Cheese was my quintessential comfort food. I was the person who made a beeline to the baked Brie at cocktail parties. Baked potatoes, chili and tacos were merely cheese delivery vehicles, a simple base upon which to heap mounds of shredded cheddar and Monterrey Jack. And don’t even get me started on the wedge salad. Sure, it’s got bacon, but it was the creamy, crumbly, blue cheese goodness that had me at “hello.”

My lifelong romance with cheese came to an abrupt halt three years ago when a new doctor – a naturopath – suggested I give up dairy. I’d sought her help for some ongoing health issues, including chronic pain, fatigue, depression and an inability to lose weight—what many now call FLC Syndrome: Feel Like Crap.
Years before, I’d been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but no doctor had ever suggested a nutritional solution. If anything, food was the way I self-medicate, unaware I was doing more harm than good, especially during a stressful few years juggling a mother with dementia and a depressed anxious teen. I put on the pounds, which only added to my exhaustion and the stress on my tender joints and muscles. Eventually, I could barely get through a hike with the dog (I cheered myself on with promises of a cheeseburger at the end), but I’d suffer for days after with severe hip and shoulder pain.

It didn’t occur to me that I’d walk out of that first appointment with my naturopath motivated to give up pizza. In addition to shunning dairy, my doctor also suggested I avoid wheat, sugar and coffee. All these foods, she maintained, contributed to inflammation and a host of other problems, including bloating, blood sugar fluctuations, and insomnia.

Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, I was pretty much willing to do anything the doctor said. Anything, that is, within reason. Okay, I thought, I can have green tea instead of coffee, salad instead of sandwiches, fruit instead of cookies, and I can live without milk, yogurt, and maybe even ice cream … but cheese?! 
The night before I said goodbye to cheese, my husband and I went to a dive bar known for its greasy burgers. I had one laden with blue cheese and savored it like a condemned woman’s last meal. I’m going to miss you, cheese, my old friend. I was not, however, going to miss the residual bloating, gas and guilt of a cheese binge.
After a month I began to feel better. I had more energy, I was less bloated, my skin was brighter, my pain had lessened and I lost a few pounds. I liked this. I kept it up and after two years, I’d lost 40 pounds and was pain-free.
I went off cheese cold turkey because I was desperate to move out of constant pain and malaise. It was an investment to see the naturopath–she wasn’t covered by my insurance and recommended a number of supplements to support my new way of eating. Let’s face it, it’s more expensive to prepare healthy, natural foods than it is to binge on mac & cheese, frozen pizzas and quarter pounders with cheese. But it was worth it to invest in myself and my health.

I enjoyed researching ways to make tasty, healthy meals without my old friend cheese. At first I experimented with substitutes—non-dairy shredded products that were supposed to taste like cheese. They didn’t. Not to me, anyway. Pizza was more expensive and less tasty. It just wasn’t the same with that faux cheese. Miraculously, I found I liked tacos just fine with only lettuce, tomato and cilantro on top. Later, when I got more adventurous, I found I could make fabulous lasagna using cashew cream in place of ricotta and mozzarella. I’ve even made carrot cake with “cream cheese” frosting using soy-based Tofutti and no one could tell the difference.
My initial angst made sense when news headlines blared the results of a study suggesting cheese is as addictive as cocaine. There. My queso cravings weren’t my fault! I truly was powerless over Gouda, Asiago and Stilton. Cheese had been my crack and I was now in recovery.
Which is not to say that I haven’t had a few relapses. There was a recent Saturday night when I thought, Sure, I can have a slice of pizza. Or two. I won’t kid you. It was soooo good. But I paid: I lay awake a good part of the night with gastrointestinal distress—the worst stomach ache I’ve had in years—so, in the end, it wasn’t worth it.
There’s a park near our home where food trucks line up each day at lunchtime; one of the regulars is a grilled cheese truck. I admit, even after three years, I still fantasize occasionally about biting into one of those toasty squares of hot, melted goodness, but so far, I haven’t succumbed. I’m 100 percent cheese free today and I plan to keep it that way.
I’ve mostly made peace with the fact that there’s no more grilled cheese or Roquefort dressing or nachos or broccoli cheese soup for me. Sometimes when I see cheesy things on a menu I feel a bit wistful, but it’s like coming across an old boyfriend on Facebook. Sure, cheese and I had some good times together, but in the end, our relationship just wasn’t meant to be.

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By Mary Novaria

My lifelong romance with cheese came to an abrupt halt three years ago

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