12 Things That've Happened Since I Stopped Eating Dairy 4 Years Ago

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12 Health Benefits Of Giving Up Dairy
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By Jenny Sugar

As a young animal lover, I stopped eating meat when I was 13 years old, and dairy was an absolute staple. I didn't think anything was wrong with it because it wasn't like the cows were being killed, right? Wrong. So wrong.

It wasn't until four years ago, when I watched the documentary Vegucated, that I found out how inhumane the dairy industry is. I had no idea! Cows are artificially impregnated at an alarming rate, and after they gave birth, their babies are brutally taken away from them immediately and hooked up to a machine to give their milk to us. I was sobbing watching a farmer drag a newborn calf away from its mama while she screamed and tried to chase after it as they held her back.

I live in Vermont, where the joke is that there are more cows than people. I spoke to tons of small family farms to find out the truth. They all nodded. I was shocked that one very well-known organic farm explained, "The reason we separate the calf right away is so they don't bond. Already you can hear the moms and calves mooing to each other, and it'd be much worse if they stayed together." It made me sick.

As a mother of two, my heart ached, and I felt compelled to give dairy up overnight.

RELATED: 6 Life-Changing Things That Happened When I Gave Up Dairy

Aside from feeling good about not supporting the cruel dairy industry, I had no idea how dramatically my life would improve over the past four years. Here are the amazing health benefits I experienced after going dairy-free.

1. I Lost Weight

I pretty much lived on pizza, ice cream, and chocolate, so when I gave up dairy, in just two months, I was able to lose some of the extra weight I was carrying around. My clothes felt looser and I felt more confident in my skin.

2. I Lowered My Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

Even though I was a vegetarian, my doctor was already worried about my unusually high cholesterol (close to 240!) and high blood pressure. I had a family history of heart problems — my grandfather died at age 54 from a heart attack. At age 37, my future wasn't looking so good.

Instead of eating saturated fat, I focused on more unsaturated fats like nuts, olive oil, and eating plenty of this creamy pesto pasta made with avocado. My doctor was shocked at how within a few months of ditching dairy, I got those numbers under control. Four years later, my stats are still looking great.

3. I Felt Instantly Less Bloated

I should admit that I'm lactose intolerant in a MAJOR way. I had to take Lactaid pills every time I ate, or my bathroom would pay the consequence. Even when I took those pills, I was in a constant state of bloat. My body couldn't digest dairy, and I was forcing it to. I should have listened to what my body was trying to tell me all those years.

4. I Ate Less Sugar

Before ditching dairy, vanilla Greek yogurt with fruit and granola was my go-to first meal of the day. I realized it was packed with sugar, and it just made me crave sugar all day long. Instead of switching to a dairy-free yogurt, I started eating foods that were lower in sugar like this banana-and-almond-butter-stuffed roasted sweet potato. Dairy is also in so many sugary treats like cookies and cakes, which I was eating tons of, and I felt much better not eating them.

5. My Skin Cleared Up

I suffered from terrible acne all throughout high school, and it continued through my 30s. It wasn't until I gave up dairy and decreased my sugar intake that my skin cleared up and even had a soft glow.

6. My Allergies Disappeared

Within my first year of college (more than 20 years ago), the same time I discovered I was lactose intolerant, I also developed allergies and asthma. I was now allergic to the cats I had grown up with, and I was also now dealing with seasonal allergies. I was so congested that even after more than a year of antibiotics, my sinuses were so clogged that my ENT recommended sinus surgery.

I was constantly catching colds, had a lingering cough from postnasal drip, and had to sleep with a cough drop in my mouth and a box of tissues and an inhaler next to my bed. I couldn't exercise intensely or I'd have a coughing attack. All it took was eliminating dairy, and within a week I could breathe easier. Four years later, I haven't needed allergy or asthma meds — it's amazing!

RELATED: What's The Difference Between Vegan And Vegetarian Diets (And How To Know Which One's For You)

7. I Ate Healthier

Since my main food group was cheese, I had to look to other foods. Going dairy-free forced me to eat more veggies, beans, fruit, and whole grains — the foods I knew I should have been eating all along as a vegetarian, but was too busy eating grilled cheese. On a side note, all that fiber made my digestive system very happy, which also helped prevent belly bloat.

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8. I Kicked Ass in My Workouts

Eating healthier and not feeling foggy-headed and bloated gave me so much energy! I could run faster and farther, lift heavier, hike higher, and had more than enough peppiness to play with my kids, which meant the world to me.

9. I Found a New Passion

With no ice cream, no mac and cheese, and no pizza, I was forced to get creative with recipes. People would buy me vegan cookbooks as gifts, and it totally ignited a passion for cooking I never knew I had. The kitchen is my new happy place, and feeding my family and friends nutritious foods feeds my soul (and so do these chocolate salted caramels!).

10. I Was Inspired to Meal Prep

With such a limited diet, finding healthy, delicious meals is nearly impossible. So now I'm always prepared. I make a week of mason jar salads for lunch, keep cut-up veggies and cooked whole grains, on hand for quick dinners, and always bring a veggie-inspired dish like vegan lasagna made with tofu ricotta when invited to dinner. Prepping meals in advance ensures that my daily diet is packed with nutritious foods.

11. I Tried New Foods

Growing up on pasta and bagels meant that I wasn't exactly adventurous when it came to eating. Trying new foods actually scared me! But with such a limited diet, I had to break free from my comfort zone and try new foods like tofu, tempeh, quinoa, farro, jackfruit, and avocado (yes! I hadn't tried one until four years ago!).

12. I Helped Others Become Healthier

People are shocked when I tell them a food I've made is dairy-free, like this vegan mac and cheese, made with cooked carrots and cashews. I'm able to show others that dairy-free foods can taste delicious, and it inspires them to eat less dairy, and to reap all the health benefits.

RELATED: How I Quit Sugar In 60 Days or Less (And You Can Too!)

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This article was originally published at PopSugar. Reprinted with permission from the author.