Continuing on from Drink that Science
If you have a true alcohol dependence issue, please make sure you do this with the assistance of a medical professional as alcohol withdrawals can be life-threatening…I have seen it. For the rest of you let’s carry on.
Set your goal.
After a long winter here of holiday celebrations, the new year hit, and I set a goal to limit my drinking from the prior year. Step one was to change my mentality and find other substitutions for alcohol’s role in my life. With a tough job, alcohol will calm you down during the workweek. This is actually not true. Alcohol has the same effect on our body as anti-anxiety medications like Xanax or Ativan. The issue is that this temporary sedative response will often lead to dependency, interfere or block deep sleep needed for stress management, alter your stress hormones which can change your dietary intake, exercise benefit, and overall health. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night after drinking, heart-pounding or thoughts racing? Have you ever woken up from a prior drinking experience and felt groggy? This is because you did not have your restorative sleep, so needed to better your health goals. Also see Dream Your Best Dream Part 1 and Part 2
After realizing I was chasing my tail with the cycle of the below, I decided to eliminate alcohol during the workweek.
stress > alcohol > poor sleep > feeling terrible > stress, wash rinse repeat
It also may be a reasonable goal of yours to cut back on the total drinks during the week, try a sober month (SEE MY SOBER EXPERIMENT) or stop altogether. Set your goal and stick to it. Keep the new year resolution as a permanent lifestyle change, not a Mid-March dropped concept.
How to make change
First and foremost, mindset. Get your goals, track your intake using an app, calendar or whatever. The best way to analyze your data is to have the data, not infer. Think about substitute things to do with people that do not involve drinking and how to approach people in a drinking situation if the challenge you. Why are you doing it? What are you doing? You may find people are judging or are seeking advice for their own situations.
When limiting use, create a plan to not drink during the workweek, not drink for a whole week, only drink in social situations, etc. Know your limits in this case and stick to your guns.
Wanting to limit your intake in social situations to just 1 or 2, well, slow down. Ask the bartender for fizzy water of some sort and take your time drinking things. Also, you can wait until you have eaten to start drinking. This will limit the amount of alcohol absorbed (see above) and lessen the effects on your health.
It is important to adequately hydrate; however, water can get boring. Use water as you can tolerate and if moderating drinking, imbibe one to two glasses of water to one alcoholic beverage. You can also substitute seltzer waters, if just plain water just isn’t doing it for you. These drinks are cheap, no added calories (usually) and look like a clear alcoholic beverage.
You can also explore the mocktail. I have noticed more menus recently will usually have a mocktail section and I wonder if this is my own journey (I ignored this area before). Making such a drink is simple and easy (see below). It requires seltzer for fizz, citrus, and a liquid with flavor as a general formula. You can mix and match these 3 basics to formulate your mocktails.
Non-alcoholic beers are available as well. These usually involve alterations in the brewing process rather than superheating to boil off the alcohol. Such products that overboil are just plain yuck.
1 tablespoon of grape cider
Juice from ½ citrus (orange, lemon, lime)
Peel from citrus
Seltzer to fill
Take glass for serving alcohol (highball, coupe) and place ice. Add grape cider, juice ½ citrus fruit and fill to the brim with Seltzer of your choosing. Mix gently x 30 seconds, garnish with the peel from citrus, serve and drink
My experiment with non-drinking
This year I made the decision to limit my use. I greatly accomplished my goal, but just wanted to experiment with how I felt being complete alcohol-free for a month…July 1 was the start.
I know what you are thinking…why did you pick July 4th to be at the front end of your experiment…you are certain to falter. Well, actually it had the opposite effect. I still went to a social gathering and on that hot day, while everyone was getting alcoholic beverages, I drank water. It allowed me to gain momentum and early on in this process felt like a huge hurdle to overcome. The rest was downhill from there.
I did meet intermittent social interactions that challenged my course, but again sticking with a plan and doing this with my wife, led us both to accomplish our plan. Again, the key is to create an approach to your interactions with people who may pressure you prior to it happening and stick to it.
Another pressure to avoid is that of the restaurant system. When my spouse and I would go out we went pricey and opted for sparkling water, tap water, mocktails instead of the alcoholic beverage the restraint industry is pushing on you. What did we notice…going out to dinner is basically free.
Here’s an example.
Two dinners at $30/entrée
An appetizer per person (salad, soup, etc) $15/appetizer.
Total = $90
Now add on pre/intra-appetizer drinks $15/drink x 2
A glass of wine per person at dinner $12/drink x 2
Total = $52 which is about ½ of the bill.
Once we removed alcohol from the equation we had more money in our pockets, or could even go out to dinner an extra time per week, just from avoiding alcohol.
Other than the financial benefit, we both noticed a global decrease in our fatigue during the workweek. I suspect this was likely because our sleep was better during the evening with less nocturnal awakenings, most restful sleep and an easier am awakening. Again, alcohol though a temporary calming agent will lead to a rebound anxiety effect and not allow you to reach deep REM sleep. We were also less dehydrated, and therefore just felt better during the day. As a result, we took this newfound energy to the gym and tested our performance even after work.
If you have ever gone to the gym after an evening of partying, I am almost certain you have not set a personal record. After just a few days (definitely 1 week), our gym performance excelled. I set a new personal best for deadlifts, strict press, bench and squats that week. I suspect this is again due to improved sleep improved hydration, our supplemented energy due to the absence of alcohol’s effects.
The summation of these events was that our body composition changed. I lost 5 lbs of fat within this month which I had struggled to remove, despite my clean eating, HIIT, weightlifting and prior sleep hygiene. Struggled with loosing just that little bit of extra poundage to reach your next body composition goal?
If you have struggled to lose some additional fat, you may try eliminating alcohol as an isolated intervention, sit back and reap the benefits. It is equivalent to stopping the consumption of carbonated sodas. They both have hidden sugars/carbs that your body will store as fat.
The final and most resounding effect that I gained was that of perspective. After completing my 30 days challenge, it was hard to go back and drink alcohol again. Not only did I enjoy the sense of purpose that accomplishing such a goal gave me, but I also enjoyed alcohol less. Sure, the taste is nice, but I found the way I felt without it made the juice not worth the squeeze. I loved the feeling after a restful night of sleep, killer workout or productive workday gave me. A feeling that forever changed my perspective on alcohol and the role it will never more play on my life again.
My experiment with alcohol was motivated by personal goals, curiosity, and recent knowledge. The process required behavioral planning, will power and experimentation with non-alcoholic options. The benefits were numerous, interconnected and resounding, including more money, improved sleep, less daytime fatigue, better exercise performance, and finally improved body composition. So, get a plan, get out there and reap the rewards!