How I Chose Dairy Free over Accutane


Our dog, Pink, was sluggish all summer.  Mike and I talked about it a lot.

“It’s the heat,” I’d say.  “And she’s getting old.”

Mike agreed.  Pink is bullmastiff, big and muscular.  The average lifespan of her breed is short, about 8-10 years.   “She got so old.”

We talked about the dog’s behavior nearly as often as we talked about blood glucose levels.

She doesn’t get up when the doorbell rings.

She doesn’t want to walk when we go out.

She’s not following the cats around and trying to sniff their butts.

There’s not enough tail wagging going on around here.

But she still hurries to the kitchen at any sign of food preparation.  So she must be okay.



At the end of August Mike noticed a swollen lump under Pink’s mouth.  We knew it was bad, and called the vet immediately.  Within an hour the vet had examined Pink and scraped a sample off of the lump.  He looked at it under the microscope and told us he was fairly certain Pink had a mast cell tumor, a common kind of cancer in dogs.  If the cancer hadn’t spread, Pink’s chances of survival were good.

A few days later Pink had an ultrasound and a lymph node biopsy.  The results of both were good – no evidence of cancer.  We scheduled surgery.   Prior to surgery we were instructed to give Pink large doses of prednisone in order to shrink the swelling around the tumor.  It worked wonders, the tumor looked smaller after one day – after three days of prednisone, it just looked like a little bump.  But… the side effects of the prednisone were extreme thirst and frequent urination.  The vet had neglected to mention this might happen.

The sound of Pink drinking is not something you can ignore.  It’s like…[simile goes here when I think of it].  We understood clearly that she was thirsty.  But we didn’t fully grasp the situation until the second day of her treatment, when we woke up to lakes of urine on our living room floor.  My first thought: OMG, the dog has diabetes, too?

A call to the vet clarified everything.  For several days we had no choice but to take Pink out to pee every hour or two.  (Mike was in charge of the night runs.)  She couldn’t always make it downstairs, so I mopped up her accidents.  To my surprise, I found the cleaning moments were a good time to think and reflect.  No one could ask me to do anything else, meaning the kids understood they could not interrupt my cleaning, and that they needed to stay out of the way.

So then and there having some quality me-time while I wrung out a rag, I made the important life decision to stop eating dairy.  This didn’t come out of nowhere, I’ve been considering it for a long time.  I’m not lactose intolerant, but I have had a suspicion that dairy products cause my skin to breakout.  Since I stopped nursing Adam 10 months ago, my breakouts have become worse.  And the most annoying part about them is – and this is totally true – when I am home writing for days at a time and no one sees me, I have lovely, clear skin.   Whenever I have a dermatologist’s appointment, I also have clear skin.  However, if I have an important event and want to feel good about the way I look, my skin will be terrible.  The more I want to look nice, the more I breakout.  I have been trying to explain this to my dermatologist, and when I hear myself speaking, I sound totally insane.  (But it’s true!)

I have all sorts of not-very-effective skin-clearing creams.  But the only thing out there that really gets rid of acne, as far as I know, is isotretinoin (Accutane).  Over the years I’ve considered taking it several times.  I’ve just been too afraid of the side effects.  Lately, though, I’ve been thinking differently.  I did all of my research again and decided I would take the drug.  Earlier this summer, with my mind firmly made up I went to the dermatologist and requested the prescription. “No,” she said.  “Your skin isn’t bad enough.”  (Dear Zits, Where were you when I needed you?)

A month later I went back to ask the dermatologist for the prescription again.  This time, she gave it to me.  I never filled it, though.  Instead, I had that good talk with myself over a puddle of dog pee and this is what I resolved: I will not take a drug with potentially dangerous side effects unless I have tried all other options.  I may be vain, but I’m not lazy.  And I do love the idea of being a vegan.  I have always wanted to be a vegan.  This would take me one step closer. 

I’ve now given up 95% of the dairy I consumed.  (5% is the tiny bit of milk in my cups of coffee.  Not ready to stop that.)

(I wish I could say I did all this for ethical reasons, but I’ve admitted here that  my idiotic vanity was the inspiration.  I hope the fact that I’m contributing less to animal suffering will help me stick with the diet.) 

Day one without dairy was hellish.  I was starving and cranky, especially in the morning because my staple meal, yogurt with almond butter, was now out.  It had been my  perfect meal – 7 grams of carb which barely budged my blood sugar. It kept me full for hours.  And I sort of liked it, too. 

Without dairy I needed to find another food group – the only one left for me was seeds.  I started out with chia seed pudding, really not my favorite so I moved onto ground flax seeds.  Each morning I cut one quarter of an apple into small pieces (yogurt replacement, 5-7 grams of carb), poured two spoonfuls of almond butter onto it, and then covered it all with a heavy layer of ground flax seeds (or sawdust, if you ask Mike).  “It’s really good,” I declared on the first day. 

“Just don’t try to convince me that this is a recipe,” Mike said.  “You are not putting this up on ASweetLife.”

After a few days of sawdust I changed my tone.  “Okay, maybe it’s not really good.  But it’s not horrible.


Pink had surgery.  The operation itself went well, and was easier than the vet anticipated, thanks to the prednisone having done its job. There were two rough days post-surgery, but after that, Pink seemed okay.  In fact, she seemed better than she had before the surgery.  She followed us around the apartment.  She followed the cats.  There was a lot of excessive tail wagging going on.  And butts… canine, feline, human… she rushed to sniff any one she could.  There was just one thing that was worrying.  When I went to prepare my breakfast each morning, Pink didn’t come with me. This concerned me more than anything else had throughout the ordeal.  Pink always arrives when the refrigerator opens, when a bag rustles, when silverware clanks…

“I think I’m going to call the vet,” I told Mike.  “Pink’s appetite isn’t normal.”

“She’s fine,” Mike said.  “The problem is that what you’re eating doesn’t smell like food.” 

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michelle s
michelle s
10 years ago

I have been dairy free about 8 years now.  Just a warning that when i went completely vegan i had a detox period where my skin got worse, but then got way better.  I never have issues now.  I think probiotics helped because they help my gut, and my ND says whatever happens with our skin refelcts what is happening in the gut.  My husband had some issues with acne when he was younger that would crop up sometimes as an adult, but after we cut out dairy both his asthma and acne disappeared!  The China Study is an awesome… Read more »

Chris Scully-Brown
10 years ago

Can I just say that we have something in common?
I am SO SICK of adult acne it makes me feel like i’m 15 again. Since I quit the pill it’s driving me crazy.
I thought about accutane…. I went dairy free almost 3 months ago and it didn’t change a thing.
I hope you have way better luck.
and why is it that the moment we have to be presentable to some degree it rears its ugly head? AND UGLY IT IS! 

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