What I Gained by Giving up Weeknight Drinking
This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination.
This is going to sound cliché, but as I’ve gotten older I have found it harder and harder to maintain my “happy weight.” I know, I know: Join the club. But I started examining the possible reasons and I had to admit something that I really didn’t want to: Calories from alcohol do count. But it wasn’t that simple. What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? I eat a healthy diet (I told myself) and exercise every day, so I assumed it would all balance out. And yet, the less attention I paid to how much I was drinking, the faster the weight crept on. I decided that there was nothing else I could do. My knees will no longer allow me to work out three hours a day, and who has time to do that anyway? The turning point came when I was watching TV one weekend morning, flipping through channels aimlessly. I landed on a show where a young, beautiful, skinny host travels to different exotic destinations and basically eats and drinks her way through all the cheesy, meaty goodness, and tropical alcohol combinations that the region could offer, all while cavorting on the beach in an impossibly small bikini. Or sometimes a sarong. It should have been obvious before, but it hit me then: She doesn’t really do that. No thin person really does that. I wish it were true, but it’s not. That was it, I was going to quit drinking. At least on weeknights. I honestly expected an amazing transformation, considering not only the calories in the alcohol I was drinking, but all the additional calories I was taking in as an indirect result of drinking. Case in point: Almost every very morning I would wake up at 3 a.m., thirsty. I would go downstairs, fully intending to only get a glass of water, but the pantry would call to me. “A doughnut would go nicely with that ice water ... How about a handful of crackers with cheese? Some olives would make a nice accompaniment. Come on, it will help you get back to sleep.” I gave in every time. Why I didn’t just bring a glass of water with me to bed every night and avoid the middle of the night doughnut dance is beyond me. Then there were the morning breakfast choices. The mornings after not drinking, a small bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey seemed perfectly reasonable. The mornings after drinking, cold pizza was the obvious choice. After three days of no drinking, I stepped on the scale, eager to see what I figured should have been at least a pound lost. Nothing. Ok, maybe a pound isn’t enough to register on the scale. I’ll wait a few more days. At the end of week one: Nothing. No weight lost. I almost gave up. What’s the point? If trying and not trying have the same result, why go through the effort of trying? But I stuck with it, and somewhere during week two, I noticed something interesting. No, not weight loss. That still hadn’t happened. But I was feeling different. Mostly I was in a better mood. I realized this when I sat at the table with my son one morning and calmly told him to chew with his mouth closed. Any other day, I would have snapped at him for breathing too loud. I was also sleeping more soundly. No more middle of the night trips to the pantry, no waking up thirsty or groggy. I got out of bed when my alarm went off, made myself oatmeal, and didn’t think anything of it. Who knew that feeling normal could feel so ... normal? My memory also improved. Don’t you hate when you walk into a room and can’t remember what you are there for? Well, that didn’t stop happening. I still do that, quite often. But the difference is that I remember what I came for much faster. I even produced an actress’ name in record time the other day. “Jessica Lange!” I blurted out in a conversation with my husband, rudely interrupting him. He couldn’t understand why I was so happy to yell her name. Some weight finally started coming off in week three. I have no idea why it took so long. It’s been six weeks now, and I’m seven pounds down. It wasn’t the sudden, amazing transformation I was expecting, and I haven’t reached my goal yet. But I’m about halfway there. What surprised me is that the non-weight-related improvements have been as rewarding – if not more rewarding – than the weight loss. Once I realized that being crabby, tired, and forgetful wasn’t normal, I embraced my “new normal.” No drinking. I mean, on weeknights. I may be slightly transformed, but I’m not perfect. And I can live with that.