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I Gave Up Dairy for Two Weeks in Search of Better Skin

It was one of the most trying times in my life
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I want to start by saying that I am one of the biggest cheese and ice cream aficionados you will ever meet. I start my day every day with coffee that has half and half in it and I eat various other dairy-based foods throughout the day. Being someone who struggles with oily and acne-prone skin, I've always heard about the correlation between consuming dairy and acne. I recently attended an acne conference with the brand, La Roche Posay, hosted by Dr. Annie Chu, a cosmetic dermatologist that often works with patients who have acne. Chu talked about many factors that cause acne — food being one of them. She advises her patients to give up a food for at least two weeks to help determine if it is causing the breakouts.

While milk and other dairy foods do not actually cause acne, the hormones found in cow's milk are thought to cause inflammation as well as overstimulate the oil glands in humans. The increase in oil production leads to clogged pores (combined with bacteria in the follicles), which leads to more inflammation and pimples. I take very good care of my skin (I'm a beauty editor after all), but I do eat a lot of dairy, so I thought giving it up might be the missing link in my quest for clear skin.

I first had the idea to try (temporarily) going dairy-free when my mom became lactose intolerant about three years ago and seeing her suffer through the pain and agony after eating her favorite foods (and at the time, not knowing what she was allergic to). After various testing and elimination of different foods, dairy was found to be the culprit. So as an act of solidarity and concern about the possibility of one day becoming lactose intolerant myself, I thought I would give it a go for two weeks. I knew it would be hard to give up omelets, yogurt, cheese boards and so many other yummy foods. On the flipside, could this be the answer to clearer skin, better digestion and possibly the shedding of a few pounds? Instead of phasing out dairy, I gave it up cold turkey. I had no idea how challenging the two weeks were going to be.

Image via Unsplash @max_libertine

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Starting my no-dairy challenge on the right foot
Starting out my journey, I was eager to see how cutting out dairy would affect my skin, weight and overall digestion. I stocked up for my challenge with a bunch of non-dairy products to help should I start craving any creamy treats. For my daily cup of coffee, I started using Califia Better Half. For my beloved bagel and cream cheese, Kite Hill Almond Milk Cream Cheese and Almond Milk Greek Yogurt. I seldom use butter, though I found that coconut oil makes a very delicious alternative. I also ate up what I thought was everything containing dairy the week prior. So with my newly stocked and purged fridge, I was ready for the challenge to begin.

Image courtesy Hannah Savin

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Bet you didn't know there was dairy in that...
It just so happened that my no-dairy challenge coincided with "that time of the month" and, if you're like me, you know the struggle is real when it comes to hormonal cravings. I searched my fridge for a chocolate almond butter Perfect Bar, unwrapped it, took a bite and then decided to check the ingredient label. To my horror, there was nonfat dry milk in the bar, which meant I had to put it back. Certain flavors are completely plant-based, this one, however, was not. I decided to go to the grocery store and find some kind of snack to kill my craving. At the store, I quickly learned that just about every packaged food, snack, sweet or bar has dairy in some form (milk, whey, casein, lactose, various other words that look and sound like lactose, butter, cream, curds, ghee, rennet, etc.) You have to read food labels so carefully if you have a food allergy like lactose intolerance or you could really end up suffering the consequences. After much searching, I went home with Hail Merry Chocolate Almond Butter Cups, which totally satisfied my sweet tooth, no dairy necessary. These became my saving grace during my two-week challenge.

Image via Instgram @hailmerrysnacks

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The challenges of going dairy-free
Aside from spending much more time grocery shopping (reading all the labels), there were other challenges to going dairy-free. Eating out in restaurants required me to be the "difficult" patron, asking multiple questions about the contents and preparation of every meal. I also had to ask for no cheese, which broke my heart every time I uttered those words. I even had to send back a baked potato filled with sour cream, butter and cheese, despite the fact that I ordered it, gulp, plain.

The one time I most felt like cheating during the two weeks was when my boyfriend's cousin was visiting from New York. We showed him all around Los Angeles and he mentioned that he wanted to try Salt & Straw ice cream, a place I've been dreaming of going, but the line is always so long that I've never gotten to try it. (I should also mention that ice cream is one of my most favorite foods.) Lo and behold, when we arrive at Salt & Straw there was absolutely no line. They sampled all of the delicious delicacies before deciding on a flavor while I sampled a sorbet — good, but by no means ice cream. I realized that these are situations my mom deals with on a regular basis.

Image via Unsplash @nativemello

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Final thoughts on being dairy-free
I'm generally a healthy eater, but tell me I can't have something and it's all I can think about. During the two weeks, I definitely spent way more time thinking about cheese and ice cream than I normally would.

In terms of pros to giving up dairy, I did feel lighter, more energetic overall and my digestion was more regular. I can honestly say that I did not notice a difference in the condition of my skin. It remained just as oily as when I started, however, had I given the experiment more time or had I not gotten my period in the middle, the results could have varied greatly. Also, my weight stayed absolutely the same. Though I had given up dairy for two weeks, it seems that most "creamy" substitutes are more nutrient and calorically dense than your average dairy product. So even though I wasn't consuming milk products, I was probably consuming more (healthy) calories overall.

My no-dairy experiment definitely gave me a greater appreciation for people struggling with food sensitivities — especially my mom. Not being able to enjoy the things you love can leave you feeling isolated and extremely limited in your food choices. Also, you have to do the research, read the labels and be your own biggest health advocate. I attempted to cut out dairy to gauge the effects from a beauty standpoint, but if it were a question of my health, I would make those cuts no matter what. As with all things, moderation is key. There are some dairy-based foods that I will happily continue to sub out for the occasional non-dairy alternative (they were pretty good), while some foods, like half and half in my coffee, are non-negotiable. I will say this, in my two-week quest, I did help my mom (who's as big of an ice cream connoisseur as I am) find an ice cream substitute that actually tastes like the real thing — So Delicious Cashew Milk Ice Cream is one non-dairy treat that we will both continue to enjoy together.

Image via Instagram @so_delicious

BY HANNAH SAVIN | AUG 30, 2018 | SHARES
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