Intolerant? Intolerable? Insufferable?

I have a confession to make. I’m quite intolerant.

Not of people, I hasten to add. No, my intolerance is dairy. Cow’s milk. The creamy nectar of the bovine.

Well, to be really specific, Baby Girl is the one who’s intolerant. It’s just that I breastfeed her, so her intolerance is my own for the time being. And to be really, udderly (Oh god, I’m sorry. I tried hard not to do that) specific, it’s casein that she reacts to: the protein in cow’s milk, as opposed to the fat. So, she’s not lactose intolerant, which is an important detail in a world that is suddenly full of lactose-free (but still poisonous to us) milk products. There is also a dazzling array of milk substitutes available, which I can report mostly taste of watered-down llama spit.

They're milk, but not as you know it.
It’s milk, but not as you know it.

To give you some background, when Baby Girl was brand new we noticed two things.

  1. She had acne that would rival the most pustulent of hormone-riddled teens. Cooing strangers would lean into her pram, then see her skin and stop short, gagging in horror.
  2. She hardly ever pooed. Like, days and days between dirty pants, then suddenly and explosively: what seemed like litres of newborn poo would arrive in a single straining nappy. This pattern came as a surprise to us, given that her brother had cheerily pooped before, during and after every feed. Her record was twelve days. TWELVE DAYS – can you imagine what a nervous wreck I was from about Day Nine (her previous record)?

After six weeks or so of various professional and non-professional opinions along the lines of ‘that’s normal, the acne will clear up in another week or so, and breastfed babies sometimes don’t poo very much because breastmilk is so efficiently digested’ (a factoid that really didn’t account for the sheer volume of poo that was eventually being explosively delivered), a lactation consultant finally suggested I give up dairy. She warned me to eliminate casein completely, and to give it at least a month before deciding whether it was working, since the protein would hang around in both our systems for a while. Within a few DAYS, Baby Girl’s skin was soft, smooth and luminous, as an infant’s should be. Within a week she was pooing every day or so, and – bonus – the wheezing and snuffling we’d thought was just newborn breathing had also disappeared. Needless to say, I stuck to the crazy fad diet. Some suggested I save myself the trouble and wean her, but what would I wean her onto? Hideously expensive non-dairy formula? Bone broth?? No thanks, given my budget, my understanding of gut health, my mistrust of both  formula companies and celebrity chefs, and the fact I’d have to modify her diet once she started solids anyway.

And so, for the last couple of years, I’ve been that person everybody hates. Holding up the line in the cafe asking about ingredients in the sauce. Bringing my own pretentious tupperware of goats’ milk to a coffee playdate. Sending a plate back and delaying a group lunch because even after I specifically asked for no sour cream on my meal and explained why, it came out liberally garnished with cheese. Ordering a ‘decaf soy latte’ like a complete tosser, causing everyone within earshot to involuntarily roll their eyes skyward. Lord, there’s nothing worse than being stuck behind that customer, is there?

Oh, wait. There is one thing worse.

Being that customer is worse. I hate being that customer. I hear myself quizzing waiters about whether they make their own mayonnaise on-site, and cringe at the wankery – but if I don’t, I’ll either have to eat a dry sandwich (no butter either, remember?) or risk eating packaged mayonnaise with skim milk powder through it. I don’t like either of those options, so I’m left with grilling the staff for info and enduring the impatient sighs of nearby patrons. It’s excruciating, but not as excruciating as watching my daughter trying to squeeze out a poo three days after I’ve ingested some dairy (yes, she still reacts. Yes, I check every so often). And that’s still not as excruciating as it would be if she had an allergy, instead of just an intolerance. A friend’s daughter scored an ambulance ride from daycare one time because she’d surreptitiously tasted another kid’s lunch and gone into anaphylactic shock. I can’t even imagine the anxiety of living with this as a possible adverse reaction to food.

So, yes. I’m that pain in the arse. And I come from good, pain-in-the-arse stock: my Mum has coeliac disease. In fact, she’s a total hipster, in that she was gluten-intolerant long before it was cool. Her own father was a coeliac sufferer years before THAT, when nobody had even heard of the

Finally, gluten-free milk! No, wait...
Finally, gluten-free milk! No, wait…

condition. So in contrast to the scores of self-diagnosed modern bloaters she a) has a genuine and painful reaction to even the slightest exposure to gluten – using a tainted spoon to stir her gluten-free meal is enough to make her ill within the hour – and b) actually knows what gluten is and how to avoid it, as opposed to the ‘Silly-ac’ sufferers out there who will gullibly buy expensive ‘gluten-free milk’, or claim to have had a reaction to glutinous rice (pro tip: gluten is a protein found only in barley, rye, oats and wheat, so ordinary old milk is always gluten free. And ‘glutinous’ rice is so called because of its gloopy texture, not because it is full of gluten).

The faux-intolerant fad-dieters out there have a lot to answer for. Yeah, we all get bloated after we drink a 2L milkshake. That’s not an intolerance: breaking out in a rash and not pooing for five days afterwards IS. Yeah, we all feel a bit sluggish after we eat lots of bread. That’s not coeliac disease: crippling pain within an hour of consuming one crumb IS. Yeah, some of us get a tingly mouth when we eat peanuts. That’s not a nut allergy… actually, yes it is, you should probably get that checked out, and nobody seems to bung on reactions to nuts and shellfish anyway, do they? Must be because they’re so tasty – nobody would voluntarily go without them unless they had a genuine reason to avoid them.

These posers aren’t intolerant. They’re just insufferable, and they’re giving the rest of us a bad name, because it makes us look like we’re being as precious as they are. They’re the reason that ‘gluten-free’ and ‘dairy-free’ have become buzzwords, synonyms for ‘healthy’ when that’s really not necessarily the case.


They’re the reason I’ll often get a cheerful run-down of the gluten-free items on the menu when I’ve actually asked about dairy, as if intolerances could be swapped and changed on a whim (‘Oh, nothing dairy-free? That’s too bad. How about gluten? I’m feeling a bit gluten-intolerant tonight, now that you mention it.’). They’re also the reason it’s so easy to poke fun at food intolerances, which is HILARIOUS until it actually genuinely affects you or someone you love, and then it’s kind of not anymore. Trust me, I’m just one slice of orange and almond cake away from madness here.

More than anything else, as far as I’m concerned it’s just WRONG and OFFENSIVE that anyone would voluntarily give up cheese and chocolate without a damn good reason (like horrific cramping or a constipated toddler) forcing them to. I mean, it just makes a mockery of all that is good! It’s almost as WRONG as the fact that Oreos, everyone’s favourite chocolate-cream biscuit are, as it turns out, dairy-free.

What IS in them? You don't want to know.
What IS in them? You don’t want to know.

19 thoughts on “Intolerant? Intolerable? Insufferable?

  1. I can see how it can be frustrating to be grouped with the fad diet people when you have a real problem. As a restaurant worker of 15 years, I learned about food allergies a long time ago. I learned about celiac’s disease before gluten free became a trend because I worked in a restaurant that was particularly accommodating to food allergies. To me, there is definitely a clear line between the fad dieters and the people who have a real intolerance or allergy. People with a real intolerance or allergy will always say “I will die if I eat ____” or ask specific questions about how something is prepared. Also, they sometimes call ahead of time to make sure they can be accommodated.

    I went gluten free for a while because I was breaking out in painful hives regularly. I lived in a city where everyone was jumping on the bandwagon of a gluten free lifestyle so I felt a lot of camaraderie with my restriction. I never went to a doctor to get tested but I have a suspicion that I wasn’t intolerant to any foods, but rather, just extremely stressed out. Now I eat gluten and have a lot more balance in my life. It’s possible that my stress was making me intolerant to gluten but I can’t be sure. I think sometimes people reach for whatever quick fix they hear about instead of reflecting on the source of their problems and doing some investigation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re in a good club, Lovely. Both Colin and I are Lactose intolerant (diagnosed after biopsies of our guts…not at the same time I might add). I’m also intolerant to fruit sugars 😮 Cue looking like I’m 6m pregnant with a bowl obstruction pending. We’re wanky too. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just want to add my hope that she grows out of it. If possible. My son progressively became tolerant of milk from around 15 months to 22 months. Life got much cheaper when we could finally stop buying formula.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hear you. I don’t have any dietary restrictions myself, but for chrissake I’m capable of empathy and I’m all for eliminating needless suffering and death. I remember one business lunch I went to where I was extremely impressed that the waiter opened with, “Are there any dietary restrictions? Gluten? Shellfish? Let me know and I’ll help you pick something that works for you.” He mentioned that he had a friend with severe celiac’s disease so he was aware of how important it was to be vigilant about what people ate.

    It’s unfortunate that people who are just being picky add to the tally of those customers needlessly; I would like to think that people generally would be more accommodating if they knew that they were only being inconvenienced due to genuine need. But the bottom line is that it’s still not up to those of us on the outside to police it. We are better off extending the benefit of the doubt to everyone both to make things less unpleasant for people like you and also to just go through life that much more relaxed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Somewhat unrelated: Try buying foods that are labeled “kosher, parve.” In 99.99999% of cases, there will be no dairy (because there isn’t supposed to be, if it’s parve). Sometimes written “pareve”. A kosher meat restaurant will also do the trick, or just go into any kosher restaurant and order parve,
    Parve – containing neither meat nor dairy, even traces, with utensils cleaned between runs.

    Man, sounds like a tough spot to be in. I can’t imagine giving up dairy. But, I’ve never seen “that” type of customer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! That’s an awesome tip. My fallback option has been to ask if there’s anything vegan on the menu (and then request that with bacon on the side, which raises eyebrows!). Dairy has honestly been a complete pain in the butt to eliminate, mostly because it turns out pretty much all processed foods have skim milk powder in them as a thickener. It’s really forced me to be a lot more conscious about what we’re inadvertently consuming!


      1. Vegan is a good idea, too. 🙂 Wow, I never knew that any processed foods use skim milk powder as a thickener. Kinda shocking. LOL, vegan+bacon definitely sounds strange.

        I know that there was a scandal a few years ago about parve hotdogs that ended up having traces of milk in them, and the company got in big trouble. And that Elite instant coffee has traces of milk, even though it claims to be parve. But I had no idea that it was such a big problem . . . maybe (hopefully) because when you keep kosher, it isn’t. I sure hope so. BUT, you won’t be able to get bacon in a kosher restaurant, so just be aware before you go in. Also, the restaurants are EITHER meat OR dairy (but both will usually have parve options). BTW, Hellmann’s mayonnaise doesn’t have milk powder.


  5. This post has actually reminded me to be nicer. I see the “allergic” people EVERYWHERE, including in my own family, and it makes me so, so angry that I tend to hate anyone who asks about food preparation. My brain goes all Viking: “If yer so weak, ye should be dead!” Which is, like, mean.

    I do have a cousin who is in the one-crumb gluten club and is also a type-1 diabetic. She’s a food wizard (and a nutritionist), so I think I expect people to just KNOW things like she does. For instance, if I say, “Hey, let’s eat at restaurant x,” she says, “I can’t eat there.” Then again, she probably knows she can’t eat there because she’s asked them a million questions.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Honestly, I was kind of a Viking myself, until this. And really, it’s true from an evolutionary perspective – our ancestors would have just become chronically ill and/or died young due to whatever damage their intolerance did. Survival of the fittest and all that. I’m a big fan of Darwin’s work, until it applies to me!

      I’m really not as annoyed with the haters as I am with the fad-dieters, because at least I can understand where the hate is coming from. Why you would adopt a restrictive food regime on the advice of your personal trainer/cousin/fairy godmother, without even reading any books or internets to educate yourself on the topic is just beyond me!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderfully interesting post you’ve written again–many thanks for the extra links as well. I do feel for folks who are in situations such as yours and hope that with time, and a bit more education, people will grow into more tolerant, understanding humans. Your pursuit toward good health is hugely admirable, and I’m hoping you can shed that destructive feeling of needing to explain–or worse, apologize–your detective work.
    As a person who has no known allergies, I do have to say I feel extraordinarily lucky at all the new and wondrous products out there to purchase and utilize. I’ve always made my own nut milks, but recently found I’ve become incredibly fond of coconut/hemp.
    I’m happy that food manufacturers have responded to a need for specific diets. It can occasionally help to make eating become a more enjoyable experience for allergy sufferers again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks as always for reading and commenting, Shelley! I hear homemade nut milks taste significantly less like llama spit than some of the store-bought versions. 😉
      I agree we’re very fortunate that there’s now a market for alternative products, though I’m still careful to check ingredients because (depending who I’m buying for) the dairy/gluten seems to be replaced with sugar/salt a lot of the time! Between no dairy, keeping additives down for the kids, buying ethically (boycott Nestlé, screen ingredients for palm oil), and sticking to a budget, grocery shopping has become almost an extreme sport in our house! Lucky I’ve had a couple of years practise now, although I’m devastated whenever one of my familiar options is discontinued.


  7. I am not a fan of the gluten free fad either. It really is an insult to people with genuine food allergies. It seems to encourage (some) restaurants to not take dietary requests seriously.
    Hang in there. It sounds like you are doing what is best for your little. Good for you!
    My son had a sensitivity (rashes and diarrhea) to cow milk from 12-18 months and did grow out of it. His doctor had us give him goat milk. Obviously, his issues were not near your daughter’s severity, but I hope she grows out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I dunno – rashes and diarrhea sound unpleasant enough to me! Good to hear your little man grew out of his sensitivity. Goat milk/cheese is our preferred dairy substitute here – it’s the closest I can find to the real thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh you really have my sympathies. Honestly, do not feel like a tosser, either. I felt like a bit of one today – my son also has a cow’s milk protein intolerance (a lot milder than your daughter’s by the sounds of it though – poor thing), but I find eating out off the cuff SUCH a hassle because of the inability to be able to just order a goddam sandwich – why does nowhere offer sunflower spread? How difficult would it be?! Obviously, it’s easier for me as it’s just him I need to cater for as I’m not breastfeeding now (you are so dedicated continuing with no dairy for so long – hat’s off!), but I do hate the looks exchanged sometimes when I ask if there’s dairy in something non-dairy-seeming (today it was meatballs), but the bloody stuff gets sneaked into nearly everything it feels like!

    We are trying some ‘baked in’ dairy with mixed success… I am sure it is lessening so am hoping he grows out of it eventually, and hope it’s the same for your daughter.

    I also have NO idea why anyone would fake an intolerance. Cheese and chocolate for plastic fake cheddar and a soya bar? Are you actually for real?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s