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Do dairy products make you gain weight?

Don’t you hate it when you wake up one day and you’ve put on around 7 lbs. all of the sudden? In the immortal words of Brittany Spears, “Oops, I did it again!” Yep, I went on a dairy binge around Thanksgiving and it put a nice bit of padding on my frame seemingly overnight.

The last time I did this was 3 years ago when we started up our home delivery service from a high quality, hormone-free local dairy and I remembered why I used to love cottage cheese so much. Turns out, my daughter loves it too, so I started getting it regularly — “for her.”  A few months and 15 lbs. later, I was reminded as to why I feel better — and thinner!– when I stay dairy-free.

This time, it started off innocuously with a couple slices of pizza here and there. Nachos at a business lunch. Ice cream with the kids after dinner for a few weeks. Cheese and crackers for a few snacks. Before I knew it, I was eating dairy products almost every day. Then I noticed I was sporting a “cheese baby” — Eeeeks!

My stomach in September, 2008.
My stomach in September, 2008.

I never used to gain weight in my belly until two 50-lb pregnancies left me with some extra skin (imagine that!) and 2 c-sections sliced through all my stomach muscles. Three years of dedicated ab work at Jazzercise usually keeps most of it held in, but a little bit of dairy and the first thing that happens is I get a pooch that resembles a 2nd trimester pregnancy.


I knew I was playing with fire while I was savoring each bite of melted, gooey cheese, but I also had a hope that this time my digestive enzymes would save me from the weight.

No such luck.

Don’t you sometimes do things that you know are self-sabotaging? I was thinking, “I’m feeling so good and fit and strong and healthy. I can handle a little cheese and not have it show up later.” Obviously, I was a bit delusional. I blame it on the endorphins.

Since we returned from our holiday trip on January 5th, I’ve been sworn off of dairy, am eating more leafy greens, and am back to working out regularly. Less than two weeks later and the dairy belly is just about a distant memory. Phew. Gotta catch these things at the beginning, when the weight is still “on loan” but you don’t really “own it.” It’s much harder to get rid of weight you’ve had hanging on for a while, I think.

See more of my painless weight loss tips in the Weight loss category of this blog.

PS: Can you name the movie with the line: “Are you sure you’re pregnant? Maybe it’s a food baby?”

17 Comments on “Do dairy products make you gain weight?

  1. Dairy will make you gain weight and affect your skin. Think about the fact that many children and animals consume mommy’s milk to fatten up! As you get older you move on to whole foods and are weened off of milk. This is many a celebrity’s secret to staying lean – they avoid dairy (one notable example is Meagan Fox who is a huge proponent of avoiding dairy if you want to stay slim)

    It is also one of the thigh gap laws of how to get thin thighs I mention in my book ‘The Thigh Gap Hack’ (google it if you’re interested)

  2. I read about half the comments here and I’m about to pound someone’s head into the ground. Particular foods DON’T MAKE YOU FAT. Learn what your maintenance calorie intake is (the amount of calories you eat every day to maintain your current weight). Once you know that, cut 250-500 calories from it. Eat 250-500 calories less than your maintenance intake, once your weight loss slows, lower the intake again. (A healthy weightloss rate is 1-2 lbs a week). Although the health of the food doesn’t truly matter, and it’s based off of calories, you should still eat a well balanced heathy diet. 45-65% of your total calorie intake should be of carbohydrates (complex and low GI index carbs, not sugar, dextrose, glucose, etc). For protein, the complete ones come from any animal source, or soy. Quinoa is a good option too, but technically it is not complete, but that is OK because your body will get the missing “parts” from other sources that have the remaining aminos. 10-35% of your diet should be protein, and the rest from monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats. no more than 7% should be saturated fats, and no more than 1% should be trans fats.

    But to keep this simple, eat a well balanced diet, exercise if you wish (you won’t gain muscle until you stop dieting, so lose the fat first before lifting), cardio is fine. Use a calculator and add up EVERY single calorie you eat EVERY single day. Keep it below maintenance, if you don’t lose 4-8 lbs in a month, you’re eating too much still, so lower it again. (also, weigh yourself at the same time each day, preferably in the morning after releasing your bowels, before eating breakfast). Eating more meals a day (but still controlling calories, so small meals), can help cope with hunger if you have low willpower. I personally like the feeling of being hungry, look at it as a good pure feeling. Also, once a week you can have ONE semi-unhealthy meal, but don’t go above your maintence with it, try to keep it small. it could help with your mental state haha.

    1. My daughter has a sensitivity to dairy, specifically the casein and whey proteins. By the time she was 12 she weighed 210 pounds. Everyone in our family is thin. I assumed for years that she was sneaking food, hiding junk food, and lying about it. Finally we saw a pediatric endocrinologist who figured out it was the dairy in her diet. The dairy I was encouraging because it is a low glycemic index food…go figure. So when dairy was removed from her diet, she lost 100 pounds in a year. While for many people what you are saying here is true, there are people who cannot tolerate dairy, and hearing this “calories in, calories out” again and again is very demoralizing and simply not helpful.

  3. I forgot to add to my post above that I do take a calcium suppliment and drink one special k protien shake a day because of the fiber suppliment that is in that shake. I have found that that it works the best for being regular better than fiber pills or powder. Special K does have the protein water packets with the same amount of fiber but I find it hard to get it to mix with my cold filtered water.

  4. I have suffered from acne for over 20 years now. I recently had the stomach flu and could only eat plain rice, bananas,chicken soup and flavored seltzer water. To my surprise I had not one flaw on my face it was the clearest it has ever been. Once I was better I started eating back to normal which inclued dairy that i was not able to eat during that time. Over night I had about seven pimples on neck and jawline.I thought what is this about and why? Also all the weight that I lost during that time I wanted to try and keep off plus lose more. I thought well I was sick but it was a good head start for reaching a weight loss goal.I understand it was alot of water weight but I continued to cut calories and still gained weight back. So I decided to see if that I cut the dairy out again if my face will clear up. Well, I have been on the attempt to do so and it is not easy att all. Dairy is hidden in everything! crackers, bread, fiber bars,pasta meals,pop tarts,cereals,frozen healthy meals,ramon noodles,breaded fish and chicken, frozen french fries, I could go on and on. Not that those items are my normal diet but I find myself checking the ingredients in everything and was pretty surprised of how hard it is to avoid dairy. Since I started to try and avoid dairy I have no new acne formed and I have lost about two pounds. i know two pounds isnt much but i havent been doing it that long ,less than a week.I am going to go foward with this plan for about a month and see if there is truth in this theory.I was able to find alot of information on the internet anout dairy and acne.

  5. Thanks for the great column. Dairy can make you fat and the danger is not only in carbs. I have exactly the same problem. When I eat dairy products (no sodium added cottage cheese and plain yougurt), I am a pound heavier in the morning. And the weight accumulates around my mid-section. I have to say that I am a very thin person and this weight gain is very noticeable. So ladies, when someone tells you that you can eat as much cheese as you like and you won’t gain weight, do not believe that.

  6. You are sadly mistaken. Cheese will NOT make you fat. That is if you avoid CARBOHYDRATES. Those are your enemy. Eat all the FAT you want. No carbohydrates Here are some simple equations: FAT + CARBOHYDRATES= WEIGHT GAIN.
    FAT-CARBOHYDRATES= WEIGHT LOSS. FOR, CARBOHYDRATE= WEIGHT GAINER. Now, that you understand this, you should know you ALWAYS had carbohydrates with your cheese. Chips, sugar, crackers, pizza!!! Honey, its not the DAIRY making you fat. So eat all the cheese you want and ditch the carbs you will be amazed at your results.

    1. Low-carb/high fat can be a great way to go if you want to lose weight quickly for a special occasion. But as a long-term plan/ healthy lifestyle, it can be hazardous to your health.
      I’ve personally done multiple low carb diets, and yes, I always lost weight, very quickly too. But for most people (myself included) staying low carb is very difficult/ almost impossible. Once you resume eating carbs, expect all the weight to come back, plus a few more 🙁
      Weight loss aside, low carb diets can put your body at risk for a multitude of health problems; from kidney/liver failure (too much protein for the body to process), to high cholesterol (self explanatory), and osteoporosis (excess protein makes it hard for your body to absorb calcium properly). And that beloved state of ketosis we aim for? VERY dangerous. Ketones are not a good thing. They’re created when glucose is broken down for fuel, and can result in gout, kidney stones (from that calcium that your body couldn’t absorb), kidney failure, diabetes, nausea and vomiting.
      Our bodies are just not created to run on glucose alone. We need healthy carbs to keep our bodies going and our energy levels up. If your still dedicated to low carb diets, may I recommend you do some research on your own? Find out what you can about the benefits/risks, good carbs vs bad, ect. There’s a lot of info that gets left out of those diet books, info that can be vital to your life.
      As for no dairy… I personally have a different view than the author. IMO, dairy is a necessary part of good nutrition (like calcium, healthy fats, probiotics). Although it is definitely better to look for hormone free dairy products (I switched to hormone free 6 months ago, and my skin has never been clearer!)
      Anyways, that’s just a bit of what I’ve learned mixed in with my 2 cents 🙂 Cheers to healthy bodies!

      1. Dairy isn’t essential. How can drinking another animals milk that is meant to massively bulk up baby animals be essential?Asian people traditionally avoid dairy products because they know how bad it is for you that’s why they don’t use milk or cheese or yogurt. In my own opinion, it is also a major factor in why they are almost all very slim and disease free along with the obvious addition that they don’t eat processed foods such as bread(again, traditionally)
        It took me years of being over weight and trying every diet under the sun including fasting before I finally found out that it might be dairy that was causing me problems. I decided to try and eliminate it which was surprisingly easier than I thought. Almost straight away I began to lose weight without even changing anything else in my diet. My bloated stomach which has plagued me for years has finally settled down. I had very oily skin especially on my forehead since adolescence. It has now cleared up. I had begun to get eczema on my face it has almost gone. All my life whenever I did anything strenuous like running I would wheeze. I just thought it was mild asthma or something…I don’t wheeze at all now. Also, I used to have, well, little spots on my buttocks…they never hurt or anything and didn’t look too bad but I could never figure out why I had them…some sources said it happens when you sit down too much ha ha !!! Turns out it’s an allergic reaction to Dairy products.
        All my life I have been allergic to Dairy and it has caused one problem after the other and I never even imagined it was all linked to a food group I was eating. You could say that it’s just because I have an allergy to it but then why do so many people feel so much better when they give up Dairy? As for the probiotics, I think it’s Dairy and alcohol consumption that both destroy your natural gut flora. I also believe that’s why they add certain probiotics to yogurt because they know this…the Dairy council has spent millions and millions trying to convince us that Dairy is a health food.
        Your calcium needs are better met when they are absorbed from green veg and oily fish like salmon and sardines.
        I have been Dairy free for only a month and i’m already reaping the benefits. I feel fantastic, better than I have for many years (i’m 41) I have also lost 12 lbs without trying.

  7. I omitted dairy but held on just to plain natural yogurt because of the probiotics that are so good for us. I knew some fermented products also contain probiotics, like soy sauce, but I don’t eat soy. I began making my own sauerkraut at home to assure a most natural, unpasteurized food. It is very very easy to make.

    So now with a spoonful or two of pickled cabbage at dinner or lunch, I have no need for any dairy products anymore!

  8. You ought to actually think about working on creating this blog into a serious authority on this market. You certainly have a grasp of the subjects everyone seems to be interested in on this site anyhow and you might even earn a buck off of some affiliate products. Only a thought, best of luck in whatever you do!

  9. Dairy products including milk are essential component of everyone’s diet. They supply fat, protein and carbohydrate-lactose along with minerals and vitamins. The fat and lactose do contribute to the weight gain when consumed in excess and watch your calorie when indulging in dairy products 😀

  10. Elizabeth, thanks for your great column! Re: dairy adding weight to your middle, does that apply to raw dairy as well? What about organic butter and whole, plain yogurt which I’ve been taught are health foods for most of us?

    Susan Mead

  11. Cheese may as well come with Velcro attached so at least you can decide where it will settle 🙂

    I can either be cheese-free or have the cheese cravings that gnaw at me. I think it must be like smoking – either you are a smoker or you are not, no in-between. There is something there, not terribly good for you, that seems to satisfy something. I have often wondered about this along the path of my dietary life. It is hard to navigate social dining as a vegetarian and not have to fall off of the wagon, and once I do it is a long fall.

    The film is Juno ( I have never seen it, I’m just a good researcher 🙂 Some funny quotes on that site, looks worth a watch sometime.

    Juno: I’m pregnant.
    Leah: What? Honest to blog? Maybe it’s a food baby, did you have a big lunch?
    Juno: This is not a food baby all right? I’ve taken like three pregnancy tests, and I’m forshizz up the spout.

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