The number one benefit of eliminating milk and soy is my daughter’s health, but I have found that it has benefited my health as well. Here are just the major ways that I think my new diet has helped me:

  • Weight loss: I have struggled with my weight for my entire adult life, to the point that I was considered morbidly obese at only 23 years old. While I have found success in following the WW point concept, I have never found it as easy to lose weight as the last few months. My disclaimer here is that I am also a nursing mother, which really helps in losing weight. But when I say that eliminating milk and soy has helped me to lose weight, I mean that it has helped me to make better food choices. I didn’t realize the amount of recipes my husband and I were making with cheese until I couldn’t have it any more. All of the sudden the meals that we were choosing to prepare were low calorie and low fat without trying. In addition to meal selection, this is the easiest it has ever been to avoid temptation. I’m sure all of us have had those way-too-good-too-pass-up moments, like free donuts in the cafeteria, cupcakes for a co-worker’s birthday, or pizza in a lunch meeting. Now I don’t even have to attempt to talk myself out of it; I just know that I can’t have it and I move on. So its not that I am eating worse and losing more weight, I am simply making better choices without it being a conscious effort.
  • Variety: I think everyone falls into food ruts, and it’s always good to find excuses to try new things. This was an awesome excuse for my husband and I. We both love to cook, and actually found the elimination of milk and soy as an exciting challenge. Initially, we were just looking for recipes without milk and soy products, and some just happened to contain ingredients that we had never tried before. The more success that we had, it became fun (and intentional) to try new foods. It seems odd that by cutting out foods, we have actually increased the variety in our diets; but in order to keep eating quality food with real flavor, we had to branch out.
  • Awareness: I felt like I already had a bit of a head start when it came to eliminating hidden ingredients because I have an interest in eating natural foods. I had already cut out most prepackaged and processed foods which are full of surprising ingredients. It was still unbelievable to me the foods that contained dairy and soy ingredients. So as well as I thought I was doing eating “real” food, having to pay attention has given me so much more awareness of the food that I am putting into my body. There have actually been several occasions where I finished reading an ingredient label and found that it contained no dairy and soy, but I chose not to eat it because I was slightly horrified by the load of garbage I had to read through to discover I could eat it.
  • Risk Avoidance (?): I don’t even know enough at this point to really understand the potential risks of milk and soy. I’ve been hearing for a few years about the supposed dangers of soy, but it’s so confusing – for every article you read about how bad soy is for you, you find one about the amazing health benefits that it provides. If you do an internet search for super foods, it won’t take you long to find a list with soy on it. Next search risks of soy, and you’ll find tons of information there too. So my point here is that without greater understanding, I think I probably am safer just staying away from soy. The same goes for milk. I have never been a big milk drinker, but there has been no shortage of dairy in my diet – yogurt, cheese, butter, cheese, ice cream, cheese… When I was in college, a vegan friend of mine explained the theory that people should never drink cow’s milk. After all, humans are the only species that drinks another species’ milk, or continues to drink milk past infancy at all for that matter. This theory made a lot of sense to me, but it was more of an interesting thought than a compelling point to make me change my diet. More recently, I have heard a lot of information to build on that theory; like the potential dangers of casein, and like the other possible side effects that cow’s milk can have on infants. I still have a lot to research and learn about the benefits and/or risks of both milk and soy, but I feel like until I do that, I am pretty safe avoiding both.
  • I just feel better: I don’t know that it’s milk and soy specifically, or if its just a combination of all of the things I listed above, but I have been feeling generally better since I removed dairy and soy from my diet. I no longer feel like my food is weighing me down, and I feel much more confident in the nutritional choices that I am making. I used to suffer from frequent reflux, and took many over-the-counter medications to alleviate the symptoms. It’s been months since I have had any reflux discomfort at all. Actually, I used to have a lot of intermittent stomach issues, and never thought much of it. I just considered it normal. I don’t even think I realized it wasn’t normal until it went away when I changed my diet.

In my mind, all of these factors count doubly when I consider that everything I do to improve my health is directly impacting the health of my baby. For every difficulty that milk and soy elimination causes, it’s so easy for me to think of the many reasons it is all worth it.

For the first few weeks of life, my daughter (Sweet Girl) spent most of her time doing what infants do – eating and sleeping. While we weren’t getting much sleep, my husband and I could not complain; we had a happy healthy baby. When she was about 2 weeks old, she added a new activity to her days – screaming. She went from sleeping most of the time, to screaming inconsolably for hours. When my family was in town visiting, we would pass her around the room, taking turns trying to comfort her.

As a new first-time parents, my husband and I felt helpless. It was bad enough holding our hysterical child and being clueless as to how to help her. Worse than that was the feeling that she was in pain. She would pull her legs into her belly and scream until she was out of air. I was so scared that there was something wrong with her that the doctors at the hospital missed. We had to do something.

Anyone who has ever had an infant knows that there is no shortage of advice for new parents, and we heard it all. “Put cereal in her milk.” “Give her reflux medication.” “Stop breast feeding and give her formula.” “It’s colic, there is nothing you can do but let her cry it out.” “Gripe water will fix it!” “Stop eating spicy foods- that must be upsetting her stomach.” “There is something wrong with her, go see the doctor!”

Where should we start? I knew in my heart that breast milk was the best thing for her, and I was not willing to compromise on that. That eliminated some advice. After that, I had no idea. The pediatrician had recommended reflux medication when she was only a week old and had been gagging occasionally. While I love our pediatrician, I am not interested in medicating my baby unless absolutely necessary. So we went in a direction that many people find surprising… the chiropractor.

I had never been to a chiropractor myself but had heard that some conditions, like reflux, can be caused by misalignment. My sister, who is an Occupational Therapist, saw amazing results with her infant daughter who screamed for the first five weeks of her life. I did some research and found a great local chiropractor, Dr. Brenda, who specializes in treating women and children. At our first visit, we got the good news/bad news that Sweet Girl’s alignment was in good shape. Of course we were glad not to find a problem, but we had been hoping to find something easy to solve. Taking a holistic view, Dr. Brenda recommended that I start taking pro-biotics, she showed us ways to massage Sweet Girl’s belly to alleviate some discomfort, and we continued to see her in the hopes of finding a solution. Early in our relationship, Dr. Brenda mentioned that cow’s milk and soy can wreak havoc on a baby’s digestive system, and that if pro-biotics and belly massage didn’t help her, I might want to consider eliminating it from my diet. Then, after a few visits, Dr. Brenda noticed that she could calm Sweet Girl’s screaming while pressing on the ileocecal valve in her belly – pointing to GI distress. So back to the doctor we went.

At this point, we had a lot more information from Dr. Brenda. We were very confident that Sweet Girl was experiencing digestive issues, not some other ailment. With what we learned from Dr. Brenda, our pediatrician used a test looking for microscopic blood in Sweet Girl’s stool, and it was positive. Her recommendation was to remove milk from my diet. She explained that some people believe that no person should drink cow’s milk, and that the large protein size can be difficult for people, especially infants, to digest; this causes intestinal inflammation, hence the microscopic blood. That was all I needed to hear. If there was anything I could do to help Sweet Girl, I would do it. I eliminated milk products for about a week and half before going for a follow-up test. Our doctor saw some improvement, but not a completely negative test. I asked what else I could do and she said to try cutting soy out next, so that’s what I did.

The change that we saw was not immediate, but it was dramatic. Over a period of a few weeks we went from having a few good hours in mostly bad days to having a few bad minutes to hours in mostly good days. We have learned that we have an opinionated child on our hands and that no diet change will affect that, but we don’t see her crying in pain or pulling her legs into her belly any more. This change has made such a difference in our lives, that I am in no hurry to try milk or soy again any time soon!

With that said, this has not necessarily been an easy change. I have certainly faced challenges, and have tried to navigate my way through the milk free, soy free world with few resources. Everyday it gets a little easier and becomes part of the way that I eat and cook. As I continue to learn how to live and eat normally without milk and soy, I am hoping that, by sharing my experiences, I can help someone else do the same thing.