Those Post-Quarantine Blues (Continued Thoughts on Habits, Alcohol and Accountability)

I was speaking with a female client (let’s call her Cara) recently and I wanted to share some of the conversation in hopes that it helps you. This is a lengthy post, with a lot to sift through.

Like many, she gained weight through the lockdowns. Fortunately, she’s been reading my posts and articles and listening to my podcast to hear/see that she’s not alone.

There are three areas of our conversation I wanted to detail in this week’s post: Habits/Skills, Alcohol Consumption and Accountability.

Habits/Skills

In trying to determine how to reverse the trend, Cara mentioned that her alcohol consumption had increased. She was also doing some late night snacking (going to bed, waking up to let the dog out and eating while she was awake) and just being somewhat unintentional with her eating habits. In addition, she felt that she needed to get back to calorie counting.

I asked her to pause for a moment and focus on one thing. It’s not that any of those four variables were earth shattering things to change. It’s that it’s too many things to focus on at once.

Imagine Joe Shmoe walks in to RevFit and wants to lose weight. He determines that he needs to do more cardio, lift weights, drink more water and eat less processed foods.

Sounds easy, right? It’s not. It’s too much to focus on.

I asked Cara to pick the place where she felt she could influence the most change.

In other words: What one problem can you tackle that can give you a win?

In her case, we spoke about the alcohol. She has developed a routine with her husband which sounds like it became counterproductive to her weight loss goals. I get it. I think everyone who is reading this and likes to imbibe started drinking more during quarantine.

Again, not unusual.

But for most of us, we are now out of quarantine which means, we need to get some control (momentum) built back up again.

And let’s go back to Joe Shmoe for a moment. When a potential client comes to me, with the goal of weight loss, that list is very similar:

Eat in a deficit relative to your needs

Lift weights

Drink more water

Do your preferred type of cardio

The list looks profoundly simple. However, every one of these things forces your life into a dramatic turn. You can’t eat the way you used to when you eat in a deficit. Portion sizes and food choices must change.

Sure, showing up to lift weights is relatively easy to do. You schedule the appointment, you show up, you lift weights and then you leave. That’s great. It also may have required you to change your schedule, perhaps go to bed earlier or wake up earlier and it’s disruptive.

How about water? If you normally don’t drink much and I ask you to drink more, it’s a chore. For some of you, it might feel like a part-time job. Drink, pee, drink, pee, drink, etc.

Oh yeah, and cardio? We have to do that too? No, you don’t have to do it, but it might help. Plus, your heart likes it even if you do mind-numbingly repetitive things like running (bleh!)

Alcohol Consumption

I’m going to try and tread carefully with this one because there’s almost no way to address all of this without sounding like a psychologist/psychiatrist which I am not. I’ll use both anecdotal and observational circumstances to highlight some of my points so I hope you’ll take all of what I’m saying with a grain of salt.

I will reinforce that nearly all of my clients who partake in the consumption of alcohol increased their alcohol consumption during quarantine. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s not just an alcohol thing, either. The same thing happened with food. I had very few clients who lost weight during the quarantine. Chances are, you didn’t lose weight over quarantine either. That small percentage of mine who did succeed with weight loss are unicorns and I have sent their DNA to a lab so we can replicate them and I can sprinkle their fairy dust on you…

Let’s again consider the increase of alcohol intake and food normal and par for the course since we have arguably, as a society, gone through one of the most chaotic and stressful times any of us have collectively seen.

I hope that it, at the very least, opened your eyes to the fact that you “might” need some new coping skills to handle stress. That’s not a judgment, by the way, I’m not going to judge a soul who’s reading this. As you’ll see, I’m going to go down in the sinking ship too because I wasn’t immune to the effects of the lockdown either.

As I’ve said many times in the past, I am not, nor have I ever been a particularly heavy drinker. My body doesn’t agree with it. When I had my lengthy drug problem (circa 1996-2006), I did fine with a boatload of drugs in my system but alcohol was always a completely different monster for me.

However, my alcohol intake did indeed increase during quarantine. And, as these things have a tendency to do, when you take in more, you develop a tolerance and that just leads to more…

Let’s come back to Cara.

She noticed that during the quarantine, her husband started to make and experiment with mixed drinks, cocktails, etc. I know that they also enjoy craft beers and the like as well. These are significant calorie bombs and if you’re looking for a place to cut back, what you’re consuming in the way of liquid calories is ALWAYS a place to be mindful of.

To her point, I also got a little bit creative with mixed drinks over quarantine too. Now that I have this obnoxiously large bourbon collection, what started as simply making Manhattans for my wife from time to time became Mint Juleps, or Bloody Widows or American Breakfasts on Sunday mornings.

What I found with these drinks was two-fold: 1) I drink mixed drinks way too quickly. They go down like Kool-Aid for me. Not a good thing if I were someone who needs to watch caloric intake for weight loss. 2) Without fail, alcohol in the morning makes me tired. That wasn’t a problem during quarantine when you don’t have a damn thing to do. It’s more of a problem now when there are actually things to get done on a Sunday afternoon and all I want to do is take a nap.

I also noticed some other things about alcohol consumption. The earlier in the evening I start drinking (say 5-6p), the more I’m inclined to want more than one drink. If I could push my intake to later, say, 7ish, I’m more inclined to just have one and then go to bed. That’s relative to the person. I go to bed early because I’m up early every day.

I also noticed (hence the picture posted below), that I’ll drink more slowly if I use a nosing glass than a tumbler. There’s something about the way the glass feels in my hand that I take my time with a nosing glass. If I drink bourbon in any other glass, I don’t sip it, I down it.

I referenced all of this to Cara the other day. I will never, ever tell anyone to stop drinking. It isn’t my choice to make. However, if weight loss is your goal and you like to imbibe, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’re going to have to cut back. It’s all going to be a matter of how you cut back.

Here’s where we’re going to wade into muddy waters.

One thing I have tried to share with as many people as possible is my experience in rehab. I went to rehab in 1998 and it was mandatory that we attend AA and NA meetings. Everyone, male/female, was there for a different chemical dependency and emotional set of hurdles.

The topic came up about the notion of alcoholism. One person said: “Well, I don’t drink every day. I only drink on the weekends.”

The therapist leading us reminded us, it’s not about how much or how often you drink. It’s about your emotional attachment to drinking.

This could potentially be framed up as:

-the desire to drink alone

-drinking to get drunk

-drinking to forget about your problems

-drinking daily

-binge drinking on the weekends

-spending your day in anxious anticipation of drinking

The strange thing is that many of us have fallen into one or more of those descriptions at one point or another in our lives. It doesn’t automatically define us as alcholics.

Or does it?

I raise this question because over the last three weeks, I’ve had three different clients (1 male, 2 female) express the sentiment that they may be, indeed, alcoholics.

And here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter to me if you are or you aren’t.

What matters to me is:

Are you okay with that?

Are you happy?

Despite being (potentially) an alcoholic are you getting close to your goals?

Stepping away from alcohol for a moment, the same could loosely be applied to food. Do you have a healthy relationship with your food? If not, does it merit seeing a professional about that who has experience working with eating disorders?

Ok. Back to alcohol.

We live in a society that is socially accepting of heavy drinking. In other words, it’s normal if you drink beyond the stated 1-2 measured servings per day per person (1 for women, 2 for men).

However, your goals are important to you.

As my readers/clients know, I am all about the calorie. So, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t care whether the bulk of your caloric consumption comes from juice or from food, from alcohol or from steak, from veggies or from fruit. It all counts. It all matters. And, if you care about HOW your body looks and feels, you may want to be more discerning about the quality and variation of your intake.

One of my clients recently raised a great point. Should she have to give up drinking? No, not necessarily. However, if she hopped on the scale each week and was pissed off that the weight wasn’t going down, guess what I’m going to ask about? The drinking. Why? Because I know it happens at enough frequency that it could be holding her back.

Then, she has a decision to make: Does she cut back on alcohol and focus on quality food or does she cut back on food so she can keep drinking? That’s her call.

I will tell you, unequivocally, that what was once a 1.5/2 oz pour of bourbon has increased to closer to 3 oz for me. That’s nightly. That’s about 200 calories (I drink neat) every single night. I don’t plan on giving it up but if I needed to lose weight, I would probably either drink less frequently or measure my pours. Part of that is because when I drink (and this will be like most of you), I almost always eat more as well.

To sum all this up, if weight loss is your goal, look at every single area of your intake and decide: Where can I cut back?, Am I in control of my alcohol intake, and What is the big picture effect of my consumption? If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, perhaps involving a loved one/close friend can help with areas where you may not have as much self-awareness.

Accountability

As mentioned earlier, one of Cara’s challenges was the increase of calories from having cocktails with her husband. I asked her to consider who was the person typically asking for another round of drinks?

Since quarantine, I have one liberal shot of bourbon and that’s it. My wife, on the other hand, despite drinking the same amount as me, has a higher tolerance for alcohol. While it doesn’t happen often, she will likely be the one who asks: Do you want another?

For me, it’s almost always no. For one, I hate how I feel after the second drink. It doesn’t taste as good as the first and even though the second won’t necessarily make me drunk (not my goal anyway), I hate how I feel the next day.

However, it highlights the point I want to raise about Cara.

Whether your problem is food or alcohol or food AND alcohol, if weight loss is your goal, one of those situations is absolutely YOUR challenge.

First, define who the saboteur is in the household. (Caution: I’m not trying to start a war in the household). I just want you to determine, are you the one asking for second helpings of food/drink or is someone else suggesting it?

Second, have the difficult conversation about this. This comes up so frequently for my clients and it’s a HUGE roadblock to your success if you don’t address it.

Third, you not only need to know how to use the effective words to stop or reduce this behavior but you need to know the verbiage in return that helps you stop the behavior if you are the one causing your own problems. In other words, if my wife was actively trying to lose weight right now and she had plateaued, we could look at alcohol consumption as a potential area based on what I’ve said in this post. She and I would have to have the conversation about declining the extra drinks if she wants to get to her goal faster. Since I’m not the one who typically suggests the second drink, we would have to address not only the fact that she does but how she wants me to express that to her in a way that is not nagging or discouraging to her efforts and goals of weight loss.

Lastly, and this is a touchy one because, again, it affects so many of my clients: Your goals are your goals. No one else deals with your obstacles with your perspectives and your self-talk. Otherwise known as “no one else is walking in your shoes.”

I should also mention the fact that during quarantine, many of us resorted to eating and drinking in abundance as something of a bonding experience. We were now spending more time than ever with our loved ones, who in turn were dealing with the stressful situation with us and, admittedly, were following many of the same behaviors as a way to cope with the situation.

It’s extremely easy to throw our loved ones under the bus when it comes to sabotaging and counterproductive eating/drinking behaviors. How often do you hear someone say: “Well, I’d be down in weight if she/he didn’t bring those fucking chips in the house!” That may very well be the case. You didn’t buy the chips, they did. However, you are in control of your behavior and if there is food/drink in the house that you cannot successfully navigate/moderate on your own, that’s on YOU. If you’re not taking the step to address this head-on, other people will always be the reason you don’t lose weight and you can play the victim card over and over again.

Let me take some of the steam out of that statement before I get a bunch of folks riled up about that. Relationships end because of things like this. Fundamentally, it is on a similar level as talking about finances, child-rearing, etc. How we eat is deeply personal and on a very basic level, many of us, despite our requests, don’t like being told what to do. Some people are very good rule followers but some people just like to toe the line.

I have a list of foods that I cannot successfully moderate in my home. In no particular order it can be chips, crackers, candy, and cookies. That doesn’t mean every single kind of those foods. It does mean most of them. I can’t even see them or I start thinking about them. And if I think about them, I eat them. I know myself well enough after nearly 45 years on this planet. If weight loss were the single most important goal on my plate with regards to my health, you bet your RevFit ass my wife and I would be having a discussion about those foods being in the house. They might not be her problem foods but that isn’t the point. We all have our vulnerabilities. Know yours, address them, rally the troops and get to your goal. It’s your body, no one else can control what happens to it except you and you will most likely need help (beyond mine) to get there.

As we have a fondness for saying at RevFit: Showing up and lifting weights is one of the easiest things you’ll do all day, what you do with the extra 23 hours of the day is where the biggest change will happen. And that absolutely has to do with how you interact with your fingers and your fork.

Thanks for hanging in there with me on this. I think I need a nap now… 

“We Make Great People Greater”

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