By Alisa Fleming – I am frequently asked what prompted me to start the website GoDairyFree.org. Do I have a food allergic child? No. Am I lactose intolerance? Not that I know of. Here is my story…
I was born with a milk allergy, but the awareness of food allergies was practically nonexistent in the 70’s. I suffered with colic, sinus infections, breathing problems, and even had surgery to put tubes in my ears when I was 4 because of recurrent ear infections. My mother said she new I was allergic, but the doctors wouldn’t listen and did not test me. Once what I ate became my choice, and I was perfectly willing to stare down that glass of milk at the dinner table until it turned yellow, I didn’t eat dairy. It is funny how much more instinctual we are as kids. I hated milk, cheese, and cream.
Unfortunately, one day I became a "logical" adult. My instincts went out the window when the doctors began insisting that I must add dairy back into my diet for the health of my bones. I started by force-feeding myself milk masked by chocolate instant breakfast. Gradually I worked in some Parmesan cheese and a yogurt here and there. After a few years, I still couldn’t stomach milk, but I had created a daily ritual of ice cream or frozen yogurt in the name of osteoporosis prevention. My new diet was accompanied by many strange symptoms, such as sudden debilitating pains, sinus issues, a perpetual dull ache in my abdomen, and the occasional fainting episode. Yet, I failed to make the connection.
These problems escalated slowly over the next few years. Soon I was making what seemed to be weekly emergency room visits due to severe pain, vomiting, and the inability to remain conscious. A minor seizure even got me my first ride in an ambulance (not an experience I recommend). Blood tests showed I was perfectly healthy, with the exception of abnormally high cholesterol and hypothyroidism (an inherited disorder in my family). The thyroid was treated, but the problems did not stop.
One day I was referred to a new doctor for pain management (I had mysteriously developed what the doctors called “fibromyalgia”). He sat and documented my entire history, asked what I thought seemed like bizarre questions, and then looked at me and said, “Have you tried cutting out milk?” I thought, “That’s it?” A two-hour doctor appointment, my entire life on paper, and that was all he had to say? Luckily, my husband was more open minded, and eagerly jumped on the idea.
Within three days of going dairy-free my intestinal pains vanished and the emergency room visits came to a screeching halt. In fact, within a month, my cholesterol dumped 100 points. Of course, the adult that I am, I wanted MORE proof. My doctor ran a full food allergy blood test. Low and behold, I did have a “moderate” food allergy. It has been well over five years since I cut out dairy completely (lactose, casein, whey … you name it), and those problems have never returned.
I am lucky, I can touch dairy, and even ingest some on occasion (this makes eating out and parties much easier). But, if I have even small amounts of ‘hidden’ dairy over a series of days, the symptoms return.
I did quit cold turkey, but two things have really made the dairy-free journey difficult: my newfound addiction to cheese and ice cream, and society. Luckily, my addiction and cravings tamed within a couple of weeks, and completely subsided within a few months. In fact, I have re-discovered my inner-instinctual-child. I can no longer stand the taste of cheese, and I can watch my friends enjoy 31 flavors without an ounce of envy.
As for society, that was a different story. Milk ingredients seemed to be in everything. Entire menus are drowned in cheese, and food manufacturers have found an infinite number of uses for milk. Worst of all, some people would insist that the notion of not eating dairy was ridiculous. Who says peer pressure stops after high school? Luckily, I had a husband to keep me in line and to vouch that he was there for every illness and hospital visit.
Let’s clear something up though, I love food, and feeling deprived was never an option. I was determined to not only live dairy-free, but by golly I was going to enjoy it! Over the years I have sought out research studies, gathered dietary information, collected recipes, taken up baking, and jotted down hundreds of ideas. I decided to share what I learned with others, and as you can see from this website and my book, it is quite the collection. Whether lactose intolerant, allergic, vegan, or just plain health conscious, I wanted others to know that life without dairy foods can be delicious, healthy, and really quite simple, if you have the right tools.
Oh yes, and even if I did outgrow my allergy completely one day, I would still live dairy-free.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of www.GoDairyFree.org and the author of "Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living" In addition to her passion for diet and nutrition, Alisa has a strong background in accounting and finance. She spends her free time enjoying outdoor adventures with her husband, testing and photographing recipes (which can also be viewed on her dairy-free blog, One Frugal Foodie), and occasionally traveling to other parts of the world.