In the first 6 months of my alcohol free life, I often ate chocolate, iced-cream and/or mashed potatoes almost every night, then sat on the couch and watched show after show of Netflix before passing out. I worried that I would get fat. I did get somewhat fat. I read all kinds of conflicting advise…some said “give up sugar when you get sober…it’s just a crutch!” or “your body will adjust and your cravings will die down” or “eat all the sugar you want..no one ever got pulled over and arrested for eating sugar and driving!”. It caused me great anxiety.
Now, 1.5 years into this sober-journey, here’s what I think of how to approach nutrition and exercise in early sobriety :
If you’ve abused yourself with alcohol as I did (and if you’ve just gotten sober, you likely haven’t even come to terms with just how badly you’re drinking was destroying you)…if you’ve abused yourself with alcohol, lack of sleep, lack of self-care or worse for years…. then when you first begin to heal from drinking, you honestly have no idea exactly what your body needs or how long it will take to begin healing your brain or restoring your brain chemistry as your whole self adjusts to living without alcohol.
When I first quit….I basically felt like a computer that someone had thrown a bucket of water in that didn’t stop working but all of the inputs were misread and the outputs didn’t make sense to anyone else! I’m not sure I knew the difference between being tired, hungry or thirsty and wanting a drink. Thank goodness it didn’t stay that way.
Now…the reason I think that there’s so much conflicting advise on the subjects of eating/dieting/exercise in early sobriety…well I think that’s because when we begin sobering up…being in a sober-state without a substance to cover or mask issues uncovers very different things for different people:
Some people need to move more. Get out and walk. Yoga. Go for a run. Clear your mind and heal.
Some people need to rest. Sleep more. Eat more. Heal.
Some people discover co-morbid challenges like eating disorders or mental illnesses that were disguised while drinking and become apparent when we quit…I don’t think we can underestimate the role that eating/water/fitness/sleeping/stress (ie..self-care) can play in dealing with emotional/mental/eating disorders.
It’s so hard to listen to your body and the signals it gives you in early sobriety because there’s so much changing so fast.
And as addicted-minded people…we tend to want everything fixed “right now!”. But healing has it’s own time, and we can’t dictate it.
So I say to focus, focus, focus on self-care (especially early on until it starts to feel normal to take care of yourself) and don’t drink. Eat the best you can, don’t restrict yourself unnecessarily, drink water, sleep, rest, find ways to treat yourself without alcohol like baths, walks, movies, gardening, pedicures, massages, buy a new book (I’m not wealthy at all…you can probably get your house cleaned, buy a massage, or get a new outfit cheaper than it costs to go out for night of drinking!)…self-care could include getting professional help..a therapist, a nutritionist, a personal trainer/coach. Self-care also includes being patient with yourself….if something’s not working, try something else. Self-care can be many things…it could be setting boundaries, ending a relationship, or eating more broccoli.
For me, quitting drinking was a major act of self-care.
And at first, self-care was odd and foreign and difficult. For example…I would try to set a boundary…and find myself in an argument with a family member but not have not emotional faculties to deal with it because I just quit drinking so instead of drinking I would eat a pound of chocolate then hate myself for that so I would watch 10 episodes of something on TV and then feel lazy…but I kept going. I kept living and not drinking and seeking help from wherever I could find it. I go to therapy, I read, I meditate and take walks. And little by little self-care and living sober has become normal.
So what does this have to do with eating and weight loss in sobriety?
I’d like to leave you with the thought that eating and weight loss are part of the bigger picture of self-care…and can be very different for each of us as we learn, grow and heal.
And not to sound too dogmatic…but so far the most important nutritional decision I’ve ever made is to stop poisoning myself with wine on the daily.