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Alcohol special: Time to take a pre-Christmas booze break?

By Fiona Bugler • 15th November 2020

Need a booze-break? If you want to give your physical and mental health a kickstart, why not go alcohol-free before Christmas?

In part one on our alcohol special, we looked at the rise of the lockdown lushes, then offered 10 Tips to curb your drinking. In part three Fiona Bugler, explains why you might benefit from a pre-Christmas, mid lockdown-2 booze break.

More and more people are re-examining their relationship with alcohol, either giving up completely or taking a booze break. But unlike giving up chocolate, coffee, or smoking, giving up drinking has until recently been stigmatised, and often seen as a sign of being out of control, having a problem and being labelled as an alcoholic. But attitudes are changing and if not drinking means you do have a problem, you’re in good company. According to the Office of National Statistics (Opinions and Lifestyle Survey from 2017), 20.4 per cent of survey respondents reported that they did not drink alcohol at all, and a high number of young people choosing not to drink. For non-drinkers or those on a booze-break, there are now more choices than ever before.

“There’s no part of your body not affected by drinking alcohol,” says Laura Willougby, founder of Club Soda, an online club and resource, promoting mindful drinking, with a goal of creating a world where nobody has to feel out of place if they are not drinking alcohol.

Take a booze-break for a healthier life

“If there was a pill you could take that would make you look younger, sleep better, lose weight and feel more energetic, most of us would take it. For regular drinkers giving up alcohol (even for a short period of time) can do all of that,” says Willoughby.

Hydration: Alcohol is a diuretic causing your kidneys to produce more urine and according to the Priory, drinking six glasses of wine is equal to losing 19 to 24 glasses of water.  If you’re keeping fit through lockdown two and wanting to shape up pre-Christmas you’ve already increased your chances of being dehydrated which puts you at risk of cramps, and muscle strains – as well as making you feel weary. Taking a booze-break means you’re better hydrated and that means clearer skin, so expect to have a glow after a period of non-drinking.

Sleep: One of the most commonly reported benefits of going alcohol-free is better sleep and remember, sleep is your greatest asset, especially in tough times like lockdown. Even after a long, hard, energy-depleting training session or day at work, alcohol can disrupt your sleep and make anxiety worse. When you drink alcohol, you go straight into a deep sleep, missing out on the first stage of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. But then the alcohol wears off and you return to the REM cycle, which is lighter, and easier to wake up from, hence the pattern of conking out, only to be wide awake a few hours later. According to the Priory while you are supposed to have between six and seven cycles of REM sleep a night, you typically only have one or two when you’ve been drinking.

Improved Recovery from exercise: When we exercise, for example, running, we cause micro-tears to our muscles and to recover from running our bodies need to be hydrated and rested. The liver helps the body recover from exercise and is also responsible for dealing with alcohol. It cannot do both things well – so recovery suffers if you drink too much. Drinking excessively can also interfere with protein (essential for muscle growth) synthesis – the process where amino acids are joined together to form complete proteins, and it affects the levels of the muscle-building ‘male’ hormone, testosterone. If you’re one a fitness kick, it makes sense to take booze-break too.

Better mental focus: Another common benefit of not drinking is clearing the ‘brain fog’, which according to a recent study is already made worse by virtual work and the overuse of Zoom and other online apps. According to Drinkaware, when you drink regularly you can alter your brain chemistry, lowering levels of mood-lifting neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (the direct opposite happens when we run). But stop drinking and you will see a difference.

Weight loss: Drinking just six 175 ml glasses of wine a week, you would save around 960 calories. The more you drink, the more likely you are to develop unhealthy eating habits and ditch getting outside for some much needed fresh air and vitamin D for a full English.

What to expect when you stop drinking?

So how can you expect to feel? “Even if you don’t drink much, you will still experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking,” explains Laura Willoughby. “Obviously the intensity and degree of these symptoms will very much depend on your starting point,” she adds.

Changing habits isn’t always easy. “It can take a year for your metabolism to get back into shape, and create good long term habits,”  suggests Willoughby. But even if you only take a one-month break, you will see benefits and there will be a positive impact on your health, and potentially your running performance. A study from the University of Sussex found that those who took part in Dry January in 2018 reported higher energy levels and healthier body weight and the positive health effects lasted, with most drinking less when researchers returned in August.

“Taking a longer break, say 90 days, and you will reap even more rewards,” says Willoughby. “You will have time to get through the withdrawal, but also take a step back and think about your drinking habits and how you use alcohol. After 90 days things settle, the habit becomes established and members start to report a rush of energy,” she adds.

Booze breaks made easy

From a range of new drinks to venues and support groups to get you through the first few weeks, giving up drinking or taking a booze break has never been easier.

  1. Alcohol-free beer… Heineken Zero is now available on tap, the brand sold 15 million bottles of its non-alcoholic 0.0 beer were sold last year and expects to double sales in 2019. There’s a growing number of innovative brands selling collections of alcohol-free beers (try https://drydrinker.com and beerwulf.com, beerhawk.com). “Alcohol-free beers packed with B12 vitamins, low in calories, and isotonic,” says Willoughby.
  1. …Wine and spirits Research from Nielsen has found that £48 million was spent on low or no-alcohol wines between April 2018 to 19. Non-alcoholic spirits, a market only three years old, is now worth £5 million. If your tipple is a G&T, why not try Seedlip and Fever-Tree Tonic with ice and fresh lemon. Noesseco is a great alternative to Prosecco, and you can choose from a wide collection of red, white and rose wines. Take time to make your own mocktails tasty and refreshing, and add fresh fruit, mint or lime and plenty of ice.
  2. Out and About Check out Club Soda’s brilliant directory to alcohol-free friendly venues.
  3. Find a Tribe As well as Club Soda, a brilliant online programme comes from One Year No Beer. By joining in you’re encouraged to focus on all the positive reasons for stopping drinking, to regularly re-visit your ‘why’. Their approach is to take on not drinking as you would an endurance of fitness challenge and being part of a proactive, can-do community with 28, 90 and 365-day challenges.
  4. Track it… Download a tracker to monitor your drinking, Drinkaware and Dry January are both great options.
  5. Read some Quit lit Need some inspiration? Or maybe you’re considering going for a longer booze-break in 2021? There’s been a plethora of new books and blogs, all about stopping drinking. Check out Catherine Gray’s, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, Jason Vale’s Kick the Drink Easily. Bryony Gordan who wrote Eat, Drink, Run, whilst in rehab says, she could never have got sober if she hadn’t run a marathon.

Fiona Bugler

Fiona is the creator of all things editorial, she’s a journalist with a life-long passion for health, fitness and wellbeing. For more than a decade she worked with business leaders and large groups as a personal trainer and running coach and this background informs the content she creates.

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