Mindful drinking

I get many questions about alcohol and its relationship to healthy eating and losing weight. My first thought is: this is no substitute for you getting professional help if you feel you have a disordered relationship with alcohol. Talk or seek help if you think this is you. The next thing is: we don’t need alcohol; it is toxic to our bodies—our livers prioritise processing of alcohol, thus interfering with normal digestion, and also, particularly as we get older, it disrupts our bodies’ absorption of nutrients. However, it is deeply ingrained into the fabric of events in our society, and as individuals we drink alcohol for a variety of reasons. It is worth exploring why you drink.

So, this is for people who are starting out on their healthy-eating journey and want to drink less, or not at all, so as not to derail their health and weight-loss goals. It is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to inform you about either abstaining or moderating your drinking, but to give you ideas about approaching the subject. That said, if you want to lose weight, it is best to not drink alcohol. For many people, it is in the nature of drinking alcohol that taking one drink makes you want to have another, and, as that off-switch is flipped, so are inhibitions, and you will find yourself tucking into those CRAP (calorie-rich and processed) foods like there is no tomorrow!

Along the above lines, I therefore suggest it is actually easier in the long run to abstain from drinking than to be constantly thinking about moderating the amount you drink. This way, your mind isn’t cluttered with having to make continuous decisions. If it is of any consolation, cravings tend to diminish with time! Resisting cracking open that bottle is about changing habits. Below are tips about rethinking your wine o’clock.

I am a great believer in writing stuff down; you are at least halfway to achieving your aim once this is done. Write down as many reasons as you can think why you don’t want to drink this evening (or how ever many is your target); try to go for at least five reasons, and be quite specific: for example, ‘I don’t want to drink tonight because I really want to shed that last kilo to fit into the dress I want to wear to that wedding’.

This is your story; control the narrative. Imagine how you will feel and look if you don’t take that drink tonight and for as many nights as you plan. Think of this in detail, and make it part of the visualisation you have for healthy eating and losing weight. Then think of the reverse, how you will feel if you have that one glass and then another —the disappointment you will have in yourself, what you will have eaten in excess of what you had planned, and being dehydrated and maybe even a bit hung over, instead of bouncing around full of energy and enthusiasm for the day.

Sometimes, being tired and hungry, or even mistaking hunger for thirst, will increase your desire for a drink of alcohol. That’s why we want it: a rush of energy (and a dopamine reward). To reduce those cravings, stay hydrated throughout the day and eat healthy foods which will fuel you (protein and those veggies!).

Changing your habit may change the story. If you know you open the wine when you cook, try having something else available, or someone else to cook! Change the routine, create new rituals. If you drink alcohol as a coping mechanism because you are stressed, lonely, anxious, etc., find another coping mechanism (a warm bath, a good film, book, walk, friends). You get the idea, and you will certainly feel better the next day. The comfort alcohol gives is only short-lived.
If you have decided not to drink for a month and are sorely tempted and are overwhelmed, agree with yourself that you will sleep on that decision. When you wake up you are unlikely to wish you had had that drink... or two.

If this feels overwhelming and the end of enjoying some social events you had been looking forward to, I suggest you might try ‘planned exceptions’ to your abstinence. Thus, it is not ‘I am never going to drink again’ but plan in advance the occasions on which you are going to drink. Again I would say: plan in detail, write it down even and having stuck to it you will feel so much better. Once more: if you fail to plan you plan to fail!

As I said, this isn’t meant to be a road-map to surviving the perils of alcohol. There are many very useful resources available if this is a really sticky area for you. If you are unsure where to turn, do contact me and I will be happy to discuss these with you. And my final word on this for now is: if you find it a problem, there is no shame—alcohol is an addictive poison. Why are we surprised if we find it difficult to control?