A couple of years ago I started to get excruciatingly bad tummy cramps followed by a really *bad belly* (eek, so embarrassing). It happened randomly and frequently enough for me to know that it wasn’t just because I’m a lady, but I couldn’t pin it down to anything in particular. Being the pessimist I can sometimes be, the first thing I did was Google my symptoms and ended up thinking I was dying of a brain tumour. Thanks Google. Andrew eventually persuaded me to quit my whinging and go to the Doctor to see what s/he had to say.
When I got in there, he was really quite blasé about the whole thing, which was in some ways comforting (no brain tumour, phew) and in some ways irritating (pay more attention to me!). His verdict was that I probably had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Apparently, it is quite common for girls in their early twenties to develop IBS, a condition of the digestive tract that can give you bloating, diarrhoea and tummy cramps. The exact cause of it is unknown, which makes it even more frustrating because it can be difficult to manage. If you’ve got any uncomfortable belly symptoms, then take a look at the NHS website here to see if it might be IBS. It might not particularly help answer any of your questions but you never know!
The good piece of advice the Doctor did give me was to keep a food diary, so I downloaded mySymptoms (available on iTunes for $2.99) to keep track of what I was putting into my mouth. The idea of the app is that you track your food, your sleep, your toilet habits (double embarrassing) and any symptoms you might have like tummy cramps, bloating, constipation etc. Once you’ve been doing that for a week or so (or sooner if you like) then you can run a report that flags what is likely causing you harm based on when you eat your food and how long after your symptoms occur. Very clever!
After a week or so of tracking my every move, the app flagged milk, butter and cheese as my irritants and I was honestly really surprised! I learnt that it takes about six hours for my symptoms to show after consuming something that I am intolerant to. So, with a heavy heart, I cut out cheese, milk and butter. And the symptoms totally disappeared. Ta-dah!
So what is lactose intolerance? Basically, it means your body doesn’t produce the lactase enzyme that is used to digest lactose, which is found in dairy products. There are different kinds of lactose in different dairy products – cows milk can be different to ewes milk for example. It’s all a case of experimenting to find out what works for you.
This was where I had to get realistic – can I live without cheese? Flat out no. Can I live without butter? Wahhh, would really rather not. Can I live without milk? Hmm, I guess soy milk isn’t so bad. And so the world of living dairy-free opened up to me. I started by trying to cut out all dairy, but you know what, lactose is in EVERYTHING FUN!
The obvious ones:
- Ice cream
The less obvious ones:
- Crisps (!)
- Pesto (mozzarella)
- Chocolate (DAIRY Milk)
- Salad dressing
- Some medicines
So where to go from here? Well I wanted to find out whether it was just cow’s milk or goat and sheep as well. Let’s face it, it’s hard enough to cut out cheddar and brie, never mind feta and goat’s cheese! Luckily I found out that I can eat both – yay! 🙂
From there it was a case of trial and error – for example, I found out that I can have one cup of tea with a dash of milk in and be pretty much OK, but not a bowl of cereal with milk. That was good news, because it meant if I was desperate for a cup of tea whilst at a friend’s house, I could have one! Being able to eat feta meant I could also still enjoy my beloved Greek Salads and goats cheese is super satisfying in small portions. All about seeing the positives on this one!
I found a whole range of useful and / or tasty dairy free products, which I’m dying to share with you this week – check out my upcoming Friday Five to find out more!
I hope this post helps you if you think you might be lactose intolerant and if you’ve got any diagnosis tips or fellow stories to share, then please do so below!