Lactose intolerant Milk pouring into jug

Being Lactose Intolerant & Intolerant of Lactose Intolerance

Gavin Wren Food Education, Food Opinion Pieces, Writing

Can you keep a secret? I’m going to break some news, admit something I’ve been ruminating over for a long time. I’m going to hold my hand up and say that I don’t like milk, that I am probably lactose intolerant. This isn’t based on scientific numbers and doctors reports, it is based on personal evidence of an aversion to milk, so all those who hate the ‘fad of wellness’ better saddle up your best trolls and get ready for a fight.

But First, Some Contradictions.

I have always been slightly begrudging of ‘intolerances’. I’ve always seen a full-blown allergy based on doctors examinations and trials as a big, undeniable fact and no-one’s going to argue that point, hopefully. Except those who believe that exposure to things can reduce allergic reactions, but that’s another story altogether. But an intolerance? That’s more of a personal opinion type-thing and we all know that other people’s opinions can’t be trusted, as they are all different.

You see, I’m quite intolerant really. Despite the fact my blog espouses sugar free, wheat free and dairy free recipes, I’m quite intolerant of these concepts. Sounds convoluted eh? It definitely sounds like the makings of some pretty huge internal conflicts which many hours of therapy would struggle to lasso and tie down. But it’s a lifetime of being English and not wanting to make a fuss publicly which creates this conflict, because I feel that standing up and saying “I can’t drink milk” is a social taboo that will create tidal waves of outrage akin to Marquis de Sade’s impact on the world.

Intolerant or Intolerance.

Imagine my surprise when it dawned on me that I might be lactose intolerant. This is the kind of wild-eyed talk unsupported by men in white coats with clipboards, charts and hard data that causes social outrage. Exactly the kind of off-the-wall thinking which I seem to be somewhat intolerant of. You see, looking back, all the signs were there. I’ve always struggled to drink milk, it makes me feel sick.

A crisp, cold glass of milk might seem like a perfect ethereal beverage; a silken, pure embodiment of health in a glass with all the calcium and protein contained therein. But I remember with horror the day in my late teens, when my friend, playing the cool guy on a hot day bought a pint of milk (fully skimmed) from the shop to drink. In a desperate attempt to emulate and therefore share in the activity that would clearly make us the most unabated, coolest cats around, I bought one as well.

On that hot day of teenage coolness, we started slugging our milk, but by halfway I felt a bit odd. Still, I soldiered on, because part of the ice-cold-amazingness of this idea was that we were going to drink a whole pint, not just a little kiddie glass of the white stuff. So I nearly finished it, nearly. But I couldn’t, because I started to feel quite awful, very queasy as if much more of it would result in voluminous torrents of bile-laden milk cast asunder.

All The Clues Are There.

I remember that moment which occurred around 20 years ago as if it were yesterday. I mentioned this in passing to my parents who pointed out that when I first had milk I threw up everywhere, so it’s not exactly a new trait in my life. I stopped taking milk in my coffee a long time ago and drink very little tea, especially with milk. Yet neither decision was based on the idea of being intolerant, they were choices I made because I preferred things WITHOUT MILK IN THEM.

My default breakfast was always toast because there was something about a bowlful of cereal and milk in the morning that didn’t agree with me. When a girlfriend was recommended by a medical professional to avoid cow dairy off the back of suffering certain allergies, I happily took to oat milk without issue and to this day solely use oat milk on my cereal or in my porridge.

I have even suffered mysterious stomach pains which drove me to the doctor, which came on IMMEDIATELY after an Easter weekend that was particularly heavily laden with chocolate, cake and cream. After eating mountains of dark chocolate which truly destroyed my sleep patterns and certain other habitual patterns of living creatures, I attended a family meal which ended with lots of cakes and cream, plus a bit more cake and cream. I had agonising stomach cramps and trouble eating after that.

Yet despite all of these little strands of evidence and a girlfriend who outright said to me “I think you might be lactose intolerant” I denied and disputed this assertion under the basis that I’ve always been OK with a little bit of milk. But I’ve not, have I. I was ignoring the slightly more delicate balance which shows that regular consumption of milk makes me feel a bit icky and I have naturally sought a course of life that avoids it in my daily diet.

OK, What is Lactose Intolerant?

In a bid to justify my feelings around this, I’ve looked up the NHS description of Lactose Intolerant to see if I can tick some boxes.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance usually develop within a few hours of consuming food or drink that contains lactose. They may include:

  • flatulence (wind)
  • diarrhoea
  • bloated stomach
  • stomach cramps and pains
  • stomach rumbling
  • feeling sick

The severity of your symptoms and when they appear depends on the amount of lactose you’ve consumed. Some people may still be able to drink a small glass of milk without triggering any symptoms, while others may not even be able to have milk in their tea or coffee.

(From NHS Choices)

Self Hatred.

The irritatingly awkward feelings I have surrounding other people standing up and saying they can’t have dairy is founded in my good old English symptom of not wanting to make a fuss. As if everyone will fall over in horror should anyone have the sheer temerity to turn around and suggest that something unusual or potentially awkward needs to happen before they can have their requirements satisfied. As if we should all lounge back and drink milk every time it’s presented to us, regardless of the cost to our personal, physical and mental health.

Have I ever asked a barista, waiter or server if anything is dairy free at my own behest, rather than on the behalf of someone else? Nope. Have I ever declined anything, despite the knowledge it could be a ticking timebomb of intolerant ingestion that’s going to do little more than embellish my tastebuds with a soupçon of flavour but has the ability to engage me in a bout of nausea? No.

I’ve never been told that I’m allergic, or intolerant. I’m just guessing on the back of the symptoms I’ve experienced since being a small child when confronted with much more than a shot glass of cow’s milk. I could go and see a doctor or use some of the NHS’s time pursuing it (in fact, a doctor previously suggested dairy intolerance when I was seeing them for those stomach problems), but I’m not going to. I have made a simple realisation based on the facts of my life and I can live happily in the knowledge that avoiding milk is A Good Thing for me. If I get presented with an option of a dessert covered in cream, I can eat it without being hospitalised if I feel like the indulgence of it, but I understand the feelings that might follow, so I can also decline it.

Individual Intolerance.

Which is exactly how I can resolve this, through the sense of self, the ability to act as an individual. I know from my own experiences in life that my sense of self is not as strong as it could be, I’m easily swayed by the actions of others (see the pint of milk story above). Understanding and knowing this is a good stepping stone to making positive changes. It feels like this falls under the idea of individuation, the act of setting myself apart from other people, acting for myself, rather than my ego, the perception of ‘me’ or the story of ‘me’ that I might feel obliged to uphold. I don’t like being lactose intolerant because it requires me to stand up and say ‘No. I’m different and I don’t like milk’. It’s not even a particularly shocking thing to say, although it is heretically subversive on a net-curtained suburban-teatime level.

If you’ll ever find me standing up and declaring lactose intolerance in public is another matter entirely, and it’s unlikely.

But just between you and me, I’ll happily admit that I just don’t like milk.

Brain Food looks behind the stories we get told about food.

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