6 healthy solutions to shed those post rehab pounds in sobriety | Holiday Edition
With the holidays coming up, I thought it would be helpful to continue talking about weight and body image in recovery and offer some solutions.
I, (along with many others I’ve spoken to and worked with) had no idea that getting into recovery meant I was going to deal with weight gain and insatiable cravings for sweets and carbs. It took me time to realize that there are usually deeper issues when it came to food and diet. As is often the case, finding balance with regards to weight and body image—is an ongoing and complex journey. It took a few years in recovery for me to figure out what works for me and how to find my normal. I have compiled a list of suggestions for people in recovery when it comes to overcoming weight gain in sobriety.
I will start with a disclaimer: I am not a registered dietician. However, as I learn more about recovery through the lens of my counseling education, I recently attended a conference and gained some insight into healthy and normal eating. This list is a suggestion for individuals who are looking for some simple recommendations when it comes to shedding some of those post rehab pounds. This is not intended for people who are struggling with an eating disorder, and I have included some resources at the end of this article for people who may be in need of treatment.
1. Read Labels – When I was in treatment I was not “allowed” to read labels. This is something that I did not agree with then and still do not agree with today. Some items, like mountain dew and doughnuts, do not necessarily need a label. But sometimes, you would be surprised by just how much sugar and carbohydrates are in one drink or one snack. Items like granola and yogurt sound like a healthy breakfast option but in reality, they are loaded with sugar and for me the most part, lack nutritional value. Cereal bars and a lot of protein bars also have a lot of carbohydrates and sugars which may contribute to weight gain. Another important thing to consider is sodium intake. Hummus may seem like a great option, but it typically has as much salt as four packs of saltine crackers. Drinks like Monsters and frozen drinks from Starbucks are also filled with sugar, and will leave you feeling like shit. It is best to stick to raw vegetables and fruits, lean meats and a lot of water. You will be amazed by what you find when you start looking at labels every once in a while.
2. Exercise Regularly – I feel like a hypocrite including this, because I really struggle to find the motivation to exercise on a regular basis. I am your run-of-the-mill addict, so I will get on exercise kicks, and go every day for a period of time and then fall off. This is something that I would really like to incorporate into my life on a consistent basis, but it seems like I always have an excuse. When I exercise, I always feel so much better, and I also find myself looking my best—even when the scale isn’t reflecting any decreases in weight. Exercise has also empirically correlated with improving your overall quality of sleep which also cuts down on food cravings that come from lack of sleep. Exercise is one the best ways to improve not only your physical health, but your mental health as well. I recently began dabbling in yoga and barre, and I am hoping that I can commit to going at least twice a week. I always leave feeling significantly better than I did when I walked in the door. In addition, exercise helps the body and the brain heal, which so many people need when they are in recovery.
3. Avoid the “diet-to-careless-eating”pendulum –As is the case with many issues which arise throughout recovery—that swinging pendulum really rears its head when it comes to dieting and eating healthy, perhaps excessively, which inevitably causes the pendulum to swing the other way eventually—-i.e. not exercising and eating unhealthily. I have been on this pendulum countless times, and I am never able to achieve a healthy balance by doing this. I learned a lot about this pendulum at the conference I attended, and I know a lot of people who experience this in one way or another. This pendulum typically consists of people swinging from restrictive fad diets, where they may lose a significant amount of weight over a short period of time, and then immediately go back to careless eating.Careless eating is typically the result of a certain thought process, whether you think “I’ve tried everything, and nothing is working,” “Why should I even care,” or, my go to, “I will start on Monday, or on such and such date.” Going from restricting to being careless prevents someone from being able to have a healthy a balanced relationship with food. It also prevents people from practicing healthy eating habits and giving their body the nourishment that it needs.
4. Practice the “Rule of Threes”– One thing that really stood out to me at the conference I attended was the idea around the “Rule of Threes”. This is based on the idea that people need to consume 3 meals a day, 3 snacks a day, 3 hours apart. There was an example that the speaker used where a nurse was working the overnight shift and was avoiding eating throughout her entire shift because it was nighttime. The nurse continued to put on weight and constantly felt lethargic. The dietician that she saw helped her incorporate a new eating schedule based on the “rule of 3’s.” So, if she was working from 7pm to 7am then she would have a meal before work around 5pm, a snack at 8pm, another meal at 11pm, a snack at 2am, a third meal at 5am and a snack before going to bed, around 8am. This may seem like a lot for people who are used to skipping a meal, but a snack can consist of a handful of almonds, just to help keep you going. This is what is recommended in order to experience sustained energy and to avoid a crash. Crashes often lead to excessive eating when you do finally eat, and/or heighten sugar cravings because your body is craving quick fuel.
5. Practice attuned and mindful eating—Intuitive eating is a form of attunement of mind, body and food. There are three core principles of intuitive eating. 1) Eat for physical (rather than emotional) reasons. 2) Rely on internal hunger and satiety cues. 3) Practice and allow yourself unconditional permission to eat. In addition to intuitive eating, mindful eating has certain principles as well. Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention to the food you’re eating in the present moment—without judgement. Practice being aware of your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations in the present moment when eating. This will help promote balance, choice, wisdom, and acceptance.
6. If you are having trouble figuring out the best way to incorporate a healthy diet into your lifestyle, I would suggest that you make an appointment to see a registered dietician (RD). Registered dietitians can help you look at your current habits and how your lifestyle plays a part in what you eat. Much of the goal of an RD is to help you overcome some of the obstacles that you may be facing when it comes to finding balance and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle. In a typical initial session with an RD, you will receive some basic education, learn about self-monitoring and go over your personal goals as well as a plan to gradually achieve these goals. This can be helpful for people who lack basic education regarding nutrition, and it will also help keep you accountable. RD’s are there to support you and help you achieve your health goals.
The following is a quote from the conference that I wanted to share:
“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like, to eat it and truly get enough of it and to not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so that you consume nutritious food, but not being so weary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, bored, or just because it feels good.”
With the new year coming up, I am going to do my best to practice normal and attuned eating and I want to encourage everyone to do the same.
Who's The Author:
Ally Lacey Maguire is a student at Georgia Southern University. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in the clinical/mental health counseling program. Ally just celebrated 4 years of recovery and recently got married. Ally enjoys writing about her experiences in active addition and what her recovery looks like today. Ally works for the center for addiction recovery at Georgia Southern University and is passionate about working with others and sharing the message of recovery.
Information from this article was provided by a lecture given by Kendra Gaffney, RD, LDN, CEDRD-S
Resources for Eating Disorders:
Low Country Counseling, Savannah, GA
Solstice Point Counseling, Savannah, GA
Resolve Strategies, Savannah, GA
Veritas Collaborative, Durham, NC, Charlotte, NC, Richmond, VA, Atlanta, GA
Oliver-Pyatt Centers, Miami, FL
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