Quitting Drinking & Your Weight: Part 1


People who have stopped drinking often talk about how much weight they’ve lost. It makes sense that weight loss might happen when you get all those alcohol calories out of your life and say bye-bye to hangover breakfasts (and brunches and lunches and dinners) as well as booze-fueled late night eating episodes.

From the start, I wanted to be very careful about tangling up those two goals in my mind. For years, I’ve been trying to give up dieting and food restrictions in favor of adopting lifelong eating, sleeping, and exercise habits that support my overall feeling of wellbeing.

This sounds easier than it is. I have found it impossible to truly exterminate the wish to weigh less, to be thin. I keep trying though—the struggle is ongoing. 

So when I decided to commit to not drinking, I searched my soul to ask if this was really anything more than another diet in disguise. There have been so many. I asked myself to assume it was a foregone conclusion that I would not lose weight—did I still want to stop drinking anyway? Or would I, in the absence of weight loss, feel like life was not fair and resent living a dry life? That would probably be a downward cycle of feelings that would eventually result in gaining weight and drinking more than I had been. 

Within a month or so I could see that the benefits I got from not drinking, especially better sleep, a clearer mind, and less anxiety, were worth pursuing for their own sake.

I knew I really felt that way because I wasn’t losing weight.

There were other things going on in my life at that time—back in January and February—that were not supportive of healthy habits. I was moving. My entire kitchen was packed up, and I cooked very little at home for the better part of two months. We were out to dinner every night. That’s the logistical piece of it.

It was also enormously stressful. I was trying to move into a house mid-renovation and it wasn’t ready for me yet. Even after we moved in, there was a lot of work going on. I was firm in my resolve not to drink, but I recognized that in the past this is the kind of thing that would lead to heavier than normal drinking.  

Instead of wine, I reached for pastries and ice cream. There were endless desserts. I was, to some extent, eating my feelings. I knew it. I was doing my best. And still, I thought this is better without booze. Drinking would only make all this worse.

And though I wasn’t losing weight, I wasn’t gaining it either.

When things finally fell into place and something closer to my usual home cooking habits resumed, I did start to lose weight. And I found myself tipping into very dangerous territory—restrictive eating. I was actively courting hunger in the hopes of fanning the weight loss flame. I was doing things like eating a grapefruit in the afternoon and calling it lunch or skipping dinner if I ate a real lunch too late. 

I definitely caught myself in this pattern and yanked myself out of it. Believe me, this isn’t because I finally cured myself of wanting to be thin—I haven’t. But, and not to sound overly dramatic here, the dieting behavior was putting my sobriety at stake. 

A few years ago I wrote a feature for Shape magazine about women and alcohol. Multiple experts I interviewed for the story told me many women mistake hunger as a craving for alcohol. It's not exactly surprising; most of us have been dieting all our lives and have trained ourselves to ignore hunger until we no longer know when we're hungry at all. 

Even then, back when I was drinking, I knew that was something that happened to me. I craved a drink most in the late afternoon, hours after my often insufficient lunch. What I really needed was an apple with peanut butter or something.

Since I realized how dieting and abstaining from alcohol don’t mix, and I have been vigilant about eating well and not feeling guilty about eating when I was hungry. It's amazing what a big difference eating well can make when we are asking a lot of ourselves.

The weight is still coming off--very, very slowly. In six months, I've lost about 12 pounds. In recent weeks, I've started to examine the ice cream free-for-all and making some different choices about food.

But that part of this drinking and my weight story is for a future post. Drinking and my weight is to-be-continued. Part 2 is here.     

joy manning