6 Months Without Alcohol: Part 1
In society, alcohol is only considered off-limits until you are of drinking age. After that, we think very little of it unless we get into trouble. We assume our bodies are easily equipped to handle alcohol, but that is far from the truth. The truth is, alcohol is a poison to all cells in the body. There is no cell that benefits from alcohol. For example, you will hear people tout the health benefits of wine. While wine has its advantages in the body due to the grapes, not the alcohol. It’s resveratrol in grapes that helps the heart, not necessarily the wine.
You will sometimes hear people talk about their relatives living to 90-100 years drinking whiskey and smoking every day. Well, that is the luck of genetics, despite the habit. It is certainly not an ideal model for all humans.
Why I Stopped Drinking
I had my first taste of champagne at age 10. I was studious in high school, didn’t really begin drinking until college. I bartended in my twenties, and while I drank, I was never one of the heavy hitters of the party. You could even say my tolerance was low.
I didn’t think much about my drinking habits and went without much consequence besides occasional bloating and rash on my chest until one day I began experiencing pain in my upper right quadrant, directly under my ribcage. That is never a good sign. Blood work showed I had elevated liver enzymes and ultrasound indicated I had mild fatty liver (the beginning of liver disease.) With my background in nutrition, I understood the gravity of these results and decided to take swift action. I decided to give up alcohol for the rest of 2021 for no profound rhyme or reason, feeling like that was the amount of time needed. If I can give my liver a whole 6 months without drinking, then perhaps I will be able to go back to occasional social drinking at gatherings. Taking the time now to fix the situation will save me (and you!) a lifetime of health problems.
Some people have a higher tolerance, while some are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. I am starting to believe I fall in the latter category. Never being a binge drinker, but never seeing a reason to say “no” unless I was driving. I could tolerate only 3-4 drinks, but imagine the culmination over the years?
How can my body recover if I partake of alcohol throughout the week? The nutritionist in me knew better and knew what needed to be done. The carefree foodie in me got ahead of herself and required a swift wake-up call.
It takes 21 days to change a habit. At the time of writing this article, I am happy to be well past that time frame and have made it through a month!
My First Month of Not Drinking
In the beginning, alcohol withdrawal for me was more mental than physical. I considered myself a social drinker, but didn’t mind drinking alone. Although it feels a little weird not drinking, I understand my body and circumstances better than anyone. I have my reasons and I don’t owe them to anyone. I need to stay focused and not care what anyone else thinks.
People tend to have questions though, and often persist for answers. It’s strange how not drinking sets some people at unease. Like “what is wrong with [you/me?] if you’re not drinking with [me/us?]”
There were times during the beginning where I instinctively reached to grab an alcoholic drink at the deli with my lunch, or thought of killing time at a bar with a cocktail. Sitting at the bar with a book and a glass of wine was no longer a part of my repertoire. Instead, I kept reminding myself of my goal and reasons for quitting, which helped me stay on course. I didn’t really crave a drink but caught myself reaching for one out of habit.
The only physical changes I experienced were things that were no longer happening- acid reflux, bloating, and chronic tiredness. My mornings no longer felt as though they start already with a low battery. Note that heavy drinkers can experience “alcohol withdrawal syndrome” and sometimes require medical assistance in extreme cases.
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal:
- Depression and mood swings
- Sweating- the body’s purging reaction
- Changes in appetite
These are usually temporary and vary with the duration and severity of drinking.
I began to think of the emotional reasons why people drink. Suppressed emotions usually come out of hiding with a sober mind. This is a wonderful opportunity to identify your triggers and learn to develop better coping mechanisms. If you have been drinking away problems, you may want to consider seeing a licensed therapist for help on the path of recovery.
Ask Yourself: “What are my emotional triggers with alcohol?”
Heavy drinkers may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms such as night sweats, the “shakes” in the hands, nausea even vomiting. This is seen in alcoholics who have drunk heavily for years.
The pain in my side was gone by the fourth day. My stomach was no longer incredibly bloated and my body felt less inflamed. I had increased energy levels, and my moods were much stable. The only physical symptom I experienced was feeling better.
Past the Hump
Weeks two and three went by like a breeze, having no more withdrawal symptoms and being used to my new routine. I began pilates again and decided to start training for a 5K. It was easier to stretch out my muscles. I felt proud of myself for making it this far and what I was doing with this newfound energy.
The biggest change was having the best sleep I’ve had in years. Pinging my brain with bouts of alcohol throughout the week surely affected my sleep. Adequate sleep is severely underrated these days, especially in our hustle society. Better quality sleep not only helped me to be in a much better mood, far more often- lack of good regular sleep over time can wreak havoc on the body.
The first half of the month I slept longer than usual and needed naps later in the day. By the second half, I was nodding off earlier in the evening and experiencing much deeper sleep.
Improve Your Sleep: Stop caffeine consumption before 4 PM, increase water intake, and exercise. Working out during the day usually brings deeper sleep. Regular sleep is essential for organ healing, cellular and muscle recovery. Consider taking CBD, melatonin, and ashwagandha in moderation, to improve your quality of sleep.
Better rested, I found myself performing better under pressure, and my “zest for life” came back without the help of alcohol. It’s a reconnection with your truest self, with which we rarely find the time to sit.
Benefits So Far:
#1 Weight Loss
By the end of the month, I was down 5 lbs. I probably could have lost more, but I ate and drank other things during the first couple of weeks as a way to adjust to the change. I would compensate with a soda or fruity non-alcoholic drink at social events, to feel included in the gathering. I don’t see this as water weight, but true fat loss because I also began to use intermittent fasting. Fasting helped liver markers by giving my body enough time without added calories to burn the glycogen stores piling up on my liver. Incorporating intermittent fasting is a great tool to improve “fatty liver” and you can learn all about it on my post Intermittent Fasting 101.
Nevertheless, my clothes began to feel looser, and my belly was less bloated. There was no way anyone was going to ask if I were pregnant, the beer baby was gone! Other non-scale victories included better muscle definition and feeling less winded going up the stairs.
#2 Glowing Skin
When you take a break from alcohol, you stop slowly dehydrating your body. Alcohol like formaldehyde, damaging the cells and circulation system. As long as you are not replacing alcohol with other tannin-rich beverages like coffee or tea, your skin will look better as you become better hydrated. A good rule of thumb for hydration is to drink 1 oz water for every 1 lb you weigh (1 cup=8 oz.)
Alcohol not only dehydrates the skin, but it dilates the pores, making it more susceptible to acne such as blackheads. Not to mention when you come home tipsy from happy hour, more often than not you might sleep in your makeup, or do a flailing half attempt of washing up before crashing on your pillow!
Within a week, I began getting random compliments from friends and strangers alike. “You’re absolutely glowing!” or “Wow, your skin is amazing!” I began hearing. I certainly appreciated such feedback, more than I missed having a glass of wine.
#3 Reduced Inflammation
Regular alcohol consumption also impairs your judgment and energy levels, making you prone to make other unwise decisions with your health. You’re more likely to cheat on your diet, gorge on forbidden fried foods, or worse- call your ex! Over time, this will develop systemic inflammation throughout the whole body. Chronic inflammation can lead to many diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and auto-immune disorders.
Moderate drinking increases the risk of numerous cancers by 10% during the youthful years. According to a medical article mentioned by NPR, men who drank 3-4 alcoholic beverages daily triples their risk of throat and liver cancer!
I am not telling you that you can never enjoy an adult beverage again, but think about how much and how often you drink and the effects it will have on you over a lifetime. In the last month, I most likely saved myself 30-40 doses of alcohol to my liver. No wonder so many of my aches and pains have subsided. No one wants to get sick in later life, and prevention is your best defense against illness. Lower your inflammation with a whole foods diet, and moderate drinking with periods of abstinence.
#4 No Hang Overs!
One thing I certainly do not miss about alcohol is hangovers. One night of heavy drinking can throw you off mentally for nearly a week! I certainly saw a difference between my colleagues who would come into work the next day hungover. I had better mood and energy levels and called out less. I’d rarely drink enough to bring on mind-splitting headaches the next day, but over time the effect on my immune system and sleep cycle built up. Now that I am better rested and better hydrated, I tend not to feel tired in the mid-afternoon anymore. I haven’t been sick once this month!
The only time I missed having a drink was for the flavor, but I did not actually miss the buzz or subsequent hangover.
I certainly compensated some with more sugary options, especially when out socializing. I knew in order to be successful, I would need to be lenient with myself in the beginning.
“Mocktails” rack up the calories, especially when made with sodas and sickly sweet bar juices.
Here are some lower-calorie “mocktail” options:
- Ginger beer
- Diet cola with a squirt of vanilla flavored stevia syrup
- Half grapefruit juice with club soda
- Cranberry seltzer with club soda and lime
- Unsweetened tea (or sweetened with alternative sweeteners)
- Club soda with lime and cucumber
The Emptiness of Drinking
Looking back, I never really thought much about how much time alcohol wasted. How easy the hours can slip by while unwinding after a hard day, and the lack of energy that comes after. Not having alcohol in my life made me realize how much of a hindrance it actually is. It rustles up old emotions and memories, and for what purpose really?
The most sobering part of abstaining from drinking is separating yourself from the emptiness of drinking. The void alcohol “fills” is really just the distraction it provides. Whether killing time between appointments, waiting on someone, or the conversation that often shows up at the bar between strangers. There is a loneliness that often comes with it, even when you are with others. Alcohol allows that negative inner voice to come out more, sinking one down further. I consider it as the alcohol separating us from our consciousness in that state, causing disassociation.
When you are happy though, you don’t necessarily need to drink. I don’t need a bartender to fill in the role of therapist or pharmacist. I feel so good now that I don’t want to interrupt my happy state. Now that I don’t drink, I no longer have those haunts to turn to. Now that I have the distance away from it, I understand the dark side of alcohol more. Even when I drink again, I will never again return to that level of emptiness.
Part 2 to Come
Throughout the month, it has amazed me how many times there were opportunities to drink. Free beer at a work gathering, I simply had to decline. Shots and tasters, none to be had. It was easy to see why my symptoms have started. I was not a binge drinker, but a consistent drinker. Looking back on the last year and all the calamity of 2020, I realized I was “indulging” way more than I should have.
While I don’t plan on abstaining forever, I believe taking time off now will prevent future complications down the road. Telling people this, or simply that I am doing a challenge, tends to appease their curiosity. Perhaps I will be back to occasional drinking at social events but for now, I must abstain.
As a foodie, I can’t imagine a life without alcohol permanently, for the same reason why I don’t believe in strict diets. There is just too much joy in trying different cuisines and what wine pairs best with it. I see life as more than goals and restrictions. It is important to keep your life in balance, taking time to recalibrate if needed. I have remembered how to have fun being high on life, and that has been the greatest gain so far in this challenge.
It’s never too late to start! Start with one month and see how you feel afterward. Let me know in the comments below if YOU want to try the challenge. I want to see your progress!
I will post Part 2 at month 3, the halfway mark. Subscribe here to stay up to date on the latest posts!