Q&A with Alyssa Caccavale

May 5, 2020

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Alyssa Caccavale. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, I am currently living in Dallas, TX.  I am a first grade teacher, I’ve been teaching for 4 years.  I am the blogger behind the Smile Without Cheese blog, a dairy free blog.  I choose to live a dairy free lifestyle.  Some of my hobbies include: reading, painting, traveling, watching TV, shopping, cooking, baking, hiking, yoga, Pilates and working out.

What is your story?

I learned I was lactose intolerant in December 2016.  It was really hard to accept but I was able to find really good alternatives and begin taking steps towards a healthy lifestyle.  I have been fully dairy free since December 2017.  I created the smile without cheese blog in April 2018.  I created my blog to document my experiences both good and bad while being dairy free.  I have been recently transitioning to being fully vegan since January 2020.  I am originally from the Chicago suburbs and decided to move to Dallas, TX with my boyfriend in July 2018.  We moved because my boyfriend got a new job and for the warm weather.  

How did finding out you were lactose intolerant impact your lifestyle? What steps did you take to transition into this new way of life? Did you experience any challenges along the way?

It was incredibly hard finding out I was lactose intolerant.  Before, my diet growing up consisted mainly of meals that included as much cheese and milk as possible.  I kid you not, I would snack on plates full of cheese.  I learned I was lactose intolerant in December 2016. I was trying my best not to eat dairy but was still experiencing symptoms.  It wasn’t until the following October that I spoke with a holistic doctor who recommended I try an elimination diet.  For those of you who don’t know according to Wikepedia, elimination diets are defined as ” also known as exclusion diet is a diagnostic procedure used to identify foods that an individual cannot consume without adverse effects. Adverse effects may be due to food allergy, food intolerance, other physiological mechanisms, or a combination of these.” This diet forced me to cut out nuts, beans, gluten, soy, dairy, meat, fish, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.  Then later add them back in to see if there’s a reaction or sensitivity.  I had to rethink meals and cook everything.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I had never felt better and ate healthier.  I was able to successfully cut out dairy and establish healthy eating habits.  As a result, I got smarter about ordering food at restaurants, reading labels and cooking healthy meals for myself.  

What inspired you to start the Smile Without Cheese blog? What is your mission with this blog?

I started my blog because I realized a lot of people are some level of lactose intolerant.  Since I was new to being dairy free, I thought others might need advice or be experiencing the same things I was going through.  On my blog, I share tips for eating dairy free at home and in restaurants; my favorite dairy free products; my travel experiences with restaurants; and my restaurant experiences both good and bad.  I wanted to help people who are dairy free, thinking of cutting back on dairy or know someone who is lactose intolerant.  

What has your vegan journey been like? Are there any challenges you have been experiencing since starting this? 

Since I’ve moved to Dallas in July 2018, I have been on and off vegan.  The biggest setbacks that I have is when I go visit my family in the Chicago suburbs.  Most visits, I end up eating meat.  My family is super supportive with me not eating dairy and always go out of their way to make sure I have food.  I am very grateful for that.  They have not adjusted to me being vegan and not eating meat anymore.  It will take some time but they will get there.  Also living in Dallas, there is a huge vegan scene.  A lot of restaurants have vegan food and options.  I can’t say the same for the Chicago suburbs.  You have to get creative or go into Chicago to find the vegan food.  I have been fully vegan since January 2020 so I hope to stay consistent with eating vegan.  

What advice do you have for individuals who want to make a lifestyle change but may be struggling? 

Try your best to stick to the lifestyle you want but don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake.  Somethings that can help is following instagram influencers who follow your lifestyle or read books about it.  I follow vegan bloggers who create vegan comfort food recipes so I can make it.  It makes me feel less limited and gives me new recipe ideas.  I read living dairy free for dummies, it helped open my eyes to how specifically I could live a dairy free lifestyle.  If it’s your goal to make a lifestyle change only you have the power to change your lifestyle.  

What inspired you to pursue a career in teaching? How do you balance your career with your blog and other hobbies?

Ever since I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a teacher.  I Iove reading, working with and inspiring children.  Honestly, my career comes first.  Blogging is something fun I like to do in my free time.  I try not to put a lot of pressure on myself to put out a new blog every Monday.  When I can I write a bunch of posts at once and schedule them to be posted ahead of time.  As far as my other hobbies, I do those to destress after work.  Lately, I have been trying to do work during work hours and for a few hours on Sunday.  My other time I spend reading, painting, traveling, watching TV, shopping, cooking, baking, hiking, yoga, Pilates and working out.  Work life balance is especially important for teachers.  

What did you learn from moving from Chicago to Dallas? What was that transition like? Any tips for individuals looking to make a big move?

I learned moving from Chicago to Dallas that I have a lot of stuff.  I had to move all of my personal items (clothes, shoes and etc.) and teaching stuff.  It was a lot.  The moving part was really stressful.  Our stuff arrived weeks after we arrived.  Luckily we planned to buy a lot of things in Texas and had our bed delivered the day we got there.  The hardest part was leaving my mom and dad.  The drive out of Illinois was full of tears.  It was much better once we got to Texas.  I love everything about living in Dallas, it is mostly warm here and it’s a great city to be in.  I am slowly making good friends and finding a good fit teaching job.  Luckily, I have good friends from back home that I regularly check in with, my supportive boyfriend here and family that is a call away too.  My tips for moving are to visit the place you want to live before you go.  Check out places to live in person.  Also research your moving truck company, the company we used I would not use again.  Make sure that you surround yourself with your support system so that you don’t feel alone when you move and don’t know anyone at first.  I don’t know if I would have made it without all of their support and visits. One of the biggest reasons why we moved is to live in a warmer climate and overall this has been a great move.  I can see myself staying here and living happily ever after.  

What advice would you like to share with others that has helped you throughout your journey? Are there any quotes that you “live” by?

My biggest advice is to do what makes you happy.  I don’t eat dairy because it makes me feel good.  I live in Dallas because the warm weather makes me happy.  I am grateful for my friends, family and boyfriend who support me.  Yoga has been a huge part of making my adjustment to Dallas easier.  I found a friendly yoga community, where I can destress after work.  Shortly after I moved to Dallas, I signed up for yoga teacher training.  I met some amazing people, improved my yoga practice and can now teach yoga if I choose to.

I don’t have specific quotes that I live by.  I have a perpetual calendar I have on my work desk and Erin Condren motivational quotes in my life planner.  

What does being Simply Unstoppable mean to you?

Being Simply Unstoppable means never giving up on your goals in life.  If I believe in myself then nothing can stop me from being Simply Unstoppable.  

How can readers get in contact with you to continue this conversation?

Website: smilewithoutcheese.wordpress.com
Instagram: @smilewithoutcheese
Facebook: smilewithoutcheese
Email: [email protected]