Falling Off the Milk Wagon: How I Went Dairy Free

Inflammed at Philadelphia Zoo

Recently I was asked to complete a “breaking the ice” survey where one of the questions was, “if you could have an endless supply of any food, what would it be?”  Despite all the changes I have made to my diet and all the progress I have made toward better health, the answer was still a no brainer……pizza and Pepsi, of course.  I figure, it would likely be near the end of all things anyway if I was limited to eating just one thing, so why not go hog-wild on cheesy, gluten-ous, fatty, goodness?  No, I don’t have the most sophisticated of palettes, but that is ok – I like what I like.

Pizza is versatile and good at any time of the day or night.  My favorite breakfast used to be cold pizza ….and Pepsi.  In fact, when it was just my son and I, we would go to  LittleCaesar’s Pizza (because it was cheap, not necessarily because it was my favorite) and pick up their two square pizzas special, and we would eat that for the week.  Later, when we lived in Philadelphia, I was in pizza and cheesteak heaven. It was great….(if not completely irresponsible), that was way back when we were both just kids …..oh, how the times have changed (lol)!

By far the best part of pizza is the cheese, and you can almost never have too much.  Cheese makes everything taste better.  I think it could even make a boot palatable!  I used to grate an entire block of Tillamook cheddar into my homemade macaroni and cheese sauce, and that did not include the mozzarella and asiago cheeses I added also.  I loved me some cheese!

Here in Seattle, the Nation of Islam used to sell their bean pies on certain corners of the city.  I haven’t seen them around for a long time (I wonder why, lol).  Their pies were so good that I decided I would recreate them.  Besides, NoI never wanted to sell to me.  I usually had to rely on friends who “looked more the part” to make the acquisition.  Anyway, after consuming enough pies to identify the flavors and looking through numerous recipes, I did it.  I not only duplicated that sucker, I made it better.  Let me just say, the secret to excellent bean pie is half and half.  Like cheese, half and half makes everything better. 

Now before you say, I don’t like anything “Islam” or “beans, ” let me just say, this post is not political, it is simply a poor glutton’s tribute to dairy.  And as for the beans, if you have never tried a bean pie, then you really have no idea what you are missing.  If you have had one and didn’t like it, then please don’t allow one crappy recipe to ruin it for you.  Seriously.  I will try and see if I still have my recipe and I will post it for you all to try.  I may have thrown it out, so as not to tempt myself into modifying it into a gluten free, dairy free version …. although, now that I think about it, I doubt it could be done well.

No one officially told me that I couldn’t eat dairy, it was something I had to figure out on my own and it took me a lot longer to cut it completely from my diet.  My RA was manageable, but unpredictable.  I never knew  what to expect  from one day to the next.  To complicate things, at the time, I was teaching in a classroom, and the stress alone took its toll on my joints.  Living with RA pain is already like living in a cage,  add the limitations of running a classroom to the mix and life was more flare than flair.  It was so hard to see past the pain to the children that needed me to be present on the other side.  If trying to mask and work through the pain wasn’t difficult enough, I had a constant ear infection that drove me nuts,  an acne rash all over my chin, and the dark circles under my eyes kept popping back up.  I had come really far with my RA even up to that point, and I felt so much better, at least in comparison to what I had felt before going gluten-free. It  wasn’t good enough though; my quality of life wasn’t acceptable.   It was at this point when I seriously considered going back to my rheumatologist and asking for prescriptions, although I hesitated only because I didn’t have any insurance.  I had left the RA study months prior for work and felt like I had hit a wall, like I had hit the limits of what Functional Medicine could do for me.

Out of desperation, I sought advice from an RA support group (I won’t name names, lol) where I was chastised for not being on pharmaceuticals already.  They told me that I would be crippled and wheel-chair bound within the year if I did not get onto some medication post haste (that was three years ago).  Sure, I will admit, their fear-mongering worried me, but I had come so far without the meds that I just wasn’t entirely convinced.  I called my doc from the RA study and was welcomed back with open arms…..

(My Dietician, Michelle Babb*)

My dietician (through the study) placed me on an elimination diet (www.everydiet.org/diet/elimination-diet)**  where I challenged several foods, including night shades, soy, eggs, dairy, and red meat.  All caused a reaction from headaches to stomach aches and everything else in between, but because of how the elimination diet is designed, I wasn’t certain that the foods really affected my RA, so it took a little longer for me to make the connection between the two.  When I eliminated dairy, my ear infections, chin, and eye circles cleared within days.  That alone was worth not eating it anymore, so I quit.  As an added bonus, I found that my rheumatoid arthritis did in fact improve as well.  Flares became increasingly predictable, and less severe.  I had not addressed the thought/emotion aspect of my disease, so I still flared as a result of self-inflicted stress. 

I am dairy-free 99% of the time, but fall off every now and then because I am human.  It’s not quite like gluten, I don’t have a violent, crippling reaction when I eat dairy.  In fact, the longer I go without it, the more tolerant I seem to become. For a long time after going dairy-free it would cause painful swelling if I slipped and ate it, but now, I can have a little bit and not suffer.  I miss my cheese and pie days, but I don’t miss the pain, or those awful infections.  Like gluten, dairy was an addiction and a comforting tool.  Once I overcame the addiction, I didn’t need or even necessarily want it any longer;  dairy isn’t healthy anyway.  Going dairy-free was not as traumatic for me as going gluten-free simply because I can once again enjoy a bite every once and awhile. The same cannot be said about gluten and me.

In my next post, I will be going further into how and why dairy made a difference in the severity of my rheumatoid arthritis and how it could possible do the same for you…..stay tuned! =)


** I would have liked to use a more “credible” article, but I did NOT like WebMD’s “patients-are-idiots” approach and the Every Day Diets article seemed suitable enough for my needs. I will be writing more on elimination diets as well.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Christine Thornton
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 05:21:05

    Facinating blog Patrice!!
    I would really like to try the elimination diet and I have been questioning dairy and eliminating it as well.
    I haven’t been all that well this last 4 days as my RA has gone into my L4-L5 and my SI joints and caused effusion Heat & severe pain and urinary retention. I know I will need an MRI and I can do the exam on myself and feel it exactly on those joints specifically- I’m not looking forward to discussing it w my rheumy. So ive collected collateral info to bring with me, reaserch data etc to support what is goong on. A part of me feel like he doesn’t believe me & as a dr that drives me crazy!!!
    It’s complicated but I try always to find the positive spin and focus on that.
    Oh year, other thing I wanted to mention is the potential research project. I was think 30 women w RA (we’ll have to have inclusion criteria to minize bias for ex. Ra mainly in hand and feet, no obvious deformities). And then monitor items like pain: descrptive words- have a list to choose from. 1-pain. 2- inflmattion. 3- mood. 4- energy/ vitality for life. (and for rest we coul ask questions about each specific area of interest). I’m rambling- my ideas keep flowing nonstop. I really really think a small research study will add credibility to our project.
    Keep on keepin on. 🙂


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