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[personal profile] becala
Important piece of background info: I am allergic to casein (the protein found in dairy products), as well as corn protein. I am also gluten intolerant.

Is there a 12 step program for cheese addiction?

I asked this question once, and my partner at the time was like, "Sure, it's called Overeaters' Anonymous." The thing is, I don't truly have an eating disorder. I have some body issues--what American woman over 30 doesn't--and have certainly had periods of my life where I've had a less healthy relationship with food than is desirable. But these days I have a healthy self-esteem and little need to control my life through food other than to make sure I don't have an anaphylactic reaction and, you know, die. Having known folks with actual eating disorders, I am pretty positive that what I'm dealing with is very different.

My issue with cheese and other dairy products is that I have a strong desire for the immediate physiological reaction I have when I eat it. There are no studies I can find to support this, but the claim that casomorphins and gliadomorphins in wheat and dairy produce an opioid effect in the brain and therefore are addictive is becoming increasingly popular. As I said, I can find no hard science to support this, I only know what I personally experience.

When I eat dairy or gluten, the immediate (within 1-2 minutes) effect is one of relaxation and calm. My pupils dilate, I instantly feel a bit dizzy, but at the same time safe and very, very relaxed. In the case of gluten, the negative effects kick in in about 15 minutes: first bloating and stomach cramps, then within a couple of hours, rashes and body aches. Over the next several days, the body aches continue while the GI distress works its way--ahem--downwards. I have also noticed cognitive effects, where I feel sluggish and generally emotionally delicate for a day or two afterwards, and I do not have these symptoms when I do not eat gluten.

The thing is, with dairy, I experience the immediate pleasant effects, and the negative effects are very far removed from the act of eating. If I eat a slice of cheese, I feel immediately comforted. One could claim that this is psychological, however if I increase the amount and eat say, and half a pound of cheese, there is absolutely no question that I am *high*. Dilated pupils, dizziness, and yes, the nods. In the middle of the afternoon, when I've had plenty of sleep already. I've never done heroin, but I've taken plenty of prescription opioids. The effect is very similar.

I don't experience any negative effects from the dairy until the following day. I will have inflamed sinuses and increased mucous production when no other food or environmental factors have changed, and occasionally a mild but tolerable rash. Within 3 days, I will have large, painful, subdermal comedones that take weeks to go away completely. The number and severity will be directly proportional to how much dairy I ate.

I didn't want to believe that this was the cause, so I've repeated this experiment many times. I do have a tendency towards acne regardless of what I eat, but those particular types of cysts do NOT appear if I don't eat dairy.

The thing is? I CRAVE it, especially if I am feeling stressed or depressed, and in classic addiction style, it's difficult for me to just have a small amount- if I have one slice of cheese, I end up eating the whole freaking block. It's the worst late at night, when my self-control is compromised. Seriously, quitting cigarettes is easier for me than quitting cheese.

I've been fairly good about it in the last few months, in part because Eric's been really supportive at my request, reminding me in a nice way how good my skin has been looking lately and pointing out that I'm going to feel like crap the next day. I've also found that eating snacks that have a similar fat and salt content will help stave off the craving, at least a little.

So here's a list of things to do instead of eating cheese. It's mostly for me, because I had a "weak moment" last night and ate my housemate's entire box of Laughing Cow, and will have to replace it today and try to stay the hell away from it this time. But maybe there are other folks in my situation who will find it helpful:

  • Olives. Fat and salt galore.

  • Microwave "nachos" (in my case on rice crackers or rice tortillas) with Daiya cheese* on top.

  • Avocados. On GF bread, crackers, or just on its own with a bit of balsamic vinaigrette or salsa.

  • Peanut or almond butter. I actually spread this on a rice tortilla and then pan-fry it in oil when I'm really feeling like I need a slice of sharp cheddar. I also dress these grilled sandwiches up with onions, garlic, and hot sauce. Yes, with peanut butter. It's totally good.

  • Wayfare Foods' "We Can't Say It's Cheese" spreads.** Once again, not cheap, but pretty durn tasty. Also, much lower in fat and calories than an actual cheese spread.

Yeah, the list is short right now. I'm looking for suggestions and will add to this list as I find things that work.

* The number one product that has saved my butt: Daiya vegan cheese is free of casein, lactose, soy, gluten, and corn, and is actually tasty. Expensive, but tasty. It also has a higher fat content than the same amount of cheddar, which is not good for the waistline, but it helps with the craving. Unfortunately, this is something that's only really good on or in stuff, not so much as a snack on its own.

**One of Wayfare's product reps told me that the source of citric acid in their "sour cream" product is from corn. This leads me to believe that it probably is in their spreads, too, but I haven't yet reacted. Just a warning for folks that are corn-allergic.

Date: 2010-12-21 08:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I envy you...

See, I was born and raised in Wisconsin...and I can't stand cheese. Neither can my father. It just tastes to us unbelievably sour, but in a bad way. Not in a good way, like pickles. I can eat it if it's on other stuff, like pizza, but not alone.

How about pickles or other pickled vegetables as a craving substitute?

Date: 2010-12-21 08:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I envy YOU. I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and I LOVE cheese. :)

I meant to mention that connection before, as I saw something on some profile or other about you being from there. Born in Madison, raised in Stevens Point, then Neenah, moved to Austin, TX as soon as I turned 18 to get the hell away from the midwest. :)

Let's trade taste buds. And yes, pickled things paired with some kind of fat do help. But there has to be a fat.

Date: 2010-12-21 08:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Born in Milwaukee, raised in Brookfield and then Madison, and finally left for good at age 27 - to Seattle. Go get the hell away. I considered moving to Austin a few years ago, but their horrid 9to me) bus system sort of nixed that as an option for me.

As for a fat, hrm. No idea. I don't like fat, myself.

Date: 2010-12-21 09:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Austin transit is *terrible*. I forgot about that until we went back there recently for Fun Fun Fun fest, and there was like, no decent way to get anywhere outside of walking distance. Fortunately I still have good friends living there, so they were able to ferry us around.

Date: 2010-12-21 11:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Corn usually gives me a massive migraine, but I didn't have that reaction to the wayfare we can't say it's not cheese dips. I had the smoked and regular cheddar. I got mine on sale at

I found it a little strong on the tomato, but has a vegan queso that you can get spicy or not spicy. I just got the regular and it was fairly decent on pita chips.

I ate daiya straight out the bag and thought it was pretty good. You can buy a big block of it off vegan essentials. I also liked teese on pizza, but it doesn't get stringy or oily like daiya does when you melt it.

Date: 2010-12-22 05:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I got all excited about Tees, as I hadn't heard of it, but it has corn maltodextrin in it. I may not be sensitive enough to react to citric acid from corn, but I know I will react to maltodextrin. :(

Date: 2010-12-22 07:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hey, have you tried Dr. Cow's Nut Cheese? It's sold out on veganessentials, but it looks tempting.

Mostly I just wanted to type "Nut Cheese." Heheh.

Date: 2010-12-22 09:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Dr Cow is REALLY good, but the serving they send you is tiny for the price, so I haven't reordered it

Date: 2010-12-22 09:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ruh roh, yeah I didn't look that the sizes, already got some from :(

Date: 2010-12-22 10:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No food has ever given me any of the euphoric effects you experience from cheese...I find it fascinating! Too bad it has to be something you can't eat, though. :\

I should try this Daiya of which you speak, since I have a mild allergy to dairy (not enough to keep me from eating it on a fairly regular basis, but I could stand to cut down).

Date: 2010-12-22 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, I didn't realize that it did until I detoxed. I was eating the dairy and the gluten so often that I sort of constantly had some in my system. It wasn't until I went without for 3-4 months that I realized what happened to me when I had some.

My newest guilty pleasure comfort food is Amy's Mac & Cheeze. It's a frozen microwave-it type mac & cheese, and it's made with Daiya. Positively decadent to someone who's more or less detoxed from the real stuff. Would be interested to know what someone who eats it more often thinks.

Date: 2010-12-22 07:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Addendum: Honestly, my allergy to it is so mild that my main motivating factor is the acne thing. Witness. And that was with makeup on! Srsly, who wants to walk around looking like that?

Date: 2010-12-23 09:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I really don't think your acne looks that bad there -- but I know it's absolutely no fun to have to deal with. My skin looks pretty decent now, but at one point I was a veritable pizza-face.

I'll check Whole Foods for that Mac & Cheeze next time I'm there, as I'm curious (and have had generally good experiences with Amy's products).

Date: 2010-12-23 02:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I had acne that bad when I was 21, and then finally got it under control (but not as far as I can tell from my own doing) when I was 23, and then again at age 31, and it didn't start getting back under control until the last 2 months or so. With my luck it'll happen again at age 41. I like to *think* that I did something to make it go away (cutting out dairy, changing my skin care routine), but honestly I'm not certain any of that had anything to do with it.

Yeah, maybe it isn't "that bad." Seemed that way to me, especially at my age. I am fairly certain that the number of folks mistaking me for a teenager at that time were doing so because of the acne. No ,sir, I am actually in my 30s and my skin is this bad. :P

Date: 2012-05-11 09:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm super-late to the party, but I HAD to comment because I have the exact same problem - the addiction to cheese. It's especially unfortunate because I am lactose intolerant. This post kind of blew me away.

Date: 2012-05-11 09:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What's interesting is that I've been back on the dairy, in moderation, for about a year now (this post is super old) and haven't noticed any of the effects I had been previously. I don't know if this is because there was some other allergen that I seem to have quit eating, or if the moderation is the key because my allergy is mild. But it's still useful info for people who absolutely need to avoid it.

I have an appointment with a nutritionist that specializes in food allergies and intolerances in a month or two here and we will figure out whether I need to quit the cheese again or not. At least I have this post for reference if I do need to stop.


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