About four months ago, I was reading a nutrition blog when I stumbled upon the most life-altering book I've ever read. Little did I know it would lead me to cut a major food group out of my diet for good. No, it wasn't bread and pasta or sugar.

That book was The China Study, the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted. It contains a collection of thousands of research studies that directly correlate the consumption of animal products to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and many more diseases. If you haven't read it, it's a (long) must-read for any nutrition and health fanatic.

My boyfriend and I had always been healthy eaters and regular exercisers. We'd quit eating meat (for the most part) several months before and maintained an active lifestyle. But the more we read about the effects of dairy, the more we became convinced we should experiment with cutting it out of our diets entirely.

We've been dairy-free for four months now and have no plans to turn back anytime soon. Though sometimes I miss a melty slice of pizza or a bagel with cream cheese — two of my former guilty pleasures — the benefits we've seen in our dairy-free lifestyle are too numerous to go back. Here is just a handful of things I've personally experienced since quitting dairy.

1. Less Joint and Muscle Pain

When I quit eating dairy, this was the most immediate benefit I experienced. Suddenly — and I mean within a day or two — what I thought were normal aches and pains were nearly completely gone. This effect is of particular importance to me because my family has a history of fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and other musculoskeletal issues that can be exacerbated by dairy-induced inflammation.

I cheated a couple of times in the four months it took me to get to this point, and on the days when I did, I was most aware of the effect dairy had in this regard. Eating dairy was a direct cause of aches in my knees and lower back. I now feel more flexible, energized, and pain-free than I ever have before.

2. Clearer Skin

I've always had skin problems. When I was in college, I took Accutane, which cleared up most of it, but I still got adult breakouts, even at 28. When I quit eating dairy, my skin cleared up completely (aside from the occasional morning when I wake up after falling asleep with my makeup on). Now, nearly every week, at least one person asks me what moisturizer I use or how I maintain such a clear complexion.

3. Milder Menstrual Cramps

I'll preface this with a disclosure: About three months before I quit dairy, I had an IUD put in, and while this isn't the case for everyone, for me, it caused the most severe menstrual cramps I'd ever experienced in my life. And I mean severe. I sometimes spent a day or two in bed unable function regularly. Like my joint and muscle pain, these nearly vanished as if by magic when I cut out dairy. While this could be purely coincidental, there are nutrition and medical groups that support a correlation between menstrual cramps and animal products. If it's something you struggle with, too, it could be worth a shot.

4. Better Digestion

When I quit dairy, everything involving my stomach seemed to improve. I became more regular, less bloated, and felt lighter in general. During those couple of times when I cheated, I was given an uncomfortable reminder of why I quit in the first place.

"65% of the population suffers from lactose intolerance," said David Greuner, MD, of NYC Surgical Associates. "By removing dairy, you may have much less stomach acnes and have a better digestion track."

5. More Self-Love

While more intangible, I can't ignore this benefit. Quitting dairy has felt like giving my body a present. I genuinely believe that eating quality food is an act of self-care, and I feel like my body reciprocates that care by working better and harder for me.

Tips to Quit Dairy

During my switch, a few things helped curb my dairy cravings. Here are just some that might help you if you decide to try giving it up too.

  • Rely on creamy non-dairy foods. I found very few dairy alternatives that I liked. Soy cheese and vegan cream cheese just weren't the same. Instead, I now use naturally creamy foods— such as avocados or tahini — to get that same effect. Nutritional yeast also offers a great cheesy flavor on popcorn or in sauces without adding any dairy to a dish.
  • Use a buddy system. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a partner who was onboard for making this lifestyle change — and it truly is one. Changing how you eat changes the way you live. If you can, find a partner with whom you can go on this adventure. If you don't have anyone close to you willing to give it a try, try joining a local meetup to find someone in your area embarking on a dairy-free journey.
  • Have fun cooking! Since quitting dairy, I've developed an obsession with cooking. I always liked enjoyed doing so, but now it's a necessity. Where I live, access to quality dairy-free dining is limited, so I opt to make delicious food for myself at home. I now spend most of my weekends on Pinterest searching for new recipes and at my local health food store searching for fun ingredients to try.

Are there any health downsides of losing dairy? Dr. Greuner says not to worry. The pros of losing it outweigh the cons.

"Dairy products are high in protein and calcium, by removing them you will need to find something to replace this," said Greuner. "This is more of an inconvenience opposed to a con. There are plenty of other ways to receive protein and calcium."

Aside from one or two cheats, I've been dairy-free for about four months now, and I can honestly say it's one of the most positive life changes I've ever made. If you're thinking of going dairy-free, I'd highly recommend you experiment with it to see if you experience these benefits as well.

For help adjusting to any significant dietary changes, consult with your doctor, and try searching Caredash's database if you need to find a practitioner near you.

Think quitting dairy is crazy? Read what happened when these writers quit refined sugars, and bread and pasta