Saturday, September 19, 2009 by Rebecca

My non-dairy adventure/disaster

I've been meaning to write about this for a while. Today we skipped the workout due to 'Top 5 DOMS' although I think Daniel is actually worse off than I am, but since there won't be a WOD post today, it seems as good a time as any. I'm probably a lot more inclined to think about it/write about it, now that it seems I'm on the other side of it. Finally.

So as I've mentioned sporadically through the last several months Daniel and I did a nearly 30 day non-dairy experiment that started the first week of July and went officially through the first week of August, but even though I was no longer forbidding dairy, I was still trying to limit my dairy intake to 1 or two small servings a day until about two weeks ago. As a comparison - my pre-non-dairy consumption was about 1 cup of cottage cheese, between 1 and 3 16oz servings of milk, and plenty of cheese per day.

My reasons for embarking on the challenge were fairly superficial. A lot of what I was reading from a lot of different sources on the web was that people who cut out dairy just felt better, had clearer skin, performed better, had less inflammation, etc. I'll be honest - it was the possibility of clearer skin that hooked me. I don't have bad acne, but it is persistent and consistent. I've never noticed a bad reaction to dairy - no bloating or discomfort or anything - but I'd never gone without dairy for any length of time, and I figured the only way to know if I did have some adverse reaction to it was to cut it out entirely for a few weeks. I knew it would really suck (I LOVE my dairy), but it was only a few weeks, and I'd know more about myself on the other side of it.

Melissa Byers was encouraging folks over at her blog to try a 30 day paleo challenge, and the reports from the participants were very inspiring, so I decided it was as good a time as any to try going - not full paleo - but at least dairy-free.

It was hard. And it did suck. It's really surprising how much dairy is in our food. Butter was particularly hard to avoid - especially when eating out. There were a few accidental slips when I ordered meals that had 'hidden' dairy in them - like the chipotle 'sauce' on a Rubio's burrito - it is apparently ranch based. But on the whole, we were very good.

We started this challenge the week of the CF games, immediately after which we all kind of crashed. We went from working out 6 times a week 5 days a week, to 2-4 workouts, not all of which were CF related - we went back to Yoga, we went for hikes. Sometimes, instead of going to a workout, we went out to dinner with friends and family we hadn't seen for weeks while we were training for the games. We were reclaiming our lives, a little.

My skin did clear up, and I had more good hair days more often, but I did not feel any better, and I did not perform better. If anything those were worse. I also lost 5 very hard gained pounds, and my allergies didn't clear up either.

Now, I expected a little deconditioning from our reduced activity, but it's not like we stopped working out altogether. Even so, I was finding that I was more sore from workouts and for longer. My aerobic capacity went to hell and I also found that my strength took a nose dive. My blog posts from this period are pretty spotty and infrequent. It's hard to want to post about such disheartening workouts. I wasn't sure what the cause was, but my energy was low, my workouts absolutely lackluster, and even my appetite was diminished. I could not, and was not interested in, eating food in the quantities that had been normal before the non-dairy experiment. Daniel reminds me that I was also getting horrible foot and leg cramps daily - or rather, nightly.

About 3 weeks ago Daniel had had enough of hearing me complain about my terrible workouts, my lack of energy, my endless cramps, my general misery, (he was also genuinely worried about me - loving husband that he is) and he suggested rather firmly that I stop trying to limit my dairy intake, and go back to drinking milk regularly. "You look thirsty - why don't you have some milk?", "It's xyz time, why don't you have xxx, AND A GLASS OF MILK." It took me about a week and a half to work up to my previous levels ... Once I decide I'm supposed to limit something, it's hard for me to 'break the rules' and add it back in ...

So now I've been back on dairy - all the way back to my previous levels - for nearly 2 weeks. My workout performance has been steadily improving - see my last couple posts, my leg cramps are far more infrequent - I haven't been wrenched from sleep with painful leg spasms for at least a week, my energy in general is better, my weight is back to 125, my appetite is mostly back, and alas, so is my acne. But it's a trade off I am perfectly happy to make. Incidentally, my bowel movements and my menstrual cycle are also better adjusted when I am on dairy than when I am off.

I'm aware that correlation does not necessarily = causation, and that there could be another explanation for my precipitous performance decrease and it's subsequent rebound. It's possible that I did not work hard enough to replace the nutrients I get from milk with another source, and that is why I crashed so hard, but I am not willing to try taking another vacation from dairy to test the theory, particularly when the 'down side' of milk (acne) is so manageable.

If nothing else, it jut goes to show (as if we needed further proof) that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' diet. I have no doubt that many people really do benefit from giving up dairy, I am just not, apparently, one of them. Ultimately, I am glad I made the experiment (I guess :-p ). I certainly do know more about myself now than I did going in. I'm just extremely relieved to be on the other side of it looking back with further gains ahead of me instead of frustrating regressive performance.

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