Above the Influence: How to Cut Back on Boozin'
It’s my favorite time of year. The weather here in the desert is finally out of the triple digits and hiking season is back in full force. I can play fetch with my dog without being worried that he’ll pass out. Everyone is emerging from their air-conditioned caves and rejoicing in the fact that we made it through another summer.
Along with the lower temperatures comes the holiday season and all of its festivities. As Americans, indulging is our favorite past time and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing so, but there are trade-offs. Indulging usually includes the consumption of alcohol, which we all know can easily derail you from your health goals. Being a fitness coach, this topic comes up a lot in conversation with clients and friends that are in the process of transforming their lifestyles. Nobody wants to repeat their habits from past years and they have the best intentions to continue along the path to their goals. It is truly possible, but not without some mental work.
As I reflect on my previous behavior and patterns, I realize how truly far I’ve come with my mindset around the concept of indulgence (and the excuses that go along with it). This will be the first year that I maneuver through the season with a healthy relationship toward alcohol. Last year, I was in school and simply had no space for any of it. It forced me to begin the process of deeply examining my psyche, as well as my personal relationships that surrounded the substance. Denial was heavy on my heart and I needed to get honest with myself.
Moderate Drinking vs. Heavy Drinking vs. Binge Drinking
I’ve worked in the bar scene for all of my young adult life and it has normalized binging and heavy drinking for me. Given the surroundings I've had, it seems taboo to even attempt to discuss this. In turn, I have to constantly remind myself of what “moderate consumption” actually is. If you’ve never known the definition of heavy consumption, here ya go:
According to the CDC:
For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.
Binge drinking usually corresponds to 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about 2 hours.
The Definition of a Drink
A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in
- 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
- 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
- 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
- 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).
Some of you might be reading this with wide eyes. If this comes as a shock to you, like it did to me at first, you might want to re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol.
That being said, I’m not trying to shame anyone. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I’m just trying to start a discussion. I want to bring awareness to the topic in my community and offer a few suggestions on how to tackle this and change your patterns if this is an issue for you. If your relationship with alcohol is preventing you from accomplishing goals, growing and expanding as a human, and causing you to continue unhealthy habits...Well, it maybe time for a change. If this is striking a nerve, please don't ignore that feeling.
**I have to point out that this is not in replacement of professional advice, so if you think you might have a serious problem, I encourage you to seek help.**
When it's not used as a coping mechanism for deep-rooted issues, drinking in moderation can be fun, satisfying, and relaxing. It’s just a different way of viewing something most of us enjoy partaking in. Here are a few things to consider and what has worked for me in order to cut back.
1) Pick and Choose When You Booze
It seems like every week, especially during this time of year, we are presented with opportunities to socialize and celebrate. However, it’s important to carefully maintain a balance. This means being conscious of your choices and instilling trust in yourself to follow through with your commitments.
If you take advantage of every occasion that comes up and use it as an excuse to let go of your goals, it will add up overtime. Things can quickly get out of whack. Pick and choose what social events are most important for you to attend. Furthermore, choose the event you’d like to have a drink or two at. If you want to attend everything that comes your way, try to understand that consumption of alcohol is not necessary to enjoy the company of others.
It maybe weird and awkward at first, but once you move passed the initial “No, thank you,” when you’re offered a beverage, I promise it gets easier. If you feel uncomfortable, sit with that and realize it’s not the end of the world. The more often you say no, the easier and less awkward it becomes. It also helps to drink something like soda water with lime. It helps you feel included and gives you a similar sensation.
2) Set Realistic Goals for Your Usage
Decide 24 hours in advance if you’re going to drink and how many drinks you’re going to consume. Be realistic with yourself. It seems strange, but when you make a goal and stick to it, you carve new neural pathways in your brain. To simplify it, overdrinking is a habit and habits are neural pathways. Think of a neural pathway as an information superhighway – a big ol’ bunch of nerve cells that transmit a specific message.
As you engage in something new, you build a new neural pathway. Guess what? The more you travel that path, the more solid it becomes.
Additionally, when you make a goal and actually stick to it, you begin to trust yourself. Having trust in yourself is huge when you are creating new habits. If you had a friend that was constantly making promises to you and breaking them, you wouldn’t trust them very much. Think of the relationship with yourself in the same way.
3) Get Your Tribe to Support You
Chances are, if your friends care about you, they’ll also care about your goals. Let them know ahead of time that you’re trying to cut back because you have fitness and health goals. You have to get up early in the morning and hit the weights. If they don’t rally around you…Consider getting new friends. Just kidding…Sort of.
A funny thing happens when you start making good decisions for yourself. You become a leader. Others who may have been teetering on wanting to cut back as well start to follow in your footsteps. They’ll get on board. You make it look easy and they want to be apart of it. Feelings and emotion surrounding their habits start to surface and an elephant in the room is no longer making noises in the corner. Be sure to tell your friends how good you feel, how much energy and motivation you have lately, and how you’re excited to get up and go workout or go hiking. That energy is contagious.
4) Don’t Drink on an Empty Stomach
For the love of God, please…Eat something before you drink. Ladies, you know I’m talking to you especially. Our bodies don’t metabolize alcohol the same way that men do. As a bartender, I’m always hearing “I haven’t eaten anything today!” and seeing people getting sauced too quickly. You go from hero to zero in the blink of an eye. Trust me, we notice how loopy you become. Also, your hangover will most likely be a lot worse if the alcohol is so quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. The consumption of food greatly lessens that; in addition, it helps to have every other drink as a non-alcoholic beverage. It’ll slow down your drinking and dilute the alcohol.
5) Start with Awareness
If the above suggestions are too difficult for you, simply start by being aware. Let me tell you, once you have awareness, you can’t escape it. I no longer have blinders strapped to my face and I can’t pretend to think it’s normal to be getting sauced every night. I used to use this time of year as an excuse to go buck wild and knock back the booze more often than usual. I know many people can relate to this.
Let me remind you that alcohol is a depressant. Regular drinking lowers the levels of serotonin in your brain, which is a chemical that helps to regulate your mood. It's ironic because people often combat anxiety and depression with drinking alcohol, yet this causes a vicious cycle to emerge. When you drink regularly, you're never really getting proper sleep - this contributes to low moods and feelings of anxiousness the next day.
It’s important to consider WHY you end up over-consuming alcohol. For me, boredom was a factor. If you’re doing it because you’re bored, find some hobbies. Learning guitar, reading more books, and getting outdoors more often have greatly helped me with any feelings of boredom. Once you find natural ways to get high, alcohol doesn’t seem so satisfying.
Using it as a stress reliever? There are plenty of options. When I get anxious and stressed out, now I turn to breathing techniques or physical exercise. It's been helpful for me to learn proper deep breathing so that I can work through feelings and remain present. Got a lot on your mind? How about you talk about your issues with a trusted friend instead. Drinking isn't going to make your worries go away; it's only going to exacerbate them in the long run. It feels so good to vent and sometimes that might be all you need to feel a little better. If you don't feel like talking to anyone, try to get some physical exercise in order to elevate your mood.