4 Tips That Will Change The Way You Drink

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
This article was originally published on December 8, 2014.
I'm about to make a lot of people really, really mad. Before I say the mad-making thing, just know this: I take alcoholism very seriously. If you think you have a problem, I hope you're aware of the many resources available to help. I lived alongside the menace of addiction for many years, and spent most of my adult life terrified of substance abuse. But, that didn't stop me from going through phases of drinking too much. You don't have to be an alcoholic to engage in unhealthy drinking. But, for me, what actually stopped that behavior was that I stopped treating booze like the boogeyman.
As we head deep into champagne season, that's the best advice I can offer for those who do not suffer from addiction: Stop worrying about alcohol.
Pick up any magazine this time of year, and it's the same damn paradox. On the one hand: It's party time! Here's a kick-ass cocktail recipe and five ways to use hummus. On the other hand: Did you know eggnog has more calories than an entire Mexican restaurant?! Every holiday party becomes a battle ground as booze gets shaken up with our fear of calories, social nerves, and the sudden pressure to be MERRY AS FUCK. So, you have another drink, grab another cookie, freak out about it, then have some more. It's not the festivities, but the fear that makes us overdo it.
Food and alcohol are not the same thing, and equating a drinking problem with disordered eating is a common mistake. But, they do share some important commonalities. Both food and booze can be used as emotional numbing agents or forms of self-harm. Both can greatly impact your physical health and social life. And, both of them are treated as something to be avoided, rather than appreciated.
Intuitive Eating let me take the freakout out of food. When I gave myself permission to eat anything — from spinach to mozzarella sticks — everything became neutral. I learned to eat out of desire, not desperation. I stopped fearing food, and, instead, respected it. I discovered so much about eating: which foods I really liked, what satisfied me most, and the difference between feeling full and feeling uncomfortably full. Without realizing it, moderation became a natural instinct (not a rule).
Maybe booze was different, but it couldn't hurt to throw a little Intuitive into my drinking, right? With a lot of mindfulness and a little research, I began to approach alcohol the same way I did mozzarella sticks.
Guess what happened?
Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
Not only did alcohol become a more neutral substance, I actually began to enjoy it more (not more of it). Stressful drinking, like stressful eating, can feel out of control. When I took stress out of the equation, I was able to relax and be conscious — even with a glass of wine in my hand. I soon discovered that a lot of the ideas I had about alcohol were as misguided as those I had about food. That's when I understood how it really affected my body and brain. Using my lessons in eating right, I learned just as much about drinking (right).
I'd never tell you to skip the eggnog if eggnog's what you want. But, here are some helpful guidelines that may help you enjoy the cocktail parties — and the cocktails — rather than regret them.
Gauge your appetite before you drink.
Ever gone for pre-dinner drinks only to find that dinner doesn't sounds quite as appetizing after a cocktail? That's because alcohol inhibits ghrelin — a.k.a. the hunger hormone. I noticed this when I first started Intuitive Eating and thought, "Okay, guess I just won't eat dinner if I'm not hungry." This experiment resulted in what we call a hangover and I learned my lesson. Now, I'm just more mindful of pre-meal drinking (especially if I'm about to eat something really good). And, even if I do end up killing my appetite with a happy hour Malbec, I make sure to eat something anyway. I don't need a full stomach, just a not-empty stomach. Because:
Hangover hunger is real.
Too much booze and not enough food throws your blood sugar out of whack. That, combined with the dehydration means your body wakes up in survival mode, demanding those big, starchy comfort foods STAT. Seriously, people. Just eat dinner.
But, "drunk munchies" are not as real.
Yes, the same blood-sugar drop that incites hangover hunger can give you the drunk munchies the night before. Depending on how long and how late you go, the pizza urge may kick in hard as the booze starts to leave your system. But, the other side has to do with how alcohol lowers your inhibitions. If you restrict yourself from certain foods in everyday life, you're likely to go to town on them after a drink. Personally, I found this habit vanished when I stopped dieting. When you're allowed to eat sugar cookies sober, you don't need to wait until you're tipsy.
Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
Cocktail ≠ stress relief.
Okay, sure it does, at first. There's a reason that first drink often goes down a lot faster than the second — and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But, alcohol is both depressant and stimulant. So, while that initial, chilled-out feeling may make for a great social lubricant, you may find soon find yourself feeling even more amped up and tense as the booze spikes your blood pressure.
That same stimulative effect is also why drinking too much (or too late) throws a wrench into your sleep cycle. Even if alcohol knocks you out, it leads to poor-quality sleep, meaning you may feel hungover in the morning, even if you're not actually hungover. It's just not fair.
Take a time out.
Always be curious about your habits. Not judgmental — just curious. There's nothing wrong with enjoying a healthy relationship with alcohol, but every once in a while, check in to make sure it is, indeed, healthy. Alcohol is fun, but it's also habit-forming, and for many people, that habit is actually addiction. So, take a time out and try an experiment. If you usually have a beer after work, try not having it for a week and pay attention to how you feel. Go to a party sober and take note of your social interactions. Tell your friends about the experiment. If you really want to go for it, try a sober month. In all these scenarios, though, it's important not to approach it like a punishment, a fast, or a "detox" cleanse. Thinking in terms of restriction is what leads to sneaking and cheating and, eventually, feeling like a loser. If you take on the experiment with an open, curious mind, you'll find out the truth about yourself and your habits.
Taking a time-out for self-examination doesn't mean you're an alcoholic. But, if you do have a problem, the time-out may make that clear to you. If you need help ascertaining this, there are many resources available to assist you.
Even if you're not an addict, taking a break is a great opportunity to check out the habits that may not be serving you, physically or mentally. Then, you can move forward with more confidence and self-awareness, guaranteed.
And, who couldn't use some more of that?
The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. You can also follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject. Hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too! If you're new to the column, you can check out all the entries here.

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