What about alcohol?
Your lifestyle habits can have a big impact on the effectiveness of your diet and exercise routine – and that applies no more keenly than to the chain of events that’s started when you drink alcohol. Particularly habits many of us display when socialising.
Yes, alcohol. I get asked about this all the time – but really, everyone already knows the answer. Alcohol isn’t great for us. It has a few health advantages when consumed in moderation, but these get quickly outweighed by the negatives – the increased risk of liver cancer, bowel cancer, pancreatitis, diabetes, and fertility issues that all come with heavy drinking.
And then there’s the problem alcohol causes for anyone looking to lose a bit of weight. Booze tends to be calorific – and the body loves to burn those calories before it burns any from fat or sugar, which is why you tend to put on weight rather than the other way round after a heavy drinking session. Anyone looking to drop a belt size is advised to swap the wine for the water.
Having said all that … I strongly believe you don’t have to give up alcohol to lead a balanced lifestyle. You shouldn’t have to put your social life on hold to reach your goals; in fact, trying to do that can make it much harder. The more you obsess about your diet and workouts, the more likely you are to mess it up or lose motivation.
So, where’s the middle ground? How do you keep drinking alcohol while getting fitter? Can you make the booze work for you?
The key to the answers here is idea of habits. Socialising can be a problem if we fall into bad habits, but with a little willpower and self-awareness you can very quickly form new patterns of behaviour that help, not hinder. I’d like to think I’m a living example: for five years, I drank my way through a career in the City, suffering horrendous hangovers, damaged relationships and a general feeling of complete s***ness. Now, I’ve formed new habits so I can drink – I still love beer! – without doing untold harm to my body.
You won’t be surprised to learn that binge-drinking is the main bad habit. There are lots of reasons why people end up binge drinking, but I think that most people can relate to the following two:
1. Simple force of habit. Without even realising, I got into the habit of having a drink in my hand whenever I was in a bar. I also established a routine of drinking quickly without giving it a thought.
2. Social insecurity. Alcohol can be a useful social lubricant, especially when we meet new people. Getting drunk rids us of our inhibitions; we stop caring about what others think and just want to have fun. We stop judging ourselves and live in the moment.
So, what to do? The five simple steps below helped me to change my drinking behaviour.
1. Go out intending not to get drunk. Have you ever tried repeating ‘I will wake up at 7am’ before going to bed? You’d be surprised by how often it works. Equally, try saying to yourself ‘I am not going to get drunk’ multiple times to yourself. You’ll find you are far less likely to get drunk.
2. Give yourself an excuse to say ‘no’ to another drink. Plan a workout with a friend the next morning, make an early-morning commitment, such as a work meeting or exercise class, or just make something up! Anything to give you an ‘out’.
3. Quality over quantity. Find an alcoholic drink that you genuinely like (I find spending more money helps!) Sip it slowly and savour the flavours. This one completely changed the way I drink; I learned to appreciate alcohol, rather than using it as a means to an end.
4. Drink water. Get into the habit of drinking one glass of water for every alcoholic drink. Not only will it sober you up, but you will be so thankful for it the next day! You may even realise that you don’t want alcohol, but just want the feeling of a drink in your hand. I now often use soda water and fresh lime juice as a non-alcoholic alternative.
5. DO NOT DRINK SHOTS. Another game changer for me. I was able to stay in control just drinking beer or wine, but as soon as shots entered the equation that was the end of it.
How to develop a ‘sober confidence’
Being able to go out and remain sober or just have a couple of drinks is an incredible skill. It will help you get in great shape and develop a natural confidence – not a false sense of confidence that’s dependent on alcohol.
Approach this in the same way you would learn to play the piano or acquire any new skill; you are trying to form new neural pathways in the brain, which takes practice and patience. This is the basis for changing your behaviours and habits.
It will be very difficult to begin with, and you will probably feel uncomfortable at first. But keep practising and it will become easier with time. Bear in mind that the first interactions of an evening out will be the hardest, but eventually you will relax and have fun. I find it helps to spend time with a non-drinking friend at the start of the evening.
Slowly but surely you will realise that you don’t need alcohol to enjoy yourself. Drinking less also helps you to develop great social skills and enables you to stay composed and in control. You will reach a state in which you feel at ease without being drunk; nothing holds you back, you feel confident and in the moment. And you don’t feel too bad the next day either!
Long-established negative behaviours won’t fix themselves overnight, but small changes like these over a long period can have a profound effect on the rest of your life, as well as aiding your health and fitness goals. I think we can all drink to that!