Make the Switch

“Lifestyle change” might seem like an intimidating term, and for some, removing dairy from one’s diet can feel like a monumental shift. Don’t worry—it’s not. Take a deep breath, and focus on these 5 incremental steps you can take to make the change less daunting. Don’t rush through them; take as much time as you need. The key to change is to focus on your progress, not lament past habits. As Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Now let’s build those new deliciously dairy-free habits!

State Your “Why”

There are so many benefits to ditching dairy—what’s yours? Go back to that initial reason you had that first piqued your curiosity. It could be “feel better and not feel bloated all the time,” “run faster,” “get rid of my asthma” or “improve my carbon footprint and contribute to planetary responsibility.” Write your “why” on a sticky note and place it on the fridge or on your desk so you are reminded of it multiple times a day.

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David Goggins, a world-class ultra athlete deemed by some as the toughest man in the world, says, “to find greatness, you have to go inside.” Watch this video by Harvard Psychiatrist, Srini Pillay, to learn more about the importance of not skipping this step.

Having trouble nailing down your specific why? Here are some questions to help guide you:

  • Why do you want to make this change? Why does this matter to you? What are you hoping to get out of this change?
  • How will this change improve your life? Think of positive motivating factors rather than negative emotional factors.

Set a Goal

Identify the dairy products you regularly consume and use this to set a realistic and attainable goal. Try cutting out just one dairy food for now. For example, for the next week (or a set time period) make a goal to switch out dairy butter for plant-based butter, try one brand of dairy-free cheese, or order plant milk lattes during your daily morning coffee run.

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The long-term goal is to give up all dairy, but splitting this up into several short-term goals may be less daunting for you. Many people think they need to change all of their behaviors at once and ultimately don’t succeed. Starting with small goals can help build you up for success in conquering your long-term goal.

Make a Plan

To ensure success, it is essential to make a plan. This will help you sidestep any barriers that come your way. Make sure you stock your fridge with plant-based butter or that one brand of vegan cheese, or tell your co-worker that you’re trying dairy-free for a week so they’ll order you a plant milk latte instead of your regular. Saying out loud that you are trying the dairy-free lifestyle to co-workers, friends, and family will help you solidify that this is really happening and will create the best chance for success.

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Why is it important to make a plan just to change one behavior at a time? When something is so habitualized, such as consuming dairy, we often forget how present it is in our lives. Thoroughly assess how many times a day you consume this specific dairy product you’re choosing to ditch, and tailor your plan around this. As you prepare your plan, you’ll likely learn new skills and acquire new knowledge (who knew there were so many different kinds of non-dairy cheese?!). Don’t get overwhelmed by taking on too much. Take your time focusing on this specific goal and let this knowledge sink in and allow yourself to become comfortable with it. It is okay to start small and make a plan to remove one dairy product at a time.

Some ideas to help you get started drafting your plan:

  • Set a start date
  • Create a list of go-to recipes
  • Make a list of when you consume dairy and which alternatives you might need
  • Create a list of the new foods you want to try
  • State that you are trying dairy-free to co-workers and friends
  • Find a buddy to take this journey with you
  • Give yourself micro-challenges each week.

If you need some ideas for recipes or to learn about dairy-free alternatives to include in your plan, click here.

Put Into Action

You know what you need to do, now let’s do it! Enjoy that oat milk latte at your favorite coffee shop, sprinkle shredded non-dairy mozzarella over a pizza, or return home to a post-workout smoothie made with almond milk. And remember your “why!” It’s often forgotten when we actually put our good intentions into practice. Your why will help you follow through.

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This is going to be the hardest and scariest step. David Goggins says, “If you can get through to doing things that you hate to do, on the other side is greatness.” When you feel yourself struggling, go back to the note card you wrote in Step 1 and think about the obstacles you have overcome rather than the ones you haven’t. Each small success takes you one step closer to switching for good.

Remember, the Switch4Good community is here to support you. Get inspired by watching one of our incredible dairy-free athlete videos, take a scroll through our Instagram feed, get excited about dairy-free cooking with one of our recipes, connect back to your “why” by reading our selection of educational articles, or send us a DM on Facebook or Instagram. You can also email us direct here and we will answer any questions you have. We’re here to help in any way we can!

Rinse & Repeat

At the end of your self-prescribed time limit, reflect on how you did. Did you stick to it, or did you deviate a bit? Either way, it’s ok. Celebrate your successes and reflect on your deviations. What led you to deter from your goal? How can you prevent that in the future? Try again, and when you succeed, congratulate yourself and move on to the next attainable goal. You’re well on your way to living your best dairy-free life!

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It may take a few tries before a plan sticks and you can successfully tick off your goal. And that’s ok, because “change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Know that your “why” is bigger than anything that might get in your way. Every time you successfully complete the steps and implement a new change, you are one step closer to your long term goal—making the Switch4Good!

Having trouble? We’ve been there.

Find a solution to all of your dairy-free questions below:

What do I eat instead?

How much time do you have? Because we can go on and on…

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We know how much your coffee creamer means to you. Don’t worry—you can still enjoy or morning cup (or four) of coffee with that smooth, creamy finish. You can also still look forward to a nightly scoop of ice cream, cheesy pizzas, buttered bread, and feta-dotted salads. There are high-quality dairy-free alternatives for all of these situations, and they are available in supermarkets and local grocers. For specific recommendations for everything from creamer to artisinal cheese, visit our Dairy-Free Alternatives page.

Discover new foods
In lieu of the dairy foods you used to eat, try swapping plant-foods in their place—you’ll amp up your nutrition while also adding more variety to your meals. Spread a thick layer of savory hummus or baba ganoush on a sandwich instead of cheese, snack on a handful of seasoned roasted chickpeas instead of yogurt, and swap your cheese sauce with a velvety squash-based sauce. Try something new each week and expand your palate horizons. You’ll find plenty of product recommendations and recipe inspiration on our Dairy-Free Recipes & Alternatives page.

It seems like a big commitment.

That’s okay. It’s all about baby steps.

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What if I mess up?
Whether your barista accidentally made your latte with cows’ milk or you decide to have a piece of cake at your niece’s birthday party, we all need to be kind to ourselves and allow for “slip ups.” It’s cliché, but really this transition is all about progress, not perfection. You might feel bloated after or experience general stomach discomfort, but unless you have a severe allergy to dairy, one transgression—or even a small chain of transgressions— isn’t the end of the world.

You’re watching the game and your friend offers to share his cheesy nachos and you can’t resist. That’s ok. Over time, you’ll learn to bring your own dairy-free snack that equally satisfies you so you won’t be tempted. Also, remember that there is an equally delicious dairy-free option for all of your cravings. Stock up on your favorites (like this non-dairy nacho cheese sauce) so you will never have to go without.

Will I have to worry about nutrition?

Eat whole foods and you’ll be fine.

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Gut health
Greek yogurt is not the only fermented food out there. You can experience all the healthy gut benefits of fermented foods in the forms of tangy sauerkraut, spicy kimchi, sweet kombucha, and probiotic-infused dairy-free yogurts and plant milks. Bonus: you won’t experience the bloating or digestive discomfort that so often results from dairy products. Remember, 65% of the global population is lactose intolerant, and many beyond that are sensitive and still feel occasional discomfort even though they’re not genetically intolerant.

You can easily obtain the same nutrients found in dairy from plants

  • Vitamin D = fortified foods, supplements, direct sun exposure.
  • Protein = black beans, chickpeas, lentils, seitan, tofu, quinoa, nuts, even kale and broccoli
  • Calcium = kale, bok choy, sesame seeds (tahini), collard greens, white beans
  • Potassium = bananas

What do I do in social situations?

It’s not awkward unless you make it awkward.

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How do you stand up for your choice when others just don’t get it (yet)? If prompted, state the reason why you chose to go dairy-free and stop there. No need to pass judgement on those who haven’t made the switch—they’ll get there, they just need more time. Keep your body language positive (no crossing your arms) and understand that you were in their shoes once, too. Play on the positives, such as the new foods you’ve discovered, how great you feel, and perhaps a very humble brag about the weight you’ve lost or your skin clearing up. Conclude the conversation by offering to buy them a dairy-free coffee or sharing a pint of dairy-free ice cream, because everyone is more open when caffeinated and enjoying great food! For more communication tips, check out these helpful tips.

Feeling like an outsider
In some immediate social circles, it can feel a little isolating as an early adopter. However, it’s only a matter of time until others begin to understand the benefits of a dairy-free diet and try it for themselves. Plus, instead of thinking of yourself as the odd man out, flip that thought and think of being dairy-free as your superpower! While others are still finding their way, you’ve got this unique ability to live better and do more with your dairy-free diet. What’s more, there are other superheroes out there, like all of the incredible team members of Switch4Good. Reach out! We’d love to hear from you!

Family gatherings
Sometimes our harshest critics are our family members, but on the flip side, they can also be our biggest fans. If you explain how great you feel, both on a physical and emotional scale, after going dairy-free, it should help them understand. Your family wants what is best for you, and if they know you’re in a good place, they’ll want to support that. Worried about insulting Aunt Pam by not trying her legendary key lime pie? Again, explain your reasoning for going dairy-free and help her understand that it’s not “just a diet,” it’s a lifestyle. You may not want to compete with the pie, but you should definitely bring a tray of dairy-free lasagna or another delicious dish to share.

Put that travel anxiety away—being dairy-free on the go is easier than ever. Virtually every coffee shop has a dairy-free milk alternative, and restaurants these days are highly in tune with allergens and other dietary restrictions, so you can relax at mealtimes. Jet-setting somewhere? Airports have a plethora of dairy-free options, from fruit and trail mix to dairy-free meal options. On a road trip through the middle of nowhere? Pack your own food. You’d probably do so anyway knowing the pickings will be slim!

With the dairy-free lifestyle gaining momentum, restaurants offer more dairy-free options than ever before. If you’re anxious, look up the menu before you arrive and decide on your meal before you step in the door. Not seeing anything on the menu? Inform your server that you do not consume dairy and ask for items that do not contain milk or cheese products (be specific here, as “dairy” might not register with them). Of course, do so politely and thank him or her for the recommendations. Who knows? You might just find that your favorite pizza joint carries vegan cheese; you just never noticed before!

I can’t give up my favorite foods.

We get it, and you don’t have to.

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Every food you love has a dairy-free equivalent
Pizza. Ice cream. Yogurt. Coffee creamer. Cheese. Pot de creme…yes, every food you enjoy can be dairy-free. Many of these awesome dairy-free alternatives can be found in most supermarkets—think milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, whipped cream, mac and cheese, and even frozen pizza. What you can’t find at the grocery store can be easily whipped up at home (like this incredible Mexican Hot Chocolate Pot De Creme). Not sure where to start? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Dairy-Free Alternatives for brand recommendations and recipes for every dairy food you crave.

Like dairy foods, not every single non-dairy product will suit your taste buds
If you try a non-dairy coffee creamer and don’t like it, that doesn’t mean all non-dairy coffee creamers are bad. You just don’t like that brand. It’s like saying you don’t like Mexican food after eating at a bad Mexican restaurant. Don’t throw out the entire category, just try something new. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Dairy Free Alternatives for brand recommendations, or shoot us a DM on Instagram or Facebook. We’ve found our favorites and we would love to share them with you!

“I dropped dairy to take back my life.”

Rebecca Soni

Six-time Olympic Swimming Medalist and Switch4Good Athlete