We eat a lot of dairy products in this house. My husband and his siblings love to claim that in their family, cheese is a food group. My older boys manage to down gallons of milk every week. I used to put real cream in my coffee every morning, and I love ice cream, to the point where I used to have a little scoop most nights. Warm bread, waffles, or pancakes with butter? Yum.
But at some point in the last year I realized that my chronic sore throats and congestion were making me miserable. I did some research and found that dairy was a potential culprit (red wine too, but I’d already mostly given that up). So I decided to try cutting it out to see what would happen.
The answer is that while the problem is not 100 percent gone, I’d say it’s 75 percent gone (there may be other triggers) and that’s a big improvement. Of course, this means I’m now facing down life without cheese, or at least with very limited cheese. I have needed to change some fairly strongly ingrained habits. Like, I had milk or cream in my coffee every day since I started drinking coffee at age 15.
Changing a 27-year daily habit sounded like it would be…hard. So I’m shocked by how not hard it is has been. True, there are a great many dairy alternatives, but I decided I would try to learn to drink my coffee black. We get really good coffee grounds, make it strong, and now, a few months later, I am not even tempted to use the soy-milk creamer my husband bought. As for ice cream, I guess I have been motivated enough by the fact that I am feeling better to mostly stay away from it. We have several pints of Ben and Jerry’s sitting in the freezer untouched (my kids don’t like ice cream with stuff in it, which is why no one else is eating those). Bread fresh out of the bread maker turns out to be pretty good even without butter.
That just leaves hard situations like family make-your-own pizza night. The current solution is that my husband and I make our pizza with just a tiny bit of cheese on one half. That doesn’t seem to trigger anything too bad.
In any case, I’ve been pondering what I can learn from this in terms of habit change. One is that motivations matter. Avoiding physical pain is a really, really strong motivator. Another is that even a daily habit (like cream in my coffee) might be less ingrained than one might imagine. There are habits that are deep grooves and then there are ones we do just because we do. I have failed in my attempts to check email and Instagram less frequently. Cream turned out to be just something I did early on and then never re-examined.
Support helps. My husband often makes scrambled eggs for breakfast and he just stopped making them with cheese, or would split the pan in half. Plus we’re not in social situations right now where any of this would become an issue. It helps me to remember that this is a choice. If I’m at a dinner party in the future where everyone is eating cheese or ice cream, I can eat these things…I’ll just deal with the consequences.
And then the longer you do something the easier it becomes. Now that I know I can drink my coffee black I’ve decided against putting any non-dairy creamers in it. It’s simpler not to, so no need to start that back up again.
Have you ever changed a long-term habit?