Confession: I used to be a yo-yo drinker.
Yep, just like fad diets, I’d swear off booze for a short period of time. (Kind of like with carbs and then gluten, and oh yeah, sugar.)
My intentions were always great.
I’m pressing the reset button, I’d say. I’m saying goodbye to binges and blackouts.
When I start drinking again, I’m only drinking wine. OK, and champagne -- and maybe a vodka soda every once and awhile.
But that’s it.
Inevitably, a within a few months of drinking again, I’d end up right back where I’d started.
I'd be binging, blacking out and succumbing to wasted, hungover days.
It wasn’t until I learned solid tips for moderating alcohol consumption that I actually learned how to make “drinking” work for me.
That’s when I realized I didn’t need to quit alcohol completely.
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s been a growing amount of hype around “Dry-nuary” in recent years.
The fad seems to have jumped across the pond from the UK - where the terms “Dry January” was registered by the UK charity, Alcohol Concern, in 2014.
This same charity has now linked the challenge of staying alcohol free for 31 days with fundraising for their own organization.
It’s certainly catchy, and for anyone who wants to give an alcohol-free month a try but is worried about backlash from their friends, participating in the challenge becomes a more socially acceptable reason for abstaining.
Basically, your friends are going to look like asses if they argue with your noble goal of staying sober to raise money for charity.
Alcohol Concern lists the benefits of “Dry January” as losing weight, better sleep and more money in your pocket (or to donate to charity).
But philanthropic efforts aside, do you have to go completely alcohol-free to get the benefits of Dry January?
Here’s how you can still benefit without giving up booze completely while at the same time, creating healthier habits that will carry you through the rest of the year.
Learn how to moderate.
If you are someone who wants to reexamine his or her drinking behaviors, you may fall right back into the same patterns after a month off from alcohol.
Why not use this time to set clear goals for yourself around alcohol moderation?
This is key.
Set a reasonable goal for yourself, such as no more than six drinks a week, and no more than three drinks on any given night.
Decide to stick to it for a month, just as you would have tried to stick to the 31 days alcohol-free.
Plan your alternatives.
What are you going to drink or do instead?
We all know that restrictions suck, which is why yo-yo diets don’t work.
What delicious, yummy, fun, sexy (you fill in the blank) alternatives can you add into your life instead of booze?
You will only ever be successful at moderating alcohol if you figure out what alternatives work for you.
I’m talking both replacement drinks and activities.
For drinks: Avoid sugary alternatives and go for seltzer/mineral water spritzers will a splash of real fruit juice or a virgin mojito.
For activities: Try exercise!
What about that new hip hop yoga class, a spin class, a romp around the park or a game night?
Planning alternative evening activities will not only help with your fitness and health goals and relieve stress, but will also help in the friend department, proving you really can have fun without alcohol.
Understand your triggers and how to manage them.
Are you someone who drinks to gain confidence? To feel free-spirited? To get crazy? To release stress? When you are alone and overwhelmed with your thoughts?
Once you learn a bit more about your triggers, you need to start investigating other ways to “feel and deal.”
The options are so varied, it would be impossible to go into them all here.
You might decide to make a rule for yourself to not drink on days you are noticing your triggers, until you get a handle on what to do instead.
Otherwise, it could be a slippery slope into drunkenness again.
Plan your AFDs (Alcohol Free Days).
Make sure you have more days during the week (at least four) when you aren’t drinking.
This gives your liver a break and forces you to implement the first three points above.
Plan these days in advance, and put them in your calendar.
Set reminders on your phone, and include motivational words as to why you don’t need alcohol today.
This will reduce the likelihood of a “whoops I forgot I wasn’t supposed to drink today” moment.
Try to make one of your AFDs a weekend night to prevent any temptation of weekend binges.
AFDs help break the mindless habit of ordering a drink as the first you thing you do at a restaurant or at the bar, or heading for the fridge the first thing you as you walk in the door at home.
Shake up your routine and bring more mindfulness into your day.
This is one of the same outcomes of Dry January, and can be achieved with AFDs.
Start a bedtime routine.
That’s right; a bedtime routine isn’t just for babies -- and the adult version doesn’t include drinking out of a bottle!
The point is to find alternatives to alcohol to help wind down before bed.
As Dr Oz writes in his healthy drinking guidelines, a 2013 analysis of more than 30 studies found that consuming two or more drinks during the two hours before bed decreased the amount of REM sleep.
Even though you might feel like you are falling asleep more quickly after a nightcap, the quality of your sleep will be reduced.
Instead of alcohol, try a cup of soothing tea, run a hot bath, do some stretching or a guided meditation and for the love of deep sleep, put your phone on airplane mode and stop scrolling.
Do these things, and I promise you will start reveling in the benefits of sweet beauty sleep, without resorting to counting sheep.
Some people think moderation is choosing the easy way out.
From my own experience, I can tell you that this approach can actually be more work than simply calling off alcohol for a month.
That being said, it can be a time to learn a lot about yourself and begin to create new habits that will last you through the entire year, and hopefully longer.
And yes, you will still save money and you can donate it to the charity of your choice.