My Dairy-Free Month

If you’ve been following along here for, say, five minutes or so, then you know my favorite foods are pizza, macaroni and cheese, and ice cream. Also pasta smothered in butter. OK, pretty much anything smothered in butter. And grilled cheese sandwiches.

I am a dairy lover, through and through. But my most recent Crohn’s flare made me want to try life without dairy products, at least for a little while.

My Dairy-Free Month
Annie’s Mac & Cheese + frozen broccoli = my lunch, at least three days per week. UNTIL NOW.

I’ve experimented with various diets in the past in an effort to quell my Crohn’s symptoms. I dabbled in going gluten-free for a bit, I cut out cheese for a short while, and I even did a 10-day juice fast for very non-scientific reasons. None of them cured me immediately, so I didn’t really pursue any of them for the long term.

It’s also worth noting that almost every time I tried to tweak my diet in hopes of feeling better, it was during a pretty serious flare. So yeah, no real surprise that a small dietary change didn’t immediately “fix me.” I was past that point, and definitely needed some medicine to get me back on my feet (and out of the bathroom).

This time around, I wanted to give this a fair shot.

I spent the majority of the winter holiday week in a ton of pain (and in the bathroom a lot). My flare was keeping me out of the game, and my first doses of Stelara hadn’t kicked in yet. I hated waiting on medicine that may or may not work, and wanted try and take matters into my own hands.

My Dairy-Free Month
Very sick at Thanksgiving…but STILL HAVING FUN.

I historically don’t seem to have a problem with gluten. Pasta and rice are two of my safe foods that I stick to during flares, and unless I eat way too fast (I’ve gotten better about this!) or way too much (and this!), I tend to feel fine after eating them. But dairy?

Dairy doesn’t make me feel so hot.

I think in the past I’ve pushed that reality aside or assumed it makes everyone feel that way, or just refused to accept it because YOLO! Cheese is so good in every form! (Except bleu cheese.) I went to the allergist last month and didn’t test positive for any food allergies, but the doctor said I still might have some intolerances or sensitivities — and the only real way to find out would be to do some elimination testing.

When you’ve been sick for a while, you get to a point where you’re willing to give up your favorite things. For me, that meant going a month without eating dairy. (I know. So inspiring.)

My Dairy-Free Month

Mid-post spoiler: It’s actually been longer than a month now and I’m still doing the no-dairy thing. So…it definitely didn’t make me feel worse.

Here are a few things I’ve learned and experienced over the past month.

1. Meal planning is not impossible!

I’ve resisted meal planning my entire life. It always seemed like such a big deal. (Anything is a big deal if you make it one. #normalizemealplanning.) I knew that if I enlisted a pro to help me out, I’d be more likely to stick to some kind of a plan. Kind of like with working out — get a coach or a trainer, and you’re more likely to stick to your workout plans and goals, right?

So I worked with my friend Kelly, a registered dietitian, to help me get started. Kelly and I have been friends for a long time (she was one of my first-ever running buddies!), and our first step was a long phone call during which she asked me tons of questions about my eating habits, what I can and can’t tolerate, etc.

My Dairy-Free Month

Kelly didn’t give me a strict meal plan. I told her my main goal was to get into the habit of cooking instead of ordering dinner six nights per week (seriously). I said I wanted to cook more, and I wanted to get better acquainted with the grocery store. She gave me a bunch of different ideas (and, the best part, shopping lists!) for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, all with my goals in mind. I wanted to have leftovers, so I wasn’t constantly cooking, and I was into quick, easy meals that didn’t require a ton of obscure ingredients.

With Kelly’s lists and a bit of planning on my end, I learned that sitting down at the start of each week and actually planning out my meals isn’t impossible and isn’t that hard and actually makes grocery shopping and eating all week a lot easier. I didn’t have to wander around the aisles and come up with random meal ideas while I was at the grocery store. I went in with a plan and stuck to it! (Are you shaking your head because you’ve been effortlessly meal planning for years and think it’s pathetic that I’m just now doing this? Fine. Fair.)

My Dairy-Free Month

2. I actually really like cooking!

I have loved cooking for the past month! I’ve learned how to cook new things, and I’ve experimented. Some things have been wins (the baked buffalo chicken nuggets were a major hit), and others less so. (The lemon and asparagus pasta I attempted last night tasted like feet. That’s what happens when I go rogue. That was not a Kelly recipe — it was an Ali Original.)

When I have everything I need in the house and a recipe to follow, I really enjoy the cooking process. And I definitely prefer eating home-cooked food after years of relying on Seamless deliveries. Plus, I feel like an absolute hero when Brian gets home from work and I have dinner on the table.

My Dairy-Free Month
Buffalo chicken nuggets (recipe from Skinnytaste)! Brian said, “I would eat these every night.” So I made them the next night, too. And then one more night that week.

3. I stopped craving cheese and ice cream. 

I buy the sprouted grain bread that’s kept in the freezer aisle at the grocery store — conveniently located next to all the ice cream products. And I was never tempted to buy ice cream during this experiment! I remembered how horrible I felt and how much pain I was in just a few weeks ago, and no part of me wanted to feel that way again.

Then, last week, I found myself checking out the vegan ice cream options, and snapped up a few coconut milk varieties. I came home and had a few bites and felt totally meh about them. I also haven’t wanted to drown myself in cheese because I immediately think about all those hours I spent in the bathroom in New Hampshire when I could have been downstairs playing with my niece and nephew.

My Dairy-Free Month

4. I stopped eating to the point that I was going to explode. 

I used to eat every single meal to the point that I was full and bloated. Now, I eat my meals and feel satisfied and content without being in pain. I haven’t felt that “I need to change into baggier pants” feeling after eating in a while. My educated guess is that’s because the foods I’m eating are filled with nutrients instead of processed garbage. I also snacked much less, even as I started working out again, because my meals kept me happy for hours at a time. (I know, this is all so Nutrition 101. We didn’t have that class in college. I took Advanced Franzia instead.)

My Dairy-Free Month
I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Ali, that white rice looks great!” But no. That’s cod. It tasted great, but somewhere in the cooking process I took it from a fillet to a scrambled mess.

5. I feel so much better. 

I know, going a few weeks without cheese is not all that big of a deal. But on the other side, I’m thrilled with how much better I feel and how much better I’ve eaten. I’m tempted to do 30 days without sugar next…

(I should also note that my “no dairy” was more of a “no obvious sources of dairy” experiment. I’m sure there may have been small traces of dairy in some things I ate the few times I went out this month, but I didn’t use butter, cheese, or milk products in anything I cooked.)

I know the timing of my experiment coincided with the timing of the Stelara kicking in, but I’d like to keep this going. I’m still not back to optimal health, but I’m seen such major improvements in the past month, and I don’t think ditching dairy hurt my cause.

My Dairy-Free Month
Ali and Ellie On The Run! Look how healthy we are acting!

6. My skin did not clear up. 

My skin has been a mess lately. I don’t know if it’s a side effect of the Stelara (I don’t think so) or something else, but it’s been really bad. I thought maybe cleaning up my diet a bit would help my cause, but it didn’t. Oh well. One victory at a time.

My Dairy-Free Month
This photo is dark, so you can’t tell, but my skin has been all blemishy and zitty lately.

Here’s what a sample day of eating looked like for me during this experiment: 

  • A bowl of “oatmeal casserole” for breakfast (oatmeal, frozen berries, cinnamon, some carob chips, and almond milk, whipped together and baked = breakfast for the whole week)
  • “Sunny avo toast” for lunch (sprouted-grain English muffins, smashed avocado, and sunny-side-up eggs topped with salt, pepper, cumin, and hemp seeds)
  • Some kind of fish (salmon or cod), sweet potatoes (in some form), and asparagus for dinner (most veggies are still pretty rough on my stomach, like spinach and broccoli, but I can tolerate asparagus pretty well)

Other dinners included a chicken curry dish (I loved this one!), baked buffalo chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries, and “zoodles bolognese.” Everything I made was super easy and delicious. I am a hero!

My Dairy-Free Month
Zoodles “bolognese,” AKA I browned some ground beef (or turkey), then added the zoodles and some tomato sauce. (But the HEALTHY kind, not the kind with added sugar and garbage.)

So, yes, I am a food blogger now. And, at the ripe age of 31, I’ve finally started regularly grocery shopping and cooking for myself. LMK if you want to swing by West New York, NJ, to give me a pat on the back!

But seriously, if you’re one of those people who effortlessly meal plans and cooks every week, so much power to you. I was always a little intimidated because food bloggers and people who are naturals in the kitchen made it all seem so second-nature — and I’m not one of those people. I like cooking, but I can’t just see an ingredient and know exactly how to use it or what to do with it. I need a little hand holding. But I’m learning, and I like it! Next step: Top Chef.

FAVORITE DAIRY-FREE RECIPES? I’m going to keep this up, so send them my way! I don’t like beans, but I love eggs and am still eating meat, so this isn’t a vegan thing. Send me all your recipes, THANKS.



55 Responses

  1. Wow, giving up dairy would be one of THE hardest things to do for me…. I love dairy! But I guess, if I had Crohn’s, I’d probably see if giving it up would improve my symptoms.

  2. You’ve inspired me to start cooking more (those avocado toast instagrams! All the hearteyes!) I’m with my parents for a couple weeks; so I’m excited to try these buffalo chicken nuggets on my dad. (Buffalo anything is our favorite!)

  3. I like Tofutti cuties (a dairy-free version of ice cream sandwiches). Otherwise I’m not a huge fan of non-dairy ice cream. Glad you’re feeling better!

  4. I did Whole30 in January (which did make my Crohn’s behave) and, despite some claims, my acne did not clear up. I just feel like, if I’m giving up cheese, chocolate, and delicious grains, I should at least get sparkly vampire skin. Right, RIGHT?!

  5. Aside from the fact that going dairy-free makes a lot of people feel better, it’s one of the kindest things you can do. Dairy farming is fundamentally a cruel industry (i.e., repeated, forced insemination of cows, then the heartbreak of separating the calf from its mother so that humans can have the milk meant for the baby).

    Although many people find it hard to imagine switching to a completely vegan lifestyle, you can make a big difference by simply eliminating a species from your plate. You will significantly reduce a lot of harm to animals by eliminating, or at least significantly cutting back, on dairy.

  6. YAY for feeling better! I don’t have a special diet, but I’m back on the meal planning train since the beginning of the year and I think this is the longest I’ve kept it up. It makes planning and budgeting SO much easier!

  7. Your avocado toasts are so pretty! I love seeing them on Instagram. It’s awesome that you found a love in cooking. I’ve been reading for years and I remember way back when you would say how much you despised cooking in any form. Now look at you!! PS – def. trying out those nuggets. If you like that recipe, SkinnyTaste has 2 cookbooks out – the newest one is dedicated to fast and slow recipes and seriously, the slow cooker is a leftover-lovers’ dream!! I use mine all the time and her recipes are usually portioned in the 2-6 person range so it’s just enough to get through 2 nights of meals for 2 people with leftovers for lunch. Plus, many of her recipes are dairy-free or can be made with dairy-free ingredients 🙂

    xo Marie
    Chocolate & Wine Blog

  8. I see a naturopathic doctor to help with my CD and you can actually test for food sensitivities with a blood test…no elimination diet required. This test is done by KMBO Diagnostics and tests for sensitivities from 140 foods that (in my case) can contribute to inflammation and other issues.

  9. My wife was diagnosed with MS a few years ago and decided to become a vegan. I do almost all the cooking, so it has been fun to learn a whole new way to cook.

    My favorite non-dairy sources are: Thug Kitchen,Nom Nom Paleo, and Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

    I still eat dairy occasionally, but I feel so much better without it.

  10. My GI told me that almost everyone that has Crohn’s is at least a little lactose intolerant, because the disease damages the villi in the intestines, which secrete lactase. When I asked if treating my Crohn’s would help with the dairy, she told me probably not. I am much healthier now and can do cheese and yogurt, but just the thought of eating ice cream makes me sick!

  11. I found going dairy free has been huge in calming my IBS. Less flares for sure. I use coconut milk or almond milk in my overnight oats. My #1 breakfast. Super easy. I hope you share more recipes. You provided some fantastic ideas here. I want to try the zoodles recipe. I love easy.

  12. SO glad you’re feeling better and also SO glad you posted this! I have always shied away from cooking and find it quite intimidating. One of my 2017 goals was to cook more and I’ve been experimenting with some easy recipes but am always looking for more! I’m definitely going to try those buffalo wings and sweet potato fries (I find it hard to cup up sweet potato-it never goes in the right share, any tips?)

    1. Yeah, cutting sweet potatoes can be tough sometimes, but you can also usually find them pre-sliced or chopped at the grocery store! That’s a time-saver, too!

  13. Hi Ali, I have been following your blog for a while now and I really enjoy it. I have crohn’s and I find it really great to read and relate!!!

  14. The diary free ice cream don’t give up hope! I’m a huge fan of the Ben and Jerry’s brand and So Delicious has a Cashew Milk Dark Chocolate Truffle that I recommend.

    If you are trying to eat healthy these are “better,” but if you just need a comforting pint they are total winners in my book!

    P.s. I didn’t like the coconut varieties either

  15. You may or may not have tried this before, but when I need to get my skin back in shape, I “wash” with coconut oil (I keep a travel sized tub in my bathroom and just refill it). Take a couple of pea sized pieces at room temp, rub between your hands to melt it, massage into your face, then use a face towel to wipe off with warm water. Then I use apple cider vinegar on a cotton ball as a toner. Easy enough to try, cheaper and more natural than face products, and the ingredients can be used in the kitchen if they don’t work for your face.

  16. Love that you have found a joy for cooking! I find it interesting when I read blogs from “city” dwellers that order food several times a week. In the suburbs I feel like we don’t have that option, so it’s interesting to read about. I am no super chef, but I do enjoy cooking – because I love eating! When I don’t have a menu plan for the week I get stressed and I feel unorganized. It could be as simple as sloppy joes on the menu, but at least it’s a plan! Keep up the good work!

  17. I love this post!!! So inspiring. I struggle with meal prep SO much. And I really need to get on that Sunny avo toast train you’re on. Looks so delish. Just gotta learn how to make dippy eggs first.. ugh. I also don’t cook that much haha.

    So glad it’s going well for you!

  18. My favorite dairy-free recipe is…pizza. I know that sounds wrong. I LOVE cheese and dairy, but I don’t like huge globs of it on pizza. Something about the texture? Anyway, I make a lot of handmade pizza, because it’s super easy. Sometimes I put just a little cheese, but often I leave it off altogether, and then add standard toppings like peppers and pepperoni and pineapple. (Shut up. It’s delicious.)

  19. I am in love with how you put sweet potato fries in a glass. Sometimes sweet potato fries don’t seem to belong on the plate with all the non-fry-shaped food, so I just eat pizza instead. Thank you for the idea!

  20. I recommend getting the Thug Kitchen cookbooks. All of their recipes are vegan (I know you said you weren’t vegan, I’m not either). I think the Party Grub cookbook has a recipe for ‘queso-ish’ dip. So good! Made from butternut squash, nooch (nutritional yeast), and other stuff. And who doesn’t love a cookbook peppered with foul language?

  21. Frittatas! Aka, crustless quiches. Saute whatever veggies you want in an oven-safe pan, then whisk together 6-8 eggs and pour on top. Cook on the stovetop for 5-10 minutes, just until it’s set on the sides, then finish it off in the oven until it’s done. So easy and good, and it’s fantastic with roasted red potatoes on the side!

  22. I am completely the opposite – if I meal plan, I don’t want whatever I planned to make, and I end up wanting to go get takeout. For me it’s about having a ton of recipes that I can make really quickly so that I can whip up whatever I’m in the mood for.

    Check out this recipe for non-dairy cheese sauce. I made it a month or so ago and it came out delicious! (Full disclosure that I used cow’s milk when I made it, but supposedly you can use any plant milk too.)

    So glad that you’re feeling lots better!

  23. Hi! I’m so glad that you’re feeling better! And I know that you can totally rock the going sugar free if you decide to!

    We love homemade banana “ice cream”
    Cut up 3 – 4 bananas into quarters and freeze in a zip baggie. In a high-powered blender, put in your frozen bananas. Blend for a few minutes and it turns into “ice cream.” You can also add frozen strawberries or other fruits if you’d like. (Sometimes I add one non-frozen banana in with the frozen bananas to help the blender.) Serve immediately and enjoy!

  24. Glad you’re feeling better Ali! I am vegetarian and eat accidentally vegan a lot and have had a lot of luck baking with almond or soy milk, and when I need a “butter” fix I use Earth Balance spread. Just a few ideas if you find yourself craving something sweet or need.some.buttery.goodness. Did the eggs not upset your stomach? Just curious, because folks often lump them in the dairy category when cutting things out (I am not fully vegan partially because eggs are the best ha).

    1. Yes, I’ve been using unsweetened almond milk and Earth Balance as milk and butter substitutes! Brian says he can notice the difference between Earth Balance and regular butter, but I can’t (or I just don’t mind it). And no, eggs don’t upset my stomach, thank goodness! I’ve been eating a lot of eggs lately because they’re a pretty safe bet for me (and are a big reason I’d never be able to go vegan). And eggs are animal products, of course, but since they’re not made from milk and don’t come from milk-producing animals, they’re not considered dairy. (I know they get lumped in there with other dairy stuff, like you mentioned, but I’m fine with them! Right there with ya!)

  25. I have a lot of friends who are lactose-intolerant and they swear by the dairy-free Ben & Jerry’s. Have you tried that? It will allow you to have your beloved ice cream and still stay on this dairy-free path!

  26. I’m so glad that you’re feeling better and that you’ve been enjoying cooking. Soups and crock pot meals are also really good for meal planning because they last for multiple meals – Skinnytaste has some great crock pot ideas that you should check out.

    Stalkerish, but I saw your Insta story of that curry and thought it looked amazing. Could you please share the recipe? Thanks!

    1. YES, it was so good, and I used one of those already-cooked rotisserie chickens at the grocery store, so it was really easy, too. I’ll email you the recipe — I got it from Kelly (the RD I mentioned), so I don’t have a link for it, but will send it to you!

  27. OH, also, try ghee! It’s like butter, but with all the milk proteins (lactose, etc.) removed. I can’t tolerate any dairy well, especially butter, but I have no issues with ghee and it makes things more delicious!

  28. Try Paleomg’s buffalo chicken casserole and 5 ingredient pizza spaghetti pie! Sooo good, and they somehow taste cheesy even though there’s zero dairy. You also end up with a bunch of leftovers, so less cooking! Actually, try any of her recipes because they’re pretty much all amazing.

    Also, ice cream is my all time favorite food, but I try not to eat the real thing too often because #dairyproblems. But there are good non-dairy versions if you keep looking! And if you’re ever in Boston, go to FoMu. It will change your life!

    1. It’s the 365 brand from Whole Foods. (I can’t find it online anywhere, somehow, but it’s the pasta sauce without any added ingredients. No sugar, no junk. Just tomatoes and some spices!)

  29. Brava for setting your plan and sticking to it! Sometimes I find it’s easier to cook with dietary restrictions (to a point). It eliminates some of the THERE IS SO MUCH GOOD FOOD AND I’M OVERWHELMED BY IT feeling. Hope you continue to feel better and better!

  30. Yay! Happy that you’re feeling better and that you’re enjoying making your own meals! Can you share a recipe or tell me how to make oatmeal casserole?

  31. YES! Glad this torture helped 🙂

    I did a 2-week dairy free thing and i stopped getting so many headaches. HOW WEIRD IS THAT?

    also please share the recipe for the Buffalo chicken nuggets!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

listen to the podcast

about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
  • Post Date

related posts

Crohn's Disease Q&A

Crohn’s Disease Q&A

This post is sponsored by Project Baseline. As always, I write what I truly believe in and stand behind, whether I’m paid for it or

Making It Count

At the end of 2016, I was very sick. In an effort to cheer myself up and not be too down on the fact that

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.