I have no doubt that most of you have heard of “Dry January”, a global challenge to go booze-free in January following the Festive Season’s excesses. It hails in a New Year of improved health and habits, which tops many New Years’ Resolutions lists. Many people feel it’s unnecessary to give up alcohol for a month, hubby included, especially if you’re “only” a habitual and enthusiastic social drinker. However, it doesn’t have to be for the entire month. It can still be beneficial to go dry for only 10 days to 2 weeks. I completed a full Dry January month about 2 or 3 years ago and thought it’s time for a repeat. Here’s why I like to do it.
WHY I’M DOING DRY JANUARY
People embark on Dry January for different reasons and for different lengths of time. It’s all based on what your needs are and is a very personal journey. These are the top 5 reasons I accepted the 31-day challenge.
To regain my wellness mojo
My principal reason, is to get back on track with my general well-being. Over the past 6-months I have been particularly hard on my body. Working long hours, eating too much and drinking a tad more than I know I should. Not only does drinking add extra calories and unnecessary toxins to your diet, but my willpower to eat thoughtfully and exercise regularly flies out the window too. I feel sluggish, am less productive and just generally less efficient than I’d like to be. In a nutshell, I need a reset.
For improved pep and vigour
The first positive when I go dry is that the sluggishness disappears. When I abstain, I’m inclined to bounce out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning and am generally more task oriented. I get things done. This is also no doubt related to the next reason I like to do Dry January, I sleep better.
I sleep better
Although alcohol might initially make one drowsy, it can interfere with how well (deeply and without interruption) we sleep. There are numerous studies which link alcohol consumption to a poor night’s sleep. My own experience is that if I enjoy a couple of drinks at night, I do not sleep well at all and wake up feeling tired and sleep deprived. When I stop drinking, I sleep restfully and without interruption.
To give my hard-working liver a break
We’ve previously written about why your liver is so important. It breaks down food for energy, gets rid of waste, and helps protect the body from infection. Sustained regular alcohol consumption can cause a load of fat to build up in your liver, preventing it from doing its job properly. Fortunately, periods of abstinence can help reverse this. Even quitting drinking for a few weeks can give your liver time to get rid of the excess fat and start repairing itself. I want to help my liver and give it the break I feel it needs!
Finally, to lose weight
Alcohol contains “empty calories” which means they have no nutritional value. What’s worse is that alcohol is also calories dense. At 7 calories per gram, that’s nearly as much as pure fat at 9 calories per gram. An average 5 ounce or 150ml glass of (red or white) wine has 120-125 calories. Drink half a bottle (375ml) and that’s 300 – 320 “empty” calories!
However, there’s another reason regular consumption or excessive intake can lead to weight gain. Our bodies can’t store alcohol so it metabolises alcohol consumed first. Instead of using fat or other sugars as a source of energy, the body uses the alcohol, and stores the fat and carbs, effectively putting fat-burning on hold. Add some sugary mixers (think my favourite cocktails, Margaritas and Singapore Slings) and you have a diet disaster which can also cause havoc with insulin levels. Alcohol stimulates insulin production when consumed. As with grains, processed foods and other sugars, this can lead to increased fat storage and hormonal imbalances.
And finally, drinking tends to reduce one’s mindfulness while increasing appetite. So on top of ALL of the above, I have a tendency to make less healthy food choices when I drink.
OTHER BENEFITS I EXPERIENCE DURING DRY JANUARY
My skin looks healthier
Alcohol dehydrates your skin and can be very ageing on the face. I definitely notice improved tone and texture and less puffiness. My skin looks and feels better when abstaining. I’m only 9 days in and can already see a marked difference!
I don’t need excess medication
I suffer from bad headaches and sometimes migraines. Key triggers for me are stress and tension combined with excess alcohol consumption. Inevitably this requires some pretty heavy medication to treat. In addition, I have naturally elevated histamine levels. Alcohol plays havoc with this setting off an allergic reaction that requires medication to bring under control. No drinking means no excess medication which also spares my kidneys and liver.
Improved gut health
Too much alcohol compromises the gut microbiome which is so vital to our general well-being. (Read our post on the importance of gut health here to learn more.)
PLAN FOR SUCCESS
Here are a couple of side notes and tips to help you stay the course, regardless of the length of your Dry January journey.
Use the free Dry January app or a calendar to track progress
I find it encouraging when I get to tick off another day of abstinence. There’s a great FREE app which tracks your progress, sends encouraging notes and has some useful articles to help you achieve your goal. It even tells you how much money you’ve saved based on your “normal” average consumption (which you input). Download the app here: https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/dry-january
Beware the sugar crash
Mich and I chatted about this. During Dry January, we both experience cravings for sweets, especially later in the afternoon when we’d usually have a glass of wine. Make sure you keep blood sugar levels in check by having a healthy mid-afternoon snack. I also find it helpful to do a late afternoon gym session or spinning class.
Go dry for a shorter period
There are clearly benefits to going alcohol-free, even if just for a short period. If a month sounds too daunting, just do it for 2 weeks. You will feel the benefits! I’m already thinking I should go dry for 2 weeks mid-year around July after my annual trip to the Knysna Oyster Festival.
Tell yourself that once you achieve a certain milestone, you can use some of the money you saved to buy that pair of shoes you’ve been lusting after.
For me the reasons for accepting the 2018 Dry January Challenge are pretty compelling. It’s not easy though and I’ll let you know how it goes and whether I do enjoy the benefits I was hoping for. If you’ve accepted the challenge too, tell us about it and how it’s going. We’d love to hear from you. GOOD LUCK.
A FINAL NOTE: HEALTH WARNING
If you suspect you have a moderate to serious alcohol dependency problem, you MUST consult a doctor before embarking on any detox program. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and may require medical intervention. In such cases, alcohol detoxification must be taken very seriously and should not be attempted on your own at home.