Dairy is a Gateway Drug (aka: The Wedding Diet, July Edition)

[For background on The Wedding Diet for the Rest of Your Life, go here.]

San Francisco, CA

So July, also known as:  The Month Without Dairy, is wrapping up.

Dairy was an interesting first item to put on the chopping block.  In some ways it was easy.  I don’t drink milk.  I rarely eat yogurt.  I don’t keep ice cream around the house.  But when I started this month, I knew that giving up cheese was going to tear me up inside.

To be clear, I’m the person who serves a five-cheese plate with accompaniments at every house party.  At our engagement party, for example, I put together a cheese tray that told our collective story based on the origin of the cheese (while balancing flavors across milk type and flavor, of course):

  • an Iowa Maytag blue to represent Liz’s home state
  • a good Midwestern cheddar to represent my origins (it can be tough to find Michigan cheese, so I substituted a Wisconsin variety)
  • an Irish gubbeen to represent Liz’s Callahan roots
  • a double cream from the Northeast as a shout-out to my time in Connecticut and Boston (again, this was another ‘regional cheat’ from Vermont), and
  • a California Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk to symbolize where we came together

cheese story pic
We entitled it ‘our cheesy story’ (her idea)  – and it was delicious.

Despite this love of cheese, I knew the payoffs would be big if I could tackle dairy:  I remembered when I lived in Singapore a few years back and, in keeping with local food customs, I ended up eating very little dairy.  I felt fantastic.  Now this could have been the result of just being twenty-four and working out a lot, but it seemed like at least a directional indicator that there might be some traction to this no-dairy thing.

One month later, here’s what I noticed about life without dairy:

First, the biggest challenge of the month was not cheese.  (What?!)  Instead, my biggest test came when my good friend Jes (a once-and-future Californian) came to visit San Francisco and requested “California-style frozen yogurt.”  (Ahh, frozen yoghurt!  I had forgotten about you!)  Here in California we do such a good job pretending that frozen yogurt is healthy; between the tart flavor of the froyo and the fresh fruit toppings it feels like you could eat it for breakfast.  Some shops even offer to replace your frozen yogurt with Greek yogurt.  (Let’s be honest; no one gets the Greek yogurt.)  So it was not cheese, but the request for froyo that brought pain to my heart.  I will testify, however, that a bowl of fresh strawberries, mango, raspberries and blueberries with some graham crackers is not a bad substitute.  Frozen yogurt shops are just fruit shops in disguise.

My bigger realization, however, was that dairy is the ultimate accompaniment.  There are a lot of unhealthy foods that end up being unbalanced without dairy to cut the taste.  For example, my sweet potato fries were not half as awesome without the ranch dressing on the side, so I ate fewer fries.  Similarly, when they broke out the sundae bar at my friend’s wedding, I created a big ice cream-free bowl of toppings for myself.  But, quite honestly, you can only eat so many brownie bites covered in caramel before the sugar overwhelms you.  The fried, the fat, the sugar – they all end up being too much if you can’t pair it with dairy.  Thus, when I cut out dairy, I eat less of the rest of the crap.  It’s an unexpected halo effect if you can give up the dairy.  But if you cave to dairy, the rest of the unhealthy food comes piling in.  In that sense, dairy is the gateway drug.

But on the whole:
Overall feeling:  Relatively light and easy, definitely better than before
Weight change:  +/- 0 pounds
Difficulty to sustain:  Easier than expected, particularly if I could give myself a once-a-month exemption for some sort of frozen yogurt or cheese.  Or maybe I can start a rule like “The Dairy Stands Alone” so that I can eat low-fat dairy like string cheese, but not have the gateway drug effect.
Verdict:  I’m keeping this one on the list for on-going lifestyle consideration.  And I’m going to eat it only sparingly as we continue the experiment

And with that, welcome to:  August, The Month Without Sugar.


The Wedding Diet (For the Rest of Your Life)

Barcelona, Spain

The Wedding Diet (For the Rest of Your Life)
When Liz and I got engaged, our thoughts flew ahead to the day of the wedding.  Within days of “yes”, we started speculating about what we would do, who we would invite, and (because vanity strikes even the best of us) how we would look.

Now hypothetical wedding planning has never been an idle pleasure of mine, so thinking about the wedding feels quite new.  I don’t have a Pinterest board entitled “One day” filled with white dresses.  I don’t have preconceived notions about flowers, bridesmaid dresses, or the veil I want to wear.  But as I’ve started to reflect, there is one expectation of my wedding that I have harbored all these years.  And it’s an ambition that, after watching a cavalcade of wedding photos parade down my newsfeed, I’m confident I share with many other stunning brides-to-be:  Whatever outfit I buy, whatever hairstyle I pick out, and whatever shoes I find, I want to look fit, skinny, and frankly, freaking amazing for my wedding.

There, I said it.  It’s the definition of vanity (which I find embarrassing), but it’s true.

While fessing up to the ambition of looking ridiculously good on my wedding day, I’ll also admit that it feels strange to limit my ambition to one day and one dress.  It’s curious to crash diet to fit into a beautiful dress and then spend the rest of your life on what seems to be an inevitable march to gaining it all back (and more).  I have so much dietary motivation driven by this pending event.  More than I’ve ever had or likely will again.  Can’t I use that to create something better than just a handful of compliments and some fantastic wedding photos?  I want to harness this primordial force – this bride-to-be ambition – to create something that lasts.  Quite simply, I want a wedding diet not just for the benefit of one day, but one that will support me as I tackle the rest of my married life.  I want to use this energy to fight against the dietary challenges that will come with age, childbirth, life with children, and, frankly, the complacency of getting hitched.

Ahh, the wedding diet

Enter my lifestyle experiment:  “The Wedding Diet (For The Rest Of Your Life)”  The idea is to use the months between my engagement and my wedding to figure out what works for my body long-term.  My goal is no longer dieting in order to show off an enviable figure for one, glorious day.  Instead, my more ambitious goal is to use this in-between time to reset my eating patterns for the rest of my life.

Each month until my wedding I’ll give up a different food selected from the category of “things-that-are-incredibly-delicious-yet-alleged-to-do-something-horrible-to-your-body.”  Yes, you know what I mean:  dairy, meat, carbs, sugar, processed foods, alcohol, ya da, ya da, ya da.  Basically all the good stuff.  I’ll cut that category out for the first twenty-five days, then slowly reintroduce for the tail-end of the month, evaluating how it makes me feel.  Do I feel lighter or heavier?  Do I gain weight, lose weight, or stay the same?  I’ll admit now that this won’t be the world’s perfect lifestyle experiment.  I’m not going to control for every variable and I’m not going to live in a vacuum for the sake of blog-worthy science.  But I am going to do a sincere investigation while still living like a normal human being.  I’ll attempt to eat, sleep and exercise ‘normally.’  And on the honeymoon, I’ll put it all together into a diet that’s tailored to me.

The whole idea here is that a diet should be individual.  As a Californian, I’ve variously heard friends praising the virtues of vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, high fructose corn syrup-free, raw, and everything else possible.  Do I believe they have seen results?  Absolutely.  And do I believe that they would work for me?  I frankly have no idea.  Since our bodies look different, act different, and feel different, it seems curious to think that the same diet would make sense for all of us.  Instead of subscribing to someone else’s formula for health, I’m going to find my own.

And with that, welcome to July, hereby dubbed “The Month Without Dairy.”  I look forward to keeping you posted; in the meantime, feel free to leave comments about what you suggest giving  up – from your personal experience and/or the scientific/pseudo-scientific diet reading you’ve done.

With love (and, from here through August, always without cheese),