By Pam Linn


Trading pain for the urge to splurge

It’s day eight in what may be the rest of my life without milk and I’m suffering dairy withdrawal. It’s the season of sugarplums and all that dances in my head are visions of dairy desserts: flan, crème caramel, chocolate soufflé, pots de crème all mocking me.

So why do I have to do this four days before Christmas?

I don’t really. But a recent bout with pains in shoulder, neck, hips and knees sent me to the chiropractor. He worked his magic but it didn’t last. Then he suggested that an anti-inflammatory diet might be in order.

I’ve heard and read of this before. Many times. All sorts of health advisors, including integrated medicine guru Andrew Weil, M.D., espouse the anti-inflammatory diet, which eschews red meat and dairy in favor of fish and plant-based meals.

Well, the meat is no problem. It’s been 30 years since I had a steak or a pork chop. Almost. On a photo expedition into Yellowstone Park seven years ago, I just had to try a bison burger. I’ll admit it was pretty good, but nothing I couldn’t live without.

So, for me, salmon and halibut replace the loins of steers and swine, even lamb, which was once my favorite. And dairy has become my comfort food. Cheese, butter and yogurt; frozen yogurt and low-fat ice cream in summer; hot chocolate, puddings and pumpkin pie when temperatures fall. This could prove to be very difficult.

So, it’s four days until Christmas and I’m cleaning out my refrigerator. Not to make room for the turkey, I don’t do that anymore. But everything with milk in it has to disappear. Down the garbage disposal they go: Rice pudding, my favorite late night snack, Organic Valley low fat milk, sour cream and crème fraîche (for the pumpkin pie), buttermilk for baking, Havarti cheese with dill and gruyere for omelets and sandwiches. The disposal is happily whirring away and I’m brushing away tears.

Why am I doing this to myself? Then the phantom pain returns to my neck, shooting up the back of my head, and I know it will be worth the temporary pangs of withdrawal.

In the back of my mind always lurked the possibility that I might one day have to do this.

Mother became lactose intolerant after a lifetime of whole milk, Will Wright’s ice cream and cheese blintzes. One of my sisters had to have her carotid artery reamed out after living almost exclusively on fried shrimp, bacon and ice cream. And because of allergies, the other sister hasn’t tasted any part of a cow in decades.

Her fridge is full of soy yogurt, faux creamers, Earth Balance spread. So what do we need with Tillamook Vanilla Bean yogurt, steamed milk in the coffee, or butter on the sourdough bread?

When she came to Christmas dinner at my house, I used to make pumpkin pie with soy cream, thin the gravy with chicken broth, smooth the mashed potatoes with soymilk and sauté the veggies in olive oil. She was appreciative and nobody else knew the difference.

So why is this so hard? Well, for starters, it means that in addition to losing all my favorite desserts, I’ll be giving up coffee. Somewhere along the way I changed from plain black to decaf espresso with steamed milk. Starbuck’s lattes are probably responsible for this. I’ve tried steamed soymilk, but while it’s fine with cereal, in coffee it’s just plain yuck.

I think the big one is that while I’m calling this an experiment, somehow I know it may be forever. To shore up my resolve, I’m reading everything I can find about the benefits of a dairy and meat-free diet.

George Munoz, M.D., a specialist in arthritis and osteoporosis treatment, writes that eating less meat helps to diminish symptoms because meat (especially poultry) is rich in arachidonic acid, a fatty acid that promotes inflammation, and that sensitivity to gluten or casein (a protein in cow’s milk) may worsen pain and stiffness. Research shows that omega-3s help reduce levels of compounds that cause inflammation and cartilage deterioration.

Weil has been saying this for years. He even constructed the Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid (available at In a recent issue of Environmental Nutrition, he recommends fighting inflammation with monounsaturated fats. “In the traditional diet, people ate tubers, nuts and seeds that are low-glycemic carbohydrates.”

Aye, there’s the rub. I get the distinct impression that sugar might be the next to go.

But not until after Christmas. Only then could I conquer the urge to splurge on Grand Marnier Cake and brownies.