Follow-Up Post on Going Dairy-Free: My Survival Guide

After I wrote this post on how going dairy-free cleared up my skin, it was so fun to have some conversations on Twitter about it all.  I thought it would be helpful to share a few things that I have found to be helpful in making the switch.  Cause holy heck, friends – it’s not easy to give up cheese, yogurt, and pizza.

I used to relish in fancy cheese nights in Brooklyn with friends, I used to eat yogurt once or twice a day (hello, Ronnybrook Farm), and who doesn’t like pizza?  It’s like the favorite food of the universe.

BUT, I tell you – it has been completely worth it to give those things up.  I’ll never go back.

So here’s my Dairy-Free Survival Guide – a list of things that have helped ease the jump to going dairy-free.

Do you have any dairy-free suggestions to add?

P.S.  Above is a photo of me recently with no make-up and clearer skin.  And if you’re interested, well…here are a few photos of my skin prior to going dairy-free (including me wearing way too much make-up to cover-up.  So keep in mind it was actually worse than you see here.)





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  1. mary July 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Wow. Amazing difference – you look wonderful! I have tried to cut down my dairy intake (I've made the switch to coconut and almond milks) but I'm still hanging onto my beloved eggs and cheese. I'm inspired to really make more of an effort now!

    • Nora July 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm - Reply

      Mary: I think eggs are okay–they're not a dairy product, as far as I know. Correct me if I'm wrong, fellow readers!

    • Wahzat Gayle July 8, 2012 at 10:25 pm - Reply

      Eggs are an allergen as well. But most people who cut out dairy don't have to cut out egg as well.

  2. Nora July 2, 2012 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    I LOVE LOVE that you are ballsy and brave to put these imperfect skin photos out into the world. It feels incredibly validating, especially for someone like me who has ALWAYS struggled with my skin. My derm and I are wayyy too friendly. 🙂
    So, I went off dairy when I read your post. Hardest thing ever, because I am an absolute cheese fiend. And I was raised on whole-milk-topped cold cereal.

    AND? You are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!! My acne scars are fading, my breakouts are slowing down, and my skin is almost glowing. It feels amazing. THANK YOU. I'm slowly weaning myself off gluten, too. Hooray for rice crackers, almond milk, lots and lots of lentils, quinoa, and VEGGIES!

    You guys are amazing. My life is so much more happy and glorious since reading your wisdom and taking your classes. Sending so much love your way!!

    • mara July 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      Oh my gosh, Nora – – -this is AMAZING NEWS. So happy to hear about this. You're just awesome for giving it a try. And hooray for going off gluten, too. That part did wonders for my energy level and a flat stomach. I will never turn back from that, either. If I even get a morsel of gluten in my system that stomach puffs right up. (Sorry to be so blunt. 🙂

    • Anonymous October 14, 2013 at 2:05 am - Reply

      please help me so confused now, I know gluten is out, now dairy, soy yoghurt upsets me so what should I do?

  3. Elizabeth July 2, 2012 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    We have worked out a good vegan "cheese" for pizza you might want to try. It's not the same, but it is good, and it brings pizza back to the dairy-free table. Goes like this: get raw cashews (not roasted, not salted, raw), put a cup or so in a blender with a little bit of chopped onion, a little bit of chopped garlic, the juice or one lemon, and about 1/4 cup of food yeast, add enough water to make it the consistency of a thick sauce. You can dab this on the top of pizza and bake as normal. Don't use too much. While it is (again, I know) not the same, it is really pretty good. We have pizza Friday/family night at my house and make this every week, whole wheat pizza, veggies, vegan "cheese." Come over if you're ever in the PNW. Love

  4. Anonymous July 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    Mara, thank you for going out on a limb with those pics – the contrast in your skin is so evident.

    How far do you go with dairy-free? I know you eliminated the obvious (cheese, milk, etc.), but do you also avoid any foods that contain dairy in them (as listed in the ingredients)? I had to give up dairy once for a few weeks, and reading all the labels made me crazy. Not sure I could do that. Thank you again for this info!

    • mara July 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      Yes – I do ck labels and pretty much avoid anything w/ dairy. Though if it says "may contain trace amounts of dairy from equipment" or something like that than I usually still will eat the food. But, for the most part, we do try to eat foods that are not processed a ton. Lots of vegetables, meat, quinoa, rice, beans, fish, tortillas, salsa. So I don't have to check labels that much, except when I'm at Trader Joe's in the freezer section. I get their shrimp stir fry, beef tamales, and they have a channa masala w/ ghee in it, which is an Indian style clarified butter – (my dr. said ghee was ok.) I also love Amy Organics Tamale pie – the one w/o cheese in it.

  5. C July 2, 2012 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    Wow, amazing! For me the biggest change in my skin was giving up refined sugars. I am already gluten free (and mostly dairy free, but with some cheese thrown in) but oh boy did cutting out candy do a wonder! Unfortunately, candy is one of those super addictive substances (have you read that NYT article about sugar?) so when I *do* eat sugar I totally fall off the wagon and my skin pays for it. When I go a few weeks without it I literally glow. Amazing.

    • mara July 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm - Reply

      Yes, I agree with you that sugar is such a harmful substance. I have cut way, way back on it. But haven't eliminated it completely. shoot. But I'm getting there. I felt badly including some items on my dairy free guide that contain sugar because ultimately we all should be trying to avoid the stuff completely. Thanks for writing in. And I definitely want to look up that NYT Article. thanks!

  6. HDH July 2, 2012 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    I've eaten pizza sans cheese for years. Thin crust, lots of veggies, no cheese. It's different than that stringy, gooey, melted cheese heaven that is your typical pizza experience, but just as delicious in a different way. If the pizza comes from a good pizzaria (please, none of this Little Caesars junk), it's good pizza even without cheese. If you order the whole wheat crust (for those of us who still eat gluten!), and get it loaded with veggies, you can even count yourself as "righteous," diet-wise!

  7. Lelani July 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    Mara, I was just directed to your blog as I have a 17 year-daughter that is struggling with acne. She finished one round of Accutane, has tried antibiotics, countless topicals, and is on birth control. Accutane helped for a short while but then the acne returned. She also suffers from endometriosis so her hormones are obviously out of balance. We're about to start round two of Accutane but your blog has left me wondering … I have asked her dermatologist about modifying her diet and he always says that as long as she eats healthy, she should be fine. Well, she eats healthy for a 17 year old (I'm sure she eats plenty of sugary treats). We cook dinners at home and we've always been very conscious of our cooking. No frying, etc. But I'm wondering if changing her diet drastically would help as well. Thank you for this blog! I need to study it and figure out how to help her best.

    • Lynn and Lou July 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm - Reply

      I suffered with this for years. Getting allergy tested was the best thing I could ever have done. Soy actually makes my skin break out more than dairy. What I would do is have your daughter get allergy tested, if anything shows up, start with eliminating those items from her diet. If there is still a problem, cut out the top five common allergies: Gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts and eggs. Watch her skin and gradually reintroduce one item at a time. It takes a little while to weed it out, but I can't tell you how much it had helped me.

      I am not a doctor but I am someone who has been through this before. It has taken many medications, specialists and treatments to finally come to this. I do miss dairy, but I really love my clear skin more. It is worth it.

    • Lelani July 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      Thank you!!!! I will do that.

    • Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 4:53 pm - Reply

      Lelani, I had the same issues as a teenager. My dermatologists always said the same thing, "diet doesn't have an impact, just be healthy, here, use these tough drugs and antibiotics." You have to remember that they are 100% skin focused. In my experience they have forgotten that the skin is a reflection of your inner health (it is your largest organ after all!). The things that have worked the best for me are not drugs at all (and I did the derma drugs & lotions route):

      going gluten free — this can be HUGE for hormonal imbalances, as can sugar and dairy (sugar is inflammatory and dairy weakens the immune system)
      natural products (try things from whole foods: fragrance free, paraben free etc – my favorite is $$ but works: Kahina Living Beauty Argan Oil — just a few drops to moisturize)
      Green tea clay (evan healy makes one) as a spot treatment
      vitamin d and zinc
      cutting out sugar
      drinking lots of water

      finally, stop using Benzoyl Peroxide!! My skin was SO MUCH BETTER when I stopped over treating it. BP is a chemical and has all sorts of nasty side effects. It was painful at first but the zits started going away much much faster when I stopped using it. Green Tea clay is gentle and works just as well, or try baking soda.

      If you do get her tested for food sensitivities, try and go to a naturopath. Allergies and sensitivities/intolerances are two different things and can't be tested in the same way. Allergy work is typically skin prick based, and sensitivities are bowel or blood. As Lynn said, cutting it out can be hard at first but after a 4-12 week detox from them, adding them back in will be pretty clear.

      Gosh, I feel for her! I know how terrible that can be. Good luck to her!! I know it doesn't make her feel any better now, but it will eventually go away!

    • Lelani July 3, 2012 at 7:42 pm - Reply

      Excellent suggestions. Thank you!

  8. Danielle July 2, 2012 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Wow! That really is a big difference. It has certainly got me thinking….is the dairy worth it??

  9. Wendy July 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Just today I received my results back from a food intolerance assessment-eggs and dairy were right on the top of the list. (Along with a few other things.) My skin problems started in college, and now that I think about it so did my other symptoms that I have now attributed to food (headaches, stomach problems, bloating, fogginess, etc). I'm so glad I finally know what to avoid! Well, I hope I feel better soon. And having my skin clear up would be a VERY nice bonus.:)

    PS: I usually never comment on blogs I read, but yours is just lovely. With all the negativity that tends to permeate the media and blog land, it's so nice to go to a blog and know you'll be uplifted and motivated to make positive change. I love it! THANK YOU!:)

  10. Lynn and Lou July 2, 2012 at 11:34 pm - Reply

    Lovely Mara, I found out about a year ago that I am allergic to dairy, eggs, soy, and onions. Quite a punch. I can't tell you how much it was a stretch for me to get this under control and rethink my diet. However, the greatest blessing was finding my skin smooth, silky and beautiful. I will never go back to eating those things again if it means no more comments from my mother and others on the condition of my skin. Huge blessing.

  11. Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 4:13 am - Reply

    this blog worries me, I stopped reading it because I was uncomfortable with the level of "advice" given to people (and charged $) without credentials. Now I see health advice. I know there are people that consider blogging a real job but most of those have real sponsors and don't try to beg money from readers themselves. Your blog makes me uncomfortable and I know that means "don't read it" but I do worry about some people that might get sucked in and give you money for opinion.

    • Michelle July 3, 2012 at 10:01 am - Reply

      Anonymous – I don't want to try and speak for Mara, but here are my thoughts on what you wrote. Firstly, let me say that it is obvious you care about people, by not wanting people to be taken advantage of, and I applaud that very much. There is all sorts of dubious advice on the internet and you are wise to be careful. However, my personal opinion is that Mara is just sharing what she knows has worked for her (with regards to physical health, and mental/emotional health) in the hope that it may help other people. I feel very confident that she offers this blog as a place to get people thinking about things in a different light, and I'm sure she does not intend for people to follow her suggestions (and they are just that – suggestions (not directives)) without also seeking a range of other opinions, including those of medical professionals (doctors, counsellors) where need be.
      As far as charging money goes, my personal opinion is that the life skills Mara and Danny teach are so incredibly valuable to all aspects of life and personal development, that I would gladly pay for these services! So many people live their whole lives unaware of these marvellous tools as this knowledge doesn't cross their path. Keep in mind too, that there is a significant cost involved to Danny and Mara in hosting these sessions because of the technology involved. This is just my opinion.
      I think you do raise a very valid point though about testing this blog (and all blogs for that matter) for truth, and not just blindly accepting everything you read. I would encourage everyone to do that. Try Mara's advice for yourself: if it works great, if it doesn't set it aside. The fact is we are individual and unique, and this blog and the contents in it, may strike a chord for some people and drastically change for their lives for the better, and for other people like yourself it may not sit so comfortably – and that is ok.
      The joy of a life that has been transformed from a hard-won victory over negativity is so great you cannot help but want to share your story with others, and I am immensely grateful for Mara and her story.

    • Anonymous October 7, 2012 at 2:14 am - Reply

      Great response!!

  12. Bennet July 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Mara -How soon after going off dairy did you see results?

    • mara October 7, 2012 at 2:38 am - Reply

      Sorry for my delayed reply here…but I would say it took about 6 wks. My doctor said to expect that as well. I actually felt kind of crazy during that time – he said it was like withdrawal. But I stuck with it and it turned out to be so great I'll never go back.

  13. LFL January 6, 2013 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Really love your "going dairy free survival guide" – could have done with that 2 years ago when I was told I was lactose intolerant and to cut out dairy. Found you via a google search – I've just started a lactose free living blog I had no idea dairy could contribute to bad skin, definately something to think about!

  14. Leticia Garibay October 20, 2013 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    I am very happy to find your blog!
    You made my day!

  15. Leticia Garibay October 20, 2013 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    Mara & Danny have a wonderful EVENING!

  16. Bridget March 15, 2014 at 12:51 am - Reply

    You remind me of Mariah Carey in that first pic.
    Love the blog!

  17. hobartchic April 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    Was off dairy for a few years, got a few months reprieve on lactose free, body spat the dummy and am back to dairy free, for life (boo!). Going through the withdrawal at the moment, over the worst of the allergic reaction I had. For pizzas, one word, hummus. Make/buy hummus and use instead of cheese. Bake as normal – perhaps add a bit more olive oil and herbs before adding to pizza. Yum!

  18. Anonymous May 3, 2014 at 3:45 am - Reply


    Could you possibly re-post the dairy free survival guide!?

  19. Anonymous June 20, 2014 at 11:20 am - Reply

    The link to your Dairy-Free Survival Guide can't be found 🙁 would love to see it!

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