From the time I was a small child, I have fond memories of wheat and dairy. My mom has a picture of me at the age of 2 digging into a white cannister of sour cream with my bare hands while wearing a sour cream filled grin. I have flashes of running into the kitchen at my grandma Barbara’s house at the age of 6 and eagerly jumping up down as she sliced a sliver of cheese from a ball of mozzarella she kept in the fridge. As I grew older I discovered the amazing dream of cream cheese smeared over toasted everything bagels, of American cheese melted and gooey in a grilled sourdough sandwich with tomato soup on the side, of mexican cheese melted in between flour tortillas on a flat-iron skillet, and the surprise leftover cheese on the paper that wrapped my animal style burgers at In and Out. For years, I’d come home in the evening from a long day at work or school, and pour myself a tall glass of ice-cold milk. When I was pregnant with my first and second sons, I’d down the entire glass in my left hand while still holding the gallon jug in my right and then pour one more before finally resting the jug back on the refrigerator shelf. And don’t forget Kraft Mac and Cheese. I was just excited about Mac and Cheese night as my own children, and enjoyed once a year making my own homemade version with nutmeg and exotic cheeses.
To me, dairy and wheat were the essential two main food groups. They were the center piece of every great soul food. They were what made food worth eating. Wheat and Dairy were worth singing and dancing for.
Dairy and I had a love affair that lasted 31 glorious years and then slowly crumbled into a final once-and for all break up around January of 2016 before I kicked wheat out as well. So imagine my despair as I struggled through our slow 5 year break up before finally being ready to call it quits for good that cold, winter day.
At some point in my life, I started having stomach pains. I don’t even remember when they started. I could have had them my whole life, I don’t really know. The sort of pain I struggled with slowly just creeped up on me and annoyed with me with a constant dull aching in my belly. Always present. But never strong enough to bring to me to tears or send me rushing off to the doctor.
But I began to recognize that I did always have a belly ache. And I neither liked it nor understood what could be the cause. When I decided to switch doctors back in Fall of 2011, I started to find answers. My doctor was big into finding the sources of illness. So when I went in for an annual checkup and she had me fill out a questionnaire, my belly aches came up. From that and a few other red flags that sparked her interest, she sent me to a lab to get a large amount of blood work done. When it came back she sat me down and shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. And one of the ugliest findings was that I was allergic to cow dairy along with some minor allergies in wheat, shellfish, dust mites, cats, dogs, and cockroaches. She suggested I cut down the dairy, at the very least milk, and see if my symptoms improved. That and get rid of our cat. But that’s another story.
I decided I would give up just the milk and see, but there was no way I’d give up cheese or sour cream. I mean that would be like food suicide. But even with that, sure enough, my stomach felt much better, especially in the evenings. It took just a few months before I began enjoying my almond milk alternative. Now I crave it like I craved milk. And when I was pregnant with my third and fourth child, guzzled almond milk the same way I did cow’s.
But the pain didn’t go away, go away. It lurked. And over the next few years, the ever-present dull-ache seemed eventually to become just as strong as it had been in my milk days. My allergy was getting worse. I learned the hard way overtime, that I could not eat ice cream anymore or else I’d be hunched in a fetal position crying on the floor in pain. But even when I was good, I just couldn’t escape the pain completely.
And then one day in December, I imagined what my body would feel like if I didn’t ever feel the belly pain again, and the idea of it was so relieving that I actually cried. It was then that I realized, I’d have to make the decision to cut out dairy completely once and for all. No more quesadillas. No more Mac and Cheese. No more alfredo sauce over my spaghetti. I cried again. It’s funny to think about how emotionally attached we can be to certain foods, but it is true.
So I did it. In January of this year, I started a 30-day detox program and not only cut out dairy, but cut out wheat and soy and sugar among all sorts of processed chemicals. I never felt so good in my life. I was sold. Never would I go back to a life of dairy again. But an interesting thing happened to me after the detox. I tried wheat again, thinking I would just stick to a dairy free life. But then I noticed the anxiety I often felt in my chest returned and my belly swelled up. I remembered that blood test a couple of years back. This is what my wheat allergy was doing to me? All those years of anxiety? All those stressful tears? All those years of thinking sit ups were pointless? When I think of all the pain I could have escaped, all the chest pains I could have relieved….no amount of cheese or wheat seemed worth it anymore. I was over it.
But like any break up, there is a transition period. And there are weak points. There are times where you have to stare at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself why you broke up in the first place. I had to start thinking creatively about my foods and begin to find beauty in other flavors. Honestly, the first couple of months, I found little joy in eating. Food became merely something I had to eat to nourish my body.
It has been 10 months since and it has gotten easier. I have stumbled a couple of times when I haven’t planned and had to resort to eating something with wheat or dairy in it, then reaping the consequence. And yet my belly has healed enough that from time to time, I can enjoy one meal with a small amount of it in it without suffering too much, but nothing more. And I’m okay with it now. I may even start singing for my food again.