Recently I was asked about the place that alcohol has when connecting to your inner intuitive eater. Thinking about alcohol use in the context of connecting to your body and healing your relationship with food is intensely personal, which is why I want to share my perspective with you as someone who has been a non-drinker for 5 years and also as an intuitive eating and nutrition counselor.
If you are struggling with substance abuse or are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, please contact 1-800-662-HELP. This episode contains my personal thoughts about alcohol, but at the end of the day, you have the freedom and autonomy to do whatever feels right for you. If you are struggling with substance abuse, please know there is support out there for you, and change is possible.
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If You Want To Explore Your Relationship With Alcohol and Intuitive Eating, Consider:
- Stop being afraid that you are going to want to binge drink if you decide to limit your alcohol intake
- Notice your personal relationship with drinking and assess how it makes you feel
- Reach out for support and make the decision that feels right to you in your own intuitive eating journey
The Difference Between Food and Alcohol
A common misconception is that food is addictive. In reality, the food ‘addiction’ you may be familiar with is a result of restriction and the binge eating that follows. Alcohol is different from food in this way. Reducing the amount you are drinking will not cause the majority of people to binge drink because alcohol is not required for survival like food is. Often people are reluctant to cut out alcohol because they are worried they will crave it all the time. Binge drinking and binge eating have different mechanisms and experiences, and it is crucial to understand how restriction with food differs from simply choosing not to engage with alcohol.
It’s Your Personal Journey, No One Else’s
A lot of people are concerned about doing intuitive eating ‘right’. Intuitive eating is not a set of yes or no rules, it is a set of personal guidelines, and your relationship with alcohol is included in that. I want you to use intuitive eating principles to ask yourself the tough questions and help you gain clarity on your personal experience with alcohol. Do you have a diet mentality when you are drinking? Are you drinking mindfully? Is alcohol your primary coping strategy?
By noticing your relationship with alcohol and assessing it, you can understand your own unique relationship to alcohol and if it fits into your intuitive eating journey.
Which of the questions I posed to you today got you thinking? How does your relationship with alcohol fit into your version of intuitive eating? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.
In This Episode
- Exploring my personal relationship with alcohol use and intuitive eating (3:30)
- How to approach assessing and analyzing your own relationship with drinking (8:16)
- Understanding the connection between restriction and bingeing when it comes to food and alcohol (10:34)
- Tips for using the principles of intuitive eating when thinking about alcohol (17:40)
- Why you should analyze the emotional coping aspect of your relationship with food and alcohol (21:30)
“There are a lot of questions that come up for people with regard to understanding how restricting food works or bingeing on food works, and how restricting alcohol and binge drinking works, and the fact that those aren’t necessarily the same thing.” (8:01)
“A lot of people will notice that if they start to cut down on their drinking, or they stop drinking altogether, they often don’t notice an increased desire or preoccupation with drinking.” (13:11)
“You may decide that you are making peace with food over here, but when it comes to alcohol, if you realize that you are not enjoying it, that your relationship with it isn’t super great, you would rather just take it out for a while, its okay to remove it from your environment!” (15:42)
“It’s worth considering how these different principles of intuitive eating can apply to your relationship with alcohol and your drinking habits and know that the answers are going to be different for everybody.” (24:03)
“I hope that this show has given you some questions to ask yourself. I can’t promise that it is perfect, I can’t promise that my thoughts here are going to be exactly applicable to you. But I think it is really important to go through the questions that I raised in this show and to think about things on a really personal level for yourself.” (27:40)
Featured on the Show
Intuitive Eating and Alcohol FULL TRANSCRIPT
Recently I got a listener question. That was if I am working on improving my relationship with food and reconnecting to my inner intuitive eater, What place does alcohol have? in all of this? On this podcast, today, I’m going to provide some different perspectives on this question both as a person who has been a nondrinker for almost five years, and as a nutritional therapist and intuitive eating counselor, let’s go ahead and dive into what’s the deal with alcohol and intuitive eating. The listen to your body podcast has one bold mission, to help change-making women like you give themselves radical permission to listen to their bodies get free with food and fitness, and channel their energy, and be a force for good in the world. I’m a certified intuitive eating counselor, nutritional therapy practitioner, and strength coach Steph Gaudreau. This weekly show brings you discussions around dropping diet and exercise extremes, letting your inner wisdom lead and taking up space from inclusive body neutrality, health at every size, nondiet nutrition perspective, we’ll examine how diet culture and the patriarchy keep women busy and distracted by the quest for body perfection, and how we can break free to live life on our own terms. It’s bound to be fiery and ultimately, to make you think, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s dive in.
Hello, my friend. Thanks so much for being here on the podcast today. Oh my goodness. This is the third show that I’ve done about alcohol and drinking. And before we hop in, and we start investigating how we can think about alcohol use in the context of connecting more to your body and being a more intuitive eater. And thinking about your relationship with food,
I just want to make a couple of disclaimers. The first is that I am not a substance abuse counselor or a mental health provider. So if you’re someone who feels like alcohol is significantly interfering with your life, or you suspect you may have alcohol use disorder, I want to give you a phone number that you can visit for more information and that is 1-800-662-help. This is for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration helpline. So please know that this show may not be tailored toward you, especially if you are dealing with alcohol use disorder. My heart definitely goes out to you. I have a family history of this. And I know how challenging it can be. And I also know there’s a lot of support out there. And that help is possible. So if you are dealing with this, this show might not exactly be for you, and feel free to skip it over. Okay, so if you’re still here, I want to tell you a bit of a personal story before I launch into exploring some of these different things about alcohol use and intuitive eating. The first is a bit of a story from 2016. So this is the last time that I drank is almost exactly five years to the date of me recording this podcast episode. So in 2016, I was cutting weight for a weightlifting meet. So you may know you may not know I used to compete in and coach Olympic weightlifting. And in 2016, I was preparing for a meet. And I would always kind of sit a little bit in weight over my weight class. And so I would go through the process of cutting weight. Not my favorite thing. I was counting macros with the help of a coach. And so when side note when y’all hear me talking about macro counting, and this directness of it and why it didn’t work for me. I mean I’m talking from personal experience and not just being a hater. But in any case, I was put on a pretty aggressive cut. And at that point I decided, you know what, I don’t have a lot of extra, I don’t have any extra calories to spare in this in this taper and so using that I macros or my calories in order to drink seemed pretty ridiculous at that point because I was walking around, I was hungry all the time. And it was just, it was just too much to think, Okay, I’m going to spend these calories on drinks. So at that point, when I started cutting for the meat, I stopped drinking. And so today, the way I say this is that I am a nondrinker. And that was five years ago, and I never started back up. After that meat, I didn’t go back to drinking, and I still haven’t. And the thing that is underneath all of that, which I’ve talked about in other episodes, Episode 114, which is called ‘Alcohol and Social Pressure’, and then Episode 205, which was The Great Big Sober Secret with Veronica Valli, underneath that was not a good relationship with alcohol.
So although I am not someone who has alcohol use disorder, nor would I consider myself an alcoholic, this does run in my family, alcohol problems, and alcoholism. And I just noticed over the course of a long period of time, how my alcohol use increased in frequency, and I was increasingly using it to sort of check out from my everyday life. And I didn’t like that never mind all of the situations I got myself into where I was excessively drinking, I mean, blacking out at a Jimmy Buffett concert in 2008. I mean, you name it, it just wasn’t a good relationship with alcohol. So at that point, I decided to stop. So when I’m talking about this difference between drinking and not drinking, I’m coming at it from a personal perspective here. And then as someone who works in nutritional therapy, and intuitive eating, so I always say it’s like, a healthy balance of foods and a healthy relationship with food. One of the things that comes up a ton is well, how do I, how do I treat alcohol, and all of this? Should I stop drinking, you know, if I’m an intuitive eater, but I noticed that my relationship with alcohol isn’t very good isn’t very healthy. Should I stop drinking, but I thought that intuitive eating means I’m not supposed to cut out any foods, or I feel like I’m doing it wrong if I stopped drinking for a while, because if I’m making peace with food, aren’t I supposed to keep food around all the time. So there are a lot of questions that come up for people with regard to, first of all, understanding how restricting food works, or bingeing on food works, how restricting alcohol and binge drinking works, and the fact that those aren’t necessarily the same thing or the same mechanism, and how to approach assessing your own relationship with drinking. And so I’m not here to tell you on this episode, that you have to stop that everyone has a negative relationship with alcohol. Because that’s just not the case. Some people enjoy the occasional drink. And it’s not a big deal. Other people like myself, end up using it increasingly as a coping mechanism, or you don’t like the way it makes you feel. And you have the freedom and the autonomy to decide if you want to keep going. Now again, remember I said at the top of this show, this show is not tailored who anyone who has an alcohol use disorder. And I think that’s really just important to mention again, so just kind of know that that’s where I’m coming from in this particular episode.
So the thing is, not everyone who has a problem with drinking is an alcoholic, but 15 million people in the United States have alcohol use disorder, it’s estimated. So this is common, and it can affect people on a very impactful level. So let’s kind of dive into a couple of things here. The first is that people oftentimes bring up with intuitive eating the idea of food addiction, and I know that I’ve mentioned this in the past. A long time ago, I had an article on my website, which I’ve since taken down because I don’t stand by it anymore. That mentioned being addicted to sugar. And you’ll hear this a lot, that food is people believe that food is addictive. And in particular, certain kinds of food, for example, sugar. Now what you need to know is that the science on food addiction is not very strong, and the scientific community. He is not in universal agreement on food addiction. because food is required to live and survive, while alcohol, on the other hand, is not a requirement for survival, and living.
Now, one of the things that get confusing for people is they think, okay, yeah, well, if sugar isn’t addictive, then why when I cut it out, don’t want to all the time. And you have to kind of understand how restriction works in tandem with binge eating. So when we restrict our bodies, when we restrict food, our bodies, and our brain both increase the drive to eat, because we need to eat to survive. It is a survival mechanism, literally a survival mechanism, right. So if we start to restrict our food, our bodies will say, okay, we need to seek out food, we need to eat food. On the other hand, alcohol is not required for survival. So let’s kind of go back to this idea of binge eating, right restriction causes binge eating, you have to understand that connection. And so there are some studies that would show that if food is, is being restricted, that then there is a binge eating episode. And so the conclusion which is not correct, is that food must be addictive because we are all of a sudden being driven to eat like we just engage in binge eating, which is the third sort of like checking out. Non-mindful eating episodes, right? So the problem, though, is that most of these studies include restriction as part of the study design. So it’s not actually a food addiction, it’s, the response is the result of restriction, which causes the binge not that food is, quote, unquote, addictive. So we kind of need to understand that and people will say, well, but food certain foods, like foods, light up pleasure centers in your brain, like sugar will light up pleasure centers in your brain. And the thing is that lots of things light up the pleasure centers in your brain, lots of things that we would never consider addictive. So this is a bit of a side tangent, but an important one, because oftentimes, in the end, I say we collectively, out there on the internet will say things like, oh, but I’m addicted to sugar. Oh, but this food is addictive. And that’s not really the case is not so well supported by scientific literature. So that’s one thing to know. And then kind of the flip side to that is a lot of people will notice that if they start to cut down on their drinking, or they stopped drinking altogether, they oftentimes don’t notice an increased desire or preoccupation with drinking. Again, I’m not speaking to alcohol use disorder here. But it’s worth understanding and kind of thinking about this.
Alcohol is not required for survival, food is required for survival. So if we start to reduce the amount we’re drinking, a lot of people notice that they don’t have a desire to binge drink, for example, because they’ve been reducing the amount that they’re drinking. So the conclusion to me mentioning all this is to say, binge eating, and binge drinking, seem to have different mechanisms and seem to have different kind of n equals one experience in a lot of people. So kind of on the other flip side of things, talking about binge drinking. And I just pulled up some statistics, one in six US adults binge drinks, about four times a month consuming about seven drinks per binge. So what we tend to see is, people, don’t have to restrict alcohol in order to binge drink, right, whereas most people who experience binge eating, or binge eating as a result of restriction. So you can see it’s kind of a different mechanism involved in all of that. And I just wanted to kind of bring that up as a way to frame this conversation. Because there are lots of people who are sort of, I guess, I would say reluctant to remove alcohol from their household, for example, or say, I’m going to be a nondrinker for a while, because they feel like they’re going to be craving it all the time where they’re going to end up binge drinking, and, at least anecdotally, that doesn’t seem to necessarily be the case.
So if you are practicing intuitive eating the TLDR on this episode is that it’s really up to you as to whether or not you keep alcohol around in your household. And just because intuitive eating has a principle that says make peace with food, as I’ve just gone through this whole sort of difference between food and alcohol, you may decide that you’re making peace with food over here. But when it comes to alcohol, if you realize that you’re not enjoying it, it’s your relationship with it that isn’t super great, you would rather just take it out for a while. It’s okay to remove it from your environment. Okay. And a lot of people get really kind of concerned with it. And this is what it boils down to is, am I doing intuitive eating right? And it comes, it kind of comes back around to becoming like a bunch of diet rules, right? Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong? And the answer to that is that intuitive eating is not a set set of yes or no rules, two sets of guidelines, but those guidelines are very personal to you, right. They’re very unique to you and your own situation. They’re not hard and fast rules, you’re not breaking them, you’re not being bad. Just that kind of notice if you start to slip back into that.
Are you craving food freedom, if so, I want to invite you to get my Food Freedom Mini-Course, it’s a free resource that I’ve created just for you. If you are really looking for eating healthy in a way that works for you, without the heaping side dish of guilt, and shame, and constantly falling off the wagon. Food freedom is eating in a way that gives you energy supports your active lifestyle helps you feel strong, and leaves you in a good mood, without crawling into a shame cave, or feeling bad about what you eat. If you are ready to take three powerful steps to kickstart your journey to food freedom to get your brain space back and to enjoy what you eat again, then get this free mini-course you have nothing to lose, you can go ahead and enroll for free at StephGaudreau.com/foodfreedom.
So a couple of things. Also, if we think about the principles of intuitive eating, how can we sort of think about alcohol? So the first one is principle one of intuitive eating is reject the diet mentality. And there’s a ton in there. But suffice to say is like when you’re considering your own relationship with alcohol? Are you doing things like saving up all of your calories? Are you worried about your caloric intake? Are you significantly reducing what you’re eating during the day so that you can then drink more later? You know, in other words, you’re saving up calories with food so that you can use the other calories for alcohol and drinking? You know, obviously, is there sort of like a guilt and shame aspect. After you’ve drunk like, do you feel like oh my gosh, I’m you I just drank all these calories? I did a bad thing. I’m a bad person. So that would be the first thing is, is there a diet mentality for you with your drinking? And notice that? Okay, the second thing to notice, is to ask yourself, What is your relationship overall, with drinking? How do you feel? before? Do you notice any triggers? Do you notice any catalysts for you that you’re like, oh, something happened? And therefore I feel like I have to have a drink? Or what are you experiencing? So are you able to drink in a mindful way? I know we talked about mindful eating on this show. But are you? Are you being mindful? And are you really taking the time to enjoy it? And how do you feel afterward? Right?
To assess, ask yourself to journal about it, think about it, ponder on it. What is your relationship with drinking now for me, I noticed that it became an increasing way that I dealt with stress. And after a while, I noticed how that became more and more common and it was happening more and more in my week. So I wasn’t necessarily dealing with either the root of the stress or incorporating other ways of coping with the stress. Another question to ask yourself would be, and I just mentioned this, are you drinking in a mindful way? Are you noticing your experience? Are you enjoying the flavors? Are you know, really noticing how it tastes? And maybe how that taste change throughout the experience? Are there other pleasurable aspects to it that you’re noticing? Or on the flip side? Are you drinking to get drunk? And again, this is not in a judgmental way. But it’s just saying like, is that a factor in your relationship with alcohol? Right? Are you mindful of the process? Are you savoring it? Right? Are you enjoying it? I know a lot of people enjoy the happiness of an IPA, or they enjoy the, you know, I always think of those Somalia shows on Netflix, and it’s you know, you’re getting all the different notes of like, this has this wine has a has notes of strawberries or raspberries, or I don’t know, grass or whatever else, you know, those sophisticated palate tastes are? Are you noticing those things? Are you noticing how the food that you’re eating pairs with what you’re drinking? And if you’re, you’re enjoying that, that interplay between the flavors, right? So those are all ways that you can enjoy be more satisfied and be more mindful? Another question to ask yourself, and I alluded to this in my personal story is, what are their coping strategies do you have besides just alcohol, so this kind of goes into the emotional aspect and look, this last year has been hell on wheels for so many people. And you might notice that you turn to alcohol more as a coping strategy for the difficulties of this past year, or the difficulties of life, and no one’s judging anyone for that. But if you notice that your coping strategies are slim, meaning you don’t have many, or that alcohol is a primary coping strategy. Or that food is a primary coping strategy, you’re doing a lot of emotional eating, or I guess the flip side to that would be emotional drinking, is to notice, you know, are you open to cultivating other tools that you can put in your emotional toolbox. And this is one of the things that I help people within my overcome emotional eating course, which will link to in the show notes. It’s kind of a DIY course. But it’s all about helping you get more connected to your body. And also to develop a strategy or a set of tools to put in your personal toolbox for coping with emotions and honoring your emotions, other than just food, or in this case, other than just alcohol. So what are their coping strategies? Are you open to what are their coping strategies? Have you tried what other coping strategies are in your virtual toolbox? And then another question to ask yourself with regard to kind of the intuitive eating principles is when I drink when you drink, are you respecting your body, and for some people having a drink or two, and savoring it and enjoying it, they might feel great, you might feel totally fine, you might notice that it gives you enjoyment, it helps you, you know, have a social connection to other people. And your body isn’t feeling beat up from it, you’re not feeling excessively hung over whatever the case might be. But somebody else might realize that they’re not really respecting their body in the way they want to.
So again, it’s worth considering how these different principles of intuitive eating can apply to your relationship with alcohol and your drinking habits. And know that the answers are going to be different for everybody. And noticing that those answers can change for you as your life changes. And so one of the biggest questions that people get nervous about when they think Okay, so I’ve gone through these questions, and I realized, I’m not dealing with alcohol use disorder, but I also just want to take a break from drinking. I hear that a lot. I just want to take a break from drinking. And I’m worried about the blowback from other people. I think one of the things in this past year that’s been the experience of a lot of folks is that they’ve had a chance, for better or worse, to separate themselves from some of the social situations that they were forced into, or they felt like they had they felt socially obligated to be it you know, I’m saying force like, you know, maybe it’s a work thing and you just had to go or, you know, maybe it is something You feel obligated to attend a social function and you know, there’s going to be a lot of drinking going on. One of the things that maybe this year has this past year has given you the opportunity to do is to step back away from being in those situations quite frequently and to notice your relationship with drinking your relationship with alcohol, and to assess that a little bit more. And maybe it’s given you a chance to step back and say, I don’t feel the same amount of social pressure that I used to feel. And so a couple of episodes ago, we talked about with Evelyn trebly, this anxiety that’s coming up a lot, especially now that spring is here, more vaccines are rolling out and people are starting to contemplate, you know, seeing more people and we’re worried about judgment, what are people going to think my body changed during lockdown during the pandemic? Are they going to be looking at me thinking that my body is bigger, or my body is different, and judging me for it. And I think there’s a similar, albeit less, of an anxiety-provoking moment, but I think there’s a similar thread going on for some people. And maybe this is you, where you’re thinking, Oh, my gosh, the last year gave me this opportunity to step back, assess my relationship with alcohol, take a break without having to listen to people’s shit about it, you know, I didn’t have to deal with anybody’s comments or rudeness or them just questioning me.
And now if things are starting to open back up, there’s this element of feeling like I don’t want to deal with people’s inquiries or their questions, or them, pressuring me, and so on and so forth. So if you feel like that’s the case, then I would definitely go back and listen to Episode 114, I had to look at my notes, Episode 114, that I recorded as a solo. And this is a couple of years ago, but still very relevant. And then Episode 205, with Veronica Valli, where she talks about the great big silver secret. So I hope those two shows will also give you some peace of mind if you’re thinking about getting back out there and socializing a bit more, and you’ve taken a break from drinking or you’ve reduced it. And you’re worried about facing that pressure, again, from other people. So I hope that this show has given you some questions to ask yourself, I can’t promise that it is perfect. I can’t promise that my thoughts here are going to be exactly applicable to you. And I think it’s really important to go through the questions that I raised in this show and to think about things on a really personal level for yourself. Just know that if you do want to be alcohol-free, or you want to reduce or stop your drinking, and you’re not dealing with something like alcohol use disorder where treatment is really important, but you’re socially looking to reduce or stop drinking. There’s also a lot of support out there. You’re not alone. And there are lots of people who are stopping drinking temporarily or permanently and are exploring an alcohol-free sort of lifestyle. So please don’t feel like you’re alone on that. And know that you’re in good company as you consider your relationship with alcohol and your relationship with food. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode, so please feel free to reach out, send me a DM on Instagram, or share this episode out on it. I would love to know what your thoughts are. Alright, that does it for this episode of the show where we explored making peace with food, intuitive eating, and your relationship with alcohol. I hope it was insightful for you. And until next week when I return with another episode. I hope you have a badass week and we’ll talk soon.