What We Don’t Say About Wine When We Talk About Weight Loss
Earlier this year, the WW instagram account shared a photo of a full wine glass with a sign that read, “saving points for wine.” For the uninitiated, that means you forgo food so you can spend those calories on alcohol.
Having been on Weight Watchers many times since my teens, that message isn’t a new one on me. Within the program, and most other wellness plans, it’s a common theme. There are always discussions online and in person about how to keep alcohol in your life when you are trying to get healthy or lose weight. And WW, via its social storytelling, clearly encourages this.
WW is hardly the only wellness company with a permissive stance on drinking. Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop, a lifestyle brand ostensibly focused on wellness, assumes you’re drinking alcohol. Paltrow has described herself as a daily drinker. Even the Mayo Clinic includes red wine on its Mediterranean diet food pyramid infographic.
Given the fact that alcohol provides calories but no nutrition, promotes overeating and poor food choices via lowered inhibitions, and hinders sleep, it’s a mystery to me that drinking remains such a visible part of healthy lifestyle brands and companies.
But I didn’t always feel this way. For most of my life, my body weight bounced up and down the BMI chart and brought me constant heartache and stress. Every year, as the weather changed with the seasons, I’d find last year’s wardrobe no longer fit. Sometimes, after a “good” run on Weight Watchers or Paleo or veganism, my pants hung too loose to wear. Other times, because I’d taken my eyes off the scale and my program, whatever it is was, nothing would zip up. My weight swung by as much as 35 pounds not a few times, but every year.
When I quit drinking alcohol two years ago, it wasn’t to lose weight. I had come to the point where I no longer believed it was possible for me to lose weight and keep it off. I was tired of yo-yoing. But I was also tired of the effects of those one or two glasses of wine per night that I thought were basically healthy. I didn’t blame wine for my weight worries, but I knew it was responsible for increasingly terrible sleep. Exhausted, hungover, headach-y, dehydrated—I was done.
I wasn’t trying to lose weight at all. I had quit dieting, too. In my first several months off the sauce, I ate more ice cream and pastries than at any other time in my life. But I started losing weight—slowly—anyway. I was sleeping soundly and feeling more energized. Soon, I was working out a lot more. I wasn’t at the gym trying to get thinner; I craved the stress relief I get from a hard spinning class and the fun of Zumba. In the absence of alcohol, I rediscovered the love of movement for its own sake.
My eating patterns also shifted. Again, I wasn’t setting out to lose weight, but I was craving vegetarian meals and I was motivated to cook them. When I was drinking alcohol, a poor night’s sleep or one extra glass of wine left me craving pizza or egg and cheese sandwiches the next day. Booze also mutes your body’s normal signals that tell you when you’re full, which leads to overeating. As I replaced those meals with muesli and salad, I lost more weight and, over time, people started to notice. People asked me questions like what is your goal weight?
For the first time in my life, I had an answer that made sense to me, if not to them. “My body will decide,” I would say with a shrug. “Whatever I weigh as a result of living a life that makes me feel healthy and energized!”
People also asked, “What are you doing?” To which I would sometimes just say I quit drinking alcohol—not what people want to hear. The weight loss companies know this, which is why their marketing is constantly reassuring women we can drink alcohol and lose weight.
While that is technically accurate, losing weight without alcohol in the mix is so much easier. For me, it was effortless. For more than six months now, after dropping 35 pounds since quitting drinking, I’ve weighed the same thing week after week, within a two-pound range, no matter what is happening, how much I’m exercising, or what I’m eating. Even after vacations and holidays, my weight no longer fluctuates. Never in my adult life has my weight been so steady for so long with so little action from me.
Losing weight is notoriously difficult. We all know this. Yet most health experts agree that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is among the most important things you can do for your wellbeing. So why do all the weight loss brands bend over backwards to reassure women we can have wine and weight loss? It’s like they don’t want you to know you don’t really need their services. It’s hard to sell “just quit drinking” as a monthly subscription.
Not everyone will have the same magic-bullet experience I have had with alcohol and weight. But I know I’m not alone in this outcome. It’s the “one weird trick that will surprise you” that has allowed me to lose weight and keep it off in a way I thought was impossible, without dieting or even really watching what I eat all that closely. I haven’t counting a single calorie, carb, fat gram, point, or macro in years. And I just want other women to know about it. It’s a free, accessible, simple thing that finally let me call a truce with my weight and food.