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Sober Yoga Girl: Nutrition in Sobriety (Part 2) with Steph Prangley



Tune into this episode to learn more about Steph Prangley's suggestions for nutrition in sobriety. Alex asks some questions - what should we eat to be well while sober? Steph Prangley is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Sober Coach living with her husband, 3 dogs, and too many houseplants in Greenville, SC. She runs The Sober Rebellion, a virtual private practice helping clients use nutrition and functional wellness practices to enhance recovery efforts, repair their body from the damage done with long-term alcohol use, and address underlying conditions that often overlap with chronic alcohol use. Connect with Steph at: https://www.thesoberrebellion.com/ or Instagram @thesoberrebellion


Transcript


Hi, friend. This is Alex McRobbs, founder of The Mindful Life Practice, and you're listening to the Sober Yoga Girl podcast. I'm a Canadian who moved across the world to the Middle East at age 23, and I never went back. I got sober in 2019, and I now live full-time in Bali, Indonesia. I've made it my mission to help other women around the world stop drinking, start yoga, and change their lives through my online Sober Girls Yoga community. You're not alone, and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how.

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl. I am looking forward to this podcast. I have Steph who is a nutritional therapy practitioner. Her Instagram is The Sober Rebellion, and she specializes in supporting women with their nutrition in sobriety. And this is a topic that really interests me. And I had her on a previous episode where she shared her sobriety story. So if you want to go back and have a listen to that episode so you can hear a little bit more about her story and why this is her passion, go for it. And in today's episode, we're going to jump in and get some information about nutrition in your drinking phase and in your sobriety journey.

And I'm just really excited about it. So welcome, Steph. How are you doing today?

Hey, Alex, thanks for having me back. I'm really excited.

Nice to have you. And I know you were talking about getting your caffeine fixed this morning. Actually, let's talk about that before we even get into nutrition. So people in sobriety often switch to coffee as their thing. Have you noticed that?

Yeah, I mean, there's like so many ways that transfer addiction can go. I think we're all just chasing whatever high we can until we can feel safe unpacking all of these layers or whatever. I don't do anything more than half-calf, so I'll do like a quarter-calf cup of coffee, something like that. But it's been an issue for me to lean on that a little bit too heavily. And like you, I have a lot of stuff going on right now, and I'm still a human being just because I do nutrition, I'm not perfect. And so it's like when I start feeling out of control, some of these good habits that we're going to talk about today go out the window even for me. It's just like, yeah, okay, let's check in and see what we can dial back in before it gets out of control. You know what I mean?

Absolutely. And I think that's probably so inspiring about you as an individual and someone that is working with women in sobriety and in nutrition is that you're like a relatable person. And I think that's really important.

Thanks. Yeah, I got all sorts of issues, though.

I also have a big issue with coffee, and I will go completely sober from it for a week, two weeks, a month. And then something will... I will have one. It's like with alcohol. Something will like me. I'll be in one opportunity, someone will offer me coffee and I'm back on it again. And I think it's for me, interestingly enough, it's like with alcohol being a social thing. It seems like coffee is a social thing, especially for sober people. And where it really becomes a thing is on these sober women's retreats that I have. So I have a group of women in Bali with me right now. And every morning after I teach yoga, we all have coffee. And that is how we bond and connect. So anyway, I'm on it with you as well. Even though you'll see sometimes I say that I'm caffeine free, it's all like an ebb and flow.

Yeah, that's exactly my alcohol story too. I would go days, weeks, even months without it, and then I'd have one and I'd be like, Oh, okay, let's do this then. But I mean, there's like worse things that we could lean on than having a cup of coffee. And it is like, I don't know, there's just something cozy about having it, like you said, with a group of women, whatever, we bond over food and drinks and whatever. I don't know. I think we can lighten up on stuff like that and just take inventory and see are we using it? Using it, using it, or are we just enjoying it after a yoga class with some girlfriends or whatever. Totally.

Okay, so my first question for you is, how does our nutrition suffer when we're drinking alcohol?

Ethanol itself is a poison, so it's really affecting us down to the cellular level. Some of the main ways that we see it show up in impacting our health would be nutrient deficiencies. So not only does alcohol consumption deplete our nutrient stores because metabolizing alcohol requires a lot of nutrients, but it also compromises our ability to absorb the nutrients that we do consume. So it interferes with our digestive process, how we store, how we utilize nutrients, and even how we excess nutrients and hormones. So nutrient deficiencies is one, liver damage, I think we all know about that. Beyond detoxifying, the liver is responsible for hormone metabolism and regulating hormones, including blood sugar regulation, which we're probably going to talk about a ton because that's like one of the main things that we can use nutrition for is cravings, craving prevention and that thing. So liver damage, pancreas damage, like the whole digestive, like from the mouth all the way down the stomach, liver gall bladder, the whole entire digestive tract is really impacted by it, but I'm just going to highlight some of the stuff. So the pancreas also plays a role in regulating blood sugar.

The pancreas also secretes digestive enzymes, and we need those in order to break down the food that we eat into a way that our body can actually use it and absorb it. That's just another way that a nutrient deficiency could happen. The cell linings in the stomach and the intestines are impacted. It irritates our gut lining. And it's really common for us to have pre-existing conditions. Like, prior to starting drinking, we might already have issues with our hormones, our blood sugar regulation, and even neurological stuff. So when we give up drinking, we still have all those underlying things and then layered on top of it is like these new conditions or these new imbalances that pop up because of excess alcohol use. So it's a lot. Wow.

And the blood sugar thing is interesting to me that you bring this up because this was brand new to me until this fall. It was the first time I learned about blood sugar, blood sugar regulation, and it was through my naturopathic doctor. And I started to learn that my acne that I was struggling with was due to spikes in my glucose. And there's a specific order that I should be eating food to try and keep my blood sugar levels low. Now, they're not low, but keep them regulated so that they're not spiking. And of course, I'm not doing it properly this week because I'm so stressed as we were talking about before that because I would have just had so many things going on. And so I had a cake. I had cake for breakfast. It was someone's birthday and we had cake and that was the first thing in my stomach today.

And I'm like, okay.

I know that I'm going to have acne tomorrow, but it doesn't really matter. But majority of the time I'm trying to eat with this concept in mind, and I just find it so mind-blowing because no one ever taught me that. I never learned it before until age 30.

Yeah, it's so important. I mean, even to non-drinkers, regulating blood sugar is one of the primary foundations of health. Before I started helping women in sobriety, I worked with women with hormonal dysregulation and fertility and stuff like that. And we always start at blood sugar regulation because just like you're like, Oh, my acne because of this blood sugar thing. But it's true. It has this whole cascade of downstream effects, especially with hormones, but also with even our gut health. Then you have gut health tying to acne and immune function and neurotransmitter production. I think what's so complicated and difficult to understand is that in Western medicine, we're usually looking at like, Oh, you have a hormone problem, so we're going to do hormonal birth control instead of looking at the entire system and what's contributing to that hormonal imbalance or whatever is going on. It's a little short sighted to deal with everything as an individual system where it's like, acne is the problem, it's skin. Okay, it's on the skin. There's other stuff going on that's creating this that's making the skin scream at you to say, hey, I'm unhappy about something. Look at me.

And with skin, it's like that's a very safe place for the body to show that it's pissed off.

Okay, going into blood sugar. If someone's listening to this and they're like, how do I regulate my glucose levels? What would be some of the tips that you would give someone?

Yeah. I mean, there's a lot you can do, and it's super duper boring. A lot of the stuff that works in nutrition therapy is really boring, and so it's just not sexy to advertise. But there's a lot you can do, and some signs that you might have these blood sugar swings would be like feeling that hangry in between meals, big energy or mood fluctuations, headaches, feeling dizzy. Actually, low blood sugar mimics having too much alcohol in some ways where you just start feeling dull-like dull senses and stuff like that. So ways that you can help stabilize your blood sugar and support your hormone health would be always eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. That's the most boring recommendation and by far the most important thing I can recommend to people and making sure it has a good amount of protein in it. I've read all of these research meta-analyses where they gather a bunch of stuff done on the importance of breakfast and blood sugar regulation and stuff, and they're all like, okay, shift a lot of your energy, a lot of your calories to your first slash, for a second meal of the day.

Our hunger hormones and stuff get thrown off, like all that stuff we talked about before with how alcohol impacts us, our physiology. So it can take some work to get used to having a breakfast and a breakfast before coffee is really important. I would say like 25 to 30 grams of protein in every meal, high-quality animal protein, and then eating regularly. So just checking in with yourself every 3-4 hours and thinking, instead of Am I hungry?, ask the question, Do I feel like eating? And then you can... Or hormonal cues for what we need to eat, what we feel like eating, that thing is really disrupted with alcohol use. And so following this template for a little while while the body comes back online can be really valuable. So eating breakfast, eating 25-30 grams of protein in every meal, eating every 3-4 hours, don't eat lonely carbs. Your cake for breakfast. I mean, fine, but yeah, I'm sure that you felt like blah at some point today until you got a little more food in your body. So including fat protein, fiber with your carbohydrates, that's a really nice way to keep it nice and stable, your blood sugar.

And then non-food sleep, like increasing the quality of your sleep and quantity of your sleep. I know that's a struggle for a lot of people, but sleep will impact your blood sugar and blood sugar will impact your sleep. So it's this cyclical thing and movement. Yoga is wonderful because it helps reduce stress and it builds muscle and strength and you get the meditative benefits and being present with your body. But most people can commit to walking 10 minutes a few times a day. Walking is good before or after a meal. Lifting weights, like putting on muscle is an excellent way to regulate blood sugar and excellent for hormone regulation. And then reducing stress. Again, super boring. We all know it. But at some point we have to advocate for ourselves and look at places where we can just let some stuff go. Sometimes we just... A lot of women I come across in my practice are these high-achieving, super motivated people that take on everything. And it's a battle to get them to look at their lives and have an honest evaluation and be like, Seriously, what is the worst thing that will happen if you stop doing this one thing that will open up all this space in your calendar?

Those are some things you can do.

Thanks for sharing, Matt. I love how some of the things that you mentioned are not even like food related, like things about weightlifting and sleep and regular exercise because I think we don't even think of that sometimes as being related to something like blood sugar level. And obviously it is. It's a full picture of life.

You know, I would say even though I work in nutrition, a lot of what I do is not even food-related. A lot of it is this lifestyle mindset thing where it's like, okay, you know that you need to eat a big breakfast or something, or you need to eat every 3-4 hours, but sometimes there's just this mental stuff that goes on that makes it really hard to follow through on that stuff. So yeah, it isn't all about the food. I mean, that'sI didn't say... I'm like, yeah, add in protein, add in these fats and fiber and stuff, but I'm not give up the cake or give up anything because that usually just ends up being a little bit harmful in the long run because we get all bingey around these foods that we give up. You know what I mean?

This is also interesting to me because this is what I see a lot is that I feel like we have this idea of what is healthy. And there's been this idea to us that smoothie balls and acai balls are the healthy breakfast. And that was what I was eating every day when I first got to Bali because that to me, it somehow has been branded as healthy. And then I learned that I was eating a meal with zero protein and it was just so much fruit and so much sugar. And then sparking this spik in my blood sugar and then this blood sugar crash and then leading me to have acne. And it was so interesting because the shift I had to make was just put protein in every meal, put protein in my breakfast. And I eat beans for breakfast. And if I can't, I am mostly vegan. But if I am out somewhere and I can't find a vegan protein, I would rather have animal meat than have a smoothie bowl now because I know how the smoothie bowl is going to make me feel later in the day. Just like you said about the cake, which by the way, it was someone's birthday.

I don't normally do cake for breakfast, but just like you said, it's the same thing. It's like having a sugar spike first thing in the morning. That's the first thing in your stomach, and it just sets you up for a day of like, that's probably why later today I was just so exhausted, so hungry. I was like, I need to eat before this podcast. I just learned so much about these little things and so I think it's fascinating.

So a lot of people come to me and they'll be thinking like, Oh, I already eat healthy, but I'm not feeling better. And I'm like, Okay, what do you mean by healthy? Healthy according to who? Who is telling you that this is healthy? Because I was just talking, I don't remember who I was talking to about this, but the field of nutrition science is really new and we like to pretend like we know more than we really do. That's why the recommendations are pretty boring. And when you think about statistics and research and whatnot, you can find a paper or a study or whatever to support whatever you want it to. You can find industry experts who will say vegan is the best diet, you'll find them saying carnivore is the best diet, and you'll find everything in between. It really is awesome that you're learning how to tune into how your body is feeling when you eat certain things because that's really the key to unlocking all of this. I give this template what we talked about, like eating every 3-4 hours and proteins and breakfast and whatnot, and that's just to get the body in a place where it feels safe and properly nourished and properly fueled.

But really feeling safe is the important thing. Then you can customize from there and be like, okay, well, I want to do more like vegan proteins or whatever, and then you can check in and see how you feel with that. Then I don't want to eat every 3-4 hours. That feels like too much food for me or it doesn't feel like enough food for me. How can I adjust this? Or I'm still getting late night sugar cravings. Let me look back over my day and see, Oh, did I really have coffee before I had breakfast? Or did I not move my body? Did I not hydrate? Did I not sleep well last night? There's so many things that can contribute to that. And so instead of approaching it with judgment and feeling like, Oh, my God, I shouldn't have these cravings, or I shouldn't be eating these sweets late at night, or whatever it is, just approaching it with this curiosity that, okay, I'm learning, I'm figuring this out. I'm figuring out what works for me and what works for me right now because that can change over time. It can change for women throughout our cycles in the month.

It can change as we enter our 30s, as we enter our 40s, as we enter more of our menopausal years. This stuff changed. If we become mothers, if there's a huge stressor in our life, something like that. It's like... Yeah, I recommend this template, but what I do when I work with people is I do try to get them to let their body be the guide and learn how to tune in. And because we're all victims of diet culture, we're used to something on the outside telling us how much we should eat and when we should eat and all of that thing that we just forget that our body already knows. It already can tell us. People who crave chocolate in a crazy way, I don't want to say crazy, but they're always needing the chocolates. Well, chocolate is rich in magnesium. You might just have a magnesium deficiency. There's all of these beautiful little messages that we can get from our body if we can just really tap into that intuition without the judgment and be like, What is it trying to tell me right now? How can I approach it with curiosity?

That's so interesting. So I was wondering, and I think you've already answered this, but another question I have for you is, what would you recommend for someone to be eating in their initial days of withdrawal or recovery on an alcohol-free journey? Would there be anything specifically different that you would recommend?

Well, in the beginning, I don't recommend doing too much too soon or making any huge shifts. Every day you go without alcohol, that is the most important part, and I wouldn't do anything to compromise that. I would say eating regularly is the most important thing. I wouldn't worry too much about the protein, fat, all of that stuff. I mean, yes, great, that will help with sugar cravings, but I also don't think that using sugar to get over the first or caffeine or whatever to get over the initial couple of weeks or whatever. Like the really hard part where you're going through that withdrawal and you're not really feeling better yet. I wouldn't want someone to approach it and feel like, okay, I have to give up alcohol. Now I have to cook food or whatever because I just think it's more important to take it easy in the beginning. And if you're ordering takeout or eating frozen meals or whatever, that's fine. By far the most important thing is eating regularly, like eating that every 3-4 hours if you can, if you can tolerate it and just know that the body is incredibly resilient. Most of us, the health issues or damages that we talked about right in the beginning, those are all true, but the body will repair.

When you give it the fuel it needs, the body will repair, for most of us, the damage that's done to our liver, pancreas, our brain, our gut, whatever, that'll restore. And so I would say just be really patient with yourself. Try to eat regularly so your body at least has the energy it needs in those early days. The calories themselves are going to be really important because there's just so much repair going on under the hood. There's so many changes going on right when you give up drinking. Even if you're not a daily drinker, there's just so much that goes on with that. So if you have to do one thing, it's eat regularly. That's the one really, really important thing. If you want to level that up, then make sure you're getting a lot of protein, especially with breakfast, but with every meal. And I would stop at that and address nutrition will be there for you when you're a little more confident and comfortable in sobriety.

That's so true. And for me, nutrition just came naturally to me in my early days of sobriety. I was just feeling better. I just started eating better, started cooking for myself. Actually, the funny thing is nutrition is going really well for me and then I lost it along the way as I started my business. I think it was because I was just so stressed about starting my business that I stopped taking care of myself and cooking things and it totally ebbs and flows for me, like all things. But I always know that I'm feeling better when I'm cooking my own food. Yeah.

And I think you have a really healthy mindset with it too, because I do see... I see these people who are like, they get all excited about being sober and they're riding the pink cloud and they're like, What can I do now? And then it turns into finding some new restrictive diet or lifestyle and then going after that with the passion of someone who has an addictive personality and it becomes like the new thing where I'm with you. I think it's okay for it to ebb and flow. And as a business owner myself, I get it. Sometimes our business becomes so exciting and front and center that it's just I get excited and sometimes it's hard to do the things that I know keep me healthy. So I get it. Like I said, I'm not perfect either. Stressing never helped anyone be healthier. So if you're stressing about your food or stressing about the fact that you're not eating in a way that you know makes you feel your best, that's still okay. Your body is going to be fine. It has nutrient stores that it can dip into. You can replenish them when you can.

We're fine.

Yeah, and I love that approach. I love how it's like it's so, I don't know, just so compassionate and open minded and not rigorous, which I think is so important.

It's easy to do these 30-day challenges or whatever, but I'm really in it for helping people develop health-promoting behaviors, not this instant gratification, quick weight loss, whatever. I'm like, how can we ebb and flow with how life works? How can you sure restore your body's health and rebalance the stuff that needs that support? But do it with a mindset that one day, one week, one month, that's not going to make or break your health over the course of a lifetime. So how can we ebb and flow with that? How can we make this sustainable and practical, like with what you have going on right now? It might not be the right time for you specifically, Alex, to be cooking every single meal from scratch. That just might not work for you. So how can we make better decisions that will support you and how you want to feel, but without taking all of that time in the kitchen? You know what I mean? Just making it really practical.

I have a question for you. Well, speaking of cooking and different things, okay, so my naturopath recommended removing gluten from my diet for my mental health, and I think that was more less related to my sobriety journey, more related to my mental health, my bipolar disorder. But I was just curious, is the removal of gluten something that you would recommend or what are your thoughts on gluten?

So obviously, I'm not super dogmatic when it comes to food. I approach it from the beginning with an adding-in approach. It's highly individual for gluten. I'm also not the person who believes you can't have gluten sensitivity unless you have celiac. Because I don't have celiac, but I know gluten impacts me and I feel so much better when I don't eat it. But it really is an individual thing because some people have a complicated history with eating disorders and restricting any food. Even something like gluten, removing gluten is pretty easy these days. You know what I mean? You don't really feel like you're missing out, but that can send people into a spiral that stresses them out more or brings back these old feelings of restrict binge cycles and stuff like that. But then I have clients that do it like that, that I do have them remove gluten sometimes for inflammation reasons, like if they get a lot of joint pain and stuff like that, and they do really well with it. They feel better. And then I'll mention sometimes I'm not sure if it's like removing the gluten itself that helps me or if it's the fact that not having the stuff with gluten in it opens up the space on my plate to fill with other things.

That's so interesting.

Yeah, because I think of it when I eat like a sandwich, but it would be over lettuce with all of these other vegetables in it. So it's like a sandwich salad or something. My husband made Yeros last night for dinner, and I didn't have the pita bread. I just had it like a big bowl of lettuce and onions and all of cucumber and tomato and all this stuff where it's like I could have put that in the pita, but it would have been like a little bit of all of that stuff in the big pita. Instead, I have this huge bowl. I don't always know if it's the gluten, it's... It's the gluten itself or just the fact that if you're not having wheat pasta and you're having a lentil pasta or a chickpea, whatever, and that's just like, Oh, it has more fiber than wheat, and that makes me... You know what I mean? I don't know if it's the gluten in itself or if it's like what you're having instead of that. But it feels so easy to remove that it is something that I will try with clients from time to time and then we try to reintroduce it later.

It just depends on the person. Has it helped you?

Oh, my God, tremendously. Although right now I'm eating it this week because I end up in the weird situations where I'm working on yoga retreats with people in town, and it depends on where I am. When I choose my own yoga retreat sites, I make sure that they can accommodate my gluten-free diet. But at the place that I'm at right now, it's not so easy. And I'm noticing myself being more stressed and more anxious, but when I'm off it, it massively helps with my mood stabilization. And as you say, it was pretty easy. If I'm cooking for myself or even if I'm eating out, I make sure that I'm in restaurants where they've marked GF on the menu, like gluten-free. I also wanted to share that it's so interesting you bring up that how it can be triggering for people, and it can be challenging for people who have a restrictive diet history. Because when I started talking about my nutrition shifts, which were mostly for my acne and my bipolar disorder, I was trying to get off my bipolar meds, and I did successfully get off them. And when I was talking about this, there were people in my community who were offended by it and people who end up leaving because they thought that I was promoting restrictive diets.

And I was like, it's really not coming from a place of body image or body size. I don't even know what my weight is. I don't even own a scale. I haven't weighed myself this entire year. It's coming from a space of like, how can I clear my skin? How can I get off these medication? And unfortunately, some people have such a strong history with it that it really was triggering for them. And I just tried my best to keep it as neutral and inclusive and as at least triggering in the way that I could. But ultimately, I find that whenever the congregation of nutrition comes up, there will probably be some people who receive it in a way based on our own history and our own story, and there's nothing that I could do to change that, I think.

Yeah, it's really hard. Food is just so emotionally charged, which is it really doesn't have to be. I don't feel like it should be. I don't know, saying it should, but it should just be neutral in our minds. But we all have these deep, deep histories with it. I'm somewhere... I'm like, live in a larger body. I'm not a tiny person, but I'm still straight-sized and I have all of this stuff. And then people... It's just exponential for people who have to go through the world in a larger body that the world just isn't set up for them. And it's a really emotionally-charged topic. I have my own disordered eating pass, so I am really sympathetic to it. And it's all in the headspace, like how you're approaching removing gluten, how you're approaching removing animal products. It seems like you have... I don't believe that you would let yourself feel terrible for the sake of how you're aligning with your diet. If you started not feeling well, I feel like you would be like, do I maybe need to add in some fish a couple of times a week or something that feels good for all of the reasons why you're going vegan or whatever.

Like, just not getting too hung up on that stuff and not approaching it from a place of restriction, but how can I feel my best? And that's something that I'm still working through. The gluten is pretty easy. I tried to reintroduce it. It went terribly. I'm like, I don't want to feel like that again. And it was just like with alcohol. I don't want to feel like that again, how I felt when I drank alcohol. But some things are more loaded, like I have more trouble with dairy because it's so delicious, and I don't think it makes me feel well, but mentally, I'm not ready to cu