Recovery Wellness – Maintaining Healthy Weight in Early Recovery



I wish I didn’t have to be the one to tell you this, but it is common to gain weight when you first quit drinking. I know, you are thinking, “Wait a minute. What about all those empty calories I consumed? A bottle of white wine has like 600 calories! And mixed drinks have 150 calories each and I used to knock back eight or nine of those a night!”

I don’t mean to put words in your mouth. Or thoughts in your head, but I’ve been there and done that and I have some tips to help you navigate the early days of your sobriety with the top button on your pants firmly buttoned.

Or not. The first thing I want to say is that giving up any addiction is hard enough without worrying about how you look while doing so, so give yourself a break. I gained 20 pounds in the first year I quit drinking, so I was pretty much wearing stretch pants – but my body did begin to regulate itself, with a little more self-control and a lot less processed sugar, and I am back to my fighting weight now. But I’m not going to lie, I was pretty unhappy about how I looked for almost two years… If I’d known then what I know now, I would have approached how I rewarded myself for my sobriety differently.

Here Are Some Tips for Keeping It Off in Early Recovery:

    • Treats or Tricks? When I first stopped drinking, I told myself I could ingest anything but alcohol. I felt that giving up a three bottle of wine a day habit was enough. If I wanted a party bag of mini-doughnuts or a pie (like the whole pie) or the “Hungry Lumberjack” cut of steak at a restaurant, I believed I should do that. After all, I was sober and eating minimized my cravings. Now I say treat yourself, but make sure you counteract the food with exercise and be aware of the types of calories you are consuming.


    • What Do I Do with My Hands? And my mouth? I was so used to having the oral fixation of wine and the glass in my hand, I felt like an important part of who I was had been cut off. I think I took up eating as a hobby to fill the void. My advice? Carry a walking stick as an affectation, chew sugarless gum, or better yet carry a bag of crudité and crunch celery all day. You’re smart – come up with something to plug the bottomless hole…


    • Lord Have Mercy – I Have an Appetite! When I drank, I was never hungry. I sipped my dinner and nibbled a cracker here and there. All of a sudden, I had a farmhand’s appetite and I could actually taste the food. I say, wonderful and enjoy the pleasure of eating good food, but take it easy – farmhands are hoeing fields all day, n’est-ce pas?


    • My Body is Starving for Nutrients! After years of neglect, your body is trying to heal –  hold on to nutrients, vitamins and good fats as a sort of “MAYDAY” response to the need for basic repairs. Also your body slowed its metabolism in “starvation response” to the long term deprivation. Give it time – it will take some time to regulate your body’s ability to process food efficiently.


    • Beware of Ye Olde Eating Disorders… Like the Hydra from Greek mythology – you can cut off one head and it grows back two. I know it happened to me. I quit drinking only to foster a long dormant eating disorder. I developed a food addiction and a transference to processed sugar. These transfer addictions come out of nowhere! It’s not fair, but being aware and watchful can stop a new bad habit in its tracks.


    • What Happened to All That Frenetic Energy? In my drinking days I felt like I was shot out of a gun. Dancing, running, exercising, talking a mile a minute, burning calories like daylight. I was a morning person and a night person. When I got sober, I got tired. Heavy drinking increases levels of acetate (the chemical found in vinegar) in the brain, and spurs that crazy energy. I can sleep now after a lifetime of insomnia – that’s the silver lining. Sip one of those yummy vinegar drinks in the health food stores if you want to boost energy.


    • I am Craving Sugar!!! There is a lot of sugar in wine and liquor. And often we blend our alcohol with juice or sweet mixers, wreaking havoc on our blood sugar stability. Say after me – protein, good fats and roughage. Say it again.


Let’s face it, we got ourselves into this mess because we didn’t really have all of our life skills finely-tuned and in proper working order. Eating and our relationship with food is just another thing to learn to manage, control and ultimately enjoy. Recovery is a process (or a moving target depending on how you are looking at it on any given day). We are all learning to develop self-esteem and to be mindful of our real needs. That is what it is all about: identifying our needs and taking the proper precautions to moderate the impact. Have fun out there – treat yourself, try a new recipe, but always add a pinch of temperance to the mix.


Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.