How Giving Up Dairy Changes Your Body and Skin

Updated 11/14/19

d3sign / Getty Images

I’m starting to think more about healthy choices. I did a little Googling, because of course, and found that Khloé Kardashian—that girl looks incredible—has been discussing her recent decision to give up dairy.

“I’m obsessed with cheese and milk, but eliminating them from my diet made the biggest difference,” she told PopSugar. “In a month and a half, I lost 11 pounds [5 kilos] just from not eating dairy, without doing anything else different, and that totally blew my mind.”

Seriously, that is mind-blowing. And, agreed, I love cheese and milk too, Khlo. But perhaps I could take one for the team (the team being my body) and forgo the milk in my coffee and the wedges of cheese I can’t help but order for a month. It’s for the greater good, after all.

Before making such a drastic change to my diet, I decided to discuss it with Brooke Alpert, nutritionist and author of "The Sugar Detox," and Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology.

Will Cutting Dairy Cause Rapid Weight Loss?

“Eliminating dairy can help with weight loss if you are not overeating other things to compensate for removing this food group," Alpert says. "If the rest of your diet stays the same, you will definitely drop some of those last stubborn kilos because you are eating less sugar (yes, dairy contains sugar) and calories than you’re used to.”

Meet the Expert

Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN, is a nutritionist and author of "The Sugar Detox."

According to Alpert, a lot of people find that when they give up or cut down on dairy, they feel less bloated. "Even if you are not lactose intolerant, dairy can sometimes contribute to bloat, gas, and abdominal distention, which no one wants," she exclaims.

While cutting dairy can aide in digestion, Alpert doesn't recommend cutting it (or any entire food group for that matter) unless you have a medical reason to do so. "Removing dairy is not the best way to lose weight," she says. "However, a good way to keep dairy in your life and lose weight is to limit your portions to only twice a day." For reference, that could be a six-ounce serving of Greek yogurt, an ounce [roughly thirty grams] of cheese, or eight ounces [around 240 milliliters] of milk—no more than two times per day. "This way you can still get your cheese fix while keeping your calories and sugar in check," Alpert says.

Dairy and Digestion (Or Lack Thereof)

“Dairy is not ‘bad for digestion’ overall; however, some people are sensitive to it and have a harder time breaking down the casein in the dairy (a type of milk protein)," Alpert says. When you have trouble breaking that protein down, oftentimes bloating, gas, constipation, and inflammation (throughout the body and across the skin) are the result.

“Sensitivity to casein is not the same thing as lactose intolerance, which is the inability to breakdown and digest the lactose (milk sugar)," Alpert explains. If you’re not sure if you fall into that group, she says to try eliminating all dairy products for two weeks and see if you notice any changes in your belly—less bloat, less constipation or cramps, or no change whatsoever. "If you have no change, reintroduce dairy and continue to enjoy up to two servings a day," Alpert instructs. "If you notice that your stomach has been feeling a lot better without dairy, then continue to leave it out. But note that this is not about weight.”

Beyond gas and bloating, Alpert notes that if you're unable to properly digest dairy, the effects could take a toll on your skin. "Your skin can reflect your diet just as much as your waistline does," she explains. "If you are sensitive to a food, you can break out more frequently. So in your at-home experiment, make sure you pay attention to how your skin is reacting as well.”

Can Cutting Out Dairy Improve My Skin?

While we're on the topic of skin, Levin notes that recent research provides strong support that foods that are high in glycemic load (sugar foods) and dairy products have a role in acne. "In terms of dairy, some studies show a stronger connection with skim milk vs. other types of milk-based dairy products," she explains. "It is currently thought that the relationship between dairy and acne is due to proteins found in milk and hormones, or the carbohydrate content of dairy products which in turn affects insulin." In general, she notes that since the data with milk dairy is variable, more research is needed. "There is currently no evidence that yogurt or cheese can lead to increased acne breakouts," she explains, noting that while the research isn't there, she's seen firsthand that it can still affect the skin.

Meet the Expert

Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, FAAD, is an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology.

At the end of the day, however, Levin says that diet alone isn't going to do what Accutane, an antibiotic, hormonal therapy, or a topical retinoid is going to do for the treatment of acne. "I am an advocate for an anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy diet for the skin but they're not meant to be a substitute for tried-and-true acne treatments," she says.

What, If Any, Dairy Foods Should I Cut Out?

If you're thinking about removing dairy from your diet, make sure you're eliminating the right ones. “The dairy items you want to avoid are items that are nonfat and low-fat versions," Alpert explains. "The processing methods remove the healthy fat and add in sugar and sodium, making them more processed and less healthy than their full-fat counterparts. And when it comes to weight loss, you always want to avoid products with added sugar, because that usually means added calories.”

While many people are concerned that full-fat food products are a diet's worst enemy, Alpert says otherwise. “Fat does not make you fat; sugar is the real enemy,” Alpert put it simply. The added sugar gets quickly absorbed and stored in your body. Alpert recommends good fats like grass-fed butter, cheese, and whole grass-fed milk. “I’d much rather have a client having a full-fat plain flavored yogurt than eating a banana," she explains. “Plain Greek yogurt is a great dairy staple for your diet because it is loaded in protein that will help you stay full and focused all day long, preventing over-snacking between meals. Other great options are whole milk and fresh cheese like feta and mozzarella.”

In addition to having less sugar, full-fat products are more easily absorbed by your body. "When you eat a salad and don’t add any fat from avocado or olive oil, your body is not able to properly absorb specific vitamins," Alpert explains. "When you eat meals with some fat, you feel full and are less likely to overeat."

The Final Takeaway

After our conversations, I realized I could give up dairy to lose a few lingering kilos and avoid random breakouts, or I could just choose to be smarter with my food and skincare choices. In the end, it’s up to you how you treat your body and skin, not to mention what you feel like eating. For me, I’m going to lay off the ice cream sundaes and pizza for a while and see what happens. (I’ll let you know.)

Related Stories