I Gave Up Alcohol, Started Working Out & Felt Worse Than Ever

Written by Stephanie Cook

I know it’s sickeningly common, but I never had body issues growing up. That isn’t to say I had the “perfect body;” it was just something I was generally indifferent about. Even in college, when I put on the "freshman 15," it didn’t really phase me. It hurts more to look back on it now than it did at the time.

(If you’re hating me a little bit right now, don’t worry — I had LOTS of other issues — my body just wasn’t one of them.)

But something changed for me last year.

I’d been dabbling in nutrition for quite a while, experimenting with how it felt to be a vegetarian, to give up sugar and dairy, to drink green smoothies, to try Paleo. In fact, it was nutrition more than anything else, that helped me recover from my corporate burnout. It’s incredible and truly fascinating how good you can feel when you're fueling your body right.

But last year, things went a bit too far.

My husband had decided to embark on a year of sobriety to deal with some heavy life and career stuff, and in a moment of marital solidarity (or weakness), I decided to join him. To say it was a huge learning experience is an understatement. The truth is, since I was a teenager, I'd used alcohol as an escape: from family, school, work, relationships ... whenever things got hard, there was always a "place" I could go.

Now, without alcohol, I was forced to find another side of myself because I no longer had a way to hide. Yes, I experienced massive growth and transformation, but whenever you take something away, something else must fill its place. When I didn't have alcohol, working out became my drug of choice.

Certainly a healthier outlet, but equally addictive if you’re not careful. I was careful, but also intense. I was working out 1-2 times a day, seven days a week and meticulous about my diet. I’d post my progress pics on Facebook and virtual jaws would drop. My girlfriends went ga-ga for my abs. “What are you eating? What workouts are you doing? Because I need to do them, too.”

I can even remember my husband saying, “WOW, you look really great,” like it was a surprise. And it was a surprise. I'd never been this fit or skinny before. I'd never cared before. But I did now.

Every night I’d stare at my body in the mirror noting every change, every nuance. “Do you think I’m getting ‘fat’ again?” I’d ask, seriously believing the answer was yes. “No,” he’d answer followed quickly by an, “Are you sure? Look at this!” as I failed to even pinch an inch. This was unhealthy.

And then, as these things do, it all came crashing down. Life got the better of me and I put on 15 pounds in six months. I was at my heaviest weight in over 10 years. I looked in the mirror and all of a sudden I was disappointed. Sure, there was a little bit of vanity there. But more than that, I felt so disconnected from the roots that I’d used to ground myself and the tools I’d used to heal my body and mind from burnout.

I was less disappointed in how my body looked and more disappointed in what it took to get there: a complete disregard for my own health. I knew better. I know what eating right (not restrictive, but healthy) does for me holistically, not just how my body looks but also how I feel, think, sleep, interact ... and I just completely dropped the ball on that.

That's what’s always been most important to me when it comes to health and nutrition; losing sight of that is where my disappointment lies. But I’m not one to dwell too long on the mistakes of my past; it’s more my style to use these lessons to keep pushing myself forward.

Now, I’m living a new health paradigm. I've traded in restriction for freedom and up-leveled from guilty to feeling good.

Healthy is about the whole package. It's not about being a size two, eating boatloads of kale and the latest superfoods, deprivation or hours at the gym. Healthy is finding a way of eating (not a diet) that nourishes, fueling the body naturally without stimulants, incorporating fitness that supports a busy schedule, having a career that engages and inspires (doesn’t defeat), and surrounding yourself with the best and brightest people.

How does healthy feel to you?

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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