Aug 26, 2017 · 6 minute read
This is a guest post from Jennifer Ullrich of A Life Designed. If you like what you read, be sure to check her out!
This past month I committed to following a healthy eating plan called the Whole30 Program. It’s a nutritional reset where you basically cut out processed foods, grains, dairy, sugar, and alcohol for a month to detox your digestive system.
Once the 30 days are over, food groups are added back in, one at a time, and you gauge your body’s reaction to each food group.
As someone who suffers from digestive issues that have been difficult to diagnose and treat, I thought I’d give it a try. I hoped it would be a way to identify food items that might be contributing to my tummy woes.
I didn’t initially consider the no alcohol part very seriously. To be quite honest, I figured I’d probably continue with my evening glass of wine and imbibe on the weekends with friends.
So, I planned to follow the food part, but not the alcohol part. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous. I was basically going on a diet with the clear intention to not follow it! But that was my thought process.
Alcohol has been part of my eating and social life for a long time. I like my wine. I like my vodka and grapefruit juice. And don’t get me started on mimosas!
When I began the Whole30 plan and started feeling better right away, I thought, hey, why not go full force? I figured I would give it a go, cut out the alcohol, and see what happened.
Well, I’m here to tell you that I did follow the food plan for 30 days, and I also laid off the alcohol for the most part (in full disclosure, I cheated twice during the month, both special social occasions where I consciously elected to go off the plan for the evening and in moderation).
Here’s what I learned.
Realization #1 - I believed I needed an excuse not to drink, but I don’t
I used to use phrases like “I need a drink” or “I need a glass of wine” after a long day at work or a bad day. Doing the Whole 30 gave me an excuse to say no.
It sounds silly to think I needed a reason NOT to drink, but I realized that I did, in fact, expect some push back from friends and family.
When I thought about this, though, it seemed ridiculous that people I care about would actually hassle me for not drinking.
I don’t judge people when they drink, so why would people judge me when I didn’t?
People might judge me for not drinking, but I didn’t need to let the fear of that happening alter my decision. I am ultimately responsible for my own choices and actions, and I recognized that I don’t need a reason to say no.
Realization #2 - Drinking was a habit deeply ingrained in my routine and social life
The first week was the most difficult, as I found myself 3 or 4 days into it thinking I could really go for a glass of wine. These thoughts entered my mind out of sheer habit. And this habit did not benefit me anymore. Continuing to drink was something I kept doing because it’s what I’ve done for a long time.
Get-togethers with friends involved drinks, going out involved drinks, and relaxing at home involved drinks. I realized over the 30 days that it was time to move beyond this old habit.
Realization #3 - I can feel discomfort and still be OK
Foregoing a cocktail or glass of wine at first brought up some feelings of discomfort and edginess. We are hardwired to avoid pain and seek pleasure (known as the Pleasure Principle in psychology).
The awareness that it was natural for me to continue wanting to drink to avoid pain and discomfort brought with it a question: What happens when the tendency to avoid pain (a.k.a. get rid of the itch to drink by having a drink) is consciously denied with a no?
I tried a strategy I learned from Dan Harris in Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics and let the discomfort come. I acknowledged my feelings instead of fighting against them.
And it didn’t kill me. In fact, those uncomfortable feelings went away when I simply waited.
Realization #4 - I felt physically better
There were several physical advantages to not drinking. I slept better and felt less tired in the mornings, which helped me be more productive in the early part of the day.
I lost 10 pounds during the month without exercising, and I believe the healthy food choices and lack of alcohol were the primary factors.
I felt less bloated, and the stomach aches and nausea I experience a few times each week were almost completely gone.
Realization #5 – Control and confidence in my own actions
Without the fogginess induced by alcohol, I didn’t waste my energy worrying about whether or not I said or behaved in a way that would not make me proud.
I didn’t have to second guess my actions or apologize to anyone for bad behavior.
I was alert, in charge, and empowered, and it felt good.
Realization #6 – Activities without alcohol are fun, but different
Rather than feeling like I’m missing out on the fun, not drinking has helped me see that the activities I enjoy doing while drinking are also enjoyable without drinking.
Getting together with friends, meal times, sitting out on the deck in the evenings, enjoying good conversations with my family, and watching sporting events are still fun. The activities are enjoyable in themselves.
I needed to adjust to feeling different (completely sober) while doing them, and this took some time.
So, where will I go from here? Will I drink alcohol in the future? The answer is…
I still relish the taste of a chilled glass of champagne. But my approach to drinking is different now. Rather than drinking out of habit to numb myself from stress and negative feelings, it has become a special treat I allow myself once in a while.
Cocktails are not used to blanket my anxiety or as an excuse to overindulge. When I do drink, it’s because I’ve made a conscious choice to partake. It’s not just done out of habit.
I truly believe that my health will continue to improve by not drinking (most of the time). I’m excited to see more changes in the months to come as my new habits have replaced the old ones.
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Cheers (in moderation, of course)!