5 Reasons Why I’m Not Going to Drink on Election Night (and You May Want to Stay Off the Sauce, Too)

As election night approaches, tensions are running higher than third wave COVID infection rates and social media feeds are inundated with jokes and memes about drinking to survive all the drama. “I won’t hear anything on November 4th because, either way, I’ll be hungover,” proclaimed Stephen Colbert in his Late Show monologue on October 26. “Election Night Drinking Game: Drink. Then keep drinking,” suggests a meme on Instagram. 

How else can we be expected to endure the night (week?) (MONTH?!) that will be a climactic moment in the dumpster fire of 2020 other than with a bottomless wine glass in hand? Why would we want to? Election night is either a celebration or a pity party, depending on the outcome and how we voted. Either way, we drink, right? 

This November 3, I won’t be heading to my wine fridge – and I challenge you to think about going alcohol-free as well. Here are five reasons why I won’t be drinking on election night:

  1. Alcohol increases anxiety.

As a wine mom, I fully subscribed to the notion that alcohol is the ultimate stress-reliever. I drank to soothe my anxiety. I waited all day to pour my first glass of sauvignon blanc, and relished the feeling of warmth and calm that washed over me as I took my first few crisp sips. But even at the peak of my drinking I could admit that the more I drank, the farther out of reach that initial zen feeling became. As Annie Grace puts it in her book The Alcohol Experiment, “[A]s the alcohol is metabolized, we actually feel more stress than we did when we started. Alcohol leaving the body makes us feel worse. So what do we do? Have another! 

“It’s ironic that we drink to relax, because drinking actually adds stress to our lives.” Further, numbing ourselves to the source of our stress and anxiety – such as a high stakes presidential election during a pandemic – does not make the stressor go away; it will just make us feel worse when we get around to dealing with it. Facing the outcome of the election with a clear head in the moment is a proactive way to deal directly with the source of anxiety and ultimately better for our mental health.

  1. Alcohol numbs the bad stuff – but also the good stuff.

At the risk of jinxing things, imagine for a moment that the election goes the way you want it to go. Visualize the numbers coming in for your candidate, the electoral map turning the color you long to see. Imagine the victory speech, the balloon drop, the pure elation and sweet relief washing over you. 

Of course, it could go the other way. And instead of elation and relief, you could be inundated with fear, dread, and disgust. You may want to don your alcohol armor to protect you from the risk of the night going awry (or, almost as bad, the night being too close to call). But if you numb out with alcohol to not feel these bad feelings, you won’t be able to feel the good feelings either. Alcohol does not allow your brain to discriminate between the happy feelings you want to experience and the crappy feelings you don’t. After the year we’ve had, I am ready for some good vibes, and I am willing to risk feeling horrible if that same risk will allow me to feel elation and hope for the future.

  1. Mocktails are a treat without the trick.

When I first stopped drinking, fearing FOMO, I steered clear of any zero-alcohol wines, beers, or spirits. What’s the point, I wondered, of drinking some calorie-laden concoction without the benefit of the buzz? But as the alcohol-free (AF) days added up, I missed the buzz less and less because I missed the after-effects of drinking not at all. I did, however, miss having something more special than seltzer in my glass to commemorate a special occasion. So I have started exploring the world of AF spirits and mocktails. Seedlip is a current favorite. And if I’m in the mood to toast the outcome of election night you better believe I’ll be sipping a Seedlip Grove and ginger ale. Mocktails are a great way to embrace a celebratory vibe without enduring a hangover the next morning.

  1. Alcohol ruins sleep. 

I wish I could count on one hand the number of nights I woke at 3am, having sweat through my pajamas, my mouth dry and sour, my heart racing, and my shame visceral. Alas, during my drinking days those nights were all too common. Improved sleep is one of the immediate benefits of not drinking, and the impact of solid sleep is profound. 

Many of us will probably not sleep well on election night, whether drunk or sober, Democrat or Republican or Independent. The evening promises to be charged with emotion no matter how it goes. So since it’s going to be a short, and likely fitful, night of sleep, I don’t want booze ruining my few precious hours to snooze.

  1. There is no parental low quite like hiding a hangover from the kids.

Right up there with sour, sweat-soaked 3am wakings among the things I don’t miss about drinking: hiding hangovers from my kids. “Mama’s tummy is just a little upset.” “Mama has a headache.” More like: “Mama feels like absolute crap and wants to hide in my closet until this shame storm passes, but instead I have to look you in the eye and pretend my malaise is not the result of my dysfunctional relationship with an addictive toxin.”

On November 4, many of us will wake up exhausted, and – if the night provides any sort of conclusion – about half of us will wake up depressed while the other half will wake up ecstatic. However I feel that morning, I will not have anything to hide. I will be able to talk to my kids about election night because I will remember election night. I want to be ready to discuss the election with my kids honestly and openly, no matter its outcome.

I vote for a booze-free election night. Of course, it’s easy for me to say all this with over two alcohol-free years under my belt. But there was a time when I could not imagine celebrating  – or commiserating – without booze. Nary a momentous occasion went by without alcohol. And that is why I have almost no memory of the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, even though I am a diehard fan who watched Game 7 live in my living room. That is why most New Year’s Eves are forever a blur in my brain.

I decided to take a year-long break from drinking because I was tired of hangovers, fuzzy memories, guilt, and shame. My 365th day has long since passed, as has any desire to go back to the bottle. Showing up fully present in life is not always easy (especially this year), but it’s always worth it.

This will hopefully be the only presidential election during a pandemic we will witness in our lifetimes. It is also, in my opinion, a make-or-break moment for American democracy. I simply don’t want to miss it. Even if it feels terrible (EEK) to go through it, I want to go through it – not circumvent the discomfort with a booze buzz. I want to remember the tension, the anxiety, and, I hope, the excitement and relief. However this election pans out, I want to emerge as a more resilient and compassionate human for having witnessed it.

40 Years and 847 Days

I was born on my mom’s 30th birthday, October 19, 1980. So she and I not only share a birthday, but we share all our decade milestones. A little over week ago, the dumpster fire that is 2020 witnessed our 40th and 70th birthday – a milestone we had planned to celebrate in London, watching the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in Olympic Stadium. But of course due to the pandemic, the trip was cancelled and the birthday plans of two diehard Cub fans were up in the air until the last minute.

Instead of flying to London (insert first world problem sigh here), we drove into NYC the weekend before our birthday and treated ourselves to visits to our favorite shops (Zabar’s, Strand Books, Fishs Eddy, Paragon Sports, abc Carpet & Home). For lunch, we ate my favorite sushi (Tenzan – if you don’t know, now you know) in my illegally-parked swagger wagon, its hazard lights flashing and windows down for air flow since we had to take our masks off to eat because this is apparently the world we live in now. But anyway. The sush was delish.

I returned home Sunday afternoon, ready to get back into mom mode while trying to manage my last-hours-of-my-30s anxiety/excitement. My close friend and neighbor had texted to ask if we could go for a walk. My husband decided to take the kids and dogs out as well, so we all walked together to the corner where my neighbor was waiting for me in her car. She ordered me to hop in, and proceeded to whisk me away to another friend’s house for an outdoor surprise party-à-trois. Balloons, pompoms, a Happy Birthday banner, gifts, food, cupcakes, a bottle of Töst, 40 cans of seltzer, me, two of my best friends in the world, and no kids: the perfect way for me to end my 30s.

On the big day itself, I reunited with my mom for more shopping, an outdoor family dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, and a delicious three-tier red velvet cake baked by my husband. The Birthday, as we call it in our family, was a good one. A good multi-day celebration. A good reimagining of what a milestone birthday can be in a pandemic. A good use of our proximity to NYC. Good quality time with family and friends. Good food, great cake. And no booze.

I don’t think I even thought about drinking. Which, still, 847 days into my alcohol-free existence, amazes me. Because a few years ago, I could not conceive of enjoying a birthday, especially a milestone birthday, without wine, champagne, and tequila. The idea that I would happily, contentedly, turn 40 without a drop of alcohol would have been simply ludicrous to me if it had crossed my mind. Which it never did, because, like many events of 2020, a booze-free birthday was too far-fetched for me to even imagine. 

Yet here I am: 40 years into my life’s journey, 847 days into my alcohol-free journey, and more grateful every day to be exactly where I am. 

I still have a lot of inner work to do. This pandemic has sapped much of my creative energy, hence my absence from here. While I haven’t been blogging, I have been continuing to write – in my journal, mostly. I needed to take some time to record this insane year, to write myself out of anxiety and back into grace. I have also been reading a lot, and doom scrolling too much. I am still working diligently to rewire my brain out of its diet culture settings and into a more harmonious and attuned relationship with food. I have been taking time to breathe, move my body, and snuggle my family. Some days I barely manage to stay present, much less accomplish much else. Pandemic fatigue is real. But we have no choice but to carry on.

I hope to carry myself into my 40s with strength, self-compassion, and as much grace as I can muster. Entering this new decade as a non-drinker feels empowering, and I’m going with it.

Two Years No Booze

So here we are. Our first 4th of July in quarantine, and my second Independence Day from booze. On this day last year, I was radiant. Thin, fit, glowing. I had a fresh manicure. I felt like a million bucks. But this is not 2019. I can’t expect myself to glow while the world is sick and burning.

But this is also not 2017. If I were still drinking during this pandemic, I would be paralyzed by skyrocketing anxiety and bottomless shame. I would be risking my health (and my family’s health) and increasing my exposure to COVID by making trips to the liquor store. I would be prioritizing alcohol – an addictive poison – right up there with food as a necessity for quarantine survival.

This is 2020. I am not where I used to be, but I am also not where I used to be.

Today I give myself grace. I remind myself to be proud of where I am in the midst of all this chaos. I have not fallen from grace, I have risen up on its wings to take care of myself and my family during this unprecedented time.
When I start to compare myself with where I was a year ago, I remind myself to adjust my units of measure. Right now, life cannot be measured in kid-free hours, because there are none. It cannot be measured in kickboxing classes, because there are none. Right now, life is measured in quarantine days, alcohol-free days, miles run, yoga classes streamed. It’s measured in book pages read and journal pages written, as I attempt to stay connected to myself and record what life is like in this bizarre time that I can only hope, someday, will be a blur.

My life is not perfect and all my problems are not solved. I haven’t lost any weight. The pink cloud of early sobriety has dissolved and the magic of my first sober year has worn off. My anxiety is present again (thanks COVID). ⁣⁣
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And also:⁣⁣
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I strive to embrace imperfection. Perfect is a mirage that sets us up to fail. Imperfect is grace, humor, and life’s exquisite realness.⁣⁣
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I feel capable. Of accomplishing pretty much anything. A mountain of dirty dishes in the sink used to be enough to defeat me. Now I’m staying sober through a global pandemic.⁣⁣
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My quarantine weight gain is bumming me out a bit, but at least it’s not compounded by the shame I would feel if I were puffed up and hungover from boozing my way through all of this corona-craziness.⁣⁣
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My anxiety is present, yes, but it’s a shadow of the monster it was when I was a #winemom. ⁣⁣
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I show up, every day, just as I am. I’m learning to love this person. I’m even letting her gray hair grow out because I give so many fewer Fs. Which gives me so much more time and energy to invest in pursuits worthier than giving Fs. ⁣⁣
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And on a related note:⁣⁣
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I used to be uncomfortable with the word “sober” because I thought using it would imply that I had a Serious Drinking Problem and I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. Now I use the term because it’s:⁣⁣
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A) True⁣⁣
B) Concise⁣⁣
C) Not up to me what people choose to believe about me and my journey. ⁣⁣
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Beneath my quarantine puff and exhaustion, a quiet power is growing. Power that comes from freedom that comes from ditching my dependence on an addictive, toxic substance that never did me any good at all. ⁣⁣
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At two years AF, I may be in quarantine, but I am free. I may not be glowing, but I am grateful – more grateful for my freedom from alcohol than I have ever been. I am learning to lean into the power of my exquisitely imperfect, true self. ⁣

A White Suburban Housewife Takes Action

The world is infected and anxious and grieving and angry and burning. So much is wrong right now, it’s hard to know where to begin to try to help move any of the myriad needles that are so far askew.

I am a 39-year-old, white, stay-at-home mom who lives in a middle-upper class suburb of New York City. I am largely ignorant of systemic racism and I want to change that. I am tired of feeling shame around my ignorance and guilt around my inaction. I have chosen to look the other way, to scroll past too many headlines too many times. I want to do better, I want to be better, I want to be braver. 

I want to be part of the change, not just reap the benefits of a more just and peaceful country and world. I want to work for what so obviously and urgently must happen.

I am not going to do this perfectly. But I am going to do my best to educate myself and my children, to engage in difficult conversations when they arise, to add my voice to movements and my name to petitions, to donate money to organizations on the front lines of this fight against racial injustice.

I want to be an effective ally. Here is where I’m going to start. 

What I’m reading:

Organizations I’m Supporting:

Actions I’m Taking:

In My Podcast Queue:

  • Unlocking Us: Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist
  • Pod Save the People
  • Parenting Forward: Five Pandemic Parenting Lessons with Cindy Wang Brandt
  • Ten Percent Happier: Parenting in a Pandemic and An Uncomfortable (But Meaningful) Conversation About Race
  • 1619 (NY Times podcast)

In My Netflix Queue:

  • 13th
  • 13th: A Conversation With Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay
  • Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea.

700 Days of Alcohol Freedom (On Day 80 of Quarantine)

It has been 700 days since I was a person who drinks alcohol, by which I mean a person who was internally tortured on a daily basis by an ever-increasing reliance on and ever-increasing consumption of alcohol.

I almost chose to let this milestone pass by without calling attention to it. I almost kept it to myself. Almost took it for granted. Because there is so much terrible stuff happening in the world right now. Because I too often do take my sobriety for granted these days. Because I cried a lot this afternoon and I’ve gained a lot of weight during quarantine and I didn’t want to look as exhausted and fat and broken as I feel in my Day 700 selfie. Because I am overwhelmed by how much the world has changed since I started my alcohol-free life and I feel unequipped to capture all I am feeling in words.

I haven’t written much lately. I feel like I’ve lost my voice in the avalanche of overwhelm and chaos and grief and unknown. But I am writing now, and I am going to write every day for the next 100 days. Even if it’s just a few sentences in my journal. I hope this will help me find some steady footing during these strange, sad, scary, socially distanced days.

Because right now, on Day 700, I feel more tempted to drink than I have felt in the last 23 months. Writing has always been a comforting outlet for me, and I need that right now. So I am going to make writing time for myself.

Someday, we will look back and these months we are living through right now will be a blur. We still have a long road ahead, though. So, for now, it is my hope that by Day 800, I feel more calm, more content, more at peace, more positive. Because that is the energy that I want to be putting into this gutted, burning world right now. I need to find it so I can give it.

On Untethering and Learning to Trust

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March 3 vs. March 29

Life has changed a bit since I was last here.

The novel coronavirus – barely a headline in January, as I set off on my no-sugar adventure – is now taking over the planet. My kids are out of school, my husband is (thankfully) working from home, I was (hopefully temporarily) laid off from my kickboxing instructor gig. We hightailed it out of our NY home – Westchester County being one of the OG coronaviral hotbeds in the US – and are hunkered down, self-quarantining, social distancing, and following the statewide stay-at-home order at our 241-year-old farmhouse in NH.

In other words, life has basically changed completely.

Life has been boiled down to family, health, and safety. I am trying to balance awareness and anxiety, routine and going with the flow, family time and me time, work and rest. I am trying to reconcile goals set in a pre-COVID-19 existence with our current COVID-19-dominated reality.

And here’s where I am at this moment:

In our creaky, drafty farmhouse kitchen, pre-dawn, sipping coffee. I have actually been up, tossing and turning, since 4:43am. Because today is the day that I set myself free from three months of self-imposed dietary restrictions. It feels oddly like Christmas. I feel thin and strong and really hungry and excited for the food that I’ll eat today. In these dark, quiet, solitary minutes, as the rest of my family sleeps, I am a child again, gazing in awe upon a bevy of colorful boxes while dreading the letdown that will inevitably occur once all the treats are unwrapped.

Here’s how I arrived at this Christmas-esque morning:

In January I cut added and artificial sugar from my diet. Acknowledging my sugar addiction was hard, but I was determined to tackle it as I tackled my dependence on wine – which I came to understand was a cover for my underlying sugar addiction all along.

It sucked, going without sugar for what feels like the longest month of the year, but it wasn’t torture. Because I found other ways to (over-)indulge: gluten-free pretzels, nut butter, bananas. By the end of the month I felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Mama (minus the marshmallows). So for the first two weeks of February I tried a low-FODMAP diet, plus no sugar. That helped a bit with the bloating and general malaise. On February 15 my husband and I enjoyed a planned “cheat day” that, for me, lasted two weeks. I fell deep into a spiral of sugar consumption that was actually pretty scary and left me feeling totally out of control, bloated to the max, and disgusted with myself.

So, in admitted desperation, I turned to a nutritionist recommended by a woman from my kickboxing gym who had recently undergone an incredible body transformation under the guidance of this perceived wonder woman. I met with her on March 2 and started the super-strict diet and exercise program she designed for me on March 3. The program was to last four weeks, ending tomorrow, March 30.

But today is Sunday and our favorite brunch spot is offering takeout. The world has gone to hell in a handbasket and I have been REALLY FUCKING HUNGRY FOR TWENTY-SEVEN DAYS AND SO TODAY IT ENDS.

Strike that.

TODAY IT BEGINS.

Today I set myself free. Today I accept that my life’s journey of emotional, mental, and physical wellness is a marathon, not a sprint. Today I recognize that my sobriety is a superpower that I created for myself and that I can apply to all areas of wellness. Today I challenge myself to believe in my capability.

Today I commit to learning to trust myself, no matter how many millions of baby steps it takes.

My four weeks-minus-one-day with the nutritionist were very, very hard. I have never been so hungry in my life. I have not pushed myself this much with exercise in over a decade. I did not enjoy the diet but I completely de-bloated, and I gained both strength and stamina. So, I accomplished the main goals I set for myself. I just wish it hadn’t been so miserable so much of the time. And attempting such a transformation over such a short time in the ever-engulfing shadow of COVID-19 elevated the level of difficulty from high to stupid-high.

So I AM DONE, Y’ALL. But no regrets. I made huge progress and I also learned some valuable lessons that I will carry with me. I have been exercising first thing in the morning, in a fasted state – which I had come to believe would make me feel nauseous and lightheaded but is actually just damn empowering and a badass way to start the day. I have added more strength training to my workouts which I can already tell is helping my body burn fat. I forgot how much I love lifting heavy weights. I feel leaner and stronger now, for sure.

I also learned that I was simply eating too much of too many things. I learned that I can – and, most of the time, should – operate on a diet of eggs, lean meat and fish, a little fruit and nut butter, sweet potato or brown rice, oatmeal, and lots and lots of veg. In other words, for the past four weeks-minus-one-day, I have basically been eating the way all the health food books and blogs and podcasts and Instagram accounts and wellness influencers and weight loss programs tell you to eat. And – SPOILER ALERT – it works.

I learned that I can live totally happily without beans and soy, mostly happily without dairy and white flour, somewhat happily without refined sugar, grudgingly without anything processed; and that life without avocado is bleak indeed. Now I have a better sense of what foods outside my healthy diet staples I will prioritize adding back in for special meals.

These weeks have at times made me feel resentful, cranky, and hangry to the max. But overall I also feel svelte, strong, and proud. I have overcome my lifelong fear of being hungry – and that was one of my main goals for seeking assistance from a nutritionist in the first place. Before this little nutritional adventure, if I felt the slightest twinge of what I perceived as hunger, I would grab one of the snacks that I always had on me – in my purse, in my car, in my pocket. What these weeks have taught me is that as long as I am filling my body with the right nutritious foods at the right time of day, my blood sugar will not plummet. I will not pass out or throw up. It is not comfortable to feel hungry, but neither is it the end of the world. I am learning to really listen to my body now, and not fear hunger anymore. Eureka!

That being said, I have basically been hungry for a month and it has sucked for a lot of the time. I’m done feeling deprived. I choose to feel FULL. To fill myself with all of the goodness that I can as my family navigates this unprecedented, bizarre, surreal time. In the quarantined days that continue to unfurl and wipe our family calendar clean before our eyes, I will fill my stomach with healthy food and delicious food and healthy, delicious food. I will fill my body with exercise-induced endorphins. I will fill my soul with snuggles and nature and books and writing and movies and TV. I will fill my brain with important, useful, and factual information and filter out the false or sensationalist crap. I will fill my heart with with my kids and my husband and my dogs as we, together, create this uniquely beautiful quarantined life.

Because it is beautiful, in many ways. And just because it’s beautiful does not mean that it’s not also a little scary and a lot strange. A persistent thought keeps popping into my head and it is this: “This time is such a gift.” This chance to slow down; to disconnect from life’s superfluous crap and reconnect to only what truly matters; to invest in emotional and physical health; to be present; to just be. Of course, our opportunity is another family’s tragedy and for that reason I feel like an asshole being so damn content. Then I remind myself that it’s ok to choose joy over fear. It’s ok to feel simultaneous gratitude and grief. This time IS a gift. It is a family-sized life raft keeping us afloat on a sea of uncertainty and fear.

So, for now, as we continue to float along these uncharted waters, I am done with dietary restrictions. I hereby untether myself from anything that does not belong in our family life raft. Starting now, there is no “on the wagon” or “off the wagon.” No good or bad eating, no blue dots or negative points (in WW lingo).

Instead, I am going to practice trusting myself. This will be hard work for me, because I have never trusted myself around food. But right now I have the gift of time. And now I know how great it feels to be fit and strong. I know that I can reap extra benefits of exercise on an empty stomach. I know that as long as I am filling my body with nutritious food, I will not feel debilitating hunger. I know that if my stomach emits a wee growl, it is not an emergency and I do not need to immediately grab for the nearest snack. I know the foods and portion sizes that my body needs to optimize its performance. I have a better sense of what foods help my body run smoothly and what foods give me trouble. I know how I feel if I indulge in too much junk. And I know I do not deserve to self-flagellate myself in shame if I do it anyway.

Today I set myself free from my super-strict nutrition program without setting a deadline to get “back on the wagon.” I am instead going to practice trusting myself. I am going to remember that my wellness journey is a marathon, not a sprint. I am going to use my sobriety superpower to stay present. If I slip or stumble, I will remind myself that I possess a superpower that makes the impossible possible.

I am capable. I am trustworthy. I am grateful. I am free.

De-Puffing and Re-Framing

I can count on one hand the number of times I consumed sugar during the month of January. Really, I can. Here they are:

Thumb: Hamburger bun
Pointer: Dried cranberries
Middle: One piece of salmon sushi roll with white rice
Ring: Two small breaded clam strips

This is a pretty huge achievement for a sugar addict. But by January 31, I felt completely defeated and discouraged. In choosing to eliminate sugar, I expected to de-bloat and gain energy. But I only puffed up more, and my energy stayed about the same. Humph.

Now I am four days into Phase Two of Operation De-Puff: a two-week gut reset. Low-FODMAP foods, no added sugar, no dairy, no gluten, oh my!

Sigh (again). I know I should be proud of the fact that I have given up sugar for over a month now. This is the same pouty malaise I felt when I had stopped drinking but realized that I had an even bigger problem with sugar. When a major achievement only seems to open the door to a lot more work, it’s a bit of a bummer.

But: onward. I woke up at 6am on Saturday and immediately set to work making baked egg cups, blueberry oatmeal cups, and prepping veggies and chicken. I also drank black coffee for the first time at home! I was in the zone, if grumpily so.

And I’ve stayed in the zone since then. I did my February Lifetime weigh-in today, and I have lost a pound of puff! As I start to de-bloat and re-energize, I am also reframing my thinking around cutting sugar.

I cut sugar to slim down after the holidays. But cutting sugar did not slim me down. Instead, and even more critically, No Added Sugar January dealt a lethal blow to the emotional side of my sugar addiction. I can survive without sugar! And not really miss it all that much! THIS is a revelation, my friends.

I am rewiring my brain to stop relying on sugar. And now I am also helping my gut get back into a better balance so that I can identify the foods that give me digestive trouble. This is GOOD WORK. Necessary work. And it’s working.

A Sugar-Free Wellness Check-In

No Added Sugar January is finally drawing to a close. (Did this month seem extra-long to anyone else??) How are things, you may be wondering? Am I living my best life without added sugar? Am I riding high on the waves of naturally sustained energy? Have I slimmed down without either refined or artificial sugar thwarting my efforts?

Here’s the unfortunate truth: I’m not feeling as great as I hoped. In fact, I have been feeling insanely bloated, gassy, and frustrated. I anticipated my body running like a well-oiled machine after four weeks without sugar, but instead I have an out-of-whack gut weighing me down both physically and mentally.

How did this happen?! I haven’t had added sugar (natural, refined, or artificial) for four weeks! I thought sugar was my ultimate foe, and yet I am feeling almost as bad now as I was when I was eating it. I think the answer just might be the Muppet-like acronym FODMAP. Sugar, you are not innocent, but you are not solely to blame for my malaise, either.

Here is my roadmap to FODMAP (i.e. how I figured this out):

Starting January 1, I removed added sugar from my diet. Bye bye, junk! My daily food intake these days usually includes half an avocado, a banana, an apple, at least one tbsp of almond butter, and a handful of almonds or cashews. I often also eat grapes or frozen mango, butternut squash or sweet potato, plus beans and Fage 0 Greek yogurt for added protein. A typical day for me looks like turkey bacon and avocado for breakfast, a chopped kale salad with chicken for lunch, and chili for dinner. Snacks are usually a Raw Rev or RX bar; or oatmeal or yogurt loaded with nuts, cacao nibs, and fruit.

(Ok, I may have hit the banana-nut butter combo a little too hard. Especially once I discovered banana-peanut butter “nice cream.” And I did consume an entire container of RX vanilla almond butter in like two days. But still! I thought I was doing pretty darn good!)

But still: bloat. So much gas my kids are probably telling their friends about it. And moodiness to boot. WTF.

As I walked my dogs yesterday I listened to a Melissa Urban (yup, the Whole30 lady) podcast on gut health, and the doctor who was her guest brought up this whole FODMAP thing. I decided to look into FODMAPs and BEHOLD, here are some examples of medium- and high-FODMAP foods: avocado, bananas, apples, nuts and nut butters (if not consumed in moderation, AHEM), grapes, mango, butternut squash, sweet potato, beans, and yogurt. WELL CRAP.

FYI, in case you were wondering, FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” But none of us will remember that so just know this: FODMAPs are carbs that some people are sometimes unable to digest. FODMAPs ferment in the colon, where they live their best lives by causing gas and gut distention, among other splendid symptoms.

I have a gut feeling (pun intended) that my body is having trouble with FODMAPs right now, especially since I have been eating (read: over-eating) a lot of high-FODMAP foods whilst navigating life without sugar this month. I have come too far in my epic battle with the sugar monster to still be feeling so gross. So here is my new plan:

Starting February 1, I will do two weeks of a low-FODMAP diet. I will also continue to stay away from added sugar. I will still eat fruit, just low-FODMAP varietals; and I will still eat nuts and nut butters but in moderation (one handful and one tbsp per day, respectively). Most importantly, I will embrace this challenge with hope and determination. I don’t HAVE to go low-FODMAP and cut sugar for two additional weeks; I GET to explore the impact of these healthy choices, see how good I can feel, and maybe even discover the food culprit/gas bandit currently loitering in my colon.

[TMI alert but as long as I’m getting this all out there: the timing for this is also good because I am at the beginning of my cycle. So I know I won’t be PMSing over the next few weeks. My hormones will be working with me on this instead of against me.]

So, over the next couple of days I’ll be eating the remaining high-FODMAP foods in my fridge and restocking with low-FODMAP alternatives. Bring on FODMAP February!

Keep Moving Forward, Always with Love

I wear two bracelets on my right wrist. One is a silver arrow. The other is a gold-plated heart that has faded to bronze after months of sweat and showers. Each was given to me by a best friend: two women who have had indelible impacts on my life.

I have been looking at these bracelets a lot the last few days, whenever my brain zones out from what I’m doing and wanders back to Sunday, and a helicopter crash, and the deaths of one very famous person and his daughter and seven other people. It is a true tragedy, unfathomable, heartbreaking. Of course, events like this happen all over the world every day but this one struck me, shocked me, rocked me, as I know it did many others.

My only connection to Kobe Bryant is that we are about the same age, my high school is down the road from his, and I once played on the same basketball court where he played. He was already famous in high school, so I knew it was special that I got to play a game there against girls who were his classmates. I even scored all the points for my JV team that day: four. Yeah, we got creamed. But I’ll never forget it.

I didn’t know Kobe Bryant. I hesitate to call him a hero because his legacy is a complicated one. But my heart breaks for his family, and for all the families of those who were on board. A tragedy is a tragedy and especially now that I’m a mom, these things hit me hard.

These bracelets that I wear remind me to do two simple things: keep moving forward, always with love. Life has felt a lot more precious these last few days. I have hugged my family a little tighter and breathed a little deeper. My usually dormant anxiety has been at a low simmer. I breathe through that, too.

But mostly I am just trying to keep moving forward, always with love.

I’m Onto You, Sugar

Sugar is a constant. Its lack of perfection as a food is total. On any scale of nutrients, it would rate less than zero.
– William Dufty, Sugar Blues

Keeping this quotation handy as I cope with the strongest sugar cravings that have hit me so far this month. Instead of “treating” myself with a dive off the wagon that would only make me feel worse, I have instead spent time figuring out why I feel triggered and putting my sugar-free tools to work.

Triggers
Yesterday was my husband’s last day at a job that made him miserable. It was also the Friday of a long weekend. And I taught one of my best kickboxing classes yet. All reasons to celebrate, and we – individually and as a family – equate celebrating with consuming some form of sugar.

Tools
Self-awareness: I know I am a rule follower. Right now, refined and added sugar are not allowed so I know I won’t break this deal outright (more on this in a sec).
Education: I am keeping my sugar books close at hand and referring to them as needed.
Hydration: A gallon of water a day. Every day.
Healthy foods: I am making sure my pantry is stocked with them.
Writing: Writing these thoughts out always helps!
Accountability: Posting about this keeps me honest and motivated to do better.

All of this being said, last night after our kids’ jiujitsu class, my husband and I took them to dinner at Five Guys. With but shreds of willpower left, I ordered a burger and I ate it all – including the bun. I had a feeling the bun had sugar in it. All white bread does. But I ate it anyway because I chose to play dumb instead of Googling the ingredients. (And I admit, the burger was freaking delicious.) (Oh and also the fries.)

Considering that a meal like this used to include a pint of ice cream and/or a bottle of wine, I acknowledge that this is progress and I am not guilting myself about it. But what happened next threw me for a loop.

When we got home, I had to pack for our trip to NH because we planned to leave early this morning. Not only did I feel totally overwhelmed at the idea of packing, but looking around my house I felt frustrated by all of the piles and clutter. My frustration quickly swelled into anger that felt almost uncontrollable.

A total mood swing! Doable tasks felt impossible. Clutter that hadn’t bothered me all week made me irate. Before I completely blew up, I paused. “This is not like me. I can’t remember the last time I felt like this. What is different tonight? What could have caused this?”

Then it hit me: THE BUN. The damn delicious bun! I took out my phone and Googled and sure enough, sugar is the third ingredient. The damn bun was first refined sugar I had consumed in 10 days (after another snafu while eating out when dried cranberries snuck into my salad).

Now, I grant that this entire meal contributed to my malaise. But I didn’t just feel bloated and low energy, as I usually do after a junk food meal. My entire mood shifted. It was stark and bizarre. And I am choosing to believe that my body was sending me a message: just as with alcohol, my life is a whole lot better without refined sugar. Message received, loud and clear!

We are up at our farmhouse now. The first thing I did upon arrival was get my favorite chicken chili in the crock pot, some butternut squash in the oven, and a kale salad in my body. It is always a challenge to eat clean up here, but after last night’s ordeal I am determined to do it. The meal prep and planning is a bit of a downer when I just want to be in relaxation mode, but worth it. I know I will feel so proud if I can make it through the weekend without refined sugar or other crap. I’ll report back in a couple days to keep myself accountable!

Damn bun. Sugar is evil. I get it, I get it.