Over the past ten years, I have suffered from a milk intolerance. It has taken me all this time to figure out and understand how to cope with the pains that I get in my tummy. To start with, I noticed that my whole tummy area regularly felt uncomfortable before a gradual decline into feeling very bloated (with a noticeable increase in the size of my tummy) accompanied by diarrhoea, feeling sick, stomach pains and general indigestion.
Originally, my doctor told me that he believed that my problems were the result of a stomach ulcer that had formed due to the high stress element of my job. He advised that I look for less stressful employment. At the time, this was not an option for me as I had worked hard to get the job that I wanted and I did not want all of my efforts to go to waste. I tried to take things a bit easier at work (which was almost impossible) and felt a little calmer yet my stomach problems were still there.
After another year or so of pain, I went for a second opinion at another doctor’s surgery as I had moved home and the pains were gradually getting worse. This time, I was told that stress probably had played a part in my tummy problems and that I most likely was suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I was told that there wasn’t much that could be done about it, apart from to take some tablets that would relieve the effects of IBS. I took the tablets regularly, as requested yet I did not find that there was any improvement in my condition.
When I became pregnant with my son, I stopped taking the tablets, even though work was much more stressful at this point. I felt hungry and tired much of the time but presumed that this was part of being pregnant. Once I started breastfeeding my son, I found that I was eating five large meals per day. By this point, I was going to the toilet between three and seven times per day, which was time consuming, painful and annoying to say the least! I told my Health Visitor that I had expected to need to eat extra calories for breastfeeding my hungry child but I felt concerned at how much I was actually eating. I must point out that I was not gaining any weight at this time and was, despite the huge amount of calories consumed, was losing weight (as all the breastfeeding books that I had read had predicted I probably would). My Health Visitor said that I should not be needing to eat that much. After another trip to the doctors, on her advice, I described my symptoms again. This time, the doctor still said that it was IBS and prescribed me different tablets, which were very similar to the previous tablets I had taken. They did not make any difference at all.
After yet another trip to my doctors, to tell them that these tablets were not working either, I was told to keep taking them for a bit longer at a slightly stronger dose. I felt increasingly frustrated as again, these stronger tablets seemed to do nothing to relieve my pain. By this point, I had started to get used to the constant pain, trips to the toilet (even though some of these were at embarrassing, inconvenient times) and believed that I would always be like that. I lost a bit of self confidence about going out in the evenings at this time too. I found that I’d often feel ill after eating out in restaurants and had needed to go home early on some nights out with friends due to the unbearable pains in my tummy.
Having my son had made me change how I thought about food. I now included more fruit and vegetables in my diet and ate in a much healthier way, in an effort to be a good role model to my son. This also meant that I became more willing to try out different recipes as well as food types. As a part of this, I decided that I would make Panna Cotta one day as a treat. I really enjoyed eating my new desert (ok, I possibly was greedy and ate two servings!) but realised quite quickly (I think it was about fifteen minutes afterwards) that this had not agreed with me. I started to feel very sick, I had awful indigestion and my tummy had inflated very noticeably. As milk/cream was a major ingredient in this dish, it really made me think that dairy products were most likely to be causing my pains.
After consulting yet another doctor, I was advised to avoid the foods that I thought were causing my discomfort and introduce them gradually to see how much I could tolerate. I read online that writing a food diary could help me to identify and confirm if dairy was problem for me. I spent many, many months writing this food diary to discover what had caused my discomfort. I found that I was intolerant to dairy products, egg, bell peppers and chilli peppers. As there are a surprising amount of food in the supermarkets that contain milk, it took me a very long time to figure out which foods I could actually eat that would not cause a reaction. I struggled to understand some of the labels on foods at the time, as rather than saying that it contained milk, there were words like lactose, milk protein, casein, whey, caseinates, all sorts! Luckily, nowadays they usually state in bold whether the product contains milk or not.
Nowadays, I have changed my diet considerably due to my intolerances. I carefully read every food label of every item I purchase. Soya products became a large part of my diet, even though it took me a long time to get used to the taste. I hated it in my tea and coffee for many months until I finally accepted that this was the only way that I’d been able to still have these hot drinks. I have tried a large variety of different milks: oat milk, rice milk, almond milk and coconut milk. Many of these were great to cook with but I did not like the taste just as a drink or in tea. I tried lactose free milk and cheese for a while, as this is what I was told and had read that I was most likely to be the part of milk that I was intolerant to. I stuck with it for a while, secretly hoping that I would get used to it (as it tasted better) but it also made my tummy hurt.
For now, soya milk and soya products seem like the best thing for me and my intolerances. I hope that one day I’ll be able to find a milk that tastes more like the cows milk I grew up with. My dream is to also find cheese that I can eat too. Soya cheese is ok but often the shops near us do not stock it or they run out quickly. I used to love cheddar and mozzarella cheeses but I have not been able to find anything similar in taste or texture. Maybe one day…