And most of these events involve alcohol. In the past, I liked that just fine. I appreciated a good cocktail, and I enjoyed splitting a bottle of wine with my husband when we manage to dine out without the kids. Since I usually drank in moderation, I told myself it was a healthy-enough habit. After all, studies show that a little alcohol is good for your heart, right?
But then my parents died. Both of them, within 3 weeks of each other. I felt like I lost my foundation, my very core, and my way of dealing with the grief was to eat and drink my emotions.
For me, weight gain and drinking always went hand-in-hand. After a single glass of wine, I'd lose all power to make good food decisions (bring on the bread basket!). I spent a few months eating and drinking my grief away before it was time for my yearly physical. I was the heaviest I had ever been, and I didn't feel good physically or emotionally.
When I pressed my doctor to calculate my BMI (I was clearly in the overweight category), she was gentle and sympathetic, since she knew about my parents. The reprimand I was hoping to get—"You're overweight, you're eating and drinking too much, and you're heading down a dangerous path"—never came.
It would have been easy to do nothing, but I knew I couldn't keep gaining weight without putting my health in jeopardy: I had gestational diabetes with my second pregnancy, which puts me at a much higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life. Add to that the fact that I have a strong family history of the disease (including my mother), and my odds go up further. And for me, alcohol and unhealthy carbs go hand-in-hand.
Meanwhile, I went from being very upbeat to feeling overwhelmingly sad most of the time. While I know there's no right way to grieve the loss of your parents, I strongly suspected that alcohol was making everything worse. It was time to pull it together, not just for my own health, but also because I'm a mom to two young, and incredibly wonderful, little boys. They are only 5 and 7, and I'm hoping to be their mom for a very, very long time. The booze had to go.
No more excuses
Once I made my decision, it was pretty simple. My plan: no more alcohol, go to the gym every day (to help create endorphins), and eat clean (whole foods). Shortly after, I headed to a mum's night out (MNO) for mothers of incoming school children at our neighborhood wine bar. I had attended lots of MNOs in the past and always enjoyed talking to other moms over a nice glass of Pinot. Would it be weird to drink water? Surprisingly, no. Since I was walking around and mingling—and doing a lot of the talking—I didn't miss not having an alcoholic drink in my hand (instead I guzzled tons of water). My first social test was a success.
When my next book club meeting rolled around, I was prepared. I brought a giant jug of water and sipped it throughout the evening while the rest of the group polished off bottle after bottle of wine. In the past, I'd drink the wine, eat the bread and crackers, sample the cookies and cake, and consume plenty of kilojoules—and feel like crap the next day. Without alcohol I had much less trouble resisting the sweet stuff; I just drank my water, nibbled on low-carb items (like cheese), and went home happy.
Date nights have been harder. Before I gave up alcohol, my husband and I always enjoyed a bottle of wine; it was part of the fun of being without the kids. Now he orders by the glass, and I stick to water. While I miss the nice, relaxed feeling I used to get after a glass of my favorite white wine, I don't miss it enough to start up again.
The biggest surprise of my experiment has been seeing how others react to it. It's funny because when you give up specific foods—sugar, gluten, dairy—people tend not to question it. Or, if they do, it's to give encouragement. But booze? That's a touchy one. Some people told me I was being too hard-core or implied that giving up alcohol would somehow impinge on my happiness. Wasn't a glass of wine (or two) a well-deserved reward at the end of a long day? And while nobody came out and asked me if I was pregnant, I'm sure some folks suspected (especially since I put on weight).
I didn't realise how rare it is not to drink until I gave it up. In almost every social situation, I was the only one not drinking. But I'm confident enough not to succumb simply because I'm the odd woman out.
Reaping the rewards
It's been 2 months since I gave up drinking, and I've lost 14 pounds. It's not just the booze, of course: I've also stuck to my resolution to hit the gym daily and have swapped processed foods for lean protein, fruit, and veggies. But my personal ban on alcohol has been central to all these changes.
Of course there are times—like when my kids are a handful or I'm meeting up with an old friend—that I really want a drink, but the urge soon passes. The payoff is too great. I like the way I look in clothes again. More importantly, I like the way I feel. While I still mourn for my parents and think of them often, I don't have that overwhelming, all-consuming sadness. By giving up booze, I feel like I took control of a situation that felt out of my control and found my way back to a healthier place.