It’s the early days of your recovery, and you’re feeling good but something weird is happening. All you can think about is chocolate. It’s a relief from chasing the bottle all day, but still it’s weird. Never one to have a sweet tooth before, all of a sudden it’s Hershey Kisses and Hostess Ho Hos all all day long. It feels like you’ve broken the cycle of one addiction just to start another.
That’s not unusual. It’s your brain needing that trigger for the reward system that alcohol released. That would be the Dopamine, a chemical in your brain that is part of the brain’s reward system. It tells you what feels good and encourages you to keep doing it. And like alcohol, sugar releases Dopamine.
So what are you supposed to do now? You didn’t quit drinking just to pick up another bad habit! Fortunately, there are other, more constructive ways to release that Dopamine reward trigger your brain wants.
So everyone knows exercise is good for you, and we’ve heard all the excuses not to do it:
“I don’t have time”
“I can’t afford a gym”
“I don’t stick with it”
If your drinking got you out of your exercise routine, or you’re not someone who is sporty in the first place, developing a new exercise habit can be tough. However, if you think of it in terms of keeping you away from the sweets, that may be motivation enough for you to get started. It doesn’t have to be rigorous, expensive, or take up a lot of time. In fact low torment no cost activities may be just the ticket to get you started.
Walking is easy, and free. And it also can be freeing for your mind. Go out and meander, explore, take a turn around the block, focus on the good you see and let your mind wander. It can help to clear your head in the morning to prepare you for your day or calm you down at night so you can get some rest. Ask a friend to join you and set up times to go out. It’s a great way to stay motivated and reconnect.
“Sunshine, on my shoulders, makes me happy”
John Denver was right, while you’re out, get some sun! Your skin absorbs the sunlight, that produces Vitamin D, and that generates the production of Dopamine. Just be careful about the time you go out, and use your sunscreen!
And as for workouts, let YouTube be your guide. There are so many free exercise classes to choose from, from low impact routines to take no prisoner sweat fests. Always wondered about belly dancing, Tai Chi, yoga or Pilates? Step, barre, Zumba? You can explore them all and try them out in the privacy and comfort of your own home.
Pick one, pick some, do a variety pack. You could then start to explore where in your area you could take in-person classes and/or meet like-minded people. However you choose to do it, remember that consistency is key. Develop a new movement habit by picking the things that you will enjoy doing on a regular basis. It will boost your mood and is a healthy alternative to snacking.
As a companion piece to getting active, try being still and meditating. There’s information all over the internet about the many methods and practices, so a little searching around can guide you to what’s going to work best for you. It’s about taking some time for yourself (it doesn’t have to be a lot) and focusing on your breathing, being in the moment. There’s a study that showed that regular meditation increases your Dopamine level and keeps that level in optimum range. So once again, consistency is key.
And we all also know it’s important to eat well. This can be a challenge when you’re craving those sweet treats. Try to focus on foods that contain the amino acid Tyrosine, which naturally increases your Dopamine levels. Snack-wise, instead of candy reach for fruits, nuts and seeds. High protein is a great start to the day, try eggs, cheese and dairy. Also meats and fish, they’re just as good at breakfast as they are at dinner. There’re vegetarian options for protein like legumes and beans. Give your brain a boost by eating healthier and choosing foods that can curb your cravings for the sugar.
I know, I know, you’ve heard this all before. But these suggestions bear repeating. Recovery is about rebuilding, so why not do everything you can to make the journey a bit smoother, a bit better, by using the right building blocks. When we feel better physically, we feel better emotionally. And when we feel better emotionally, we’re better prepared to appreciate just how sweet life is.