Every morning before elementary school I drank a tall glass of Nesquik chocolate milk. It was the chocolate flavoring powder that you stir into the milk, and my mom knew just how many spoonfuls were necessary to make it taste just right (Dad never seemed to figure it out). I sometimes had multiple cups per day— one before school, one after, and maybe another at night as a dessert. I never drank it out of a straw because I liked the cool sensation on my lips and I always consumed milk in big, hungry gulps.
I also loved ice cream, fettuccine alfredo, pudding, milk chocolate, whipped creme, cream cheese, and Honey Nut Cheerios (with milk). I especially loved when my dad got me chocolate and Oreo custard at the local custard stand (to this day, this is still one of my favorite dairy products). I didn’t just drink milk, I guzzled it. Dairy was a huge portion of my diet.
Nonetheless, after a visit to the dermatologist when I was 12 years old, I stopped. Cold turkey. No more dairy, not even a trace.
Like all good things in this world, my time with dairy came to an end.
Let me be clear — this was extremely difficult. But I stuck steadfastly to my cow’s milk substitutes and suffered through the withdrawal period, and surprisingly, it was worth it.
You very well might have heard that dairy is bad for you skin, meaning that it causes inflammation and acne, especially in males. While many “bad for your skin” rumors are only rumors, milk’s bad reputation among dermatologists is backed up by scientific studies. Individuals need not be lactose-intolerant to have negative skin effects due to milk consumption. In fact, the milk “side effects” of acne and upset stomach have nothing to do with each other, as one is related to a lack of lactase enzymes and the other is related to how testosterone reacts to the hormones in the animal’s milk.
As a self-conscious pubescent seventh grader, there was nothing more horrifying than acne.
There was no amount of my parents’ love and reassurance of my appearance that would override my unbridled embarrassment. To be honest, my break-outs weren’t all that bad. My insecurities were the bigger problem. I would lean close to the mirror every morning in my purple-painted bathroom and squeeze at every little pimple until it either popped or clearly wasn’t going to, becoming three times as red and swollen. Still, when my dermatologist told me that my acne was likely tied to dairy, I quit immediately. I’d have done anything to clear my skin.
And you know what? It worked.
My skin wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good compared to before. It took about two weeks of avoiding dairy products for the results to really shine through, but I could see improvement within five days.
Nicer skin was just the beginning of the positive effects.
I didn’t realize I was a little lactose-intolerant until I quit drinking milk. I later confirmed my intolerance through a 23andMe genetic test. About 65% of all people have some degree of lactose intolerance, but many people don’t realize it because their side effects are minor. My intolerance was enough that when I went dairy-free, it was clear that I was living with a happier digestive system. I felt less bloated, got fewer cramps and stomach pains, and never got the seemingly “random” bouts of sickness and nausea that I was plagued with.
Milk is high in fats and sugars, so it’s no surprise that I lost a little weight after leaving it behind. I was already a fairly skinny girl, but without the bloating and swelling from the dairy, I felt skinnier. I was happy to find that my stomach took on a nicer shape when it wasn’t distended from my troubled digestive system. I will point out that I was not trying to lose weight. This was a natural part of changing my diet. Many people remove dairy from their diet solely to lose weight and look skinnier, but I’m not here to discuss weight-loss methods. I’m just recounting my experience.
I also slept better. Yup, it sounds silly, but good sleep is linked to having a happy digestive system. Apparently “tossing and turning” can be caused by gas, bloating, and an unhealthy microbiome. Eating food that is easy for your body to digest keeps a calm digestive system and makes a sound sleep easier to achieve.
After a few months of a strictly dairy-free diet, I did experiment with adding a few products back into my daily life. I found that most hard cheeses and Greek yogurt agreed with my stomach and skin, and small doses of ice cream were okay from time to time. Mostly I stick to non-dairy substitutes, namely almond milk and coconut milk. I’ve come to genuinely enjoy these flavors, and don’t worry — dairy substitutes are meant to mimic dairy in nutritional value. This means that I’m not missing out on any calcium or vitamins. The end of the chocolate milk ritual brought about great changes in my breakfast routine. Now, there were so many more things my mom did just right — like the precise amount of hot water in the instant oatmeal and the exact toaster setting for my cinnamon toast Eggo waffles. It took a little getting used to, but I think we both enjoyed the extra minutes relaxing in the kitchen together in the morning. Chocolate milk, as it happens, is the
Dad got the waffles down, but he’s still figuring out the oatmeal.