On the other side of the alcohol fast

I have seen and soaked in the light at the end of the tunnel!

Giant hand

My husband and I went alcohol-free for 43 straight days. It started on February 1 and ended, fittingly enough, at a St. Patrick’s Day party (in case you were wondering about the random number). Together we do this fast annually.

Despite not being a heavy/binge drinker (less than 2 – 3 beers a week if that), I slogged through this year’s second annual alcohol fast. There were many moments that reminded me of how prevalent alcohol was in my life. Especially my social life. I didn’t go out much during the fast. Without alcohol I just didn’t feel like it. Why put myself in the path of temptation, right? Not that it was considerably easier to avoid at home… At the end of the week, my husband and I like to sit back with a beer after dinner, talk, laugh and let the absurdities of the work week slide away. One Friday night my husband and I were playing music that we liked for each other and halfway through the night I paused and blurted out, “I miss beer. Are we crazy for doing this?” The few times I did go out with friends, including to attend a Super Bowl party, involved people who were light drinkers so there was no pressure to drink. It was still hard but we survived and even had a really good time.

Now that I am free to drink again I am feeling a little anxious. A little hesitant to start again. Maybe even a little guilty…

You see, during this year’s fast, a friend invited me to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting with him. He thought that maybe I would appreciate and benefit from the solidarity. I was nervous – not knowing what to expect. But I found the meeting to be very powerful. Somehow. Some way. Not sure why. It seemed like a straightforward enough formula. Just people meeting everyday and talking about their experience with alcohol recovery. There were no counselors or other “professionals.” It was a meeting for alcoholics – run BY alcoholics. And yet, this simple act of gathering with others and talking is helping a lot of people cope with alcohol addiction.

Listening to their stories made me think about my own relationship with alcohol. They didn’t seem so different from me and yet I am not an alcoholic. (Yet?) But I realized then that the only reason I can do these alcohol fasts is that at the end of the 30 days (or however many days I decide to abstain) an ice-cold beer is waiting for me. It’s not forever. Not even close. That is not the future that these people see. If you told me I couldn’t have alcohol ever again, I don’t know how successful I would be. I just don’t know if I could give up something forever… not willingly anyway. And now that I’m drinking again I feel a little bit like a coward. Even though I know their battle is so very different from mine.

Ultimately, I am tremendously ill-equipped to grasp the struggles of recovering alcoholics. I could try but not without coming off as patronizing or just plain stupid. There are people out there with problems bigger than my own. And I walked away from that meeting immeasurably moved but also feeling small and petty. And a little silly for thinking that my few weeks of abstaining had some sort of meaning in the larger scheme of life. But I’m not sure it has to. Maybe it’s enough that it has meaning for me…

We don’t have an understanding of addiction. Let alone a solution for recovery. We try a hundred different ways including acupuncture and for some people it works. But for others it’s back to square one.

As for me, I will continue to abstain for a few weeks every year, in the hopes of learning something – maybe about myself – maybe about others. And I encourage you to do the same. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Anything really that you think you can’t live without. You will learn so much about yourself – good or bad. Maybe, like me, you already have…

What would you give up temporarily if you were to embark on your own experiment?

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Get me off this food roller coaster!!

Remember when the advice was to eat three whole meals a day? And that breakfast was the most important meal of the day? But then it changed to having six small meals a day was better for you?

Remember when we were told to avoid carbohydrates at all cost? Gluten? Or that meat was going to be the death of us? Then we were told that the Caveman Diet (Paleo) was the way to go?

But not to be outdone, from somewhere else it’s being extolled that FASTING! Fasting works wonders!

SOUTH BEACH DIET, ATKINS DIET, BODY FOR LIFE, WEIGHT WATCHERS, JENNY CRAIG, YOU ON A DIET, THE ZONE DIET, THE RAW DIET…

Aaaaaaaargh! Is your head spinning like mine is?

If it is, you’re likely choking on all the nutritional advice being shoved down your throat. It’s enough to make me want to head down to my beloved Taco Bell and beg for its forgiveness for having neglected it for so long.

The problem is behind almost every diet is a very real and rational science. With support from nutritionists and health professionals, even your doctor! You may even know people who have done well with one of the diets  – and they swear by it! And they’re all very convincing! And they all mean well! One minute you’re stuffing your face with bacon and then the next you’re eating more green, leafy things than goats and cows!

ENOUGH!

I am tired of being made to feel insecure about my food decisions. I am tired of counting calories. I am tired of jumping from one diet wagon to another. I am tired of bookmarking every single article on what to eat – for the “optimal ME!”

I just want to feel good. I want to be happy. I don’t want to be just physically healthy – I want to be emotionally healthy as well. And most of all I don’t want to waste a single moment fretting over a damn cupcake!

I am done with all the noise. I am done with all the food bullying. I am done listening to others. I need to listen to my body.

YOUR truth lies somewhere amidst the chaos. Let me reassure you that your gut is probably right. If a certain nutritional diet plan doesn’t make you feel good, then you should do something else. Humans are as unique on the outside as they are on the inside. What works for your best friend isn’t necessarily going to work for you. You have to find what does.

My friend, Joy of The Joy of Acupuncture, suggested a food journal. No, not so you can obsess over every single calorie but so that you can pay close attention to your body’s reaction to the food that you eat. Yes, tracking everything that you eat is a pain in the neck. But you might discover that raw foods just ain’t your thang. Or that eating fruits late in the day keeps you awake at night. Maybe gluten makes you gassy. From there you can build on a diet plan that works for you. With food that makes you feel good, gives you energy, lets you thrive and do all the things that you want to do.

Obviously, if you declare that you’re going on an all-McDonalds all-the-time plan because that would make you “happy,” I would probably block your way with an electrified cattle prod. If you really listen to your body, I doubt you would hear “let’s eat more junk!”

So today I am declaring myself FREE! Be the master of my own dietary fate! I am going to figure out what foods are good fuel for my body and I am going to stop worrying about what the latest and greatest is in nutritional news.

Won’t you join me? Tell me what your relationship with food has been like. Do you have any tips?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Meredith_Farmer.

No Beer Make Homer (and Sam) Go Crazy

The last time I had beer was exactly 56 days ago.

The first two beer-free weeks were accidental. The second two weeks and from then on have been intentional. In the meantime, wine has been my alcoholic beverage of choice. But for 30 days starting on February 1st even that crutch will be gone. No beer, no wine, no cocktails, NOTHING. Just me, my bottle of water and a lot of teeth gritting/fist clenching.

Alcohol has been a valuable part of my life since the day I turned 21. (Yes, I was one of those geeks who didn’t engage in underage drinking). It’s been my respite after a long day, my social lubricant, and the perfect party buddy. But in February I will have to get by on pure grit and determination (and maybe a mild sedative). 😉

My reasons for abstaining are as follows:

1.  Sometimes the best way to find out how something is affecting your body is by going without it for a few weeks.

2.  Because both my wallet and my liver could use a break.

3.  To see how it affects me mentally (and socially!).

4.  To see the physical benefits of not ingesting so many “empty calories.”

5.  To prove to myself that there is still a distinction between needing a drink and wanting a drink.

I chose to do this in February for no special reasons. Though I feel like I am cheating because it’s winter time and I am already inclined to stay at home as opposed to imbibing with friends. But then again I would not have survived Snowmaggedon a few years ago without beer. So maybe we should all be praying for mild weather.

My husband, sister and a close friend will be joining me with their own reasons for being a part of my potentially kamikaze party. If you would like to join us, whatever your reasons may be, let me know! I would love to be able to provide support by email, Twitter or through Facebook! In doing something together, our chances of success increase!

But where to begin? Here are a few tips and suggestions to help get you through your 30 days:

1. Resist the urge to substitute sugary drinks or soda for the alcohol that you’re missing.

2. Remove any alcohol from your home. (Ask a very trusted friend to store it for you who won’t drink your stash). 🙂

3. Do your best to avoid incredibly tempting situations like going to a bar or having dinner at a brewery. (That one almost got me!).

4. Commit to seeing this through and it if helps buddy up with someone who will go through this experiment with you. (Like me!)

5. Find out what works for you – be it keeping this decision to yourself or sharing it with your friends so that they can help support you.

30 days of sobriety begins on Feb. 1st and will end on March 1st.

Hopefully we can all stay friends. Good night and good luck.

Why I’m never eating at Fogo de Chao again…

Fogo de Chao is a Brazilian churrascaria steakhouse chain. For $50 you can eat your weight in meat. The food is great and the service is good. It was Mecca to me. So why am I swearing to never eat there again?

I went to Fogo de Chao in May to celebrate my husband’s birthday. It was our special occasion restaurant. We were both tremendously excited to be there and when the various meats on a stick started coming we were over the moon! We couldn’t wait to stuff our faces! And then more kept coming… And more… And more… I was not done with the meat I was currently chewing before the next one came along and pretty soon my plate was piled high with half-eaten delectable, greasy pieces.

As I was chewing I started to feel sick to my stomach. I was eating too much and wasting so much more. I felt out of control. I was starting to get a headache (a meat headache?). My husband and I grew quiet during the meal… No longer so effusive… No longer feeling great… Staring at the carnage in front of us. I pushed my plate away. I flipped over my circle card to the red side to indicate that I was done. And boy was I done. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Why did that great meal make me feel so terrible? Perhaps because it was gluttony at its best. I was almost embarrassed at the ostentatious amount of food that kept coming and the amount of food that was left behind on my plate. Everyone was chowing down and since it was “all-you-can-eat” it didn’t matter whether or not you finished what was on your plate. You could just get more! Yay!

But the way I was thinking about food was changing. I was acutely aware of food – How it’s made… Where it comes from… How it’s prepared… I recently learned of livestock production’s hefty carbon footprint. (And why can’t meat processing plants be more open about their operations?!?) I just never really thought about it. But here we were at this fancy shmancy restaurant not even bothering to eat our plates clean! Ack!

At the end, I just didn’t feel good… about any of it.

No, I am not giving up meat any time soon but I can make better decisions as far as where my food comes from. I can eat less of it. And I can start demanding better for the environment.

And, yes, I realize that plenty of restaurants are not concerned with sustainable foods or locally grown produce. So I’m not necessarily targeting Fogo de Chao… It just happened to be the place that finally pushed me over the edge.

So tell me… What pushed you over the edge?