Yessss…Dry January IS Worth It. Here’s Why

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How a ‘no booze month’ helps your health

Going without booze for the first month of the year has become an annual trend these past few years, not just for folks who want to lose weight. Having a few too many glasses of wine over Christmas and holiday season prompts many to evaluate their relationship with alcohol.

In this article, I’ll cover below key questions that often I get asked at my health retreat in Whistler, and as a weight loss coach. I’ll also share my experience of going alcohol free last January, and why I’m doing it again this month, January 2020.

  • What is a dry January?
  • Is moderate drinking good or bad?
  • What are the benefits of red wine?
  • What happens when you stop drinking alcohol altogether?
  • Am I an alcoholic if I drink a bottle of wine a night?
  • Common dry January mistakes people make

Drinking less alcohol has a host of health benefits. From lowering blood pressure, improving bone density, making it easier to recover from exercise and of course, reducing daily calorie intake… participating in dry January is a fantastic new years resolution.

tea drinking dry january scaled - Yessss...Dry January IS Worth It. Here's Why

Dry January around the world

Dry January is a public health campaign (mostly in the UK, NZ, Australia, USA and Canada) urging people to abstain from alcohol for the month of January. Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. says below –

Basically, it’s a New Year’s resolution. You’ve been drinking during the holidays, and the idea is that if you stop drinking for the next month, your life and health would be better in the coming year.

The countries that drink the most alcohol are, perhaps unsurprisingly, mostly colder-climate locations. Alcohol laws play a significant role in consumption, of course, as does religion. The countries that drink the least include Egypt*, Niger, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Libya (see below infograph for details.

*Are these stats even accurate?

It’s well known that Egypt is highly religious, yet they’ve also been brewing beer for 3000 years. Vice reports that ‘Alahu akbar’ buys you beer under the table, in a plastic bag. And unlike Saudi, Iran and Afghanistan, many Muslims today drink alcohol in secret. It’s illegal to sell or consume alcohol in Egypt public places and shops, except in approved tourist areas. Similar to my experience on a remote fishing island in the Maldives – it was impossible to purchase alcohol, yet luxury resorts on outer islands had it in plenty.

Most people in USA and Canada drink just under 10 litres per year. And that’s not even someone with an alcohol problem, apparently. One glass here, 3 glasses there… it all adds up to more than we’d imagine. When I work with nutrition and weight loss clients, alcohol is seldom measured accurately in their food journals or nutrition estimate of intake. Yet they know exactly how many ounces their chicken breast is, on their salad.

It’s a subconscious thing that boozy calories don’t matter as much as the nutritious ones, but that could not be further from reality. 

dry january global consumption

Here is a map of the countries that drink the most alcohol per capita.

What happens to your body when you quit alcohol?

If you’ve been drinking 9.5 litres of (pure) alcohol per year, about 75 bottles of wine, here’s what happens in the first 28 days.

Week 1: Appetite tends to increase, as well as cravings for sweet foods. This is because sweeter alcohol can increase sugar cravings. Prepare yourself by stocking your kitchen with berries, oranges, and healthy food in advance of the cravings. It might be harder to get quality sleep, and nightmares may also hit – as well as headaches. This is a sign that your body is detoxing.

Week 2: Your liver is starting to recover and skin is starting to look healthier. Probably you’ll notice improved digestion yet on a motivational level, this is the week that cravings will hit home harder.

Week 3: Visually, you’ll start to look different with clearer eyes, less puffiness and dark circles starting to minimize. It’ll be easier to wake up in the morning and your sleep cycle will start to get into a natural groove. Smell and taste might improve as alcohol affects your taste receptors. 

Week 4: If you’ve got excess weight, you’ll see the most weight loss around now if you’ve replaced alcohol with healthy foods and drinks. Many people opt for high calorie junk instead of drinking, blurring the weight loss statistics. However each bottle of wine that you don’t drink, saves you about 750 calories.. and it takes 3500 calorie of deficit to lose a pound of bodyweight.

beer culture dry january

Making your own happy hour

While drinking wine with my neighbor (about 30 years older than me, so I appreciate his wisdom on life things sometimes) on the last day of 2019, I casually mentioned that I was thinking of going off alcohol completely. He told me that he’d quit smoking once, so I asked what helped him the most.

“Change your tradition, your routine,” he said. “For example, I used to always have a coffee and a cigarette down at Smiths. I found a different coffee shop to go to, so I didn’t associate coffee with a cigarette. At the new coffee shop, I had coffee and a newspaper. That became my regular, and soon I forgot that I used to have a cigarette.”

Ha. So simple.

Drinking less alcohol has a host of health benefits. From lowering blood pressure, improving bone density, making it easier to recover from exercise and of course, reducing daily calorie intake… participating in dry January is a fantastic new years resolution.

For me, it’s not the alcohol itself that is ‘bad’, it’s what it leads to. When I drink a glass of wine, I’m much more likely to grab some crackers or snacks in the kitchen too. If I’m drinking tea, I seem to be content with just having tea. I noticed that with a glass of red wine, came usually a handful of something that I wouldn’t normally eat. There are quite a few benefits of drinking red wine. 

dry january

Potential dangers of quitting cold turkey

About half of all people who are dependent on alcohol will suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. This isn’t something I’m very knowledgeable with, but you can read about it more here. They’ll also be able to give you a better idea as to whether you are an alcoholic if you drink a bottle of wine a night.

READ: ‘Cold Turkey’ Alcohol Withdrawal Can Cause Serious Health Issues

The above article explains the dangers that heavy drinkers face when quitting alcohol for a month, without getting the medical support. They recommend that those interested in stopping drinking should see a doctor, even if it’s just a checkup. “Especially for people who drink heavily, when there has been long-term alcohol abuse, and for those who have previously experienced DT or seizures caused by alcohol abuse.”

 

canada vineyard dry january

Treat yo’ self

Drinking alcohol for me, is one of life’s little pleasures. I love to have a good quality glass of wine with loved ones, or cozying up in my pj’s to watch a good movie. It feels like a treat.

“My ‘treat yourself’ wine changes all the time. I’m fortunate to try so many amazing wines, I feel like I have a new obsession every week!” –  sommelier, Rachael Lowe at Chicago restaurant, Spiaggia.

I’ve been drinking – what the statistics say – is moderate. After I stopped drinking for the month of January 2019, it felt like 2-5 glasses a week were a heck of a lot.

I’m a fitness trainer and nutritionist by trade. I own a hiking weight loss retreat in Canada that boot camps participants towards achieving their lighter, fitter selves. At our program, guests have to go alcohol free during their stay. Their stays are up to eight weeks long! Abstaining from alcohol can be tough, and it’s often what they miss the most while at the health retreat.

Now I know how they feel!

weight loss retreat dry january

Taking a break from alcohol

Before getting started – this is the post (below) below are some articles that inspired me to say YES to giving it a go last year.

Dry January Can Be Amazing for Your Health, if Done the Right Way

I also read this article about sleeping much better when you don’t drink.

I woke up on New Years Day feeling absolutely terrible last year.

I’d been keto for five or six weeks and put it aside when out with friends on NYE. The awkwardness of not joining in with all the delicious home cooking made me feel like that girl who I didn’t want to be – the one who can’t eat anything. Dammit, I should’ve bought my own food, but it was a last minute ‘sure, we’ll be right over!’

Then great conversation followed and before I knew it, it was dinner time.

When you’ve been on keto a while, alcohol goes straight to your head, and you’re supposed to ease back into sugar gradually.

I kind of DID NOT DO THAT so here I was on January 1st with a sugar hangover as well as a too-much-wine one.

tea dry january scaled - Yessss...Dry January IS Worth It. Here's Why

Common dry January mistakes

Mistake 1: Opting for sweet, high calorie drinks – such as juice or soda

What to do instead: Soda water, frozen fruit, hot tea

Mistake 2: Taking yourself away from your normal social environments – feeling isolated

What to do instead: Find things to do socially that don’t involve alcohol. Go for a walk, spin class…

Mistake 3; Saving up your boozy events for February, drinking too much the following month

What to do instead: Consider bringing back alcohol in moderation – tracking it in an app. Or, give it up all together.

Click here for more ideas. 

reintroducing drinking

What it was like to reintroduce….

In February 2019 after a month without alcohol or sugar I wasn’t sure what to expect when I reintroduced it. It had been a GREAT experiment that both challenged and empowered me. Scientists say it’s pretty much the best thing ever. 

If you’re thinking about going off alcohol for a month, I highly recommend it. Be mentally prepared to be somewhat irritated and agitated. Get some backup things to distract you. No, a glass of water won’t cut it! Apps and supportive friends or family who are aware of your challenge really will make a difference. It’s nice to have people to complain to!

Why do it? Because you deserve to feel your best, and these little things are actually massive game changers. 


Resources

What Happens To Your Body When You Haven’t Drunk Alcohol For 28 Days

Below are some great tips from the Huffington Post:

Alcohol Change say if you want to practice more mindful drinking try this:

  • Work your way back up slowly. Getting straight back to your old drinking level will not do you any favours.
  • Learn that it’s okay to say no every once in a while – you don’t have to have a drink just because it is there.
  • If you do want to start drinking at the same levels as before, why not plan a soft drink between every alcoholic one at first?
  • Use an app (like Try Dry) to keep track of your alcohol intake.
  • Don’t wait until next year to have another month off.
Hey, I’m Cat Smiley. I’m a fitness, nutrition, weight loss and life coach. Hire me if you want results! Click here to learn more about my 1-to-1 phone coaching services, upcoming weight loss retreats, and personal workshops.

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