What Happened When I Didn’t Eat Dairy for a Month | Non-Dairy January

This weekend I should be counting down and stocking up on heavy cream to celebrate the end of my month-long dairy elimination challenge.  Instead, I’m tightening the screws just a little more and buckling in for at least a few more weeks.  You see, Sturdy Readers, some interesting things have happened over the past few weeks that underscore why non-scale victories are so much more useful for tracking progress on keto (and with lipedema) than the scale.

Last weekend my friend Kristin called to see how my challenge was going.  You might remember she’s the coach from Lipedema Simplified who encouraged me to do this whole thing.  I told her nothing had happened and that I planned to go right back to dairy on February 1.  “Hmmmm,” she said pausing thoughtfully.  “Tell me more about what you’ve been doing.”  I showed her my Milkademia and explained how I had, for the first time, been eating a lot of nuts.  During the first few days of the challenge, I experienced cravings and finding a long-forgotten bag of macadamia nuts at the back of the cupboard felt like stumbling upon a case of cold La Croix in the desert.  Salvation.  I checked the carbs and serving size and did a pretty good job pacing myself, but I enjoyed them so much that when that bag was gone, I bought more and I also bought a big canister of pecans, which sat dangerously on the corner of my desk.

 “You swapped one problem for another,” Kristin deduced.  “Keep going a few more weeks but get rid of the nuts and clean up your nut milk.”  It turns out Milkademia contains a few different gums and emulsifiers that may or may not cause inflammation.  Kristin’s advice was to steer clear and see if that made a difference.  Thankfully, a few days earlier, I picked up a jug of Malk.  It’s super clean (three simple ingredients) and foams like a dream, so move over Milkademia.  Malk is expensive, but comparable in price to the super clean, organic, and local heavy cream I bought before.

So, for the past week I have been off my nuts and on my Malk.  Here’s what happened.

First, my energy went through the roof.  And I mean through the roof.  I literally feel like I have a jet pack on my back on my daily walks. My speed has increased that noticeably.  I’ve even started running the last few blocks to my apartment just because I feel so good. 

Second, I went down a size in my jeans, which is a big deal when you have lipedema all over your hips and thighs.  No, I don’t think all that shrinking happened this week, but it certainly happened this month.  A few weeks ago, I needed to buy a belt.  Then I needed to start tightening it a few more notches.  Finally, this week I decided to try a smaller pair of jeans and… bam!  They fit. Same brand and same style that I was wearing before.

What didn’t happen this month?  Any weight loss.  Not a single pound.  In fact, at one point I was up more than five pounds, but I didn’t let it phase me.  As the user of this body, I know when it’s doing great and it’s doing great.  That’s why non-scale victories are so important to track and rely on rather than the scale.  I didn’t weigh myself the first six months I did keto.  Heck, I didn’t even own a scale.  Instead, I took pictures and made notes about how I felt and what I was doing, and I did something similar for non-dairy January. 

You don’t need a fancy tracker or a spreadsheet for non-scale victories.  In fact, I keep mine as a list on my phone.  Since it’s always with me I can easily add to it when I notice something and before I forget.  The important thing is to give yourself as many data points as possible in addition to (or even instead of) the scale.  Just think!  If I wasn’t paying attention to my clothes and only watching that digital display, I would think nothing had happened this month when, in actuality, I lost two dress sizes in my hips and thighs! That’s a sturdy woman win. I also want to stress bio-individuality and how different each of our bodies are. Working with a coach can be a game changer and really help you figure things out quick. Kristin and the other Lipedema Simplified coaches all offer free consultations so you literally have nothing to lose.

So, that’s it. I’ll give my body a few more weeks on my new cleaner regimen then sometime in February I’ll have a big cup of cream and see what happens.  Stay tuned.  In February I’m also planning to restart my fasting protocol.  Be sure to sign up for sturdy updates to learn why I love alternate day fasting and how it has taken my ketogenic lifestyle and my health to new levels.

Receive Sturdy Woman Updates:

My Favorite Plant-Based Keto Yogurt | Non-Dairy January

Yesterday I made my weekly trek to Whole Foods, and I must admit, food shopping is getting harder.  Circling the perimeter, gazing at everything I couldn’t eat, I felt like the plus size girl waiting for her friends to try on trendy clothes while she grits her teeth and pretends what she really wants is another silk scarf or chunky bangle.  No, thank you I say to myself.  I don’t want those apples, or that pasta, or this Greek yogurt.  I especially don’t want that cupcake meticulously decorated like a field of spring flowers. 

The store was packed, and people jostled around me in the dairy aisle as I morosely inspected the nutrition labels on every non-dairy product I could find.  Everything seemed to have a sunflower something, a gum something, or enough carbs to send my ketosis packing.  As I worked my way down the shelf I repeated f-word, f-word, f-word in my head as I rejected one colorful package after another.

 “Are you ok?” I heard suddenly, “Do you need help?”  F-wordWas that not in my head?!  I turned and an employee stood at my elbow looking concerned.  I grabbed something at random and turned to give him my best eye smile over the top of my mask, “Got it.  Thanks!”  He disappeared as quickly as he had appeared and when I looked down at what was in my hand, I realized I had, in fact, got it.

Culina yogurt is as “plain and simple” as its label claims.  It contains exactly four ingredients: organic hand-shucked coconuts, water, agar, and probiotics.  An entire 5oz jar of plain contains just 2g total carbs and a keto-friendly 19g of fat.  Importantly, it also tastes more like yogurt than toe jam (not that I would know for sure) and has a nice smooth, thick, texture.  Culina is a little tangier and sourer than the Fage Greek yogurt I was eating before my non-dairy challenge, but if anything, that made me eat it slower and savor every bite.  The plain has a pleasant coconut flavor and I genuinely enjoyed it, which is not something I can say for many non-dairy products.

The only downside is the price.  At my Whole Foods one tiny 5oz jar cost $4 and, even though I managed to squeeze two portions out of each, I can’t afford to make that a regular part of my diet.  It’s lovely to have that option, though, and to feel like someone sees me and what I’m doing… like when that clothing brand you’ve always loved finally expands into plus sizes. 

What pleasant surprises have you had lately?  What makes you feel seen, Sturdy Women?  Drop me a note in the comments.

Be sure to check out my other non-dairy January posts and to sign up to make sure you don’t miss any great Sturdy content.

Receive Sturdy Woman Updates:

The Keto Food that Finally Replaced my Cheese Crisps | Non-Dairy January

Today I am officially over the halfway mark in my challenge to go dairy free for a month.  It feels good and, honestly, it’s going better than I expected.  Last week Milkademia saved my luscious morning coffee from extinction, so this week I turned my attention to finding substitutes for some of my other favorite keto goodies, namely Parmesan cheese crisps.  We might have another winner!

Cheese crisps are a wonderful keto alternative for crunchy, savory, salty snacks.  They are super easy to make at home (do you own a cookie sheet?) and the whole process warms up the house with that lovely feeling like you are baking cookies.  For the first nine months of my keto journey, I was a casual weekend warrior with my crisps, but that all changed when I started coaching with Gail Straker through Lipedema Simplified. (For those who are new to Sturdy Woman, I use a ketogenic way of eating to manage symptoms related to my lipedema and lymphedema.)

Potassium is one of the important electrolytes we need to balance on keto, and I was worried I wasn’t getting enough.  I took multi-vitamins and drank extra electrolytes but had recently realized 1) most multi-vitamins don’t contain much, if any, Potassium (rookie mistake there) and 2) the amount in most electrolytes drops/powers isn’t enough.  Most people still need to get a good amount from food.  Yikes.   At that point my diet was at least 75% red meat and heavy cream, so I really needed Gail.  (And remember, I’m not a medical professional so reading this post isn’t a substitute for reaching out to your own care team.)

Gail’s first suggestion was avocados, which  actually have more potassium than bananas.  Adding those creamy, dreamy, green goodies to my diet wasn’t a hardship, but I found myself throwing away as many as I ate.  They were often too hard when I brought them home then brown mush when I got back around to eating them.  Guacamole was Gail’s solution, and it quickly became a staple of my diet.  Once a week I trek to Whole Foods specifically for the fresh guacamole made in-house.  Yes, it is priced like liquid gold, but it is clean and delicious, and I’ve never had a tub stick around long enough to spoil.  But, Sturdy Women, how much fun is it to eat guacamole with a spoon?  Not a lot.  Cheese crisps to the rescue!  Almost immediately I discovered they were the perfect crunchy, salty, vehicle to get the guacamole in my mouth.  This is a big problem for non-dairy January.  Guacamole is dairy free so, of course, I can eat it during my challenge but the first day I sat down and shuttled it to my mouth with a spoon… I felt sad about life.  And keto does not need to be sad.     

Don’t worry!  I found a great non-dairy solution.

Last week I rushed to the supermarket between waves of winter weather and found myself stuck in a crowd. The checkout line snaked down the snack food aisle and there I stood close enough to the chocolate dipped almonds and salted caramels that I could smell them through their brightly colored packaging.  I stopped having sugar cravings over a year ago, so it was more of an annoyance than a temptation, but I turned my back anyway.  Be gone demons!  There, on the opposite side of the aisle were pork rinds, nestled unobtrusively and humbly between the carb-laden potato chips and pretzels. They didn’t even have a fancy package, just a clear bag that said, “Here I am.” 

Keto friends, I had never eaten a pork rind.  Yes, I hesitated.

Pork rinds are curious creatures, simultaneously presenting as fluffy and crispy, so naturally I was curious about them as a child.  My mom, however, refused to buy them.  “Do you know what that is?” she snapped when I tried to put it in the cart.  “Pig skin!  You see how dirty pigs are.  That is dirty gross food.  Put it back.”  This stuck with me and even when I went keto and read about people eating pork rinds, I never even considered it… until now.  With a shaky hand and a racing heartbeat, I reached across the aisle and grabbed a bag, glancing over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.  The woman behind me in line looked up and met my eye.  She blinked expressionlessly, uninterested in my culinary adventures, and turned back to her phone. 

Here we go.

Pork rinds are curious creatures, simultaneous presenting as fluffy and crispy.

Wow, Sturdy Women, I have been missing out!  Ok, yes, I really grimaced as I held the first one up to my lips, but there was no need because it was crunchy, salty, perfection with none of the pig taste I had expected.  I ate a few handfuls then remembered my guacamole.  Match made in heaven.  Believe it or not, I think I prefer pork rinds to my cheese crisps and probably won’t switch back even if I decide to start eating dairy again.  In addition to taste, pork rinds also win out on cost.  They are much cheaper than store bought cheese crisps and you don’t have to worry about added carbs, like the almond and cassava flours that often sneak into cheese crisps.  Better taste and better price?  That’s what I call a winner.

Be sure to subscribe to Sturdy Woman so you won’t miss my next non-dairy update, which might be about dairy free yogurt.  Yum?

What’s your favorite crunchy keto snack?  Do you like to do something different with your guacamole or another way you get Potassium?  Drop me a note in the comments and I’ll give it a try.

Receive Sturdy Woman Updates:

Nut milk showdown | Non-Dairy January

Today I am officially one week into my month-long non-dairy challenge. I am happy to report, Sturdy Women, that it is going better than expected. The first few days were touch-and-go as I overhauled my food choices, retrained my taste buds, and waded through headaches and fatigue, but I seem to be emerging into the light finally. Yesterday I even surprised myself with the thought, I think I can do this! Like permanently! Read on to find out which nut milk finally converted me.

The first few days without dairy were the hardest as I felt achy and grouchy and fought off cravings. Reddit is full of threads where new vegans report similar symptoms, but I didn’t find a lot of hard science to back up dairy detox claims… although the idea made it easier to suffer through pounding headaches. Cravings also hit me pretty hard. As I explained last week, dairy has been a cornerstone of my ketogenic way of eating for more than a year and heavy cream’s decadence seemed irreplaceable. It’s as perfect in coffee as it is whipped and perched on top. I missed it – and my Parmesan crisps – immediately.

The week’s first game changer and sparkle of hope came in the form of my Bodum milk frother. I picked it up after my friend Kristin Arntz, a nutrition coach at Lipedema Simplified, suggested frothing my nut milks could help my dairy free coffee still feel special and decadent. I was skeptical, but it was more than worth the $30 I invested. It’s quick, quiet, and I feel like a boss barista every time I pour foamy, hot milk into my cup. The only problem was that the first few nut milks I tried did not froth, like at all. I might as well have tried whipping water. So what did work?

Silk Cashew Milk | Rating: Won’t buy again I had high hopes for this milk because I like cashews but they are a bit carby for my brand of keto. Silk’s unsweetened vanilla cashew milk has 2g fat and 2g total carbs per 8oz serving. This isn’t terrible, but it’s a bit low on fat and high on carbs compared to other options. The taste was ok, but after I finish this carton I won’t buy another. Of everything I tried this week, it produced the least foam in my frother.

Califia Farms | Rating: Uninspiring but drinkable This brand has some good low carb options and I like that it is carrageenan free. It happened to be on sale at my grocery store last week, so I picked up several types to try. Both had 3-4g fat and 1g total cabs per 8oz serving. It only took one sip of the unsweetened almondmilk to know it wasn’t for me. I pushed it to the back of the fridge and it has stayed there. The toasted coconut and almond tasted much better, but that was likely because it is sweetened with monk fruit. I didn’t realize that when I bought it and I try to avoid even low carb sweeteners when I can. Neither one of these frothed well, but after a few days the coconut almond grew on me enough that I warmed some in a mug for an evening treat when I missed my yogurt. If it hadn’t been for our snow storm a few days ago I probably would have settled for this one, but luckily for me I was forced to keep looking.

Nut Pods unsweetened almond + coconut creamer | Rating: Good for those who need flavor Winter arrived in Washington, D.C. this week and I didn’t want to brave icy sidewalks to get to the grocery store. Thank you, next-day Amazon delivery! I started looking online for shelf-stable nut milks that could be delivered to my door. I quickly realized reviewers loved Nut Pods and not just the vegans, my keto brothers and sisters too. Their claims of flavor and decadence seemed almost too good to be true, so I was intrigued. A flash sale on a variety packed pushed me over the top and I clicked buy. What did I think? I haven’t tried all the flavors yet, but I can see why people would like it. A 1tbsp serving has 1g fat and 0g total carbs and it does have actual flavor you can taste. I couldn’t drink it alone though (which I understand isn’t the point) because it has a strong taste I can’t quite place. It’s a little bitter and a little unpleasant, but that’s less obvious in coffee. Since I already brew flavored coffee, having flavored creamer isn’t important to me. I’ll finish these cartons, but probably won’t buy more, particularly since they seem expensive for the size… also something much better arrived in the same Amazon box.

Milkadamia Unsweetened Latte Da | Rating: Winner! I knew I couldn’t be the only one disappointed by un-frothy nut milks, so I launched an internet search on the topic and quickly discovered macadamia nut milk. I didn’t know that was a thing. Even though macadamia nuts are notoriously expensive, Milkadamia costs about the same as the other milks I tried. Better yet, the website and reviews claimed that it “foams beautifully” and is loved by baristas. Say no more! The unsweetened “latte da” flavor wasn’t available at my local stores so I ordered a six-pack from Amazon, promising myself that I’d drink it all even if it was a disappointment. Wow! Wow! Wow! In less than two days I polished off one carton. Compared to the almond and coconut milks, the flavor is subtle, creamy, and ever so faintly sweet. You can taste the macadamia if you look for it but the flavor doesn’t push to the front the way almond and coconut milk can. And the foam? It truly does “foam beautifully” into tiny bubbles that will hang around until you empty the cup. In fact, it sometimes foams too much and I have to leave it to settle a bit before it overflows my mug. The Milkadamia Unsweetened Latte Da has 4g fat and 1g total carbs per 8oz serving – the same as Califia Farms – but the subtle creamy flavor and beautiful foam put it over the top. I’m serious when I say that on first sip I thought Yes, I can do this dairy free thing!

Do you have a favorite non-dairy low carb milk? Does dairy increase your swelling, inflammation, or lipedema pain? Drop me a note below about your favorite dairy alternatives. Now if only I could find something low carb to replace my Greek yogurt!

Be sure to follow my blog so you get next week’s update.

PS – I have no affiliation with any of these companies and received no incentives for this post. Real genuine opinions here!

Non-Dairy January

I love cows. They are a key piece of the keto, borderline carnivore, way of life that I use to manage swelling and inflammation. My day usually starts with heavy cream in my coffee, continues with parmesan crisps and guacamole in the afternoon, and ends with a ribeye steak and some full fat greek yogurt in the afternoon. Thank you, cows, for making that possible. Like many people, I increased my dairy consumption when I went keto over a year ago and it has been a wonderful source of both fat and flavor in my diet. Until now.

There is a lot of talk about bio-individuality and food sensitivities in my lipedema circles yet I have long pushed away even the possibility that I could have a dairy intolerance. That would be a disaster! But as I deepened my levels of ketosis and incorporated fasting to accelerate my healing, strange things started happening to my stomach. Without warning eggs, which I’ve eaten all my life, started sending me on sprints to the bathroom and I started to wonder about some of my other food staples too. My conservative treatments (compression, pneumatic pumping, whole body vibration, etc.) were doing a lot, but some days I could still see swelling and feel inflammation. Something was still going on.

Google “food sensitivities” and you’ll see that eggs and dairy are some of the most problematic foods for human stomachs. Could dairy, I wondered, be behind the occasional inflammation and swelling I experienced even after eliminating eggs? Please no. Curiosity finally won out about a month ago when, on a whim, I picked up an EverlyWell at-home food sensitivity test during a Black Friday sale. Please no, I again prayed as I pricked my finger and promptly bled all over my kitchen, but it was too late. Pandora’s food sensitivity box was already open.

The results came by email a few days later and… Ugh! The only food it showed “high reactivity” for was cow milk. “Moderate reactivity” included egg whites (no surprise) and yogurt. Double ugh! I immediately went back into denial and rejection. It turns out the EverlyWell test is a little controversial and there is plenty of criticism of its science (or lack of it) to be found other places on the internet. For a second opinion I called my friend Kristin Arntz who is one of the great nutrition coaches at Lipedema Simplified. While she also shared doubts about the test itself, she nonetheless encouraged me to try an elimination diet. “But I don’t have symptoms!” I protested. I could feel her shaking her head even over the phone. “You don’t know if you have symptoms,” she corrected. “Eliminate all dairy for a month then see how you feel.” The one month part is important. Kristin noted that anything shorter than that wouldn’t give my gut enough time to heal.

So, on January 1, 2022, here I go. One month without dairy seems impossible, but I keep reminding myself that life without flour and sugar also seemed impossible at the beginning of my keto journey… but here I am 15 months later. We can get used to anything if we give it enough time. Wish me luck! Check back for updates on how I tweak my diet and if I notice any improvements in my health.

Are you doing any experiments of your own for 2022? Have you noticed any new food sensitivities after adopting a ketogenic way of eating? Drop me a note below in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.