As of the time of this blog post, I have been dairy-free for 6 weeks and 2 days, and I feel FANTASTIC. And I mean truly wonderful. Gone are the days of heartburn and post-lunch exhaustion. My skin is clearer, I've lost weight without changing anything else in my diet and exercise regimen, and I have more energy all around.
Although I don't like to go around advertising that I'm diary-free, it does come up sometimes during the day when I'm out to lunch or dinner with friends and coworkers and I inevitably have to ask the server if an item has milk, cream and/or butter in it. Many people I know have some sort of dietary restriction so it isn't much of a surprise to them, but for others, the thought of giving up milk, butter, cheese and all things yummy is just unfathomable (and let's be honest, it kind of is). I almost always get asked the same 4 questions to which I've provided answers to below.
Why Go Diary-Free?
This question is always first, understandably so. In a society where we're raised on "Got Milk?" ads and we associate book clubs with wine and cheese (rightfully so), people generally assume I gave up dairy because I had to as a result of being lactose-intolerant or something like that. Hate to break it to ya, but that's not exactly the case. While I think I am a little lactose-intolerant, I was never diagnosed as much by a doctor, and a little lactose-intolerance isn't enough to make me give up some delicious slow-churned ice cream and double cream brie.
As I wrote in my post on reducing inflammation, giving up dairy is a great way to fight inflammation and that's the main reason I gave up my beloved dairy. My acupuncturist had been hinting at it for awhile, but it took me finally realizing that I wouldn't die without cheese and ice cream before I decided to give it a try. I figured that I would try it for a little while to see how my body felt. Before I knew it, a week had gone by, I hardly missed dairy, and, more importantly, I could already see the positive changes that cutting out dairy had on my body. It was at this point that I started researching why I felt so good without dairy, and I learned how roughly 60% of the population are allergic to the proteins found in dairy (mostly casein, but some whey, too).
At the end of the day, though, it's a personal choice that only you can make for yourself. No judgments, just do what feels best to you!
Does This Mean I'm Vegan?
Nope! Dairy-free doesn't mean you have to be Vegan, and I still eat organic, free-range chicken and fish. I also still eat eggs (also organic and cage free) since they're neutral in acidity (aka no inflammation risk) and not dairy (since dairy technically comes from cows). That being said, it's sometimes easier to just say that you are Vegan to ensure there is no hidden milk, cream, or butter in your food at restaurants. Be warned, though, that you will get some funny looks if you take this approach and then order something with Chicken or Fish in it. Trust me, I've been there :)
How Do You Get Enough Calcium?
Osteoporosis is a serious concern so it's super important that you get enough calcium. But what exactly does "enough" calcium mean? According to the Mayo Clinic, men generally need about 1,000 mg/day while women need between 1,000 mg and 1,200 mg/day. Lucky for us, though, there are tons of foods that give you all the calcium you need! Here are just a few examples:
What Are Good Dairy Substitutes?
There are SO many dairy substitutes, and although it's awesome, it's also a little overwhelming. I've listed my favorite substitutes below, but my general advice here is to be open to new things and try different products to see which ones you like best. And with the handy-dandy Google, you can find a way to substitute just about anything these days, so again, I say there are SO many options!
**You'll notice that I don't include a cheese-substitute because I think they are all pretty gross. I'd rather go without any cheese at all than to dishonor the memory of my beloved cheeses with some poor impostor. If you do feel like you need a fix, though, goat cheese is a pretty safe option and is less acidic than other varieties (read: not as inflammatory as the others)!
A couple words of caution
Still have a question about going dairy-free? Leave a comment or message me directly!
Meditation. I'm willing to bet that you've heard of it since it's such a hot topic these days, but you may be too bashful to admit that you're not exactly quite sure what it means. The Buddhist Centre describes meditation as "a means of transforming the mind...[to] encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things." Or more simply put, meditation teaches us to calm the mind and see things as they really are.
There is so much evidence out there as to why we should meditate (it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves levels of happiness...the list goes on!), but I've heard just as many "reasons" as to why we don't meditate (we don't know how, don't have time, can't sit still...the list goes on!). Been there, said all that. When I started practicing yoga, I wanted nothing to do with the "crunchy, granola" side. Meditating bored me and I was terribly uncomfortable with "Om's". But over time, as I got over myself and stop letting my ego tell me what I should or shouldn't be doing, I came to appreciate meditation for what it was: a time to sit quietly without expectations or judgement.
So how did I go from being Miss Judgey McJudgerson to someone who loves meditating and chanting "Om"? I took baby steps and started small. It wasn't something that just happened over night - I had to make the conscious decision that I was going to be open to something new and go from there. So without further ado, here are 3 of the simple ways I came to develop a meditation practice:
1. Be realistic. If you've never really gotten into meditation before, you may want to steer clear of setting lofty goals like meditating every single night for 30 minutes. While I appreciate the ambition, setting unrealistic goals or expectations inevitably leads to failure and disappointment. When I first decided to meditate regularly at home, I set a goal of 15 minutes and I didn't even get through one session!
Instead, start a little smaller, setting a goal of meditating for 2 - 3 minutes every night (or morning!), and working your way up to at least 5 minutes at a time. This way, you're only committing yourself to very small chunks of time, which is so much less daunting than a full half-hour! 2-5 minutes will get you many of the same benefits as 30+ minutes, and it's more accessible given all of the other things you have going on.
2. Try a class. Now I don't mean a full-blown, 45+ minutes of meditation and only meditation (but if that's your thing, go for it!). There are a lot of yoga classes out there that incorporate anywhere from 5 - 15 minutes of guided meditation into the beginning or end of the class. This is also a great way to learn about different meditation techniques in a safe and judgement-free zone. With a class titled "Yoga and Meditation," or something along those lines, you're also sure to get some movement mixed in with the stillness so it's great intro if you have a hard time staying still for extended periods of time.
If you're going to try one of these classes, I recommend you go to your first one alone. I went to my first yoga class with a friend, which was awesome because it made the experience less intimidating to have someone there that I knew and could turn to with questions or nervous laughter. But when the time came for a short guided-meditation, I was so uncomfortable, constantly looking around the room to see if I was doing something silly or wrong and looking to my friend for reassurance that I wasn't. I was nervous that I would somehow embarrass myself in front of my friend, or even worse, embarrass her somehow. I was just way too self-conscious that I really didn't even meditate for a single second. However, when I went to a "Yoga & Meditation" class alone, I found myself much more open-minded to the whole experience. Not feeling like I had to please or impress someone took all of the pressure off and I was able to focus on myself.
3. Explore different techniques. Just like there are so many different types of yoga, there are SO many ways to meditate. So if sitting quietly, cross-legged on the floor just isn't working for you, try another way! For instance, you can meditate lying down or sitting in a chair, or even while walking, eating, or exercising. As long as you are staying in the present moment and really, truly experiencing it, you are meditating! Other meditation techniques include following your inhales and your exhales; doing a body scan and noticing how each and every bone and muscle in your body is feeling; and repeating a mantra, or saying with special meaning, over and over again in your head. Whatever the technique, you will benefit and start to see things with a different perspective.
In honor of the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, I want to share one of my favorite Super Bowl recipes: Chili! This is a Reilly household favorite--even the cat loves it. Just kidding, he doesn't like human food (not even milk), but everyone else seems to like it! I have been experimenting with chili recipes for awhile now, and I tell you that this is the one. It's really truly SO easy, even if you are modifying around dietary restrictions, and it costs about $10 to make a week's worth of organic chili...not bad, right? It's so easy that it was my go-to meal during my 200-hr Teacher Training last year: before heading downtown for the long Saturdays and Sundays, I would carve out an extra 15 minutes before heading out the door to get the crockpot started and then when I got home from a long day, dinner was ready!
-You don't need to use dried portabello mushrooms - just chop up regular portabello s'hrooms and throw them in.
Inflammation has a been a hot topic lately and everyone is talking about it. Why? Well, frankly, because it can lead to very bad things happening in your body. Did you know that despite all the bad press, inflammation in itself is actually good? We experience acute inflammation when we get a cut or scrape and the skin becomes red and swollen. This is when our bodies go to work producing white blood cells to remove harmful stimuli or irritants (i.e., bacteria and viruses).
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is not so great. In a nutshell, this is when your body goes into "fight or flight" mode, but in response to environmental and/or mental stress. It's different for everyone, but basically, our diets, stress-levels, and exposure to products and toxins can result in our bodies working overtime to protect against real or perceived dangers, eventually leading to chronic inflammation as our bodies work on non-stop overdrive.
So now we get to why this is a bad thing: chronic inflammation has been linked to just about every disease out there. For instance, some research indicates that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke can result from oral health and gum disease through inflammation (another plug for oil pulling!). The theory is that as a result of inflammation, the bacteria from gum disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart. Yikes! On a broader scale, this theory also speculates that what we eat and how we respond to stress leads to inflammation which can lead to somewhat scary things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and even scarier things like cancer. Double yikes.
The good news is that there is hope. Lots of it. There are so many things you can do to fight inflammation - some are super easy and some are a little more difficult. But whatever you choose to do, just do something and do it now. After lots and lots of reading and talking to my doctors and acupuncturist (Kelly Welch - AH-MAZING), below is a list of the 4 things I'm doing to reduce inflammation in my body. Some of these things were really easy for me to change, but others were (and still are) very hard so I've made the change gradually.
4 Ways to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
Food allergies are a huge cause of inflammation. Maybe you're thinking that since you have no known food allergies, this doesn't apply to you so you can go about eating any and everything. I know I used to be that way, but I was oh-so-very wrong. Did you know that roughly 60% of adults can't properly digest milk? Scientists believe that this inability to properly digest milk and dairy can lead to inflammation. Now I'm not saying that you need to go ahead and cut dairy out of your diet right away (though I have been dairy free for 3 weeks now and I feel FABULOUS). But you could try cutting back, or maybe swap out milk for rice or coconut milk (primarily avoiding casein) for a week and see how you feel. You could also try incorporating more of the following into your diet:
Red meat has also been linked to inflammation so maybe try giving steak a break and opt for poultry or, even better, fish every now and then. I went red-meat free in 2008 after I read the book Skinny Bitch, not knowing that the authors are vegan. The book made me want to go Vege all together, but I knew that given my lifestyle, it just wasn't realistic to cut out all forms of animals from my diet completely. So I started small and stopped eating four-legged friends first, only eating organic, free-range poultry and fish on occasion to ensure I was getting the proper nutrients. I found it relatively easy to stop eating red meat, though I do find myself missing the taste of hot dogs and salami (a.k.a. nitrates) every now and then. In my opinion, the hard part has been cutting out dairy since almost every food product out there has some form of milk or cream in it! That, and I really, truly love ice cream. Like bad.
But my point here is that you don't need go all in right off the bat. In fact, if you're anything like me, that is a recipe for disaster because you just end up placing too much pressure on yourself. Just start with what is realistic to you, even if that's only making one small change like using almond milk in your latte or swapping a hamburger for a black bean burger. Whatever the change, see if you can give it a try for a week, then two, then a month and so forth, and notice how your body feels after each week. I'm willing to bet that you'll be feeling pretty good!
Acupuncture is the best. It is a great tool to fight inflammation for two reasons: it helps you rest and relax (take that, stress!) and it can help regulate your blood flow. I walked into my first acupuncture appointment full of anxiety and stressed out to the max. But after just one 30-minute session, I walked out feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. During your first session, you will likely have a consultation with your acupuncturist where I recommend you be completely honest so they can best treat you according to your needs. And after the consultation, you'll have your first session with needles. It is not scary at all, I promise. You barely feel the needles, and you definitely can't see them poking out of you while you're lying there.
If the thought of needles really just freaks you out, you can also try acupressure!
Most of us value convenience and efficiency, and I am proud to say that I fall in that category. But what I think we all to often choose to ignore is that with convenience comes a number of harsh chemicals and toxins in our food, home and personal care products. I bring this up because these toxins are often associated with inflammation. Toxins are considered foreigners to our bodies (no surprise there), so it's natural and even expected that our bodies may enter the "fight or flight" mode when repeatedly exposed to such dangers through our skin and digestive tract. So through this ever-so-clever deductive reasoning, I've come to believe that by reducing toxins, we can reduce inflammation.
As I mentioned before, going organic to reduce toxins and chemicals in my food has been made easy thanks to my local Trader Joe's (I promise, they don't pay me to say this!). As a rule of thumb, I try to limit the number of processed foods I consume and when I do, I only buy processed foods with ingredients that don't sound like a pharmaceutical product. Stores like TJ's, Whole Foods, and M.O.M. make this SO easy and the price points are comparable or even lower than that of a Giant, Harris Teeter, or Safeway.
On the other hand, I've had a much harder time reducing toxins in my personal care and home cleaning products. To start with, I was honestly consumed with vanity (rightfully so, IMHO); I worried that without chemicals, I'd be the stinky girl with greasy hair. And to be fair, with some brands, that was definitely the case. When that happened, though, I just went back to my chemicals until I found another brand to try. Little by little and after much testing, I began to swap out one product than another as I found brands that I trust, both for their integrity and ingredients, as well as for the fact that I still feel (and smell) clean.
Take a Yoga Class (or two, or ten....)
The last thing on my list is YOGA, and I sincerely hope you're not surprised by this :) Rest and recovery is essential to reducing inflammation - how else is your body supposed to know that it doesn't need to fight anymore? I think yoga is a great form of rest because in addition to the stretching and physical release you'll find with it, yoga also teaches us to be at peace in our bodies. Through breath work and meditation (even just sitting quietly for 1 minute can count - it doesn't need to be so daunting!), yoga can help us us calm our minds, which naturally leads to a calmer body.
Being that this is a yoga blog, I will be writing so much more about yoga so I'll leave the details for a later post. But in the meantime, see if you can pay a little more attention to your breath next time you stretch. When you inhale, focus on lengthening your spine or your muscle being stretched and when you exhale, work to let go so that the stretch happens a little more naturally. These controlled breaths will also help slow your heart rate and trigger your body's "Rest and Digest" phase (think opposite of "Fight or Flight").
Coconut Oil. What on earth did I do before you entered my life? Oh yeah, that's right - I spent way too much money on chemically enhanced beauty products and lotions. Since I don't want to sound too dramatic, I won't say that Coconut Oil has drastically changed my life, but it has drastically changed my personal care and hygiene routines. And those are part of my life, soo...with that logic, then I guess I can say that Coconut Oil has drastically changed my life...maybe?...no? And in case you were wondering, yes, that is a spoon in the picture. Let me explain.
Most people start using Coconut Oil to replace Olive Oil when cooking. And while I now do that, too, I actually started using Coconut Oil to experiment with the ancient Ayurvedic practice of oil pulling which is seriously the best thing ever (if you're debating the oils in cooking, HuffPo has a good article on the Coconut vs. the Olive here). My fellow yoga teacher, Laura, introduced me to oil pulling during our 200 hour teacher training program, and since then, I can count on one hand the number of days I've gone without it. My mouth honestly feel disgusting on days when I don't oil pull. So as not to seriously gross anyone out, I should probably clarify that I do very much still brush and floss my teeth. Oil pulling is just a nice extra treat! Here's how it goes (cue the spoon):
The Ayurvedic theory is that this oil pulling process removes all the toxins that congregate in your mouth while you sleep (hence why your breath smells so rotten when you wake up). The oil attracts and traps the toxins so you want to do it before eating or drinking anything when the grossness is gathered in one place and is ripe for the picking. It's believed that this helps improve oral hygiene (plaque, gingivitis, etc.), acne, inflammation, and a whole bunch of other yucky stuff, too, but I haven't been able to find too much scientific proof on that. From what I've experienced personally, though, my teeth are whiter, my skin has improved over time, I really haven't caught a cold at all even though all of my coworkers have been getting sick, and my mouth just feels cleaner all around. I've clued my dentist into this and he is using me as a case study on oil pulling to see if it really does help with oral hygiene. March will be about a year of monitoring, so I'll report back then. Side note: if you're looking for a dentist in the DC area, these guys are the BEST.
So after experimenting with and falling in love with oil pulling, I decided to try replacing my lotion with Coconut Oil. Using Coconut Oil as a lotion was a little messy at first since the oil starts out solid, then quickly liquefies in your hands, and it's is incredibly greasy (obviously)! But I got over that quickly and now love texture. I use this as face lotion, eye cream, and body lotion. It makes my skin soft and radiant - seriously!!
And if you're into essential oils, you can get really fancy! Using as much or as little Coconut Oil as you'd like, you can scoop the Oil out (in its solid state) and use a mixer (I use a KitchenAid mixer with the wire setting) to whip the oil together with 3 - 5 drops of an oil. Rose Absolute oil has firming and energizing properties so it's great if you want to create a face cream. Peppermint is good if you want a cooling lotion (think IcyHot).
So after only $5.99 at Trader Joe's, I have a new ingredient in the kitchen, a new whitening mouthwash, and an all-in-one lotion. I keep jars of this thing everywhere...well, only in my bathroom and in the kitchen, but I do stock up on Trader Joe's Coconut Oil every time I see it in the store. Word of advice: Trader Joe's has the best quality and value of Coconut Oil, but they don't always have it in stock so get at least 2 or 3 jars at a time when you're running low!
I’m Anahita Reilly, a Type-A, native Northern Virginian, happiness lover. This blog evolved out of my longstanding desire to share this beautiful thing called yoga with others. Click here to read more...