Noticed that you’ve gained a couple of pounds since you started your sobriety journey? You’re not alone, as around 65% of the people recovering from alcohol dependence gain weight.
People gain weight during recovery for many different reasons, ranging from the body regaining its metabolic balance that’s been altered by alcohol, to just simply reaching for snacks as a coping mechanism for cravings in early sobriety.
It’s worth noting that sometimes weight gain during recovery is actually good.
Let’s explore the different phases that your body goes through to transition from alcohol use disorder to early recovery and how you can take advantage of such a period to establish a healthy lifestyle.
Reasons Why People Gain Weight Upon Quitting Alcohol
If you’re beginning your sobriety journey, you might have heard that alcohol on its own packs a lot of “empty” calories and heavy drinking is associated with increased appetite. That means you should lose weight with drinking out of the equation.
Well, these aren’t the only factors to consider when looking at the person’s weight during recovery. Here’s why some people experience weight gain after quitting alcohol:
1. Lack of Emotional Regulation
Alcohol affects dopamine balance in the brain. That’s the hormone that gives us the sense of pleasure and motivation.
When you stop drinking alcohol, the brain is working hard to restore the default balance of dopamine. During this period, people might experience emotional instability that manifests in the form of craving sugary foods.
Sugary drinks and fatty foods are examples of feel-good foods that stimulate the reward center in the brain. “Comfort foods” that contain a lot of calories from carbohydrates or fat can also be a culprit here.
If you’re not paying enough attention, you can easily find yourself developing unhealthy eating patterns to replace your alcohol cravings.
2. Higher Risk of Eating Disorders
The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that around 50% of the people struggling with alcohol use have a concomitant eating disorder. The association can be attributed to obsessive and compulsive behaviors heavy drinkers might have.
Early on in the alcohol-free journey, some people can develop binge eating disorder. It leads to uncontrolled food consumption, which leaves the person feeling like they can’t stop eating.
Reaching out to your mental health specialist can help you establish a healthy relationship with food and learn how to eat balanced meals.
3. The Impact of Mental Health
Mental health has a huge impact on eating patterns. People recovering from alcohol use can experience depression and anxiety symptoms. Such a period can be overwhelming with concerns of relapse, mending broken relationships impacted by alcohol, and reflecting on the time when alcohol was taking over.
Support groups can be a powerful means to express your emotions and learn from others going through what you’re experiencing. People can also share tips on losing weight and finding healthy ways to get your dopamine boost.
How to Cope With Gaining Weight After Quitting Alcohol
Now that you know the intertwining factors that influence weight gain while recovering from substance use, let’s go through some useful tips for weight loss:
In addition to helping in weight loss, aerobic exercise has many physical and mental health benefits. It’s considered one of the healthy coping mechanisms to get over alcohol cravings.
Also, it maintains cardiovascular health and helps you regain your energy levels. Exercise can help you get better sleep, as well as establishing clearer thinking patterns.
Bear in mind that proper hydration is especially important during this period as your body begins to restore its electrolyte balance, improve digestion, and optimize liver functions.
2. Eating Nutritious Meals
You need to maintain your blood sugar level within the normal range and this is achieved by eating three balanced meals spaced apart throughout the day.
You can always seek the help of a dietician for food choices and essential nutrients incorporation in the diet.
For instance, fibers play an important role in avoiding chronically-low blood sugar, so fruits and vegetables should be an integral part of your diet.
You can also take vitamins and essential supplements to fulfill your body needs and maintain good immunity.
3. Avoid the Tendency to Get on the Scale
You have to combat the tendency to constantly get on the scale during your recovery period. The numbers only tell one part of the story, they don’t give you the whole picture in terms of your well-being and overall health.
Many people can get discouraged and start to become frustrated if their weight on the scale doesn’t drop as quickly as they have hoped for.
Just know that your body can be storing some excess water after stopping alcohol consumption. You might be well on track when it comes to losing unwanted body fat, but the fluid retention is tricking you to think otherwise.
If you exercise, you can notice results in how your body composition is changing before you drop a few pounds on the scale. That’s because muscle is significantly denser than fat, so the results might not be visible on the scale but in the way your body becomes healthier and stronger.
4. Find Support
Last but not least, it’s helpful to maintain a good connection with your sober support network and reach out to them when you need help.
Maintaining a steady appointments’ schedule with your therapist is also important to adjust the dosage of your medications and channel your concerns.
Yoga and meditation can be great ways to cope with the anxiety that comes with quitting alcohol. Learn drills that help you fall asleep at night and maintain a healthy sleeping schedule to help your body get the rest it needs.
Your efforts to reduce weight gained after quitting alcohol can come to fruition now. We hope our comprehensive guide has provided you with the knowledge you need to reinforce healthy behaviors.
Integrating regular exercise in your schedule can help you have more energy in addition to its contribution to getting rid of extra body fat.
Support groups, open communication channels with your therapist, and eating balanced meals all come together to help you shape your life after alcohol the way that you want.