What I didn’t realize when I started this dairy-free diet was that EVERYTHING (just kidding, not everything but a lot of food) has dairy in it. Butter, sorbet, dark chocolate, cereals, salad dressings, white sauces and baked goods. I had a mini-panic attack when I saw this list because it never seemed to end.

On the first day I started this diet, I freaked out. 

Like I said before, everything has milk in it. I also LOVE cheese, yogurt, ice cream and chocolate. I thought I was going to starve; however, the exact opposite happened. I began filling my body with more nutritious foods. I had so much energy and my mood completely changed.

The first few days of being dairy-free were pretty tough, though. I had to read each package of food and ask servers and chefs at restaurants if the dishes I was ordering contained dairy, which I’ll admit got a little annoying, but it forced me to pick healthier options and eat mindfully. 

Mindful eating is a really great way to prevent overeating.

If you eat slowly and actively choose the healthier options, you will see changes in your body, mind and energy levels. Reading the labels on all the packaged food I ate, such as granola bars, oatmeal packs, chips, cookies, canned foods to see if they contained dairy shed a light on each ingredient I was putting into my body.

I found that a lot of packaged foods are extremely unhealthy, fattening and lack the nutrients you need to take on a full day. Even those super "healthy" protein bars you read about online can be bad for you. You also don’t realize how many ingredients like carrageen, alkali, sodium citrate, calcium phosphate are in processed foods like milk and cheese until you start checking labels.

The first time I read a food label I realized I couldn’t even pronounce half the names on the package, while the other half of the ingredients made me feel like I was taking a chemistry test on the periodic table of elements. I thought to myself, “If I can’t pronounce the names of ingredients I'm about to eat, why the heck would I put that in my body?”

So, even if the snack didn’t have dairy, I put it back in the pantry and picked up a piece of fruit instead.

I became aware of all the sugar in dairy products.

Sugar is another ingredient that can be extremely bad for you, and it is found in a lot of dairy products. The average woman should only eat around 25 grams of sugar in a day, while the average man should consume no more than 37 grams. This sounds like a lot of sugar, but when you look up the nutrition facts in your food, it adds up quickly.

In a bagel, there are 6 grams of sugar, and if you add sugar to your coffee in the morning you’ve already reached a third of your intake. Not to mention, things like milk and cheese contain a lot of sugar as well. By cutting dairy out of your diet, you can save yourself 14 grams of sugar each day, just by cutting out one cup of milk. Even a glass of milk with cookies could max out the amount of processed sugar a person should intake.  

But I also realize it's okay to splurge sometimes and give into that slice and bake craving. I do it at least once a week on my "dessert night." I basically pick one night, usually Thursday, when I eat some sort of dessert. This week, being dairy-free, I splurged on Oreos, a great alternative to slice and bake, because they're vegan.

This dairy-free diet also helped me shop healthier and begin cooking for myself. 

Samantha Sontag

I'm guilty of walking into the supermarket and buying anything and everything on the shelf that has a shiny wrapper. However, when you have a dairy restriction, you can’t stroll down the packaged food aisle and pick up Pop-Tarts, cookies and chips. Instead, you’re forced to go to the fresh produce and pick up veggies, fruits and proteins.  

I looked up healthy dairy-free recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I found a lot of salads that contain protein, and I even discovered some soup and pasta recipes. I ate a lot of PB&J’s on rice cakes (my favorite substitute for bread because some breads contain traces of milk), quite a few salads and many, many omelets, but all of the meals I chose to eat this week were filling, nutritious and easy to make.

Another benefit of taking on this diet was that I had a lot more energy during the day.

cream, mocha, espresso, milk, cappuccino, coffee
Samantha Sontag

I’m a huge coffee drinker — I LOVE my lattes before my 8:30am classes, but this week I had to change my Starbucks order. I switched to a chai tea latte with almond milk, a drink my sister has loved for years, and now I really enjoy it too.

This morning pick-me-up has half of the calories a latte has, but it also has enough caffeine to wake me up and not dehydrate me the way coffee does. The combination of the tea and lack of dehydration really boosts my liveliness. I felt more awake and ready to take on the day.

I plan to continue my dairy-free diet for a few more weeks to see the long-term effects. I’m hoping that it will help me maintain my high energy, keep up my clean eating, clear my skin and hopefully, regulate my (sorry if this is TMI) bowels. It’s hard to experience the full effect of the diet in one week, but I already feel energized and strong. This no-dairy diet helped me moo-ove in the right direction — healthy eating is my future.