Stop Drinking Alcohol and Lose Weight

We often hear from people who have a number of reasons for thinking about stopping their drinking. One common contributing factor is weight loss.

Alcohol use, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism can all contribute to weight gain as well as difficulty in losing weight. The reasons are simple: beer, wine, and hard liquor are simply empty calories. While moderate consumption confers some modest health benefits, these pluses are usually offset by the undesirable liabilities accumulated through weight gain, decreased activity, and other negatives associated with drinking.

So, will stopping drinking cause you to lose weight? That of course depends on what you do instead.

Consider a reverse example: people who undergo lap band or gastric bypass surgery in order to lose weight often find themselves abusing alcohol as a result. That’s not surprising, really. If you’ve been “self-medicating” with food and you’ve drastically restricted your ability to eat, you’ll be apt to substitute alcohol that gives you the same relief in amounts you can still consume.

Now consider your drinking. Will you simply substitute food for alcohol and possibly add weight? There isn’t any reliable research, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests that it’s possible. Many ex-drinkers find themselves consuming mountains of ice cream, for example, to replace alcohol (which is, after all, just pre-digested sugar).

As usual, a seemingly straightforward question turns out to have a complicated answer.

When you quit drinking, what else will you change? Will you simply replace alcohol with refined sugar as a way of maintaining your blood sugar levels? Or will you switch to (or maintain) a healthier diet and eating pattern that accomplishes the same end?

Will you take up regular exercise as a better mood elevating activity than drinking, or will you try to substitute calories to achieve a similar effect?

Additionally, why do you want to lose the weight and/or stop drinking? Health? Family or career concerns? Vanity? Social situations? Recreational activities? Finances?

For most of us, motivation comes from a number of factors and is highly personal. That’s why we consider all of these factors, and more, when we’re working with clients and why you should to.

Yes, you can stop drinking and lose weight – but it will require paying attention to the details. For awhile, food diaries, activity logs, scheduling, and adjusting will be necessary. After all, as with all change, paying attention, keeping track, and getting good short term help is what makes the difference.

Please remember, we’re always available to confer and consult.

And Now a Letter From Our Favorite Australian Correspondent:

Dear Mary Ellen and Ed,

Thanks for your recent newsletters, which have been sharp and helpful.

Here’s a brief cautionary tale that I thought might offer some
reinforcement for your valuable approach, which greatly helped my friend, let’s call her “M.”

Before seeing the dark and finding the light, M was an AA member in her relatively small town and had an AA “sponsor,” for her sins.

About a year ago, after she painfully but successfully emerged from quite a terrible drinking bout, and gradually learned to rediscover and trust her own choice, power and individuality, she returned to work and was promptly visited by the “sponsor.”

You and I, and your readers, and all good-hearted people, would surely have said to M, “Well done, congratulations, keep up the good work, stay free and strong, and if there’s anything I can do to help …”

Not our sponsor. Without a friendly word, he darkly warned M that she would relapse at any moment, and certainly before long, if she did not return immediately to the AA cult meeting each week in her town.

On being sent to sponsors’ hell by M, the sponsor has sulked ever since, and has not had a good word to say to M, despite her evident return to health and independence, and resumption of her relatively prominent position in the town.

This experience underlines the great value of the supportive approach that you, Mary Ellen and Ed, emphasise in your practise and in your newsletter. All the AA guy wanted to do was drag M back into the depths of despair known as the AA meeting, and keep her there forever, where he and the other inmates dwell.

Luckily for M, the town is fairly forgiving of the odd binge, because it’s something that more than a few people do from time to time, in the country. They don’t judge and label people, at least not on the basis of a couple of incidents.

On the contrary, her bosses and colleagues welcomed her back and all returned to normal, thank goodness. Better than before, of course, without the sauce.

I’m absolutely convinced that the independence model you pursue is the right one, and the only one with lasting power to restore people to good health, happiness and autonomy.

Keep up the good work, thanks and cheers,


A Book We Think You’ll Want to Add to Your Shelf

We read an interesting book last week entitled Addiction, A Disorder of Choice by Gene M. Heyman. Heyman is a lecturer in psychology at the Harvard Medical School. The book’s focus is on whether or not addiction to any substance is a disease, as is the popular view, or a behavior where we have at least enough choice to determine whether we use or not. It is an interesting book. What we liked about it was the fact that he presents a fairly balanced view of both the disease model and the choice model and how thinking people might come to either conclusion.

An interesting argument that is used to support the disease model is that “rational people will not deliberately choose self-destructive behaviors”. Since substance abuse is self-destructive, and assuming people are generally rational, then they can’t be deliberately choosing their behavior, therefore it is a disease. Heyman however does a good job of showing that rational people choose self-destructive behaviors all the time (think sky diving, bungie jumping, motorcycling, becoming a race car driver, rodeo cowboy, commercial fisherman, or enlisting in the military).

Ultimately, of course, Heyman comes down on the side of addiction being a choice. When given a choice, human beings like to choose for short-term gain over long-term gain. We want our pleasure now, not a month from now, even if we know that long-term these actions will hurt us (self-destructive).

However, there is hope. He cites studies that show that people can learn to choose for the longer term and build in rewards for choosing the less harmful, and even productive, actions. In fact, these sorts of reward systems can have upwards of an 80% success rate a year after treatment.

If you are interested in the question of addiction as a disease versus addiction as a choice, then we recommend this book to you.

And if you would like to discuss the possibilities of how we can help you learn to make the “better choices” then please call!

As always, for information or just to talk, one of us answers the phone personally from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Monday – Thursday, unless we are with clients, or from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

If we don’t answer, leave your name and number and one of us will usually be able to get back to you within an hour.