Q&A with Actor Kristin Lehman:
Dealing with a Dairy-Free Diet
The Canadian entertainer lives well on a balanced diet, sans dairy products.
[Updated June 10, 2015]
Kristin Lehman, who trained classically at Canada’s Royal Academy of Dance, would have been a dancer had an ankle injury not sidelined her. Looking around for a different venue, she saw acting as a natural segue.
Born in Toronto and raised in Vancouver, Lehman now lives and works in Canada. Known to audiences in both Canada and the United States, the 42-year-old actress has played recurring roles in Felicity, Judging Amy and other television dramas. She was critically lauded for her role in the murder mystery The Killing and now stars in CTV television dramatic crime series, Motive. She’s recently completed two films, including Toronto Film Festival favorite, Arthur Newman.
Lehman takes great pride in being a hands-on mom. For the past few years, her priority has been raising her 4-year-old son, Sam, with husband and fellow actor, Adam Reed.
Recently, Lehman sat down with Gluten Free & More to talk about her special-diet lifestyle.
Q: You have some history of being a vegetarian. Can you tell us about that?
A: Actually, I was vegan for almost 14 years. I started eating meat again when I was 33.
Q: That’s a big switch. What prompted you to begin eating meat after so many years as a vegan?
A: I was having a really tumultuous year with family illnesses, a few deaths, professional challenges. I was also in the middle of a divorce. One day, my intuition whispered, “Eat that meat.” And I did.
Q: What made you decide to go vegan in the first place?
A: I was dairy-free for a long time and that’s what started me eating that way. Since I had to cut out the dairy, it just seemed easier at the time to be a vegetarian…and then vegan.
Q: So you’re eating meat but are you still dairy-free?
A: Every now and then, I’ll eat a little bit of sheep or goat cheese. I also experiment with a variety of healthy fats, so I may eat a dab of organic creamery butter sometimes. But I generally use a lot of olive oil and sunflower oil. I try to stay away from anything that could possibly be GMO-influenced. So, no canola oil, none of that stuff. I also stay away from soy.
Q: Did you have an epiphany about dairy? Do you have a sensitivity or
A: I had suffered from stomach issues for as long as I could remember, which confounded me. I finally consulted a naturopath doctor to see why this was happening. That was over 20 years ago. Apparently, I displayed stomach issues even when I was a very young child.
Q: So your parents suspected that you had a food issue?
A: Ironically, I was recently going through a box of memorabilia and I found my kindergarten admissions application. On it, my mom had written that I was allergic to dairy. I was like, hello, perhaps you could have told me this. Why were you giving me big glasses of milk every day? She said that at the time, she wanted the best for me and was told by various people that your child has to have milk. So when I was 19, I just cut it out. Now I can tolerate just a little of it without having big stomach issues.
Q: What kind of symptoms were you experiencing?
A: I had tremendous bloating and cramping that lasted for a long time. It wasn’t just lower abdominal bloating but bloating that took over my whole body. It was just terrible. I was so gaseous that I blew up like a puffer fish. The solution was cutting out all the dairy.
Q: It must have been quite a relief to figure out that all those symptoms could be relieved just by changing your diet.
A: Yes. A huge relief. Now limiting dairy has become part of my eating style.
Q: What do you consider your nutritional staples now?
A: I eat a lot of protein because my body really needs that for stamina. If I can avoid it, I won’t eat sugar—but it is a big weakness of mine. As any diligent diabetic knows, balancing blood sugar is the key to stamina and vitality. In my family, we eat a ton of vegetables. Even my little boy. I try to educate him about healthy eating. I’m not a sugar-free mom, partially because my mom was sugar-free when I was a kid and I went berserk as soon I could start having sugar. Sam knows that if he has sugar, I want him to have some protein, too, to try and balance out his mood. I’ve started to connect his physical wellbeing with what we eat. So we eat a balanced diet that includes free-range organic meat—grass-fed beef when we can get it—and lots and lots of raw and cooked vegetables. Plus, lots of healthy fats. We try to eat seasonally and locally. We also try to frequent our local independent restaurants and grocery stores. And I admit, there’s lots of dark chocolate. My number one weakness.
Q: Do you think it’s important to take nutritional supplements?
A: I’ve been a huge proponent of homeopathy and naturopathy for over 20 years. When I turned 40, I noticed a difference in my body, an enormous need, and I started to be more specific and diligent in taking nutritional supplements. I found that not eating right affects me as a mother and a woman. It definitely affects me as an actress because I work 70-hour weeks sometimes. I don’t go easy on myself—I’m still the one who plans the meals for the family. I don’t abdicate certain areas that I’m passionate about—my parenting, my attempts at a conscious relationship with my husband and also the leadership I want to show at work on the set. I can’t do all this if I don’t take supplements.
Q: Given all you do, is it hard to maintain good balance in your life?
A: Our common idea of balance is either everything is equal—your energy, the attention you give to your relationships, the attention you give to your job, the attention you give to your child, the attention you give to yourself—so everything gets equal attention. Or that everything is done with ease. I think that’s the common cultural idea of balance.
I find as someone who has high standards for herself and wants very much to bring my best self to all parts of my life, that there is never a time when I’m able to do all that. But I know what my values are. I know what I hope to enact in the world. I know that I’ve cultivated enough awareness in my life to see when I’m not balanced. So I make a mental note and try to put my energy in that direction in some way. I think balanced living is truly about being able to live in a very realistic way—with a lot of forgiveness for yourself.
Celebrity correspondent Bonnie Siegler lives in California.