What advice would you give?

Jean McCarthy of Unpickled Blog and The Bubble Hour podcast interviewed me a week ago, as many of you know (because I saw a wee spike in visits to this blog afterward!)

Telling my story felt really good. If you ever get the chance to do this kind of thing, I highly recommend it. Although I told an AA-devotee-friend about it, and she said “um, yeah – that’s one of the first steps.” Harumph. Well, yet another high five to AA for getting it right, and another chance for me to reflect on my early (negative) impressions of AA.

But, on to my real topic: Jean asked me what would be a better way to counsel early soberites about their “out of control” sugar cravings and their expanding waistlines. So many women come into sobriety seeking weight loss as a benefit, and are crushed to discover that they wind up sugar-loading and either not losing weight, or even gaining weight. And then there are the women like me, who have struggled with lifelong body hatred and crazy dieting who’s biggest deepest fear is getting fatter and letting go of the reins sounds like planned suicide.

The advice that is normally given is “stick to your guns. Just stay sober. Don’t worry about sugar or food in general. Your brain is healing and sugar helps. This advice threw me into a bit of a tailspin, as I wrote about in the beginning of this blog. But, that rankling advice also launched the biggest internal adventure of my life: healing my lifelong body hatred, fat phobia and zero trust in my body to regulate itself.

So, I’m not sure I would change anything about the core message of the traditional piece of advice – don’t worry, sobriety is number one, you need to trust that you will eventually get back to normal.

However, maybe we can be more sensitive to the fact that so many women live in fear of food, and hate their bodies, and would maybe rather be a drunk than be fat. I don’t blame them – society punishes fat women in overt and insidious ways, and you can’t “hide” fatness (it’s similar to race/skin color in that way). You can hide drinking. So, being considerate of that state of mind, and the generalized fear that we all feel when just starting our sobriety efforts, I would suggest we consider the following tweaks to the message:

You are starting out on a path that is all encompassing. You aren’t just quitting drinking, you’re learning to accept yourself and know yourself. As a woman, your relationship with food and your body likely had peaks and valleys throughout your life to date, and possibly it was your original source of fear and shame, before you ever took a drink. Remember this when you are quitting drinking. File it away. It’s not your priority today – not drinking is your priority – but know that you will come to a place when you are ready to address the root cause of any issues you have with food/sugar/carbs/calories/fitness/etc.

Something else to think about instead of worrying about weight gain and sugar: the source of your fear around gaining weight comes from society. You learned the rules early in life, and the rules say that as a woman it is your job to be attractive to others (“the male gaze”) and to be smaller and to control your appetites and desires. You aren’t born a binger and dieter. You are born with the ability to eat when hungry, stop when full. You are taught to see your imperfections and you are taught that your worthiness depends on looking a certain way. Dieting/restricting food actually makes us all fatter, raises our natural set point weight, and creates craziness (or, compulsion) around food or certain foods (e.g. sugar). Just like alcohol, you may not fully understand the damage that controlling your food choices throughout your female life has done to your body, metabolism, heart and soul. Rest. Take care of yourself. Don’t drink.

Your relationship with your body and the world is just getting started, and you will be so happy to be free.

Does anyone else have ideas for Jean? Please comment!


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