Eating my words

I’ve been tracking calories in an effort to trim some weight recently, and wanted to talk a bit about food.

First of all, alcohol is a food in the sense that our bodies can break it down for calories. When you are hooked on alcohol, you are also hooked on those calories and that mouth-feel of sweet or strong flavour, whatever your tastes lead you.

In my book I actually named a chapter “There will be carbs” because I found that eating during my witching hour was an effective way to draw myself out of drinking and into a replacement habit. I was already gaining weight just from drinking, but since I carry my weight in my gut I don’t think it was very apparent unless I took off my shirt. Still, the extra calories were adding up. I had effectively trained my body to expect 400-700 calories per night in alcohol, and hunger hit me bad on the nights that I abstained from drinking. Eating food seemed like a harmless reward that would appease my body without indulging in alcohol.

I wanted to follow up on that a bit.

I abused food during that time. I’m someone who’s never had an eating disorder in my life, but for 3-4 months as I weaned myself from daily drinking, I binged on food. Why?

Because it’s convenient, like alcohol.

Because stuffing 1000+ calories in my face is mood-altering and euphoric, like alcohol. In fact, at the time, eating was starting to become more effective than drinking at making me feel good.

And guess what? Excessive quantities of food hurts your body, just like alcohol.

I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I did it anyway because I just needed to get through the day, just like alcohol.

I bought junk food and hid it in my room until I could consume it, just like alcohol.

In that time, I gained 20 pounds and exited the ‘healthy weight’ range of the BMI. My arthritis flared up, my heart arrhythmia got worse, my blood pressure climbed. It doesn’t take much or a very long time to gain a significant amount of weight and it takes a LOT of effort and discipline to lose it again.

The crappy part is that you can just stop drinking and feel the benefits of sobriety as the time passes and your over-drinking is behind you now. But in order you lose the weight you’ve gained, you have to actually eat less than you need, and that is very difficult to do. You can spend 95% of your life eating a healthy maintenance diet and only 5% of the time overeating, but still have to spend 100% of your time carrying the weight that you gained in that short time unless you spend a chunk of time actively losing the weight you’ve gained. For myself, it’s taken me longer to burn it off than it did to put it on, and it’s been an extra battle that I’ve had to face when I was already pretty tired. Speaking as someone who loves food and hates restricting myself, I now look back on those few months and wish I’d never turned to eating.

I know people are going to use the reward of a food treat to cut back on drinking. I get it. It works. I think it’s okay in principle to do this, but I did want to forewarn people that abusing food can be like trading one problem for another. I’ve now spent 6 months diligently losing those 20 pounds using the same methods I used to reduce drinking: tracking my calories and exercise, changing my routines, developing healthier habits and learning new ways to feel good. But for a while there I turned one problem into two problems, and that’s not good. If you have a history of eating disorders or have abused food in the past, please be careful about the role of food when you’re tackling your drinking.