Every morning my freshman year in high school, I felt sick. I would miss a lot of first period class & summer swim workouts as a consequence. My mother and I could not figure out what was wrong.
Every day shortly after breakfast, I would get nauseous and have to lie down. One morning, I told my swim coach, who was frustrated with me missing so many workouts, I had “morning sickness.” At the time I was 14 and clueless to the usual context in which that phrase in used. Mom was mortified. I had to clarify to coach that I was not actually with child, and then it was off to the doctor, who confirmed I was likely lactose intolerant, so I stayed off dairy.
Down the road in college, I started getting sick after many meals, and after a few years of searching, I finally got a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity. First milk, now bread. I was not pleased. But such is life, and I learned to live with it. Flash forward to a few years ago. A celiac friend tells me the intestinal hairs that are broken off from eating gluten when you are gluten intolerant are the same hairs that help digest dairy. Therefore, now that I had healed due to a gluten free diet, I could eat milk again. I almost didn’t believe it, but I ran to the nearest grocery and tried milk. Sure enough, we had digestion, people! I could eat dairy again. Milk tasted like milk again (Lactaid had a weird flavor to it in my opinion). I ate ice cream freely & without care. It was blissful.
While the internet is full of misinformation, all of us who blog know it is a way to connect with people like you: moms, non-dairy eaters, or those with eczema. In my reading of people’s stories with eczema, I found food allergies or intolerances coming up quite often as triggers. I started to notice a pattern. Dairy (or casein technically, but I’ll say dairy here for simplicity’s sake) was mentioned as the cause of many people’s eczema. Would dairy be ripped from my grasp again after I’d just welcomed her back into my life? I had to know, so I decided my on again off again relationship with dairy would yet again be “off.” That was a mere 3 weeks ago.
Well dear dairy free readers, I am here to tell you that you are strong & disciplined people. Be proud! Being dairy free seems harder than eating gluten free, and I have cheated a few times. It’s hard to find delicious dairy free cheese. There’s no sub for goat cheese & fresh mozzarella. While almond milk is fine in cereal and oatmeal, I don’t love a glass of it alone. At more and more restaurants, I can get my taco on a corn tortilla or even a slice of gluten free bread, but now I can’t get butter on it! Restaurants where I had tons of gluten free options, like Mexican places (I live in Texas – they’re everywhere!), now I’m down to just a few. I’m not sure how y’all do it but I want to give you a hand.
Now that I have the hindsight, I realize that not too long after the dairy marathon I embarked upon after learning I could eat it, I got eczema. At the time, I thought it just randomly appeared. Doctor then tells me to stay off all things that are “scented.” Great, I get dairy back, and I lose fragrance. Deodorant, detergent, lotion, body wash, perfume – all had to be free of all chemically created smells. And if you’ve ever tried fragrance free deodorant, you know that IT may not smell but you sure do!
I was also given a prescription steroid cream to put on when the eczema got really bad, but it could only be used in rare occasions because of the obvious risks of steroids, and I never felt comfortable using it. I’ve been on this routine for two years now without much improvement. Again, I had to wonder what the cause of my itchy skin was if avoiding fragrance wasn’t working.
Sure there are days when I want to eat like a “normal” person. However, the great irony of my food intolerances is that although so many foods are now off-limits, I love food now more than ever. Starting life as the pickiest of eaters, I now crave things like sushi & oysters. I never used to check a label and now I read them voraciously. I’m getting involved in the Slow Food movement & volunteering at farmer’s markets. I have to believe that my body has been gently trying to lead me toward my true passion in life. While it took me 29 years to figure out where, I’ve got the message now, and my exuberance for the healthy food movement is changing who I am.
I hope that you have found some joy or wisdom stemming from the sacrifices you make in life. For me, giving up gluten & dairy has given me back more than I ever imagined, and for that, I forgive my body for all the years we disagreed over what I should eat.[Editor’s Note: Originally published May 16, 2011]
Author Information: Sarah R. Graham, Austin, TX
Sarah Graham loves all things gluten free. She also loves local & organically grown food. She also loves dessert. That’s often difficult for someone with gluten intolerance, yet she perseveres. Sarah runs her own gluten free blog Gluten Girl in Austin and interns at a local organic food delivery company planning its monthly events. She works a full time “boring” job to support her love of food and gluten free dessert. Contact Sarah.