One of the biggest trends we hear about at the start of the New Year is “Dry January,” the commitment to abstain from alcohol throughout the entire month. The question is, though, is this the best way to usher in optimized health? Does this really work? What’s the promise?
Personally, I find these insta-health bursts to be a bit like “Monday Mentality.” You know, when you want to do something or make some kind of change (that you know you should already be making) in some area of your life, but say, “Ohhh, I’ll do that starting Monday” (or next month, next year, etc.). We procrastinate, fantasize, and essentially trap ourselves into a hope-addicted reality while taking little to no action and therefore generating little to no results in return.
Even worse, we begin to overindulge in the anticipation of our “fresh start.” It's a scarcity mindset at its finest (or at its worst), where we consume all we can because of the thought that what we desire is soon to be off-limits. For instance, people tend to binge drink over the holidays knowing that January will be a month of no drinking. Same goes for when we say we’re going to begin a strict diet on Monday – the weekend becomes centered on all the sugary treats we can find. Ironically, neither supports our health, mentally or physically, and actually sets us up to fail.
The truth is if we want to really commit to better health (or whatever our goal is), then we need to find sustainable, long-term methods that support our vision beyond the month-long hype. These monthly challenges, while presented with the best of intentions, don’t typically yield a true transformation (as we know from the many who say they resort back to binge drinking once February 1 hits, much like those who binge eat after engaging in quick-fix diets…FYI, deprivation never works).
Below are the short-term and long-term benefits to cutting back on booze, and more importantly, the supporting healthy habits to increase overall vitality!
How Alcohol Affects the Body
Alcohol is a literal poison to the human body. When consumed in excess, it leads to many health concerns, mentally and physically. Technically there really is no “safe” amount of alcohol consumption, even moderately, due to its impact on the body and brain.
In any event, moderate drinking for women is considered one drink a day and for men two drinks with quantities equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. To put this in perspective, your average restaurant pour of wine is 6 ounces, already exceeding the moderate amount, with negative effects taking place as quickly as the first sip. For a brief snapshot, below are the many (but not only) health consequences you may encounter.
Short-term effects include…
Feelings of drowsiness
Lowered inhibitions and impulsive behavior
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Impairment to hearing, vision, and perception
Loss of coordination or consciousness
Long-term effects include…
Persistent changes in mood, including anxiety and irritability
Insomnia and sleep concerns
A weakened immune system
Changes in libido and sexual function
Changes in weight and appetite
Problems with memory and concentration
Increased tension and conflict with relationships
Physical effects include….
Inflammation to the pancreas and endocrine glands
Difficulty monitoring sugar levels due to liver damage
Damage to the central nervous system
Complications in the digestive tract
Increase in heart health issues
A weakened skeletal and muscle system
Sadly, an estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually with more than half of those deaths due to effects like heart and liver disease from drinking too much over time. With the risk of all sorts of complications, it’s safe to say alcohol really has no place in a healthy lifestyle.
The Benefits of Cutting Back on Alcohol Consumption
There are many health benefits that come from cutting back (and honestly, cutting out) alcohol. From glowing skin and weight loss (yes, please!) to improved mental health and liver function, here are the top benefits to expect when you ditch the booze, making Dry January a great initiative to encourage a healthier lifestyle when maintained long-term.
Improved Liver Function
You can expect this improvement almost immediately after you stop drinking alcohol. Experts predict that most drinkers’ livers can completely return to normal function after 4-8 weeks of no alcohol.
Lower Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Heavy drinking seems to increase cholesterol levels, an initiator of heart disease. When you stop excessive drinking, your risk of heart disease goes down. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, lowering your risk as much as possible is always encouraged.
Reduced Risk of Cancer
Alcohol is a known human carcinogen. It has been shown to increase the risk of nine types of cancers. Even light drinking (having one drink or fewer per day) has been associated with a slightly higher risk of breast cancer in women and colorectal cancer in men. With cancer being the second leading cause of death in the United States, it’s good news that not drinking is a great way to reduce your risk.
Light drinking has been associated with a slightly higher risk of breast cancer in women.
Having more than one drink a day is linked to being overweight or obese, as your body metabolizes alcohol in the same way it does sugar. Giving up alcohol lowers that risk, and may even help you lose stubborn belly fat. Cutting out the empty calories found in alcohol is the most obvious way that not drinking helps you lose weight, but it also helps you avoid late night snacking on greasy comfort foods. Plus, you’re more likely to keep up with regular exercise regimens when you’re not hungover.
Evie girls love their glowing skin! Abstaining from alcohol is a sure way to support your skin’s natural efforts due to decreasing the havoc alcohol places on your hydration levels. Since alcohol consumption is associated with many skin problems, like rosacea, hives, and psoriasis, not drinking may improve your skin health significantly. Some experts claim you can see improvements in your skin in as little as one week after your last drink, and that your skin may completely renew itself within a month.
While alcohol gets the rep for being a tranquilizer that can support sleep, it’s actually a leading disruptor. Drinking right before bed often interrupts REM sleep, the important stage of quality rest that is linked to dreaming, restfulness, and memory. In some cases, it may even interfere with your breathing.
Optimizing Your Immune System
It’s proven that alcohol disrupts your immune system’s ability to fight or recover from bacterial and viral infections, but also liver disease, lung disease, cancer, or simple injuries and wounds. When you don’t drink, your immune system is stronger, meaning you’ll be less susceptible to illness.
Improved Mental Health
Not only can poor mental health lead to drinking, but drinking can also lead to poor mental health. What a toxic cycle! In the short-term, alcohol can reduce anxiety and release your inhibitions. But anything beyond a drink a day increases the risk of new or worsening mental health problems. Alcohol can make depression and anxiety more prominent, and heavy drinking especially can lead to mood changes, increased aggression, and paranoia.
Not only can poor mental health lead to drinking, but drinking can also lead to poor mental health.
Losing the drink with dinner or passing on late night partying on the weekends can do wonders for your health and well-being. Even though society largely functions around alcohol being an essential social enhancer, it’s clear to see that’s not the case. In fact, as listed above, it doesn’t do much good for the health of our relationships either (can you say hello, drunk texting embarrassing messages to an ex or irrationally picking fights with your besties?!). There are so many other ways to celebrate and have a fantastic time with your friends and family. (Check out some ideas here.)
Other Ways to Promote Long-Term Health
This isn’t all about the alcohol! There are so many other important elements to living a healthy lifestyle. In addition to cutting out the booze for longer than just one month, you can also support a radiant wellness routine by:
Exercising for 30 Minutes a Day
Moving our bodies for as little as 30 minutes a day can come with a plethora of health benefits including an increase in energy, boost in mood, reduced stress, weight loss, increased confidence…the list goes on! So find an activity you love like dancing, kickboxing, cycling, walking, or yoga, and let yourself have fun while feeling good!
Getting 6-8 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Getting enough sleep that benefits your unique body rhythms is important for productivity, vitality, and overall functioning. Reaching a state of REM sleep is the priority, as this is when the body repairs itself and creates energy for the next day.
It’s no surprise that your body, which is composed of about 50-70% water, needs proper hydration to survive and adequately function. There are many factors that weigh into what’s the appropriate amount of water you require based on your weight, environment, body temperature, etc., but generally speaking, adult women should be consuming around 2.7 liters a day. Proper hydration will keep your essential organs functioning well, increase your energy, plump your skin, and do wonders for your overall beauty regime.
Proper hydration keeps your essential organs functioning well, increases your energy, and plumps your skin.
Support your mental health by taking some time in the morning before your day gets started or a few minutes before bed each night to indulge in meditation. This practice is scientifically proven to reduce stress, manage anxiety, and support emotional health. Meditation can take your wellness game to new heights!
Eating Nourishing Foods
Eating enough veggies, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, and opting for organic options will enhance your health significantly. As the saying goes, you are what you eat! Our bodies operate only as well as they’re fed. Remember, everything in moderation – enjoy your favorite foods but keep the focus on feeling truly satisfied and energized by your consistent choices.
While it’s true that Dry January can have some benefits for those who stick with it and use it to accelerate into healthier habits, it’s important to remember that there is no gimmick or quick-fix to embodied, holistic health. To set yourself up for success, and a beautiful life, committing to consistent routines is the key to finding your best fit…that won’t have you cramming everything into one month or resorting to deprivation. Being self-aware of what makes you feel amazing (physically, mentally, and emotionally) will have you raising the standard for your health.
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