When "Moo" Puts you on the Loo
I’ll never forget it: About a year ago, I met up with an old friend for a comfort-food dinner. The fare of choice? That inexplicably divine pairing of pizza and beer. It’s timeless, it’s undeniable, and I ordered a lot of it. Its magic not escaping me for even a moment, I closed my eyes and savored. This is amazing. I want to eat this forever. No sooner had I uttered that – no exaggeration here – than I was (BAM!) struck by monstrous stomach cramps. I was forced to put down my still-steaming slice, stat. On my way home from the restaurant, I stopped at the grocery store with the most unintentionally hilarious (and humiliating) checkout contents imaginable: laxative tea and toilet paper. Nothing else.
But lactose intolerance didn’t exactly curse me out of the blue. Like an estimated 25% of the population, I’ve been sensitive to dairy my whole life. As a little one, my super-sweet mom even set up a small table of amusements for me in the bathroom for when I’d be stuck on the pot. It just took me a long time to figure out the source of my problems, and even longer to actually stop eating my stomach’s worst enemy. In college, I gave up ice cream and milk. (Who wouldn’t be inspired by a campus visit from Woody Harrelson, who convinced me that “milk does not do a body good”?) But cheese? Please.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance vary, but generally consist of the following awesome line-up: Diarrhea or constipation, accompanied by nausea, cramps, bloating, and other fun intestinal snafus. It’s a gas! The problem is that some of us just aren’t blessed with enough of the magical enzyme lactase, which is produced in the small intestine and breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk. Without lactase, unabsorbed lactose passes into the colon where it produces a build-up of gas. Even the facts are difficult to digest.
On the infamous night of Ex-Lax and TP, I vowed to finally rule out cheese. I started a journal. Each day I logged what I ate, how I felt, and…you know, bathroom stuff. I was gradual about it – I allowed myself a little parmesan here, a bite of chocolate cream pie there. But once I crossed every offender off the list for good, the cramps, gas, and constipation left, too. Even afflictions I hadn’t expected to disappear (canker sores and chronic congestion) have faded fast. And on the rare occasion that I let something slide, like not wanting to rudely decline pizza at my boss’s dinner party, I pay the price – almost immediately.
It’s a learning process. After a year, I’m still discovering what does or doesn’t work with my lactose intolerance, while endlessly explaining that just because I can’t order sour cream in my burrito doesn’t mean I don’t want the beef. But it gets easier, and, as far as my digestion is concerned, I can now say that I kind of like the dairy-free me.