Over January I’ve decided to quit drinking alcohol. This was for multiple reasons, but particularly after a boozy December I wanted to try to reset some habits (mindless drinking in the evenings while watching Netflix) and stop thrashing my liver after all of those Christmas parties. As it’s now nearly over I’m actually feeling much better for it, I think I’m going to have a no alcohol February too.
To get through January I set myself some goals and trackers to help with my motivation, and to discourage myself for reaching for a beer or a glass of wine in the evenings. My main goal was to not drink alcohol and then at the end of the month buy myself new CrossFit sneakers, as I’d been eyeing up the new Reebok Nano 8’s in black with a gum sole. My current CrossFit shoes are over a year old and looking a bit trashed so it gave me a goal.
I also downloaded a tracker app to my phone that tells me how much money I’ve saved by not drinking alcohol. I did a rough estimate that I can easily spend $200+ a month on alcohol, so it’s nice to see a figure that edges towards the goal. These kinds of trackers are also great for people quitting smoking, probably a more costly habit, but also ultimately a great thing to quit for your health.
So after my self-serving January, I thought I’d have an altruistic February. It’s only 28 days long after all… Febfast is a charity event that challenges people to give up alcohol, sugar or adopt some other lifestyle habit (excessive daily latte addiction?) to raise funds to help support vital youth workers, services and programs for disadvantaged young people who need it most. I feel like I could do another 4 weeks of this.
Here are some tips anyway if you are planning on having a dry month, or just want to cut down…
Don’t have alcohol around the house
It’s always easier to abstain from something if it isn’t staring you in the face. I took all the beers out of my fridge and put them in the back of a cupboard. By removing the temptation to crack a cold one open at the end of a crappy day, or a hot day, or just because I’ve finished work for the day, I’m less likely to go fishing through the cupboard, and go to the effort of sticking a beer in the freezer to cool off for 15 mins. I moved my spirits away into a cupboard too. I really don’t ever need the temptation to whip up a whiskey on the rocks staring me in the face.
Have low sugar, non-alcoholic alternatives available in abundance at home
Hey, guess what has no sugar or alcohol in it? Water. I’m not a fan of straight up “plain” water unless I’m exercising, in which case I drink it by the gallon (fizzy water and burpees, oh hell no). I find plain water pretty boring, but I try to drink 3-4 litres a day of liquids because I’m often a sweaty mess when I’m active, or in air conditioned spaces that dry me out.
I get through a lot of carbonated water at home. I have a Sodastream and it’s always on hand to make carbonated water (I’ve never used any of the syrups with it). The scientist in me had to work out the cost effectiveness of the purchase of the machine (mine is a Sodastream Source – $120) plus the CO2 refills ($22 – makes about 45-50 litres), and it works out at about $1.50 / litre once you’ve used the machine regularly for at least 3-6 months, as you have to offset the cost of the unit (between $70 for a basic unit to $220 for a fancy one). For me it’s great because I hate carrying heavy bottles of water back from the supermarket in bulk, and also it doesn’t produce the same plastic waste as drinking all that soda water.
I try to jazz up my fizzy water with mint leaves to make some sort of virginal mojito, ginger slices (smash at the bottom of the glass or grate before use for extra ginger power), throw in fruit like raspberries, mango or watermelon, add lemon / lime juice, add sliced cucumber. Mix things up a bit too. Some combinations – ginger + lime, mint + watermelon, cucumber + mint, mango + mint, raspberry + lime… these all go together well.
When I feel like it I also chuck in a spoonful of apple cider vinegar (plus lemon juice) to fizzy water, which gives it a bit of a zingy kick.
Just to note, only carbonate water in a Sodastream. I’ve tried to experiment with carbonating ginger tea on my eternal quest to make no sugar ginger beer, it doesn’t work, take this information from me, as a scientist.
Alternatives for when you’re out in the world (i.e. the pub) and not drinking…
When you’re going “dry” for a month but also want to maintain social activities that usually involve alcohol, like going to the pub with friends, it’s easy to just have a coke or a lemonade (or the great Aussie favourite, lemon-lime bitters). But these drinks are full of sugar, so I avoid them.
The easy alternative is a diet version of these drinks, however a range of scientific research actually points towards artificial sweeteners being just as bad for you as sugar. Your poor body thinks that it’s getting glucose, mobilises its glucose uptake system (insulin) and then gets very disappointed. In a nutshell, artificial sweeteners can make cells resistant to the insulin we produce, leading to both increased blood sugar and insulin levels. Evidence shows that regularly consuming sugar-alternatives also alters the balance of our gut bacteria. Yeah, the M word. Microbiome.
Sorry, I’ve ruined diet drinks. Back to soda water for you… Ask the bartender for a lemon or lime wedge in it. Sometimes I’ll ask for a dash of bitters in soda water with fresh lime. Ah, “but bitters has alcohol in it” you say. I’m not going to wax lyrical about approximately 3ml of 22% alcohol getting into my water when I clean my lab with 70% ethanol and rub hand sanitiser onto my hands regularly. I’m no hero.
Teas, hot or cold
I’m British, so nothing beats a cup of English breakfast tea with a dash of milk, except when it’s 30C plus outside, which is most of January and February in Australia. Sometimes I’ll make iced tea by steeping peppermint or ginger and lemon tea bags for a really long time, then chilling off in the fridge and drinking later with some ice cubes. I’m still not a massive fan because it reminds me of water in my dog’s bowl. Fancy tea shops like T2 do a whole range of tasty sounding teas that are pleasant enough cold if you like that kind of thing. I try to steer clear of T2 because I manage to spend $60 on random teas I never actually drink every time I go there.
Most store bought iced teas are full of sugar, or sugar alternatives. I also don’t like them because I think they taste gross and smell weird, so that ends that discussion.
Drink kombucha or kefir
At many cafes and supermarkets (not just the hippy health stores now) there are a range of fizzy fermented health drinks like kombucha and kefirs. These have the added bonus of being probiotic and prebiotic so you can feel extra good about yourself. Or make your own if you can find a SCOBY (this link here is helpful).
These drinks start off as black tea with a whole heap of sugar in, which is then fermented by a SCOBY (a weird jelly lump of microbes) for a few weeks which eats up the sugar, then gets batched up into portions and flavoured by infusions of fruits or herbs. I really like ginger flavoured kombucha (I have a thing for ginger, can you tell?). Just watch the sugar content in the store bought ones. It should be natural fruit sugars listed because many add fruit juice for the flavour. Also, too much kombucha can upset your stomach, so don’t drink like 6 pints of it at once. Take it from me, I’ve been there.
Well, I hope I shared some at least slightly useful insights into the world of not drinking alcohol paired with low sugar diets with you. My final thoughts – I really like alcohol. I really miss alcohol. But I know that this experience has been good for me even if I do really want a beer a lot of the time, and it’s probably been good for my physical and mental health. I sleep better for sure.
My take home message – if I can do it, you can too. If you’re going dry for February good luck! Cheers…
1 thought on “Dry January? Febfast? Ideas for giving up alcohol and sugar successfully”
Great job Amy! Got the link to you from Sarah McKay’s blog series on gut microbiome studies. More power to you! I’ve always wondered about the alcohol-sugar link in its more physiological and neurological implications to health and homeostasis. I’ll be reading you more for sure. Have a great March!