Today is the first day of January. The first day of a new year and a day associated with new chances, opportunities, and beginnings. Over the past few months (likely from Halloween until now), many of us have had the seedlings of ideas and notions of things we could do to improve our lives. One of those thoughts may be related to improving your nutrition and/or reducing your alcohol consumption. There are many reasons someone may want to reduce or eliminate alcohol as one of their resolutions. You can save money, increase energy, improve athletic performance, improve sleep quality, improve your physique, increase time available for other activities, and improve your health.
As someone who cares about her physical and emotional health, and fitness, I know that there are likely few benefits to regular alcohol consumption. Regularly drinking more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men can contribute to long-term health issues such as cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver damage and disease, digestive problems, depression, cognitive problems like dementia, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and stroke (https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm). According to Healthline, in addition to the concerns previously mentioned, frequent alcohol consumption can contribute to osteoporosis, diarrhea, muscle cramps, numbness, infertility, pancreatitis, fatigue, shrinking brain, malnutrition, fatigue, and complications with diabetes (https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/effects-on-body#1). If you have a serious addiction, you should likely seek professional help to reduce or eliminate alcohol from your routine. I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose, treat, or cure any medical condition.
If you are a moderate drinker and want to reduce or eliminate alcohol here are a few strategies that may help.
1. Participate in a Whole 30 – If you haven’t heard of the Whole 30 before it is a very popular 30-day program where you eliminate foods and beverages that either has no nutritional value or are associated with common food sensitivities. For 30 days, you eat only whole foods like lean protein, vegetables, some healthy fat,
and fruit and eliminate processed foods, sugars, alcohol, grains, dairy, and most legumes. At the end of the 30 days, most people feel energized and many lose weight. The key to maintaining the health benefits after the 30 days is not returning to your old habits. It is useful to participate in a challenge like this with other people for support and accountability. You will likely see people posting about groups you can join on social media or you can use the website to find all the information you need to get started https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/
2. Participate in a Group Challenge – Many gyms, trainers, and probably even your friends post challenges this time of year to promote healthy resets. I am scheduled to participate in a five-week challenge with an on-line fitness program I recently joined called Street Parking. For a fee, members participate in a challenge and earn points to earn a t-shirt at the end. There is an app with daily tasks for points and accountability as well as a private Facebook group for community, accountability, and motivation. https://www.streetparking.com/
3. Remove Alcohol from Your House – Even if you have the best intentions, removing the temptation will help increase your success. If you have a stressful day, you may automatically reach for that bottle of wine to take the edge off. If it is not in your house, it will be much easier to avoid falling back into old habits.
4. Add Herbs to Your Daily Routine – Some herbs may help with alcohol cravings and/or improve liver function. You could replace your nightly glass of wine with a few cups of soothing tea.
Herbs like milk thistle, St. John’s Wort, dandelion, and goldenseal all help improve liver function and may help reduce alcohol cravings (https://www.healthy-holistic-living.com/reduce-alcohol-cravings/). If taking prescription medication, you should likely avoid St. John’s Wort because it improves liver function so much that it speeds up the metabolism of drugs processed in the liver. Check with your pharmacist if you are unsure about herb/drug interactions.
Kudzu root is a Chinese herb that may improve anxiety and improve symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. According to Kushner et al., Kudzu root has been a hangover remedy for many centuries in China (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3835486/).
5. Increase Vitamin and Mineral Consumption – Drinking alcohol can decrease the body’s absorption of important vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, amino acids, vitamin D, and SAMe. Replacing these vital nutrients as you transition to reduced alcohol consumption may help reduce cravings and make the transition easier
6. Ask for Support from Friends and Family – while not all people in your life will support your decision to reduce or eliminate alcohol, many will. Telling people about your intentions may decrease anxiety around the change, increase your circle of support, make you feel more accountable when joining others for social outings, and explain why you suddenly stopped drinking.
7. Replace Drinking with a New Activity – If you typically have a drink each evening at a certain time, find a new activity to fill that time. Are there things you avoided doing once you had a drink? Maybe after you have a cocktail, you no longer feel like exercising, walking the dog, or reading a book? Use your new-found freedom to include an activity that you enjoy and helps you relax. Perhaps you can spend that time performing self-care like soaking in a hot bath, doing yoga, or planning that trip you always wanted to take.