Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Here's my secret.

I think it's high time to tell you what I've been up to for the past 30 days, if the paparazzi swarming my house are any indication of the public's need to know. "Angela, your butt doesn't look as obscene in yoga pants!" they yell, and, "Your waist is 2 inches smaller! Tell us your secret!!"

You guys, they're camped out on my lawn. There are flashbulbs everywhere. I just saw a headline about my new and improved hotness on the CNN ticker!

Obviously none of that is true. But, I'm feeling pretty good about my health on this fine St. Patrick's Day, because I've lost 5 pounds and 5 total inches in 30 days.

Don't stop reading just because 5 pounds is not sensational like say, 20 lbs might be. Consider this statement by the CDC: "Evidence shows that people who lose weight gradually and steadily (about 1 to 2 pounds per week) are more successful at keeping weight off." Plus, it's gratifying to know I achieved this by only changing one itty bitty thing...

Booze. I've been completely booze free for 30 days. That, my friends, is how I've fairly effortlessly lost 5 pounds.

Does that mean I'd been drinking too much? You're damn right it does! Pre-Valentine's Day, I bought 3 bottles of wine which "vanished" from our house within 3 days. In general, I'd been drinking beer like a goddamn Irishman. (Which of course is a compliment to the Irish, particularly today. "Erin go bragh!" Whiskey Forever!)

I'd been sampling craft beers like I was getting paid by Beer Advocate. I'd been knocking back Dark and Stormies like I was on a perpetual Bermuda vacation.

But, I hadn't been drinking that way during the week -- I got shit to do, son! Only on weekends. Thus these tasty trips to Tipsy Town fell into that ugly collegiate category we call "Binge Drinking."

As reported in my very scholarly 2009 Examiner article entitled, "The truth about your beer belly", studies show that binge drinking is not good for you at all. More specifically, binge drinking is linked to excess abdominal fat. And that's linked to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke, according to the American Heart Association, who I happen to believe.

It's not like I was blotto every weekend -- binge drinking is a lot easier than you might think! (Or perhaps you already know that all too well.) Cue the 1980s heatwave blur and time-warp music: here's what binge drinking looks like to me...

You and your BAE walk to the neighborhood liquor store after work on Friday. It's a nice chance to stretch your legs and chat about the week. (The plot's not sinister yet.) You enter the liquor store and the clerk gives you that knowing nod that says, "Are we friends? I see you more often than I see some of my actual friends. I take all your money." (The plot becomes slightly uncomfortable, but it's still not sinister.) You and your BAE split up to maximize your perusal of the store. You have a routine. He heads for the refrigerated craft beers; you browse both the red wine and the 22oz craft beer singles. (Having a liquor store routine is kind of dark, but whatever man. Still not fully sinister.) You each pay; same knowing nod from clerk. You venture back home. You open the most tempting bottle and re-to-the-mutha-fuckin-lax! 3 beers later you are full on fun-timing! You are playing good-time jams and dancing around in your socks. One of you offers to make Dark and Stormies, not once but twice. Now you are drunk; maybe you watch a movie; blah blah blah...

(I know what you're thinking. No harm, no foul, that sounds kinda fun, right? I agree. It sure is fun.)

On Saturday, you wake up with a headache, which is easily remedied by the world's largest glass of water and 2 Advil. You are lazy this morning and you may or may not give in to your craving for diner breakfast. That night, you may meet up with friends, which if you do, certainly entails more drinks. Otherwise, you may dine at a restaurant or wear sweatpants and get takeout (drinks are on the menu either way.) Sunday is much like Saturday was, only this winter has been very hospitable to afternoon mugs of hot cocoa spiked with Baileys, because that's friggin delicious. Dave sometimes starts his Bailey's in the morning with coffee. I scold him, then I join him.

What does all of this add up to? Calories. Even after an exceptionally nutritious day of not overeating, that hypothetical 5 evening drinks could run you up to 1,000 calories!!! (I did the math figuring three Racer 5 IPAs which pack 225 calories each, and four shots of Gosling's Black Seal Rum -- two per drink with zero-cal Gosling's Diet Stormy Ginger Beer.)

1,000 extra calories. Oh My Stars! It's no wonder the button on my jeans was starting to cry out for help. Would I have randomly eaten a Double Whopper with Cheese (1,070 cals) after dinner on Friday? Oh Hell no. (Aside from the fact that fast food is evil/disgusting.) 1,000 extra calories is a staggering over-eat, especially if you're doing it multiple days each week. My realization of this meant something had to give.

30 days ago, I decided I wouldn't drink until St. Patrick's Day and I told all my friends for accountability. (I'm just a fan of exerting willpower over myself with challenges like this. I like to prove to myself that I'm capable.) That first Friday wasn't too bad: my game-plan was fresh, new, and I intended to stick with it. But I couldn't help but think, how many would I have had by now? That first weekend definitely made me much more aware of my regular habits, which I'd been indulging in somewhat unconsciously.

By the next weekend (day 10 specifically) I was fiending for all my favorite drinks, as evidenced by this poem, on Day 10 (a Facebook status):

Day 10 boozelessness.
A frosty beer sounds like bliss.
Or tequila and lime, 
Or a red red wine.
Dark and stormies on my mind.

I distinctly remember thinking that it seemed unfair to leave whiskey out, because I love whiskey. That's right, I felt bad for excluding whiskey in my poem. I started to miss the liquor store clerk. Clearly I needed to keep drying out.

Seeing progress made this progressively easier. After two weeks, I re-weighed myself with my Tanita body fat/water scale. I recorded my week two stats and took all of my physical measurements: I'd lost four pounds and two total inches. I only lost one additional pound in the two weeks that followed, yet an additional two and a half inches from the places I'd wanted to lose it, because fat is lighter and takes up more space than muscle.

Once I started to observe less overall inflammation throughout my body (face seeming less pudgy, less bloated belly) I got motivated to do more of the simplest things. When brushing my teeth each night (Sonicare has a 2 minute timer) I'd do 2 minutes of squats. I replaced my desk chair with an exercise ball. I replaced my typical Morningstar vegetarian breakfast sandwich with a smoothie just to benefit from more hydration and liquid fullness.

None of these changes present a significant increase in exercise or a major change in diet for me. All they signify is an increase in mindfulness: awareness of, and attention to, the present moment. Seeing my ass start to bounce back into shape gave me a surge of motivation to continue making healthy choices as often as possible. 

So, whether it's cutting out soda, coffee full of cream and sugar, or a regular habit of weekend booze-binging, I encourage you to make a healthy change in your life, even for a relatively short duration of time like 30 days. Doing so can tip the first domino and start that wave of healthiness. With increased awareness, you may look upon your regular habits with more clarity. 

For me, I like to drink, and I'm good at it. But I know that I can't pretend that drinks don't contain a hefty number of sugar calories. This makes me more motivated to drink in moderation. I also tested my Sober Sister skills by not drinking at a party. I thought it would be tough not to share in the wine, so I brought a six-pack of San Pellegrino sparkling water to have something to sip on. It was totally fine. 

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, we are breaking our booze fast tonight with Bailey's and Guinness, but I'm too psyched about my healthy progress to abandon my fast entirely. I will try to remain mindful of booze-calories, and see where this wave of healthy progress leads me, because life is a fun experiment. :)

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