on something better, or even worse, it may put them at risk for a reaction from contact.

The first step is always the most important one, isn’t it? Put a sticky note on your forehead if you have to. Just, do not lose sight of your purpose.

Six Simple Steps to Going Dairy Free (or Gluten Free) for Good

Step 2 – Know Your Enemies: For both of us that means dairy, and more recently for my husband, it also means gluten. It’s been essential for us to understand every ingredient that could contain these proteins, and what types of food they may silently sneak into. For example, at a recent restaurant outing  my husband opted to go with the fries sans parmesan as they sounded like a safe option. But based upon what I had read, I knew to ask if they had wheat starch or any other coating that might prevent them from being gluten-free. For dairy-free concerns, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook has all of my lists and tips for identifying milk-based ingredients, knowing where milk may hide in everyday foods, and being aware of potential restaurant landmines.

Step 3 – Now, Don’t Focus on Them: Knowing your enemy is essential. You need to be able to identify a threat immediately, but focusing on them can plague you with cravings. Keep thinking about the fact that you can’t have dairy ice cream, cheese, or pizza, and I can guarantee you will struggle with a free from diet. It’s time to switch your focus to the foods that you can enjoy. Which takes us to step 4 …

Six Simple Steps to Successfully Going Dairy Free (or Gluten Free!) for Good - Step 4 Pictured (Identify the Foods That Love You Back)

Step 4 – Identify the Foods that Will Love You Back: Sometimes, when we’re told that we can’t have something, we focus on it (see step 3 above). The best way to break that focus is to identify everything that you CAN have. Go ahead, start making a list. Nothing is too specific. When I’m in a rut, I’ll write down my favorite herbs and spices, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, convenience foods … even marshmallows!

Step 5 – Become a Menu Plan Maven: I’m not just talking about “what’s for dinner?” here. In the beginning (and sometimes when you are feeling stuck) it’s essential to plan ALL of your food. That means breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks AND desserts! You may not eat it all (aren’t freezers wonderful?), but the last thing you want to do is be caught hungry with nothing to eat. I’ve actually found that planning snacks and treats has been the most important thing for our household when making a transition. And don’t forget meal ideas for social events. Having a go-to potluck dish or two and some handy stash-in-the-car, back-up food will save you a lot of stress. You will find over 200 helpful recipes in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook and another 75 in Dairy-Free & Gluten-Free: A Whole Food Starter Guide and Cookbook.

Six Simple Steps to Successfully Going Dairy Free (or Gluten Free!) for Good - Step 5 Pictured (Making a Menu Plan)

Step 6 – Have Back-ups: While making everything from scratch may sound ideal, it isn’t realistic for most people. I always have some “safe” convenience foods on hand for emergency nights when I have little time to cook, and I make sure to identify at least three restaurants in our area with “safe” food options that we enjoy.

And just in case you forgot about Step 1 already, Linda of Attune Foods shared this fantastic piece of advice:

“When people think of change, they think of sacrifice. I think it should be more about perspective. Instead of losing something, you’re gaining something like health. Making better decisions and choices on a daily basis leads to real change.”

About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.


  1. Hi Alisa,

    I’ve been on a plant-based diet since 2008. Much to my surprise I started having cramps, bloating, etc. I never would’ve guessed dairy was the culprit until a friend suggested that I try finding out if diary was in anything that I eat or drink.
    Well, to make a long story short, I bought your book, and found out that dairy was in Tylenol, my allergy pills, my wine, my gum, my toothpaste, etc. I called each company, except my toothpaste company. I continued to experience problems. I finally started brushing my teeth w/baking soda and no longer have any problems.
    THANK YOU, THANK YOU for your book!

  2. I bought a bag of lucy’s brownie crisp and found it to be yummy until I got to looking at the ingredients and saw soy on the list and brought the product back for a refund. I’m so frustrated with this issue. What is with all the soy in everything nowadays?! We went from HFCS to soy. Would love to see more dairy free products without soy of any kind in them.

    • I agree Jess, soy sneaks in a lot. As does corn – they are inexpensive and produced domestically, so they make it into tons of North American products. Lucy’s has a very small amount – they use Earth Balance margarine – the regular one, which does use a wee bit of soy oil / lecithin.

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  4. Stephanie Jensen on

    I like the idea of focusing on what you can eat. That has made my life easier.

    I found it to be a good thing when I found desserts that I can eat. I went beserk when I found that I really couldn’t go without dessert like I thought I could.

    I would like to add two more suggestions. Plan on emotional ups and downs. I had some downs that I didn’t expect.

    The other is to reach out and get support from someone that has been there. I talked to someone with my same allergy, (her reaction to dairy is even the same as mine) and she was a life saver. People that follow a vegan diet for whatever reason are also helpful. Of course, look up the resources such as this awesome website.

  5. I am struggling. I had surgery that involved my bowels a couple years ago. Since then I have developed many sensitivities that will send me into cramps and swelling that causes blockage for days. It started with corn, then almonds, (And their products, so almond milk, corn chips and taco shells, etc.) This year I started having lots of problems all the time. What we have found is that it is everything that has dairy, even dairy products listed a lactose free. So I am trying really hard to make a diet that won’t break me financially an will still meet nutritional requirements. Thank you for this site and the lists that are helping me make new choices.

    • Hi Stephanie, I’m so sorry for the delay and very sorry to hear about all of your health troubles. Once you get accustomed to dairy-free it’s actually less expensive than a diet with dairy (milk beverages often go on sale cheaper than milk, and cooking naturally without other dairy alternatives is inexpensive). Since your situation is so delicate, I can’t advise you on the best foods to eat – it would be best to consult a dietitian to put a plan together. They may recommend that you shop the perimeter of the store more, using whole food ingredients as the base for your meals. I do wish you all the best and hope that my site continues to be a good resource for you. I update it almost daily with new content to help. You may also find my book, Go Dairy Free, helpful. Best Wishes, Alisa.

  6. I have just begun my journey on going dairy and soy free. As i am a breastfeeding mother my 5 month old has begun showing some very concerning signs of a food allergy. Because she is too you too be tested it’s a guessing game and process of elimination. Dairy and soy tend to be the biggest culprit for little ones according to her pediatrician. This is going to be a huge change as i have 2 other children and a husband who will continue to eat what they please. Cooking and eating out i feel will be my greatest struggle…

    • That does sound like some tough obstacles Tina. But with the motivation of your little one’s health, it sounds like you will make the choices that you need to. We have an abundance of both dairy-free and soy-free recipes here on the website, and simple meals abound when eating out. If you are avoiding soy oil, too, make sure you inquire when ordering as that is one of the sneakiest forms of soy used in restaurants!

  7. I am finding this very knowledgeable. I was just diagnosed with Irritable Bowl syndrome. I am still figuring out what to do and I am looking for any kind of help I can get, right now I am having a lot of trouble with indesgtion. I want to do this but I need some support, it will take me a little while to get everything together because I am on a fixed budget.

    • I hope it works out well for you Linda! It can actually be relatively inexpensive if you shop the store perimeter and enjoy fresh foods – produce, eggs, meat – whatever is allowed on your diet.

  8. I’m in the exact same boat as Tami. I just found out in allergic to milk and am starting to own it but it’s been so hard because milk seems to be in EVERYTHING!!

    So glad I found your site tonight though. Great tips above and I’m excited to get more into the site. Not enough stuff out there like this. Thanks!

  9. I just found out I’m allergice to milk a few months ago. I went through the grieving process and am now beginning to make strides toward owning it.
    Thank you for this list and this website. I will have it memorized soon. :))

  10. Thank you for this! I have been gluten free for over a year and a half now and, due to recurring symptoms, now have to go dairy free. This is new and currently very difficult. I’m working on being positive about it. I know I’ll get there. I just have to get my head wrapped around it and build those new habits. Thanks for the 6-step plan and positive outlook.

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