Getting (& Staying) Fit in Long-Term Sobriety

One of the best byproducts of this whole sobriety thing has been the steady increase in my drive to do well by myself, health-wise. When I was drinking, I’d always claim to lead a healthy lifestyle—I was doing the whole keto/paleo thing and counting calories and running and going for weekend hikes—but I refused to accept the fact that my drinking was holding me back in the worst ways when it came to my fitness and my health. When I drank, I’d rationalize my way into cutting healthy, nutritious calories out of my diet so that I could “make room” for my daily beer. Except, the daily beer turned into multiple beers, and I’d usually end up snacking on unhealthy food anyway. Cue the late-night pizza runs, Taco Bell binges, and spoonfuls of peanut butter & ice cream in front of the TV. I’d wake up the next day, bloated and dehydrated, determined to be better this time around. “Only one beer tonight,” I’d tell myself. “Okay, maybe two—and then I’ll stop.” All carbs would be accounted for. All calories would be moderated.

Yeah, right.

In college, I watched my weight steadily balloon up to over 200 pounds. On a 5’6” frame, this wasn’t too flattering. My self-esteem tanked, I couldn’t find anything to wear that was comfortable or attractive, and I felt undesirable and depressed. My then-boyfriend (now ex-husband) and I would burrow ourselves away in our apartment in the evenings and consume an entire x-large pizza + several rum & diet coke cocktails together while mindlessly watching Netflix. If we weren’t there, we were out at breweries looking for the next best IPA. I’d drink, and drink, and well… you know how that goes.

As my drinking progressed, I tried to hard to convince myself I was still physically fit and capable of doing all the things I wanted to do. Following my divorce, once I finally found a job and an apartment, I nabbed myself a gym membership and started lifting weights and running in the early mornings before work. I felt accomplished. I felt like I was staving off at least some of the effects of this monster that was slowly enveloping my life. But I kept drinking despite my own best intentions, and my early morning workouts suffered needlessly because of it.

Eventually I realized how badly I was compromising myself by continuing to drink—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. My face was always red. I had acne and a bloted belly. I felt sick and tired so often I that I could barely tell if it was just me, the booze, a lack of sleep, or some combination of the three. I felt dizzy and worried about losing my balance or even fainting. I knew it was the booze, yet it took me at least a year and a half after my divorce to finally “get it”.

So, I quit. And when I quit, I felt like I needed to force my body into healing, thinking that my emotional and mental healing would follow suit. I biked furiously, ran myself to exhaustion, walked everywhere I could, and felt constantly guilty for indulging in sweets or other comfort foods, even when I’d “earned it.”

After some time, I began to understand the concept of self-kindness. I knew I had to take it easy. Exercise was supposed to be something that brought me relief and calm in my sobriety, not an extra level of stress. Slowly I backed off and gave myself rest days and acknowledged that I may never have the size 4 body I convinced myself I could attain. I started loving my muscular legs and wide hips, rather than pinching at them in frustration. I taught myself that they’re here to carry me through this life, and if I take care of them and love them, they’ll carry me that much further.

While there have been a lot of ups and downs on the mental/emotional front, I feel like my physical healing has really started to take hold. Even with intermittent gym schedules and laziness and some comfort eating, I’ve gained a new level of strength I clearly didn’t possess before. I am building upper-body strength in a way I haven’t been able to in the past, and I’m able to push myself harder at the gym. I am motivated to work out to feel better, not just look better. I check myself out after workouts and instead of jumping on the scale to see if I’ve lost anything, I jump in the sauna and reward myself with a few minutes of release and relaxation. And then I treat myself to a banana-peanut butter-chocolate protein shake.

Even still, I’m setting big but attainable goals for myself. Right now I’m training for a 10k race in May. I’ve never run a 10k before. I’ve barely even competed in 5k races—just a few here and there over the years, to feel like I was doing something productive with my time and energy. But for some reason, this past Monday, I decided I needed to kick my training up a notch and aim for something higher. So, a 10k it is. I’ve got a 10k training app on my phone and a training playlist and a plan I can stick to, even while I’m in school & completing my internship & working & running my creative writing group & volunteering & dating.

I also have goals to lose “the last 10 pounds” to finally get myself into a normal BMI range. I don’t know if this is exactly the right focus for me, since BMI isn’t widely accepted as the golden standard for health these days, and I don’t want to be obsessive about the scale…but it’s been so long since I was at a weight where I could definitively say, “I’m a ‘normal’ weight. I’m not overweight, and definitely not obese—no, I’m ‘normal,’ whatever that means. I’m normal and I’m happy with it.”

Whatever ends up happening, I’m excited to know that my health goals are supported & uplifted by my sobriety, and alternatively, that my sobriety is supported & uplifted by my physical health. Just one of the hundreds of benefits I’ve found in being sober—and it’s showing no signs of slowing yet.

❤ Em

13 thoughts on “Getting (& Staying) Fit in Long-Term Sobriety

  1. baumbachlife says:

    209 days sober today!! I remember about 8 years ago…when the idea of sobriety was really just starting to appear in my thoughts…I was hitting the gym ALL THE TIME! I was really fit…on the outside. It was one day that I was talking to my sister and told her that the inside of my body would be quite awful compared to the outside because of how much I was drinking. I think that in some ways I was trying to compensate for how shitty I was feeling all the time. Going to the gym and sweating while enduring a hangover felt somehow like I was purging what I had done the night before. And if I like what I saw in the mirror, then my drinking couldn’t be that bad right? For the past 209 days sobriety has come FIRST. I’m just now getting back into a regular routine and I feel like its true what you said, “my health goals are supported & uplifted by my sobriety, and alternatively, that my sobriety is supported & uplifted by my physical health.” Thanks for your posts…love your blog!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robert Crisp says:

    Great post.. Self-kindness and patience with myself has been a hard lesson to learn, but I’m getting there. It’s funny how I used to tell myself, “I’m avoiding junk food, good for me,” and then buy two bottles of wine I knew full well I would go home and consume. Talk about rationalizing. Ugh.


  3. MeditationAndNoBooze says:

    Love it.
    “When I drank, I’d rationalize my way into cutting healthy, nutritious calories out of my diet so that I could “make room” for my daily beer.” Same here! I was always trying to be on a diet but of course without cutting alcohol!
    And I like your comment about not turning ‘exercising’ as another type of stress.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sober Dad says:

    Fantastic approach and great blog. Exercise (and running in particular) really, really helps me, even more so when I’m sober. I went for a 5 mile run at lunch today and got my best time for ages. What a coincidence – I haven’t had a drink in three weeks!

    Keep running.

    Liked by 1 person

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