How did your ‘relationship with alcohol’ actually develop? Or how about your ‘relationship with food’? Did you choose this relationship? Or was it influenced by others? On today’s episode, Annie meets with Andrew Shanahan, the founder of Man vs Fat – a weight loss organization designed specifically to support men trying to lose weight. Andrew shares how, over time, he developed an unhealthy dependence on both food and alcohol and his journey back to health and freedom from both.
Man vs Fat – Andrew Shanahan
The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober: Discovering a happy, healthy, wealthy alcohol-free life by Catherine Gray
Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr
The Alcohol Experiment by Annie Grace
This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
My story is relatively normal, I would say, for a British, UK background. We all start, or certainly in the area where I’m from, we start drinking relatively early. So I was probably about 13 when I first started drinking. It was really just a case of our school had a culture of drinking at weekends. The era that I grew up in was not a particularly enlightened era, I don’t think. In the late ’80s, early ’90s when I became a teenager where there were a lot of publications at the time that were very, very pro heavy drinking and pro binge drinking.
You look back at them now and even a couple of decades on, they just seem absurdly promotional for that way of life. I think that I just grew up with that as the norm around me. I didn’t think it was really anything to be concerned about, didn’t think it was anything unusual. For me, weekends would be drinking heavily and during the week, I didn’t really particularly drink a huge amount. It was definitely that sense of when you went out to drink, you drank heavily to the point that you were sick or just drunk and out of control.
Everyone Is Doing It
That’s why it feels when everyone is doing something that there are very few detractors. You don’t really see a different way to things because everyone has that sort of experience. When you turned 18, you were bought a pint glass and half of it was filled up with spirits from the top shelves and half of it was filled up with lager. You downed that and that was … You can see it as a rite of initiation now, but that was very much everyone had that. That was just the thing. That was what you did. It seems absurd, as I say, to look back and think that that was the way that we approached drinking, but I think for me,
the important thing about those early years was that it set in my mind that the pattern, there was no moderation,
so people often talk about drinking and say, “Can’t you just enjoy a nice glass of red wine or something?” That was never really something that I learned how to do or something that I was introduced to.
It was always the drinking I was introduced to was getting smashed.
Man v Fat
At university my naivete around food and drink and things really came into play. I just drank as much as I’d have drunk on the weekend, but probably three or four times a week and so my weight ballooned massively. I didn’t know how to cook, I’m embarrassed to say, literally nothing. Probably, I could make pasta in a pan and then empty a tin of tuna on the top of it. That’s what I would consider cooking. Most of the time, it was just takeout food and then lots and lots of lager on top of that. It was really I look back on that period of my life and I’m ashamed about how I wasted that opportunity to learn at university, really.
I did well, but then I absolutely did not suck the marrow from that experience. It was really just I phoned it in massively. That’s a shame. I look back on that and think there was three years there where I really had an opportunity to go and learn from some really fascinating people and I just slept through most of it.
I think journalists is a career where no one really looks at you askance if you’re coming back from lunch having had three or four pints because sometimes you need to do that in the course of writing. There’s still that sort of that weird myth that persists about the fact that somehow, writing can access your creative powers.
Making A Change
Like a lot of people, through my 20s and early 30s I could physically just about sustain the drinking that I was doing. As I progressed into my 30s, I just found that hangovers were less a 24 hour headache and something that you take some paracetamol and you’re fine. They were more like full-blown mental health emergencies every time I was drinking. Personally, I just found that my levels of anxiety were crazy high and I was just feeling very displaced as a person. It was deeply unpleasant.
It’s Not Fun Anymore
Clearly the joy had gone or any illusion of joy, really, because I think you make the point in the book really, really well that clearly joy exists outside of drinking because look at children. They are the ones who own joy. Children are walking, talking joy. They can do happiness really, really well and very, very few of those children are drunk, I would wager is my guess.
Learn more about what the book says – start reading This Naked Mind for free today. <div class=”cfoptin”></div>
Starting Man v Fat
For the benefit of everyone who wouldn’t have heard of what I do, so I run an organization called Man v Fat. You can have a look at it, manvfat.com. What we do is that we support men around the world who want to lose weight. The reason that it exists is because I went through a journey with my weight. At the time, I was writing for a lot of publications about food and food and drink, so I wrote for the Guardian, a big UK newspaper, about food. Reviewing restaurants for them. I won an award for being a restaurant writer and things like that. So, I spent a lot of my time working building up this business. Working ridiculous 13, 14 hour days and getting home and just needing to speed relax, really. Drinking four beers and then eating a pack of crisps. I wasn’t really moving a lot during the day and I was stressed, essentially.
I really enjoyed doing it, but I became incredibly fat as a result of doing that, both being stressed with the business and writing about food.
I was stunning that there was no support out there for men who wanted to lose weight. There’s lots of support out there for men who want to get fit and be able to do a hundred chin ups, but nothing really for men who want to lose weight and so I did a crowdfunding campaign to support Man v Fat, and we had by the end of about two weeks it was overfunded. We had 3000 or 4000 guys who’d signed up for it. It felt like there should be something there to support men and currently there isn’t. What can we do, so we started this and Man v Fat grew from there now.
Man v Fat and Drinking
Obviously, I was drinking and drinking was just part of my life. It’s been interesting seeing how much I built drinking into working. You touch on this a lot in the book about the fact that whenever we met up for meetings and things it would always previously be in a pub. It’s been a bit of a culture shift for the organization as a whole that because I’m not drinking, I don’t set up meetings in pubs anymore. We’re doing a lot more walking meetings and things like that, so yes, it’s had an impact, I would say, on my work.
Alcohol and Weight
For men who are wanting to lose weight and the support that they want, often, alcohol is one of the main contributors to their weight in the first place. It’s been really interesting to go through that personally and see the impact on me. Also to be able to potentially support them with losing weight. The Alcohol Experiment just sounds like an incredible tool to be able to offer people because I think you’re right. Much of the existing stopping programs are seen as being a bit of a penance in many ways. A lot of guys, if they can have that positive experience for stopping, a pause to reflect rather than a sort of stop to grit your teeth through, I think that they will really see the benefit. Seeing they can renegotiate their own relationship with alcohol and see if they’re comfortable and to choose it.
Tune in to the complete podcast for more on Man v Food and the culture of drinking and weight loss.
Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
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