Dry January seems easy enough: no alcohol for the month of January. Coming off of Thanksgiving, followed by all the holiday festivities, one would think the last thing on anyone’s mind is more indulging. With any new year comes the resolutions, the recommitting to eating better, making exercise a priority, sleeping more and drinking less. For me, Dry January represents discipline. Do I still have the ability to say no to something I prefer to say yes to?

I started doing Dry January a few years ago as a way of “checking in” with myself to be sure my choices to drink alcohol were because I wanted to and not because I needed to. In the fitness industry, we talk so much about managing work/life balance and how to make moderation with food and alcohol a real thing in our everyday lives. Am I taking my own advice?

Related: The Ups and Downs of Finding Moderation in Fitness and Wellness

The first week of January was a breeze. I was talking about my self-imposed 31 days “on the wagon” with others who were doing it, too. We would joke about being able to make it through. However, during week two, I was at a Saturday evening dinner with a big group of friends, and on a cold January night, all I wanted was a beautiful glass of wine with my meal followed by a Manhattan with dessert. I held strong, drank sparkling water then a hot tea. I woke up that next morning happy with my decision to not give in. 

The guilt and disappointment is enough to keep me on the path, and saying that out loud brought me right back to my first semester of college. It was the first time I had truly been on my own, out of the family home, making decisions on what to eat and when to eat it. Initially the freedom seemed so exciting, then incredibly daunting. I thought, ‘I have no one telling me what to do, this sh*t just got real’!

My short-lived college career was not about going to parties and drinking; I did none of those things. What I did do is hit the gym daily, sometimes twice a day. I started to really lift weights and found a place that felt good. I missed the structure of home life; the feeling of losing control was overwhelming. To bring that sense of ownership and discipline into my everyday life, I began to limit my food intake, lost 5 lbs and enjoyed those around me saying how great I looked. I thought, ‘If I look great after 5 lbs, imagine if I lost 10!’ 

I did just that. As the weight came off, I felt empowered – and I’m embarrassed to admit this – but I felt a little better than those who could not control themselves. Little did I know, in my attempt to gain control over my young life, I actually lost control in the form of anorexia. As my outer self appeared to look better, my inner self was losing big time. I came through it with a better sense of self, understanding that perfection is a myth and every day is a struggle. Control no longer represented depriving myself. I learned that food is not a reward, and exercise is never a punishment. 

Related: Working on your relationship with food?

Decades later, I still recognize my desire to be in control, but maturity has taught me to do so in a way that nurtures the body, mind and soul. Those dark thoughts of basing my worth as a person solely on how my body looks are still present, and always will be to some extent, but they no longer consume me. Making a career in the fitness industry can be ruthless. We are judged on our looks constantly. It is a very visual business that is only promoted through the rise of social media. My best piece of advice for anyone is to celebrate what your body can do, have faith in your abilities and lead with kindness.

As My Dry January came to a close, there was no full court press or sprint to the finish line. I did not dream of that beautiful glass of wine or my after dinner Manhattan. I am pleased that I finished what I started and grateful for the reminder that the only competitions I need to win are those I enter into with myself. The only voice that matters is my own. 

As a career group fitness instructor, I may select the playlist and be the one with the microphone, but those that truly move me are all of you who come to class. We all have stories to tell and sometimes within an ugly truth lies a beautiful lesson. Find inspiration in everything and live with gratitude. Shoulders back, chest out and chin up!

Post written by FFC Contributor and Group Fitness Director Lois Miller