Recently on My Plant-Based Family’s Facebook page I asked, “What is your biggest hurdle to a plant-based diet? Needing to plan meals, learning a new cooking style, getting rid of the junk, going dairy-free, finding support…?” Click over to read them all or add your own!
There were a lot of great answers but here are a few of my favorites.
- Kristen said, “Hardest part really is dealing with other people. “Oh come on.. it’s just mayonnaise!” *grumble*”
- Joyce said, “Planning meals has always been a struggle…and trying to please everyone in the house”
- Colleen said, “Finding nicer places for my husband and I to eat out at. In our meat days, we loved going to dinner at nice restaurants. Our choices are so limited now”
There were many more that I’ll address in the future but one of the most common hurdles was giving up cheese.
Can I just start with a GREAT BIG “Honey I Know“! Now say it again, out loud, with a little more soul, “Honey I Know“. Before I get into brain chemistry, faux cheese, and all of that let me say there is hope, they sky is not falling, you will survive.
1. I haven’t REALLY enjoyed a bagel since going dairy-free. There is no substitute for real cream cheese. I didn’t like cream cheese until I was in my mid 20s. I’ll eat a bagel with peanut butter but to this point the faux cream cheeses I’ve tried were more reminiscent of paint thinner than food. One day I may find one I like but if it takes $8 worth of nuts and special equipment to make I’m not trying it.
2. I tried a leading faux cheese brand shortly after changing my diet and I was completely grossed out. About a year later I bought a frozen pizza with the same faux cheese (and faux meat) and LOVED it. I could have eaten the whole thing but politely shared with my husband. He didn’t love it but he had eaten regular pizza with cheese occasionally and I had not. I think that made the difference.
3. I am a sugar addict and eat way to much of it. Cheese is not a huge struggle for me but I once appreciated a nice piece of sharp cheddar, a crock-pot full of Velvetta laden queso, and chocolate truffle cheesecake.
4. I will eat a “regular” chocolate chip cookie if offered. I assume it has dairy in it but I do not buy dairy and wont cook with it. Eating dairy gives me severe joint pain and isn’t worth it to me. Trace amounts of dairy, say in a chocolate chip cookie doesn’t create noticeable problems.
5. I don’t eat a perfect diet and strive to be 90% whole food plant-based. Some days I miss the mark but I KEEP GOING.
Are you Really Addicted?
Dairy, especially cheese, contains naturally occurring chemicals that give you an opiate like response when you eat them. Maybe that is why we turn to food when we are stressed, we are looking for something to ease the pain. Casein makes up 87% of the protein found in cow’s milk and is also found in breast milk. Casein helps babies relax, keeps them coming back for more, and helps them bond with their mother. Casein also helps us feel better and keeps us reaching for more. People often tell me they will never give up dairy or they CAN’T give up dairy. Sounds like addiction to me. 🙂 But I’m not judging, I’ve already admitted to my sugar addiction. 🙂
Links to Disease
When I’m tempted to eat something I shouldn’t I often think back to The China Study and Forks Over Knives. In the book and documentary Dr. Campbell describes how casein turns cancer growth on and off. In an interview Dr. Campbell explains it, depicted in a graph, in one of the most compelling presentations I’ve ever seen. Casein, mentioned above, promotes all stages of the cancer process. The idea of eating something known to fuel cancer gives me reason to pause and reevaluate my choices.
Large amounts of dairy also cause me to have inflammation which results in severe joint pain. A few month after beginning our transition to a plant-based diet my husband and I shared a small piece of cheesecake. The next day I woke up in PAIN. My joints hurt, the larger the joint the more it hurt. This lasted for about 4 days. My husband even had to stay home one day because I couldn’t lift my son.
I am not an animal rights activist but I’m not ignorant to the plight of animals and how they are mistreated. If I’m really craving something that is dairy-based, I consider if it is worth it to the animal who would be abused at my expense. Would I be willing to actively participate if getting the dairy from the cow or meat from the chicken, if not I rethink my inactive participation (buying from the store).
Given time our taste preferences change. When you eliminate dairy (and refined foods) and replace them with whole plant-based foods your body will begin to enjoy them more. I’m not saying you will no longer want your old foods but they will loosen their grip on you and your taste buds. People often tell me, after being plant-based for a while, that when they eat their old favorites they are not as good as they remembered and in some cases are gross and make them sick. For example, I’ve eliminated oil from my home, when eating out food often tastes oily to me. When I see a cheese tray I look at it completely different than 2 years ago. Now I see greasy, fatty, little squares that look artificially colored. Most people tell me they no longer crave dairy after 2-4 weeks of giving it up.
My Kids Love Dairy
Honey, I know! Kids are taught that they NEED dairy to have strong bones so parents dutifully buy cheese sticks, milk, and sugar-filled yogurts to keep our kids healthy. Then once we learn the truth it is too late and our kids are addicted to dairy. My oldest son was too! I’ve been there!
We slowly transitioned off of dairy. In fact, when I first began this blog in 2012 he still got small amounts of dairy. Today he will tell you, “cheese makes us sick” and happily not eat it. We replaced his daily yogurt with non-dairy yogurt or applesauce. We still had a load of cheese sticks in the fridge so I cut back his consumption so he wasn’t eating them everyday and I stopped buying them. We stopped buying cows milk and switched to rice milk, coconut milk, and almond milk. He DID NOT like these. We were never juice drinkers so he mostly drank water. I would occasionally buy the vanilla or chocolate varieties which he enjoyed. After a while he would happily drink the regular, unsweetened rice or almond milk and I no longer bought the sweetened or flavored varieties. It just took a while for his tastes to adapt.
Fake Cheese Products
I am not a fan of fake cheese products. In my opinion they are not healthy and are often expensive. With that being said, if they help you transition away from dairy or use them occasionally or for special events I wont criticize. Many fake cheese products contain casein, so I recommend reading labels and avoiding anything with ingredients you don’t recognize.
Many people make their own faux cheese using nutritional yeast, nuts or seeds or a combination of all of those. I think these are often a better option since they are homemade. I make a faux cheese sauce using nutritional yeast that we occasionally enjoy. We used it a lot in the beginning of our plant-based transition but don’t use it as often now. I know exactly what is in it and feel like it is a mostly “guilt-free” option when we are wanting cheese. I have friends who use nuts or seeds to make faux cheese that behaves more like “real cheese” but these are high in fat which may not be suitable for some. My son has nut allergies and I’m not willing to spend a lot of money on nuts to make faux cheese that everyone in my family cannot have.
Perfection Not Required
Don’t get me wrong, we don’t eat perfectly but we have come a long way. I don’t get hung up on one too many chocolate chip cookies. Yes, friends and family think we are weird. Mostly, they think we eat very differently than we actually do. I’m not a doctor or medical professional so this isn’t medical advice, it is health encouragement.
I encourage you to:
- Challenge what you think you know about healthy eating
- Forgive yourself for making poor decisions
- Make permanent changes, slowly if necessary
- Extend grace to people who disagree with you (especially if they are your family)
- Commit to eating healthy for a specific time period 21 days, 28 days, etc.
You are not a slave to cheese. You have a choice. If you indulge every once in a while that is your choice, but it doesn’t have to master you. Any step in the right direction is progress. Keep moving forward.
For more information I recommend The China Study, Eat to Live, Forks Over Knives, Disease Proof Your Child, The Pleasure Trap and My Beef with Meat.