You’d think all the health and nutrition classes I was taking to become a dietitian may have swayed me away from alcohol as a college student, but alas, they did not. Even post-graduation and into my early career, I didn’t recognize alcohol was sabotaging various parts of my life, including my diet. In reality, it wasn’t until I got sober that I discovered how drinking affects your diet firsthand. When I decided I was better off without alcohol, my life took a complete turnabout. At that point, I knew that if I kept drinking, I wouldn’t have the career and family I dreamed of. In the beginning, I put in a lot of work to protect my sobriety, all while grieving my old life. Everything changed—from the people I hung out with to the places I went. Even how I socialized. I didn’t realize that other, less noticeable parts of my life were changing, too. Today, with over eight years of sobriety under my belt, I have the clarity to see how my relationship with alcohol was wreaking havoc on my food choices and eating habits.

Here are 3 things I learned about how drinking affects your diet from getting sober

I stopped skipping breakfast

Late nights filled with alcohol left little time for food in the mornings. I’d often skip breakfast in a rush to make it to class or work. It was hard enough to peel myself out of bed, let alone try to wake up early to eat food I had no appetite for. Related Stories While skipping the occasional meal here and there won’t result in a poor diet, regularly skipping meals can disrupt your metabolism, hunger signals, and overall energy intake. Back then, it never occurred to me that the fatigue and gastrointestinal issues I was experiencing could be linked to a sluggish metabolism. These symptoms likely indicated that my body was adjusting to conserve energy during times of reduced food intake. Not only that but skipping breakfast meant I was eating less overall protein, an essential macronutrient needed to sustain lean muscle mass. As you may know, muscle burns more energy at rest than fat tissue. Over time, skipping meals contributes to lost muscle mass and a slower metabolism. Some days, by the time lunch rolled around, I was so hungry from skipping breakfast that I disregarded my hunger cues completely. I’d eat quickly and past the point of feeling physically full. By then, hunger hormones, neuropeptide Y and ghrelin, were signaling for me to eat something! Since quitting alcohol, breakfast has become my favorite meal of the day. I load up on fiber and protein to keep me full and satisfied until lunch. Eating regularly throughout the day ensures I give my body the energy and nutrients it needs to chase toddlers at home, lift weights at the gym, and run a business on the go.

I eat less fast food

When the alcohol flowed, I was much more likely to indulge in fast food, even if my pantry was stocked and my fridge was full of leftovers. If there was something salty and high in carbs on the menu, I ordered it. There are seven calories per gram of alcohol, making it more energy dense than carbohydrates and protein, so you’d think I’d feel full after drinking a few adult beverages. However, alcohol influences nerve cells and blood sugar in ways that can trigger feelings of hunger. Alcohol may activate nerve cells in the brain that are usually stimulated by severe energy deprivation. In other words, drinking alcohol could have tricked my brain into thinking I was actually starving. In reality, I’d consumed more than enough liquid energy. Furthermore, alcohol disrupts blood sugar levels. It first causes blood sugar to spike, but then it drops after the body produces insulin, a hormone that allows blood sugar into the cells. Too much alcohol can hinder the body from regulating blood sugar as it usually would. Low blood sugar could partially explain why I craved carbohydrate-rich foods, specifically Whataburger french fries. While I’m not one to follow strict food rules, frequent alcohol-induced fast food stops don’t align with the empowered eating I strive to obtain. Today, I still occasionally eat fast food because it’s convenient and tastes good, not because I drank too much alcohol. When not under the influence of alcohol, I trust my body and hunger signals to make sound decisions about food.

I stay hydrated

Unfortunately, drinking water wasn’t too high on my priority list when alcohol was being served. Drinking a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage sounded good in theory, but I was terrible at executing this practice. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. When you drink alcohol, it hinders the release of vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone that regulates water balance in the body. When alcohol suppresses vasopressin, the kidneys excrete water in urine instead of reabsorbing it to maintain fluid balance. Looking back, I wasted more time than I care to admit standing in line to use the bar restroom, all thanks to alcohol. Dehydration was partially to blame for the hangovers that sometimes followed. Waking up feeling thirsty, exhausted, and with a headache were just a few signs I wasn’t drinking enough water to keep up with my alcohol consumption. It’s ideal for men and women to drink 15.5 and 11.5 cups of water per day respectively. If you drink alcohol, you likely need more to avoid dehydration. Even without alcohol, I keep a cup next to my kitchen sink, a place I walk past often, to remind myself to drink water throughout the day.

Final thoughts

For many, it’s possible to responsibly drink alcohol and maintain a healthy relationship with food. If you indulge in adult beverages, avoid skipping meals, eat a variety of foods, and drink plenty of water. However, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol if you’re frequently dehydrated, overeating, or spending more time eating greasy, fried foods after having a few too many drinks. When I quit drinking, improving my relationship with food was the last thing on my mind. I never imagined that ditching alcohol would improve all areas of my life, including my diet, but I’m so glad it did.

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