Some Thoughts Regarding Alcohol

We’ve all been there.  Especially if, like me, you went to college away from home. You were 18 years young, and finally got to experience that sweet taste of freedom and cheap, watered down beer.  I am 110% guilty of falling down this college-drinking rabbit hole and gained more than the freshman fifteen.  I had immense difficulty losing (and maintaining that loss) until recent years.  What starts off as benign college fun can turn into something more sinister, and even affect your health.

 

Isn’t alcohol what being an adult is all about?!

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It’s the culture – you go to house parties, go out for drinks with your friends every weekend night starting on Thursday (Thirsty Thursday is a real thing, people), you sneak pregame drinks in your dorm room.  But this doesn’t stop at college, it carries over into after work happy hours three days a week, and turns into “needing” that glass of wine (or four) every night after work just to wind down.  I was that chick at college parties that would literally HOARD room temperature bud lights in my purse, just to be stocked up when the party inevitable ran out of booze.  I firmly believed that you could not go out and have a “fun” weekend unless it involved a whirlwind of cocktails and bad decisions.  Needless to say, I entered into adulthood with a very unhealthy, “all-or-nothing” relationship with alcohol.

My junior year of college, I started working out because I seriously wanted to shed that freshman fifteen – which at this point had become more like the freshman 25ish.  I became obsessive about counting the calories I ate, never once stopping to give second thought to the calories I DRANK.  Yes, I lost some weight due to eating lower calorie foods, incorporating lots of veggies, hitting cardio 4x a week with mild strength training (I had yet to discover crossfit!!), but I always seemed to kind of plateau.  I never quite got to the level of fitness and health that I wanted.  I thought I was doing everything right!  Oh, the frustration that ensued!

Alcohol goes straight to the a** (and belly and face and joints).

At this time I was still drinking a lot of wine on the weeknights – you know, because that’s what adults do, right?! – and going out to drink on weekends Friday through Saturday.  And don’t forget about mimosa-fueled Sunday brunches.  That’s a lot of empty liquid calories.  Like, a lot.  One mimosa has about 160 calories with 9 grams of sugar.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever had just one mimosa… yeah I didn’t think so.  Multiply that by 4 or 5 and you’re staring down the barrel of almost 1000 calories, just from your brunch drinks alone.

And there’s the other sneaky thing about drinking: it affects your eating habits as well.  When you’ve had a few drinks, all of a sudden it becomes so much easier to make poor food choices.  Who cares about that 1 am pizza??? I’ll tell you who doesn’t care: those three beers, two tequila shots, and four vodka sodas you consumed in a span of 3 hours.  And what about the next morning when you wake up cranky, dehydrated, and feeling like a jackhammer wrecked your whole body?  Definitely gonna need a triple stack of pancakes and/or a giant plate of sour cream chicken enchiladas to soak up those bad decisions.  And then the downward spiral ensues.

As I started to maintain a healthier lifestyle throughout the week, it became so much more noticeable how crappy I felt on the weekends after countless drinks and junk food.  By every Monday morning, I felt like an inflamed whale, only to get right back on track and feel great again by Friday night.  This cycle of healthy week, boozy weekend, Monday morning guilt lasted for years.  I thought this was normal, along with my IBS issues that came along with it.

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Here we encounter a prime example of me not following my own advice and drinking a beer.  Inflammation and gastrointestinal issues ensued post consumption of this beer.  But it was really hot out and this beer was refreshing and provided a great photo op. (Taken with Moment lens.)

Alcohol: the other macronutrient???

Now I am certainly not saying alcohol is terrible or that you should NEVER drink it, but in my personal experience I have just found that overall I feel better when I don’t.  I don’t need to get blackout wasted to have a good time, and I’d rather just not experience the post-drink inflammation and blues.  If you are trying to lose weight, an easy way to boost your progress is to seriously limit or cut out alcohol altogether.  Remember, alcohol is NOT a macronutrient that your body needs.  On the contrary, your body views alcohol as a toxin, and will always preferentially burn any alcohol that enters your system.  That means any carbohydrates, fat, or protein that enters your system at the same time as alcohol will not be processed.  I repeat, ALL OTHER METABOLIC PROCESSES WILL CEASE.  All of a sudden, you have all these extra carbs, fats, and proteins floating around in your body, so what happens to them? They get converted to fat and stored for later!

So next time you go out for dinner and drinks, remember that when you drink a lot of alcohol, and eat excess calories, the alcohol is hindering your body’s ability to metabolize that food.  Again, I am not saying to never drink.  It’s just no wonder so many of us gain the freshman fifteen when we are poor college kids drinking alcohol all the time and eating fast food at 2 am after a night of partying.

The key is to find BALANCE.  If you must drink, save it for special celebratory occasions.  And when you do drink, don’t drink to excess.  Have a few drinks, and remember to drink water so you don’t get dehydrated.  And try not to give in to those late night alcohol-fueled munchies: they are not your friend.

New Gut, New Me – Part 2 of My “Healthy Gut Experiment”

So my two week elimination diet has come and gone, and will probably be sticking around a little longer, for reasons I will elaborate on shortly.  I had totally intended to write a post at the one week mark, and then again at exactly the two week mark, which would have been this past Saturday.  But life kind of just happened to get itself right in the way, as it so frequently seems to do.  I am so proud to say that I was actually successful in completely sticking 100% to the goals I set for myself (in regards to diet at least).  I usually go into any sort of elimination phase with a “so-so” mindset, like “Oh I’m giving up cheese, but it’s okay if I just have a little bit of this feta with my dinner.”  And then the next thing you know I’m housing a whole wheel of brie cheese.  This time there was no brie involved.  I did not eat cheese for the full 14 days.

I even bought myself a colada (Cuban espresso blended with sugar for those non-Miami folks out there) 12 days into the elimination.  I bought the coffee.  Didn’t drink the coffee.  Decided at the last minute that I had more willpower than that and ended up sharing it all with my coworkers.  But in the end I successfully eliminated coffee from my diet for the whole two weeks as well.

The first week went by uneventfully.  Overall I felt sort of better, because I wasn’t drinking any alcohol which meant I was sleeping better and feeling more clearheaded.  And removing the caffeine resolved a lot of my anxiety.  I have been making a conscious effort to drink more green tea in the mornings, as well as decaffeinated teas such as Trader Joe’s Ginger + Turmeric Herbal tea.  Ginger and turmeric are both high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and supposed to work wonders for your digestion.

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But despite my efforts, that first week I DID NOT EXPERIENCE ANY NOTICEABLE IMPROVEMENTS IN MY DIGESTIVE HEALTH.  I still felt bloated and had major abdominal discomfort.  I still was not able to use the bathroom on a consistent basis.  I felt more than a little physiologically and psychologically frustrated.  But despite this frustration I remained persistent, hoping that maybe after two weeks I would notice a difference in my health.

And then on Monday of the second week, a miracle happened.  I was finally able to use the bathroom WITHOUT the aid of medication (constipation is definitely not fun, my friends -_-).  And then again on Tuesday.  And Wednesday.  And Thursday.  What’s more, I felt good, no GREAT, the whole week.  My stomach was not uncomfortable, I felt full of energy, I had a lot of good days at the gym.  I cannot say for certain that it was the lack of coffee, cheese, or alcohol, because during all of this time I was also not eating bread, grains, or anything with gluten.  Not because I was specifically eliminating them, but because I already know from experience that my body does not digest these substances very well (In fact, I finally got tested for Celiac’s and will find out the official results in about a week).

The only thing I guess you could say I sort of cheated on during these two weeks was the alcohol.  The second week was rough, mainly because I found out my little cat has lymphoma.  I spent almost the whole week in and out of the vet’s office, worrying myself sick.  I was sad and decided to have a glass of wine this past Thursday, after going 12 days without.  Even though my stomach had been feeling great the whole week, I woke up on Friday feeling less than stellar.  I could not use the bathroom that day.  What was the one variable that changed?  The alcohol.

On Friday I didn’t drink, and felt normal again on Saturday morning.  Then on Saturday night I had two vodka soda’s at dinner.  Can we guess how I felt on Sunday morning??? Yeah.  So there you have it.  A two week elimination diet has led me to the conclusion that I’d rather not drink at all.  I’ve never really been addicted to alcohol per se, but I’ve definitely overdone it more than a few times throughout my  life.  It’s been years since what you could call my “partying” days, but these days if I ask you to meet me at the bar, I’m probably talking about my crossfit box.  There comes a moment when alcohol just kind of ceases to be worth it.  I think this was that moment for me.

So now I’m about halfway into week three, and I still haven’t added cheese or coffee back into my diet.  Perhaps I will re-introduce them slowly, gradually (because let’s be honest, there are few things I love more than cheese)…but why ruin a good thing?  This was only supposed to be a two week experiment, but given the success I’ve had I think I will continue it a little longer.  I have my doctor’s appointment next week to find out the results of my bloodwork and abdominal ultrasound, but it seems to me the gastrointestinal issues I’ve been experiencing my whole life are nutrition-related.  Fingers crossed that I’ve finally solved this mystery once and for all.

I cannot emphasize enough, if you are experiencing any sort of bloating or gastro issues, carefully analyze what you are eating!!  Maybe choose one potentially aggravating item (such as cheese, bread, or lactose) and try removing it for 2 weeks-30 days. You don’t have to remove three at a time like I did, because that might be a little extreme. But, what’s the worst that can happen?  You might find out that you actually are not intolerant to that food item!  I’d say that sounds like a pretty good outcome to me.  And if you do feel relief after elimination, you’re just one step closer to lifelong health and wellness.

Spring Cleaning

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My life is about to change.  A LOT.  I’ve been in Miami for 5 years and my boyfriend has been in Miami almost his whole life.  We have both been itching to get out and experience living in a different (read: cheaper!!) city.  When we are ready to buy a house there is NO WAY Miami would be an option.  I am from Dallas and recently found out my grandmother’s health is not in great condition, so we saw this as a perfect opportunity to not only move over there to spend time with family, but as a stepping stone to save money for our future house.  All of this has happened rather quickly, and the moving process is well underway.

But this is not the point of this post.  As I have been packing up my apartment, I have been reflecting on just how much STUFF I have.  Clothes, shoes, and jewelry that I never wear.  Hair products and makeup that I never use.  Kitchen tools that I don’t need.  Books I bought six years ago and never “got around” to reading.  This list of utterly useless junk that I haven’t touched in over a year (or in some cases years) is endless.  It is simply not necessary for me to move halfway across the country with all of these material things that are not of use to me.  What’s more, what if they would be USEFUL to someone else? Someone in need who hasn’t been as fortunate as me to be able to mindlessly buy a pair of high heels from Target??? High heels which were worn NOT EVEN ONCE.

All at once the realization hit me that all of these things aren’t just creating clutter in my physical space, but in my mental space as well.  Having more clothes just means more laundry which means more stress.  Unnecessary clutter barrages our mind with stimuli and makes relaxation more difficult.  I’ve been at work the last few days and just trying to mentally sort through all of the crap I have to literally sort through has been causing me anxiety.

I have spent years collecting things, following the misconception that more stuff equals more happiness.  But this is just NOT TRUE.  It is not the new dress or the new pair of earrings that will make you happy.  The memories you create whilst wearing those items will do more for your life satisfaction than the dress or earrings ever will.

The more I box up things to give to those in need, the lighter and more mentally clear I feel.  I don’t need all these things.  Getting rid of these things is allowing those that are truly important to rise to the surface.  I’m not saying you have to literally throw away all your clothes, but if you  haven’t worn something at least 2 or 3 times throughout the last year, I promise you can live without it.  I challenge you to undergo a round of spring cleaning, revisit your closet, your kitchen, your life.  Eliminate those things which are not essential and make room for things that matter more.  Make more room for new clothes, new friends, new experiences.

Get rid of the unnecessary and “It is astounding what will flow into that space that will enrich you, your life, and your family.”