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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.


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May 2013

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