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I remember the days when I used to eat pizza, ice cream, and mac and cheese like it was nothing. I had a stomach of steel. Then, close to 10 years ago, when I was a sophomore in college, I started experiencing constant and unbearable pain, nausea, and bloating. Eventually I was diagnosed with gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, and since then, I've struggled with the most sensitive stomach known to man.

I've done everything I could think of to alleviate problems: I've changed my diet, I've done acupuncture, I've taken medications, and I've even cut out red meats, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods. But the one thing I never thought to ditch was dairy.

A few friends of mine had suggested over the years that I get tested to see if I was lactose intolerant, but I never saw the point. Dairy didn't make me vomit or end in diarrhea like it did for most of my friends who were actually lactose intolerant, so there was no way I was — or so I thought. So I kept throwing cheese in my breakfast omelets and in my salads for lunch. And I kept drinking skim milk in my chai lattes and nibbling on gouda cheese before bed. In my mind, my health issues had absolutely nothing to do with dairy.

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Fast forward to 2015, and my body was a mess. Not only was I now struggling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but I was constantly bloated, tired, exhausted, and in pain. I lacked energy that not even caffeine could fix, and my skin was suddenly breaking out. I've never struggled with bad acne, not even during my teen years, and suddenly I was finding a new pimple on my face almost every day. And not those little pimples you could get away with popping in a second. No, I'm talking the big, painful ones that stayed for days, were impossible to pop, and almost always left a mancha afterward. I was also experiencing bad headaches at least two to three times a week. When my derm told me it was probably all hormonal, I decided to immediately get off my birth control pills. But months passed, and I was still experiencing the same, if not worse, symptoms. What in the world was going on with my body?

I made so many doctors and hospital visits last year it was ridiculous. If I didn't have health insurance, I'd be buried in medical bill debt right now. I tried one drug after another followed by home remedies like fresh ginger root tea or oregano tea. I was already maintaining a pretty strict and healthy diet, but I went even further and cut out gluten and alcohol at one point. But things didn't really start to turn around for me until I finally decided to give up the dairy. I had tried everything else at this point and figured I'd give it a shot. What did I have to lose?

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I gave up dairy completely in September of 2015. I had been toying with the idea all summer and finally went cold turkey in the fall. Within a month of not consuming dairy I noticed a difference. To start, my IBS was a hell of a lot better. Sure, I still had occasional episodes but nothing like before. My bowel movements started to normalize, the pains started to go away, and I was no longer bloated 24/7.

My headaches were gone and my energy levels started improving as well. I felt stronger, more awake, and a lot more alert. That sluggish feeling I used to have by mid-afternoon was gone. But what really surprised me was the effect it had on my skin. My adult acne was slowly but surely disappearing, and my skin was clearer and more radiant than ever.

I started doing research and discovered that the growth hormones, fats, and sugars, found in cow's milk, might aggravate skin, especially for people with sensitive skin like mine. Why didn't my derm tell me this? Apparently, studies that show that an association between dairy consumption and acne may exist are still weak, so it's impossible to say for certain whether dairy actually aggravates or causes acne. 

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I recently visited my gastroenterologist to update him on my IBS woes. Although he wasn't entirely convinced that I'm lactose intolerant (because it doesn't give me diarrhea), he did think it was a good idea that I cut back on the dairy, explaining that most adults develop issues digesting dairy with age. He actually recommends that most of his patients at least cut down on their dairy intake.

Trust me, giving up dairy isn't easy, especially on pizza Mondays at work. As a result, I've had my weak days when I just give in and snack on a block of sharp cheddar or throw feta all over my homemade salad. But I'm telling you — nine out of 10 times, I find myself regretting it afterward. If I don't wake up with a new pimple the next morning, I'm up all night fighting off bloat, gas pains, and indigestion. Making this diet choice was totally worth the occasional slice of cheese, pizza, or tub of ice cream.