Is Dairy Sabotaging Your Gluten-free Diet?

By: Hannah Bisig

(Cultivate’s New Intern)


Well, its FALL. Can you believe it?

I am experiencing a mixture of emotion—mourning the loss of the sun because I live in Ohio and the sun is about to leave me for the next 8 months, but also, celebrating because I love my cardigans, scarves, boots and can’t wait to break those out!

I don’t know about you, but coming into this fall season I have set a few intentions for what I desire to cultivate during this time (SHOUT OUT to Cultivate’s Facebook page—Cultivate Community—where women around the world are setting and sharing their intentions for fall; you should def join in!).

So a little background—after 9 months of following a very strict eating plan in order to lower my autoimmune antibodies and increase the energy output of my cells, I was met with SUMMER—where froyo, adult beverages, and tacos reign.

Please tell me someone else can relate!!

While I did not throw away my entire plan, I did become more lax on my dairy and sugar intake—going from absolutely NO dairy or sugar to an occasional cup of pistachio fro-yo, some goat cheese thrown into a fantastic summer salad, or a little coffee creamer.

It all tasted amazing, especially after a 9-month hiatus.

However, from the end of July up until about a week ago, I was in the midst of a flare up (aka, some of the autoimmune symptoms I used to suffer from on a daily basis started popping up again), and let me tell you, it was not comfortable.

This particular flare up left me in crazy pain from my neck, down my spine, and into my hips. I also had a POTS flare up at the same time, bringing me to a point of nearly passing out upon standing.

All in all, the progress I’d made over the past 9 months—moving from a place of exercise intolerance to working out regularly again—was slowing down due to the pain I was experiencing, as well as from the POTS symptoms.

As a result, I had to sacrifice time with friends and family, and often struggled to feel present when I was out due to pain I felt keeping me from sleeping at night.

After a few weeks of watching everything I worked SO HARD to regain in my life slip away, I knew it was time to step back and reevaluate my lifestyle again.

Through my work with Sarah—food journaling, listening to my body, and keeping track of the changes I’d made since the onset of my flareup—I began connecting the dots and soon realized everything was pointing toward my summer consumption of dairy products.

Bummer, right?

Well, there’s good news too! I have since removed dairy from my diet again, and for the past couple of weeks, my pain has faded, I am back to yoga class, and I’m sleeping like a baby.

In order to learn more about the reaction my body experienced, I hit the books. Upon researching why dairy products seem to have such a negative impact on my body, I found this interesting connection between dairy and gluten sensitivities:

Researchers have identified that dairy proteins can negatively affect as much as 50% of those with gluten problems. (read more here)

Clearly, I am in that 50%.

Turns out that the dairy protein, casein, is similar to gluten in both structure and effect in our bodies (read more here). While, I knew I had an allergy to gluten (currently awaiting a Celiac diagnosis), I had no clue about the relation my gluten sensitivity may have to dairy sensitivity.

I share all of this in hopes that someone else may have the same grand revelation I did.

Maybe you have also been gluten-free for some time, but still feel a little “off”…if this is you, I want you to know you’re not alone.

This feeling is real.

The good news is, the fact that you’re picking up on this means you are LISTENING to your body (and give yourself a pat on the back for that because listening is HARD).

What do I mean when I say “listening to your body”? Well, often times the feeling of discomfort (or the feeling that something is not quite right is your body) is your body’s way of crying out for attention, telling you something is out of balance or needs your attention.

In regards to the dairy-gluten connection, one researcher shared that our body could be saying “…there are still trace amounts of gluten in the diet, or that besides gluten sensitivity, [we] may also have a non-gluten food intolerance” (read more here).

Now I know giving up gluten and dairy may seem daunting…

Trust me. You are talking to the girl who, for every birthday from the day she started chewing, went to Olive Garden with her family to celebrate. It was my FAVORITE restaurant for years, and my meal there would consist of 3+ breadsticks, a salad (because that makes it a balanced meal, right?), and a big bowl of fettuccini alfredo.

Just CARBing-up for the year to come, you know?

Additionally, when I used to make my breakfast, I’d often cook up an omelet with an 80/20 cheese to egg ratio. Yes, you read that correctly. 80% cheese, 20% egg.

Quick reminder that this is a “judgement-free zone” and I am choosing to tell you about my old eating habits because I want you to know that if I could give up dairy and gluten, YOU CAN TOO.

I promise.

Oh, and to bring it back to fall intentions real quick—

While I hope this blog post will give you the courage to try giving up dairy (along with gluten if you haven’t already) to experience some relief from your chronic conditions (which I would be thrilled about), my main hope for this post is that it might provide you with the motivation to set your own intention for the fall—one that will bring more healing and peace to your life.

For me, my intention is to reign in on my diet again and to become more intentional about spending time recognizing and doing the things bringing joy and energy to my life.

Maybe your intention will be focused on food, exercise, relationships, spirituality, etc.

Whatever you choose to hone in on this fall season, I encourage you to do it—find one or two things to mindfully switch up in your life so the leaves aren’t the only things changing (ok, I love that picture, but also I’m so “cheesy”—no pun intended!)

Last thing—please don’t go about this fall intention thing alone.

Invite a friend or family member in to do it with you.

Trust me, it makes it so much more fun and motivating. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we have an amazing community of women on Facebook (love you girls already) who would love to walk through this journey with you! It’s a great place to start!



PS. Sarah here–this weekend I received this fabulous text from Hannah. She just cut dairy out of her diet again about a week or so ago and THIS is how her body is responding:

“So this may mean nothing to you but today it was 88 degrees and I played tennis. I’ve been playing tennis on really good days during the summer but only if I’m doing really good.
Today I started my period, I’m still on those medications (which I’m doing better but it still wipes me out) and I played during midday. But beyond that I played the best I have all summer.
My arms and legs hardly went weak. Most of my shots I hit in, which has been difficult for me because I haven’t had the strength to spin the ball correctly. But I did so well today, and I can’t believe the circumstances I did it in!”



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