HAPPY: A Diet That Works To Keep You Looking Your Best In Sobriety | Will Getting Sober Make Me Fat?
Updated: Jan 10
The journey to finding a healthy body and a healthy diet in sobriety has been one of the most challenging aspects of getting sober for me. One of my drugs of choice is Adderall, so I stayed thin all throughout high school and college. It was effortless, and when I saw others struggling with their weight or trying to manage staying thin, through strict diet and exercise, I felt badly for them. When I went to rehab for the first time, I realized the advantage that Adderall had been giving me. Suddenly, I was SO HUNGRY! It was as if I had been starving myself for years and when the drugs were out of my system, my eating became out of control as treatment became a revolving door.
There were many times I avoided getting sober just because I knew I would put on weight. Despite all of the chaos that was going on in my life, I still cared about my body image. I failed miserably at college and basically life in general, but the idea of being sober and happy at the expense of looking good took recovery off the table.
This last time I went to extended treatment, I was heavier than I had ever been. I was depressed, exhausted and defeated. My sponsor would tell me that the longer I stayed sober, the more active I would become, and eventually everything would even out. This seemed like a bunch of bullshit,but I just continued to trudge on.
There were times in treatment, when I did not even want to shower because I did not want to look at myself in the mirror. I avoided talking about this because I was afraid of being labeled with an eating disorder which could mean a longer stint in treatment, getting fatter and fatter. What a terrible place to be. I was free from drugs, but I was certainly not free.
About a year into my sobriety, I started working as a nanny. I was not at the halfway house as much, and I was busy all day and on my feet. I could tell that my clothes were fitting differently, but I still felt overweight. As time went on, I could start to tell a difference, which was pretty amazing considering I was not really watching what I was eating. I am pretty “type A” so for me, losing weight looked like a strict, regimented schedule and a diet consisting of workouts and restricting. Somehow, something greater than me gave me the energy and the means to get to a healthy weight. It felt nothing short of a miracle.
I will never forget when I saw my old sponsor, for the first time in nearly a year, and she said, “Wow Ally, sobriety looks really good on you.” I hadn’t stepped on the scales, but I could feel a difference.
"Was I actually capable of doing something in a healthy and normal way?"
Breakthroughs in neuroscience show that my brain was supporting the negative habits I was consistently engaging in. By engaging in negative habits time after time, the habits become stronger, similar to a muscle after someone lifts weight on a consistent basis. The brain becomes accustomed to behaviors and is trained to engage. So, my addicted brain gets used to the drugs, and the food, and encourages me to continue these negative behaviors. Everything becomes about finding a source of pleasure. Luckily, the brain is capable of repairing itself after being damaged.
It can make new connections and pathways which is referred to as neuroplasticity. Through a lot of time and energy, I was able to retrain my brain to avoid turning to drugs in order to find peace of mind. I had to do this again with food, by forcing myself to abstain from all of the sugars and carbs I was indulging in and replace these things with more nutritional options. I had to realize that a personality like mine can get addicted to just about anything.
Healthy Habit = Healthy Brain
I have maintained a healthy weight since being in sobriety, and I certainly indulge when I feel compelled. I have gone through a few rough patches as I have tried out different medications for chronic migraines, but I have always found a solution. I am able to recognize that when I was trying to get sober (all 7 plus attempts) I was replacing my addiction with something else; something that felt good and could occupy my mind.
Sometimes it was boys, sometimes it was materialism, and sometimes it was food. All of these made it possible for me to transfer my addiction from drugs to something else that would release dopamine (the “feel good” chemicals), and make me feel some sense of comfort.
The brain will do some amazing things to override what may seem rational in order to make you feel good. And that is what I like, to feel good. After being in recovery for several years, I have realized that I don’t always have to feel amazing. It is okay to be uncomfortable, or sad, or disengaged. How selfish of me to assume that I should always feel good. There are people in this world who cannot access medications they need in order to survive, or food to get them through the day, and I here I am consuming anything to make myself feel better. I have realized that I don’t have to feel intense amounts of pleasure all throughout the day.
Gaining weight in recovery is completely normal and for some, a necessity. Addicts have deprived their bodies of basic nutrition, whether they are on an all sugar opiate diet, or have not eaten in days due to a meth binge. There was a time when I just did not have the energy or interest in food. I went two weeks in my addiction eating a biscotti a day, because they were by my bed and I did not have the desire to go get anything else. This resulted in me crashing my car into a ditch on my way to Wendy’s, when I finally attempted to consume an entire meal.
I ended up in the hospital and when they weighed me, I was 74lbs. I think I felt safer at 74lbs than I did when I weighed anything over 120lbs. So, the mind can do some incredible things to help support people in recovery, but it also has the ability to take you to some dark places. I try to stay in the light, by just doing my best, and not taking everything so seriously. If I gain 5lbs over the holidays, so what?
I also surround myself with people who love me not matter what. My friends, my family, and my husband love me because of me, not because I fit a certain mold, shape or size. I have always put an immense amount of pressure on myself, and I think that is where my addiction first started. I wanted to be the best which ironically, led to me being my worst. I don’t see myself as “the worst” these days, I just see myself as a normal girl, doing her best to get by one day and sometimes one cupcake at a time.
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.
Other topics covered by the author:
Lewis, Marc. “Addiction and the Brain: Development, Not Disease.” Neuroethics, vol. 10, no. 1,
Nov. 2017, pp. 7–18., doi:10.1007/s12152-016-9293-4.
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