Friday, February 26, 2021

Banning Booze for Health and Weight Loss

January 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Wellness

[Photograph: BATEGA on Flickr]

Throughout 2009, I spent a lot of time thinking about and writing about my weight on my blog, What I Weigh Today. On January 2, 2009, I weighed a few pounds more that I wanted to, and I hoped that making myself accountable through blogging and making an effort to be healthy in my food, drink, and exercise choices, I would coast down the scale to, I don’t know, my lowest weight ever.

By April 2009, I weighed 10 pound less. But as it turned out, even that modest weight loss wasn’t sustainable for me. Guess what I weighed on January 2, 2010? Same as I did on January 2, 2009.

During the past year, through the network of people who have left comments for me on my blog, I became acquainted with the Fat Acceptance Movement and the Healthy at Every Size philosophy. I started to work on giving up my struggle to be thin, and loving and accepting my body the way it is.

At this point, I have spent months talking back to the voices in my head urging me to lose weight and telling me I’m fat. I read this fantastic post and came to believe I was working through something that a lot of other women have worked through before me. I believed that by 2009’s end, I would love, embrace, and celebrate my body the way it was.

But here I am, still struggling, still feeling bad about myself every time I go shopping or get dressed, still cringing at photos of myself, still hoping (and then feeling bad about hoping) that I might someday again see those lower numbers on the scale, a slimmer me in the mirror. The thing is, when I look at my diet, I know it’s healthy and I will not modify it.

I have a somewhat unorthodox approach to food, largely shaped by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Nina Planck’s Real Food, and there is no way I’m drinking low fat milk or eating Healthy Choice frozen meals. I’m a restaurant critic: eating butter, bacon, chocolate, and cream are job requirements, and even if they weren’t, I’d eat them all. (Though probably a bit less of them!)

When I looked back over 2009, I did see one modification that I would like to make. In 2010, I would like to change my relationship with alcohol. For the past several years, I’ve drank wine or beer most days.

Often just one or two; sometimes three or four; on not-infrequent-enough-occasions, as many as five. I just calculated that I drank approximately 117,000 calories worth of booze in 2009. Is it any wonder I couldn’t lose weight or maintain a modest weight lost?

I don’t believe in dieting. I know from experience that it really doesn’t work. I strongly believe that a healthy, sustainable lifestyle (one where you eat what you want when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, one where you enjoy ample physical activity) will lead every one of us to our ideal body size, even if it isn’t our cultural ideal, even if it isn’t the body of our dreams.

Perhaps my drinking habits have not contributed to a healthy lifestyle for me. Drinking could be interfering with me becoming and maintaining my natural size. Maybe booze has weighed me down, emotionally and physically.

For this reason, I decided I would quit drinking altogether for the month of January. I hope to reevaluate my choices and emerge from this period of abstinence ready and willing to put alcohol in its appropriate place in my life. I just need some time to figure our what that is. And I would totally be lying if I didn’t tell you I hope I’ll also learn that I weigh less.

Tell me, commentors, what role does alcohol play in your life and your health? Do you have any personal guidelines you follow in terms of drinking?


No Responses to “Banning Booze for Health and Weight Loss”
  1. Emily S. says:

    I drink a similar amount as you outlined in this post. I have wondered before if I’m drinking the “right” amount, or too much, or even too little (a glass every day is supposed to be good, but we’re not quite so regular).

    I don’t have any answers, I’m just chiming in to say “me too”. I do think I might lose a few pounds if I cut out or dramatically reduced the alcohol – but I doubt it would significantly change my weight. Maybe 5 lbs, but how much do those 5 lbs matter? Will 5 lbs make me more satisfied with my body?

    I do know that I like the *moments* when I’m drinking – sharing dinner with my husband, swapping gossip with my girlfriends, catching up with family. I feel grateful that I have so many opportunities to celebrate, and as long as alcohol is part of the celebration of life and not a medication for the hardships of life, I think I’m doing okay.

  2. lissa10279 says:

    As soon as I joined WW in 2004, I stopped drinking. I’d go out still, but just saw no point to wasting Points on alcohol when food gives me greater pleasure (dessert!). It makes me “lame” maybe to some people, but I don’t care. When I drink, I tend to lost control and just don’t want to go down that path — so it’s best to avoid it, or settle for a glass of wine here and there and leave it at that. I know people who have lost weight while drinking, but for me, it’s just not my thing.

    • cggirl says:

      Well you are not alone lissa 🙂 I have never developed a taste for alcohol. Oddly enough I still feel like I have just as much fun and act just as silly when we all go out. Maybe my baseline is just sillier than other people and i don’t need the alcohol to get there? Haha. I guess I’m just not very “cool”. (I also consider it fun to read books about math so I think the cool ship has sailed anyway.)

  3. Frances says:

    Booze is a part of my life and I love the part it plays in my life. I love sharing a bottle of red with my friends, having pints at the pub and discovering new kinds of gin with my boyfriend.

    Alcohol complements food, adds to a social situation and is rather fun. (I’m going to London in March and I can’t wait to try some proper British ales.)

    Emily hit the nail on the head with “alcohol is part of the celebration of life and not a medication for the hardships of life”.

  4. living400lbs says:

    I’m in my 40s, and I’m glad to say i generally don’t worry about alcohol. If I’m really stressed out and I think a glass of wine or a cocktail will help, and I don’t have to drive, I have it. Same with if I think a glass of wine would compliment a meal well.

    I do limit alcohol because it seems to affect me stronger than my friends. Two glasses in 3 or 4 hours is a lot for me. I especially avoid drinking to the point of blackout or hangover, partially in rebellion against family members who drank more than I thought was good for them….

  5. living400lbs says:

    Oh – I meant to say – I did have an interesting experience a few years ago when I was prescribed medication that absolutely cannot be taken with alcohol. I was on that medication for a week, and during that week, I wanted a drink every day, sometimes multiple times a day. The fact that I couldn’t drink (as in, “if you find out did drink alcohol call 911 because they may have to pump your stomach”) made is somehow something I wanted all the time.

    I’m curious as to whether you are running into this experience as well.

    • joymanning says:

      I definitely have experienced just what you describe in the past when I’ve trying to give up drinking for a time. This is probably going to sound crazy, but I recently read the book “The Power of Now.” It’s about procrastination, and why we put off things we want to do. Anyway, one of the author’s points was about the way we talk to ourselves. In the past, my inner dialogue might have went something like, “You are not allowed to drink. You have to behave yourself. Or else.” According to the book, when we talk to ourselves like that it fires up the rebellious part of our brain. He suggests changing the inner dialogue to go something like, “I choose to give myself the extra rest, energy, and clarity that drinking only nonalcoholic beverages will give me for the whole month of January.” I decided I was going to do this halfway through December, so I had plenty of time to nurture a positive attitude about it. And it really has made all the difference.

  6. Lizzie says:

    Alcohol is a massive part of the culture for me, i definitely drink a lot less since I’ve been on ww and even less again since starting to run – even a glass or two plays havoc with my focus the next day, but I dont feel the need to quit altogether. I think when that happens THATS when it’s maybe a problem! I think to think i can balance my lifestyle and still be able to socialise how I want and how i enjoy…

    • joymanning says:

      Lizzie, when you say “the culture” what do you mean? I feel that way because I’m a food writer and “the culture” of my professional circle revolves around food and booze. I also run and there’s no doubt that even one drink can adversely affect the next day’s run. I hope that I end up finding an appropriate, social place in my life for drinking going forward.

  7. McLauren84 says:

    Great post! I identify with almost everything you say, Joy. The post-work glass of red wine is so hard to give up! I’ve tried giving myself a number of drinks I’m allowed to have in a week (usually 3-5), then I chose when and how I distribute them. Sometimes I find I don’t even drink as many, but it helps me to know I don’t have to give it up entirely.

    • joymanning says:

      I have tried that approach, too, allowing myself X number of drinks per week, but I found I didn’t stick to it, which would leave me feeling extremely angry at myself. After my month-long ban is over, I may try that again. Glad to hear it works for you!

  8. heart says:

    My go-to comfort food combination is beer and potatoes. (All kinds of potatoes, but I make a killer twice-baked mashed red potatoes dish. 🙂 I like good wine, but won’t drink the cheap stuff and the beer I like is cheaper, so that’s my after-work wind-down, but I had to nix the potatoes for the most part, because that’s where the real calorie-piling-on was coming from.

    When I’m more physically active, I just don’t want to drink as much, so I tend to drink a lot less in the summer, and yes, the weight slips right off (to a point).

    I second the person who complained about alcohol affecting her focus. When I need to be on-game, I need to not drink.

    I can’t see giving up alcohol entirely forever, but it is important to have an awareness of its place in your life and make well-considered decisions about it. If I read your estimates about your consumption right, you can expect to lose about 3 pounds from giving it up for a month. To me that would just be a blip. Now, if you gave it up for 6 months, 15-18 pounds might be a motivating amount of weight loss, and might provide you with an opportunity to reset your lifestyle drinking habits to a level that would allow you to keep a lot of it off.

    • joymanning says:

      Good point, Heart. Maybe it’s unrealistic of me to think I would lose any more than that over what is really a pretty short time.

  9. bethh says:

    I feel incredibly grateful that I am not concerned about my alcohol intake. Considering my lack of self-control re: sugar and other foods, I’d be in big trouble if I drinking caused problems for me. I also have some alcoholism in my family (aunt, grandfather) so I feel extra fortunate.

    I do drink regularly, but it probably works out to three drinks per week as an extremely high estimate. (It would be interesting to track, actually.) This is more because I’m cheap than anything else – I don’t eat out a lot, and I live alone, and can’t possibly drink a whole bottle of wine in one sitting and it gets otherwise wasted, so I usually don’t even open it. I do have a vacuum seal gadget, but I tend to not revisit the bottle enough to justify opening it. The little half-bottles that are increasingly available have been great.

    At any rate, if I drink more than a glass of wine with my dinner at home, I find myself too tipsy to DO anything, and it’s too early to go to bed, so I’m bored and tipsy. Lame, yes, but makes it easy for me to feel like avoiding it!

    I read and enjoy your blog. It’s never seemed correct to me that you expect weight to be different so quickly – my experience with dieting (in the far past, sadly or not) is that it takes a week for my behavior to show up on the scale. That may not be accurate, but it was certainly my perception!

  10. cggirl says:

    Hm. I know this isn’t the topic of this post but why is it so important to you to lose weight? Not that I am saying you shouldn’t, or that you shouldn’t check and see how alcohol affects ur body. I just popped into your site and you only weigh 150 pounds. I don’t know how tall you are but for an average height woman that’s not really anything extreme, in terms of health or practical limitations… No judgement, you should do what makes YOU happy. I was just surprised.

    • joymanning says:

      GOOD QUESTION! I wish I knew for sure. I wish I could change my brain. I know on one level that there is not one thing wrong with my healthy body and that I should love it just as it is, but on another level I can not shake this deeply held conviction that I need to be very thin.

      • cggirl says:

        Well, again I don’t mean to draw some sort of line between who is “allowed” to want to lose weight and who is not. And I still don’t know you, how tall you are, or whether your “goal weight” is healthy for you. I just wonder if you’ve explored anything like therapy? And/or what your romantic life is like and whether that is contributing at all to these feelings?of course I could be way off base, just putting it out there…

        • joymanning says:

          I’m 5 foot 3 inches and I don’t have a goal weight. I know I could benefit from therapy, probably lots and lots of therapy, but I’m a freelance writer whose extremely limited budget and inadequate health insurance policy make therapy financially inaccessible to me. Oh, and I’ve been happily married for 4 years.

      • julie says:

        I don’t need to be very thin, but at BMI ~ 25, I’m fairly chubby still. I think 22 would look better, even if it has no health benefits. I don’t know if I’ll get there or not, but I can do better than this.

  11. Jennifer F says:


    I drink about as much as you do, at the moment. I have gone through periods where I drank much less. I have found that it doesn’t affect my weight at all. I completely make up the difference with food.

    So I think for some people, giving up alcohol would cause some weight loss, just like for some people giving up soda would. For others it won’t make any difference unless they tightly control everything else that might affect energy balance.

    Good luck with it.

    • joymanning says:

      I definitely suspect that our bodies are always working to take in the same number of calories. I subtract one calorie stream and replace it with another without even realizing it, probably.

  12. Nell says:

    I’m lucky in that I, like lissa and cggirl, simply don’t like alcohol, neither the taste nor the feeling of spinning out of control that comes with it. My German friends here keep giving me one kind of beer or another always with the intention of finding one I like (I haven’t yet, not even malt beer). Red wine just tastes sour and bitter to me. I don’t like anything carbonated, so no champagne or sparkling wine.

    I will enjoy a glass of a very fine chilled white wine in the summer when I can go to bed no more than two hours afterward. I’m insufferable on alcohol, really, tend to spout the most awkwardly inane things (I once tried to recite Schott’s Almanac. Ugh!).

    I guess the role alcohol really plays in my life is me refusing my friends, colleagues and acquaintances over and over. There is definite peer pressure to drink over here in Europe, and most people tend to not care about sharing a bottle of wine for lunch (and working after, which I can’t help but think of as irresponsible, especially in a profession like mine). Going out at night starts with what they call “Vorgluehen”, pre-stoking the fire, meaning they drink hard alcohol, go out to party and drink more alcohol, and finish up with some good morning alcoholic drink (OK, maybe that’s my age talking). They even serve alcohol at school dances (that had me a-goggle)!

    I’m not an anti-alcoholic, not by a large margin, but I sometimes wish people would show more consideration to those that don’t want to drink. The sheer incredulous looks even at a karaoke place when you order something non-alcoholic, I wish those could change a little.

  13. mkd says:

    I don’t have any answers. And today especially I have no answers on anything. But I wanted to share my experience and see if other women have had the same…
    I am a social 50 year old (managing years of body image dissatisfaction–recovered from anorexia) who hangs out regularly with a group of 8-12 women (ranging from 40 -60) who all drink far too much. These are interesting, well-rounded, well-read, multi-degreed women who are successful professionally, all with 6-figure salaries and for the most part are happily single or divorced and not looking for significant male companionship. Every one of them exercises consistently, dress well and look pretty damn good for their age. I can’t tell you how much fun we have together! Being a part of this group is fulfilling and keeps me on my toes intellectually—I come home afterwards feeling happy, loving life and grateful for my good friends.
    But I have tried to extricate myself from the cocktail hours, dinner parties and wine tastings because of my fear that I am drinking too much. What is too much? I think that when you drink to cover up sadness, discomfort, stamp down anxiety or to avoid confronting your feelings—then it is too much. When you wake up feeling lousy and have to eat fatty foods to feel better and then want to laze around unproductively the next day, then it is too much. (That would be me.) I love the socialness and support of my group, but my body reacts to alcohol with a general sense of fatigue (after 1 glass of wine) and I have headaches, lack of discipline and eat throughout the next day (after 2 or more glasses of wine.) It seems that none of my friends experience this—they get up early to run miles or give speeches, catch flights or industriously march off to work. None of them report wanting to lollygag in bed all day with bon-bons and trashy magazines, nursing a headache and feeling anti-social. I wonder if I am being lazy or use a hangover as an excuse to retreat from life—or do I really suffer from hangovers?
    I also wonder what I am trying to hide when I drink. I see that despite outward success that each of my friends has a dark shadow that they have to manage—it can be job anxiety, financial concerns, responsibility for an aging parent, unacknowledged loneliness (because since we are such successful women why would any of us admit to being lonely?), weight issues, lack of creative outlet, health concerns or more. I watch their eagerness as they pour that first slug of wine. There is an ease that comes over each person after a few sips of wine–complete with change of posture, facial expression, animation and exuberant conversation. We discuss the type of wine that will compliment the meal ad infinitum (which leads to long conversations about meals, recipes and the latest restaurant) and that leads to body talk. Weight, age, fitness and the “should-we, should we-not” argument of plastic surgery take up a lot of time. I enjoy being part of a group.
    Yet, I don’t want to lose myself to alcohol. I feel that it’s not wise to avoid issues that I have to face and can handle better when I am sober. I get a momentary respite from my issues when I drink, only to face them again the next day. So now, Instead of 4 times a week I limit my time with my friends, carefully choosing a night that I can go out without facing too much the following day. I question myself—can’t I go out and not drink? What will I do to be part of “the popular group.”

    • cggirl says:

      Interesting thoughts. And isn’t it funny how peer pressure is an issue even for adults?

      • mkd says:

        Hey Girlfriend,
        You are an adult too…haven’t you dealt with peer pressure? Isn’t that partly what you are exploring in your quest/film about having children? The good news is that as we get older (hopefully more mature) we can acknowledge the peer pressure more freely.

        Sure, there is pressure in many areas of life. It’s our job to figure out when to give into it, understand why we do or do not and reconcile our reality with outside pressure either from society in general or those closest to us.

        Sigh. It should get easier…but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question our motives. My wise old mother used to say, “You can lie to others but you can’t lie to yourself.” A tough line of thought to follow growing up.

        Have you made your decision about children? I am curious.

    • joymanning says:

      This is really interesting. Thanks so much for sharing this detailed and thoughtful account of your own experience. I also get bad hangovers that lay me out for the entire next day while others I know seem completely unaffected. I have felt that my choosing to not drink this month has made some people uncomfortable at times, but at other times, I’ve been totally at ease not drinking. Have you tried not drinking with this particular group? What would stop you from doing that? Their behavior or your own feelings?

      • mkd says:

        Hi Joy,
        My feelings about drinking get complex. I really enjoy the buzz, the mild release of muscle tension, the “ahhhhh” feeling of letting go. I am such a cheap drunk that I get that after a few sips. Maybe that is what scares me off drinking—the fact that it changes how I feel quickly. I don’t like that alcohol igites my sugar jones, big time!

        It would be hard to be a non-drinker with this group of gals—for them and for me. I have one GF who I’ve tried to incorporate into the group who is a non- drinker. Alcoholism and mental health problems run in her family and she’s adamant about avoiding alcohol. She has not been welcomed. In fact, the others say, “Let’s not invite Ms. Sober, she doesn’t drink.”

        The times that I feel at ease not drinking is when I make an excuse, “Oh not tonight; I overindulged yesterday.” Sometimes true, other times a lie. There would be group discomfort otherwise—I think it’s because it would mean having to acknowledge their own drinking. I have brought up the heavy drinking in one-on-one situations, but it is brushed off.

        I don’t drink on evenings on my own, and only occasionally with my boyfriend, who is European, but doesn’t overindulge. So I figure that being part of the group is so meaningful to me that I will have that glass of wine or three.

        P.S. I like your website and your sister’s too. Hard to believe you are related!

  14. julie says:

    I neither like the taste nor the effect, yet I still drink, mostly socially. Occasionally I’ll have a strong cocktail just for relaxation, but there is hardly any line for me between sober and needing to sleep, so I’m very careful and occasional about it. I quit smoking in the last week, dare not go near alcohol for about a month except under very controlled circumstances (no ciggies anywhere around), I don’t feel the loss. There’s better, more relaxing things that don’t have the negative physical effects, are not fattening, and won’t make me lazy and unfocused the next day.

  15. Kate says:

    Don’t know if any of you has tried this, but when I want to cut down on the nightly glasses of wine — but still want to feel relaxed and convivial — sometimes I fill a wine glass with cranberry juice. Something about the festive glass and the color of the juice brings that feeling of a “treat” with it that a glass of red wine has. If you’re in a group, people might just assume you are drinking wine, which keeps them from pointing out your abstinence or judging you.

    • mkd says:

      Thanks! This is a great idea…I will try it. Another idea that I used to dois get a drink that I can’t stand the taste of, then it takes me twice as long to drink, plus I need a lot of water to get it down. Campari and soda is the one that does it for me. Ugh.

  16. kelly says:

    A spiritual problem needs a spiritual solution.


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