Giving up dairy can seem like a huge hurdle for a lot of people. I’m going to try to break it down into five simple steps than you can tackle all at once, or little by little.
1) Adapt Your Perspective – Like everything else, it’s just a matter of perspective. If you can change the way you look at dairy, and what it represents to you, it can help a whole lot. Right now dairy may be loaded with positive feelings – taste pleasures, comfort food, treats, etc. You’ll have to change the associations in order to make it easy to Just Say No! If you hit a weak point, remind yourself of how dairy farms really operate and how the cows are treated. Suddenly any craving for a pastry behind the counter vanishes in an instant. A momentary taste pleasure for me does not justify a lifetime of pain and suffering for another creature.
2) Define Dairy and realize where it’s hiding – milk, cheese, butter, and ice cream are the obvious ones, but you’ll find dairy in most baked goods, packaged cookies and crackers, and a lot of soups and desserts. There’s also yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream as well as casein, dry milk, evaporated milk, etc. Be sure that if you’re going dairy free that you’re really recognizing everywhere it is. You may hang onto some of the addictive properties without even realizing it, so watch ingredients carefully and try to be consistent.
3) Find Alternatives. This is a great resource for those needing a little guidance on how exactly go to dairy-free: http://www.vegforlife.org/eats_co.htm#2. It’s a directory of companies and brands that make products that taste and look and feel like some of our staples (milk, butter, cheese). These alternatives are cruelty-free! There’s no such thing as “healthy” butter and cheese, so do keep in mind that using these products should be done sparingly. Replacing items in your diet with non-animal counterparts is a huge step in the right direction, but don’t rob yourself of all the health benefits by choosing to use these products as a crutch for too long. These are simply good choices for someone who is in transition and needs a little bit of help weaning off of the stuff we’ve grown so accustomed to.
4) Just Try It Modified – It may sound crazy, but even in foods where dairy is a main ingredient, you’ll find you like it just the same without it too! In a pinch one time, I ordered French Onion Soup at a restaurant with a limited menu, without the cheese of course. It was unbelievable! I’ve had it that way several times since. I also indulge in Mexican fare from time to time – always getting burritos or enchiladas without the cheese and sour cream. Turns out all the other ingredients are so much more flavorful on their own. I didn’t have to completely give up on any of my favorite foods. I just had to modify them.
5) Find new favorite restaurants. Admittedly, it can be tough to go vegan at Applebees, TGIFridays, and Pizza Hut. It can be done, but you may lose your appetite for such restaurants after a few visits with a new perspective. Their menus just aren’t that exciting. Ethnic cuisine can be so much more friendly, and full of flavors you’ve often overlooked. My new favorite restaurants include an Indian buffet, two Ethiopian restaurants, and an all vegan Vietnamese restaurant. Thai and Japanese are old favorites that we still frequent now too.
Just get out there and get started. Start skipping the dairy and see what happens. You’ll feel better, your waistline will narrow, and you may notice the absence of headaches, belly aches, heartburn, bloating, gas, cramping, and diarrhea. My biggest piece of advice is to commit to complete elimination, cold turkey, for 1 week straight. If you can do it, this is the easiest way to kick the cravings to the curb for good.
If you’ve already said good-bye to dairy, please feel free to comment and share your experiences!