Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Milkmaid Goes Dairy-Free (and Eliminates Mood Swings)

Some of you know that I have hinted about eating dairy-free for a while now. I still can hardly believe that this is me's so contrary to everything I knew, since I grew up on a second generation dairy-farm and milked Jersey cows by hand for most of my teenage years.

 Mary, Ellie, Ginger and Erma on my parent's farm about 8 years ago. 

 My husband and I basically met over a glass of raw milk and we were proud to drink it by the gallons each week. I made our own cottage cheeseyogurt, cream cheese, mozzarella cheese and everything.

Homemade mozzarella cheese, circa 2011

Going grain-free 5 years ago was a huge change on it's own, but I was ever so relieved I didn't have to give up dairy. It wasn't causing any issues for Daniel or me (we tried the Whole30 for a month to find out) and we figured the benefits of raw milk were greater than eliminating it at that time and were fine with not giving it up.

But now, things are incredibly different.

A year ago in November, at the suggestion of my naturopathic doctor, I did a 30-day dairy-free trial to see if it might be part of the problem with some hormone related issues that had come up. So for a month, I took out all dairy in my diet except butter. From Daniel's reading he figured that butter would be the least of the problematic dairy-products, so we didn't eliminate it. Dairy allergies/sensitivities are usually related to either the proteins or the lactose and butter is very low in both. Ghee is the next step better and contains only the butter fat.

Along with ditching the dairy, I started some progesterone and other supplements and I was pleasantly surprised to see an immediate improvement. Plus a bonus that I hadn't really been focusing on too much: my mood.

Daniel noticed big time, and was hesitantly optimistic, but it was real. My emotions were increasingly stable and I wasn't nearly as grouchy towards him or Natasha.

Come the end of those 30 days I was thrilled to bring in milk and cream again for Christmas. However, as soon as I did, my happiness decreased and I got...grumpy. That's how I describe it, but it's more than just being grumpy. In my mind I can feel this slow but sure, sense of sadness and and anger building up. It just creeps in and suddenly everything in my world is not rosy. Any problem that would arise would make me angry and snap at anyone in my house. The person that I become doesn't even feel like me.

A good way to describe it is something like this: Eeyore.
With a bit of Oscar the Grouch mixed in.

When I returned to my doctor at the end of my little experiment, I knew what she would say and sure enough, it was pretty apparent that I have a dairy-sensitivity after comparing journal notes from the dairy free month followed by the re-introduction month. She suggested introducing one dairy product into my diet at a time to see if it was one specific item causing an issue, and wondered if goat's milk might be fine since some people can handle goat products over cow's. I was hopeful that perhaps I could just limit my dairy intake to once a week or so with no negative effects.

So I started at the bottom of the list for things that might cause problems, and tried some kefir (99.9% lactose free), hoping to work my way up and eventually figure out which one was making me so grouchy. But I never got past kefir to the items next on the list like yogurt or hard cheeses. Even the kefir made me slightly depressed and sad. It wasn't nearly to the degree of milk or sour cream, but I could tell there was something bothering me just under the surface.

We came to the conclusion it must be one of the dairy proteins that is causing a problem rather than the lactose. Obviously it wasn't the fat because I never eliminated butter and unless I eat a big dose it doesn't bother me. Apparently even the small amount of dairy proteins (casein and whey proteins) that remain in butter are too much if I eat a large amount of butter.

It has been a year now of being dairy-free, and after I got over the first few days of denial and anger about having to give up traditional cheesecake, my very own recipe of lasagna, and sour cream on burritos, I persevered with cooking dairy-free. Within the past year I have had the occasional muffin with some milk or buttermilk in it or the smallest bite of cheese or truly only a swallow of milk. Those minute amounts usually don't cause a problem, but they have to be exactly that: very. small. amounts. Just this past fall I discovered even goat's yogurt in banana muffins caused me to get grumpy so it really can be surprising what impact small amounts have. I have tried cheddar goat's cheese twice, and each time I can tell that something in my mind gets ever so slightly depressed and downhearted. Nothing near to the level of typical cow's milk, but there's something that switches to "crabby/sadness" mode when I eat those products.

Therefore, for the happiness of my household and to maintain a cheerful disposition with my husband (very important!), I try to stay away from dairy at all costs. We have found decent substitutions for my favorite dessert: cheesecake, we drink almond milk and occasionally we buy coconut milk ice cream or coconut milk yogurt. I say we, because even though Daniel and Natasha are fine with dairy products of all kinds, Daniel feels slightly better without dairy, and it's just easier to keep it out of the house for all of us.

It's a good thing my husband still likes to research and experiment though, because I have tried the very authentic Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that is aged at least 2 years (Costco seems to have the best price). And guess what? It's a cheese I can tolerate! It has been a lovely little addition to mealtimes and I'm super pleased about it.

Looking back over the last few years, I really wonder what mothering would have been like had I been aware of what dairy was doing to my mood. Especially during the hardest times of all when Natasha was 2-3 and being potty-trained. That's when I really think my little girl and my husband could have really benefited from me being a little saner without the mood-changing after-effects of drinking milk. I still can hardly believe I am one of those people who has to ask about certain foods having dairy in them when at other people's homes, or eating out,'s reality right now.
And as much as my taste buds like to imagine that almond milk is just as good as raw milk, it's not. I still miss it, a lot.

However, I also really like being a cheerful momma and wife, and I think my family does too. :)


  1. I'm dairy free, too! I have never been able to do much dairy and had major stomach issues as a teenager because my family was huge milk and dairy consumers and our meals were always dairy filled. (My dad is a farmer, too!). After our fourth child was born, she had very bad colic and I went off of dairy out of desperation. I was never really able to get back on. We were just on vacation and I ate a little dairy and my digestion got pretty messed up. :/ as much as i love it, i just can't have it. and since i've been mostly off for 4 years now, i really don't miss it too much anymore, not to mention there are so many great alternatives now, too!

    also, i wanted to thank you for your comment on my blog post. we were on vacation last week and i was not able to have an Internet connection except through my phone! I really appreciated your words. <3

    1. Thanks for stopping by Rachel. I remember a few years ago when I heard of a momma going off dairy for her colicy baby, I thought, "I would never be able to do that!" Yet, here I am doing exactly what I said I'd never do. Glad you have found some relief and yes, the alternatives available now are wonderful.

      I truly have enjoyed your blog, the family oriented posts and the words you share in between pictures of your lovely sewing. I'm glad I found it.

  2. (In a whisper) FYI Janel: that's not Mary, it's Daisy. Daisy's the only cow that's had horns on our farm.


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