Quitting drinking & Dieting

24 Jun

Regular readers of this blog will know that weight is a big issue for me. I talk about it here and here and here and countless other places.

In summary, my story is this: I grew up slim and active, with a normal relationship with food. Like any teenager might when they start to have freedom of choice over their own food choices, I put on a stone or so’s weight when I was 16-19. I was still not overweight, but I started to feel conscious of my body. I wanted to do something about it, and fortuitously, when I was at the start of university, I discovered running and loved it. My body changed quickly and dramatically (oh to be 20 again eh?), I looked slim, healthy and lost weight whilst eating the foods I loved (namely, a bit of daily chocolate). 

As I left university and I felt unsure of my place in the world and got trapped in a toxic relationship, I slowly got more and more obsessive with my food, and thinner and thinner. It was never my intention to be skeletal, but that’s where I got to. I was terrified of food, obsessively restricted whilst maintaining high running mileage and generally didn’t look after myself. My skin was terrible, my hair thin and those around me were very worried. 

For some time, I could fit in 2 bottles of wine a week into this regime whilst still maintaining a very very low weight. This was when my drinking started to be destructive, but because of the relatively low volume of alcohol I (thought) I was consuming, I didn’t see it as a problem. I was thin and drinking, what’s not to like?!

My weight gain and journey back to a normal, healthy weight came when I started really hitting the bottle. I went from very thin to a very sensible weight in the space of 12 months. Everyone around me was thrilled. I looked better, my hair thickened up and I started to have a ‘presence’ about me again, as one person described it. When I was too thin I looked and acted like a shadow. Drinking brought me a vitality that I hadn’t had for years, until, of course, it turned on me. When I look in the mirror on a ‘fat’ day I see all that new weight as a direct result of my drinking. This isn’t a healthy way to look at my strong, marathon-running body, but it’s what I perceive. I want to kick the booze weight and get back to the old me who ran for sanity, ate for pleasure and savoured food, never abusing it.

I’ve focused a lot on my recovery and the importance of letting nothing get in the way of staying sober. Dieting in the first few months of recovery was an absolute no no, and as I hit 100 days, I started to look at my diet again, trying to cut down on sugar and take a more holistic approach to fuelling my body. 

This has worked to an extent, but the reality remains I am unhappy with my shape. I’ve been tracking my food intake on My Fitness Pal for months and I can see the good new habits I’ve made, but also that there’s lots of room for improvement. I’m not getting where I want to be through moments of ‘fuck it’ and self sabotage. One bad day or chocolate binge can mess up my entire week, because I’m aiming for a small calorie deficit each day, so I don’t go too dramatic on the restriction and lose weight healthily. 

I can see SO many parallels between the stages of quitting drinking and this desire to lose weight. I am OBSESSING over losing fat and being unhappy in my body shape and yet not getting results because I’m not committing fully. Like with drinking, the longer I mess around in this space where I’m thinking a lot but not taking action, the longer I’ll end up wasting precious time and energy getting nowhere.

Like with drinking, I feel like somehow my relationship with food has irreparably changed and that I need to go through a concerted period of effort taking my diet one day at a time to get to where I really want to be. As I type these words I’m conflicted, because I know how unhealthy my restrictive relationship with food once was, but I also know that intuitive eating isn’t working for me because I use food to change the way I feel in the way I did with booze. 

I just got hit with a wave of embarrassment writing that, worried how you readers will perceive me. Worried how those sober bloggers I’ve met in real life will read this. What a strange thing, to have a blog which I set up with the very purpose of being 100% honest about all my struggles to aid my recovery, and to have the urge to self-censor. 

These are my feelings and I need to explore them, not push them away or pretend I don’t feel the way I do. 

In the same way I had to commit fully to quitting alcohol, I feel I need a concerted effort on the dieting front. If I put in the work, I will get results, but I just can’t seem to stay on that path. 

The irony is, I don’t actually have very much weight to lose at all, somewhere between 10 and 16lbs would see me looking really fit and healthy, but I feel like I have some sort of mountain to climb. But the more I stand at the bottom looking up at the mountain, the more time I waste in getting to the top.

I got to a point with stopping drinking where I knew that if I didn’t just dig deep and do the bloody thing, I’d be unhappy forever (what drama! but it felt true). I’ve put almost 12 months of solid work into getting sober with lots of slip ups but guess what? It was all worth it. I’m the happiest I’ve been in years. The most emotionally stable. I’m achieving things I never thought possible. 

So can I find it in me to do the same with focusing on my diet? I don’t know. It panics me, somehow, to think of dieting. When I think of any sort of regime I remember those years of crazy restriction and how terrible I felt then. But that perception is false. I know from the amount of exercise I do that to get a steady, healthy weight loss, I’d need to be taking in between 1,700-1,800 calories a day. That is ALOT of food if you choose wisely. So why can’t I do it? Or why does my brain tell me I can’t when actually, that’s a really achievable goal if I break it down into small parts. 

I think that in truth, if I don’t make a change I’ll continue to be unhappy with my weight and keep running in circles around square 1. But I’m also conscious that I could be focusing on this area of discontent to mask other problems. With alcohol, I know that I just didn’t want to feel so many things. Now, approaching 6 months sober I’m not scared of my feelings anymore and truthfully, I’m happy. As I write, I think that this might be totally about weight for once, and wanting to be the best (slim) version of me, rather than feeling generally shitty and pinpointing weight as the issue.

I know that if I reach my goal weight, life won’t magically get better, but that was also true of getting sober. And am I glad I put the work into getting sober? HELL YES.

So today I’m reflecting, forming a plan and will keep you updated on my journey. I’d really appreciate any thoughts on this topic: does this all sound sensible? Or am I being mad? 

Answers on a postcard please 🙂 

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22 Responses to “Quitting drinking & Dieting”

  1. jenisthesoberist June 24, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    Honestly? I think focusing on how you feel is the best gauge for success. If you feel good and happy, then your weight isn’t going to make that much of a difference. Maybe just keep chipping away at your goals but get rid of your mirrors for awhile! As long as you feel good you are doing great!

  2. Belle June 24, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    my gut reflex answer here is if you feel panicked about doing it, then it’s too soon in your sobriety. there will come a sane, calm time when you are ready to do what needs to be done. and maybe it’s not now. that would be my guess. you sound like you’re being very hard on you. you’re sober. that’s a huge big deal. and maybe it’s enough for today.

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

      Thanks Belle. Today I ate, ice cream, enjoyed it, and the rest of the day was lovely, The sky did not fall in. Who knew 😉

  3. sillymelove June 24, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    You sound like me about the dieting thing… I’m only on day 5 with no booze so I’m also battling that… honestly, though I’m having issues with drinking, I was/am a pro figure competitor so there are other resources that can help with your diet plan that will take the guessing out of things and also allows you a huge variety of foods… I work with a great nutritionist who takes all the work out of it for me… all I have to do is follow the plan and cook food… I don’t know if I can post his information so let me know if you want it and I’ll be happy to give it to you…. but CONGRATS for doing so great on the alcohol… I hope I can do it too…

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

      I’d love some of the nutritionists info, one of the things I have had help me is giving time to healthy food prep and enjoying the fruits of my labours.

      My email is fitfatfood@gmail.com so any thoughts you have would be amazing. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a figure competitor and have battled the booze, Go you!

  4. superblysober June 24, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

    I can definitely relate to the body image thing. One of the main reasons why I decided to get sober was because of the negative effect it was having on my physical appearance, especially the weight gain. I’m trying to decide when to move on to the weight loss portion of my goals. I may be going against every piece of advice that I’ve ever read on these blogs, but I’m not going to be able to weight for months and months to start adjusting my diet. I’m just not happy with what I see in the mirror and I want to do something about it. Maybe you could just do what your happy with and if it feels like too much then scale back. But you have to be in a place where you’re confident that you will recognize that it is too much. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an authority on this, as I just drank the day after trying on clothes in a dressing room with double mirrors. I hope that store understands that those will not improve their sales!

  5. Anne June 24, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    I relate. But I was able to control my food, starve myself, exercise excessively and lose weight while still drinking excessively.
    I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. So I got thinner. And then I got fitter, and I only drank protein shakes. And I never ate sugar, carbs, etc. but still I drank. Self destructively.
    With sobriety I realize trying to control everything led me deeper into anxiety and finally severe depression.
    I’ve been working very hard on self acceptance and compassion. Which means I don’t obsess over my exercise or food as much as possible. And I don’t weigh myself.
    July 1 will be 7 months sober for me. In these 7 months I have started planning various eating plans and after thinking hard have put each of them aside. It is draining to focus that energy on food. I still need to work on enjoying all that I do have and can do. And to be happy and at peace.
    I’m pretty fit. But I don’t really see it. Body image is ties up in all those things.

    So my 2 cents. Be kind to yourself. And perhaps talk it through with a therapist to see what you are looking for.

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

      I’d love to know more about how to do the self acceptance thing, this is what I have consistently been told works.

      I totally agree with what you say about energy focused on eating plans. Wasted time and energy.

      Thank you x

      • Anne July 2, 2014 at 4:58 am #

        Brene browns the gifts of imperfection is my bible. Her ideas are so clear and I try to dig deep and use them in my every day life. It is worth reading.
        Yoga has also helped me with this. It encourages a spirit of non comparison and acceptance.

      • FitFatFood July 2, 2014 at 9:35 am #

        Thank you- I will check out Brene Brown and keep persisting with the yoga… I find it hard to settle into it but will keep trying

  6. afteralcohol June 24, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

    Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t have your eating-disorder history, at all, but I started dieting recently and woah nellie, I lost perspective REALLY fast. Like, the days when I stuck to my calorie goal (1300 cal) I felt guilty for not ‘running a deficit’, on days when I didn’t have a period of feeling seriously hungry, I felt guilty, on days when I had a planned, budgeted-for blow-out, I felt guilty. The level of terror I feel at the prospect of not losing weight is out of all proportion – I did not, for contrast, ever feel this panicky at the idea that I wouldn’t be able to quit drinking. And my weight does not in any way represent a health hazard.

    It sounds like your reaction to your own experience is ‘just try harder’, but you’re really saying that you want to try harder at something that is already making you unhappy and frightened? Am I reading that right?

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 8:10 pm #

      ‘Try harder’ at something that I know has made me unhappy in the past, yes. But I suppose I feel my half effort is getting me only piddly results, just as only half committing myself to not drinking did. Does that make more sense?

      My priorities now are: sleepm doing my job well and not drinking. These things will keep me safe and happy.

  7. primrosep June 25, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    fffffffffffffffffffff. tough one.

    so much here about self-image and priorities and what is important to us. the dichotomy between wanting to be healthy and not using our weight as a false focus.

    a few years back I was on my way to yet another weight loss meeting. and I remember clearly thinking to myself, “Well, if your opinion of yourself is determined by what the scales say, you’d better make them say the right number.” which is not the most enlightened, Zen approach in the whole world, is it? but it kind of worked. white-knuckling it, as we would say in boozing terms, till that number was more or less ok.

    in hindsight I was putting the cart before the horse. if we could revise our own opinion of ourselves without reference to the number on the scales then I do think that the number on the scales would fall into line accordingly. but how to do that is the gazillion dollar question. and I don’t have an answer for myself yet so certainly don’t have a simple answer for you.

    a certain Geordie friend of mine said “you beat yasel’ up far too much, you do”. and I try to remember that. if in doubt enormous doses of self love and remembering ‘sober first’.

    was looking at this blog post the other day: http://christieinge.com/what-an-86-year-old-women-taught-me-about-the-diet-roller-coaster/

    ‘the ride never stops and the park never closes…’ gave me a shiver.

    thanks for sharing here, lovely. all thought provoking thoughts. this is growth stuff. and growing hurts, I know. but it is worth it. you are amazing. remember that! xxx

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

      I cannot stop reading that post. Thank you.

      It;s so complex, isn’t it. I also have other people’s expectations of me in my mind (my ex who wanted to control my weight, my parents…)

      Enough for now. Enough, I have plenty on my plate in life (no pun etc…)

      I need to tell my head to hush 🙂

  8. themiracleisaroundthecorner June 25, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    Hi FFF, I am with Belle, and I speak from experience. Well, first off, not in a gazillion years would I have looked at my diet at 6 months, but I’m telling you, I was still panicking at the thought of dieting at 18 months sober (of course, I have about 3 times to lose as you, so maybe the panic makes sense!). I remember talking to people with serious sober time at close to 12 months sober, and stated my intention to stop smoking by my one year anniversary. They seriously discouraged me from doing so, that sobriety should still be first and foremost at this point. Of course, I was delighted with this advice, which “permitted” me to smoke for another year and a half, but I think the advice in general is sound: sobriety first, period. If some other goal is very anxiety producing, let it go for now.

    And I’ll tell you, the time really did come when it was not anxiety-producing. I think you follow my blog, but I made some serious efforts last summer (around 1.5 years sober), then this past April (a little over 2 years sober), and, even now, I am continuing to head in the right direction.

    I don’t know what it is with me blathering away in the comments section of others’ blogs, but I keep doing it! Sorry! This topic hits unbelievably close to home, and I would be more than happy to continue the conversation off-blog.

    For now, I would make a serious effort to look at your life, and your accomplishment, with awe and gratitude, and see if that helps you put the weight issue in perspective. You know, from having achieved what you’ve already achieved, that anything is possible. Believe that, and give it time, and there’s no doubt you will achieve this goal!

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

      Wow, really powerful stuff. You really made me see things differently here. Reflecting on achievements. THANK YOU

  9. carrythemessage June 26, 2014 at 1:02 am #

    I like what Josie said here:

    “For now, I would make a serious effort to look at your life, and your accomplishment, with awe and gratitude, and see if that helps you put the weight issue in perspective. ”

    that is what I had to do. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that I blogged about thinking about taking diuretics! Even as a dude, the weight scale seemed to beckon in terms of trying to control something, to escape myself, to get at something. To obsess about. Your story is a bit different than mine, but the underlying things are the same. I think what it comes down to is self-acceptance and eschewing self-reliance. Of course, we have a right and duty, in some ways, to be healthy physically. to obsess about it is another thing. If vanity or other things are the driving force, then that might need looking at. But there is nothing wrong with being healthy. I run. Not to win races or anything like that. But I like to do it, and yeah, I lose weight so that’s a bonus. But to run merely as weight loss wouldn’t work for me.

    In the end it’s about checking your motives. It’s easy to say I want to “look good” but that leaves it wide open to what “good” means.

    To thine own self be true.

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

      Diuretics? Wow.

      ‘If vanity or other things are the driving force, then that might need looking at.’

      You got me with this. There’s definitely a bit in there. I need to examine my motives more, when I can. Thank you

  10. Cat 15 June 27, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    Have you ever read “Potatoes not prozac” by Kathleen des Maisons? She works in the addiction field and noticed that newly sober people showed very clear signs of sugar sensitivity / addiction. Her research was around the idea that sugar and alcohol addiction are very much linked and that dealing with sugar sensitivity could greatly improve the chances of remaining relapse free. The idea behind it all is to do with brain biochemistry and it is all clearly explained in the book. There is a simple step based programme to follow in order to heal the sugar addiction. It may be of interest….. One of the messages of the book is that failing to follow the “perfect diet” is related to brain chemistry rather than will power. Please don’t be so hard on yourself.

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      WOW- I need to read this book!

      ‘Being hard on myself’ is a thing that comes up regularly, but it’s just the way I am,. I want to be perfect and a) there’s no such thing and b) maybe I’m ok the way I am.

      Thanks so much and will deffo check out that book!

  11. Jan June 28, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Hi,
    I am trying to do both at once- lose weight and quit drinking. I know that if I start gaining weight I will use it as an excuse to go back to alcohol. I found a site at: http://www.sparkpeople.com that is free and very cool. A large online support community for weight loss/increased health. Between it and sites like yours I am feeling quite connected and supported. I am sober and down 8 pounds and feeling quite good. For example I now have dark chocolate dipped fruit for the craves (a friend on sparks’ suggestion) rather than chocolate bars. Good luck.

    • FitFatFood June 29, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

      Thanks Jan, this looks like a really helpful resource.

      I understand that feeling of weight gain being a reason to go back to alcohol, have been there!

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience x

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