10 Ways A Month Without Alcohol Gave Me A Lifetime Of Healthy Habits

by James Swanwick

I always tell myself, "Drinking alcohol borrows joy from tomorrow."

I once was a social drinker.

What started as a 30-day no alcohol challenge turned into a permanent lifestyle change.

People often ask me how I changed physically, mentally and emotionally after quitting drinking.

So, I thought I'd share my story.

For many years, I'd enjoy a few quiet beers during the week and go harder most weekends.

There would be a good buzz, and I'd get drunk.

It was part of being Australian (or so I thought).

But, I'd often fall into destructive habits after 1 am, including cigarettes, late-night pizza and more beer.

The rest of the weekend was a write-off.

Over time, I started to feel just blah.

I was surviving, not thriving.

By March 2010, I was sitting in International House Of Pancakes (IHOP) in Austin, Texas for a “Hangover Breakfast.”

I was staring at the menu — bold colors of greasy food — and looking at everyone going wild over the unlimited pancakes with every sugar-laden topping imaginable.

At that moment, I felt like I had hit rock bottom.

That inner voice was saying, “James, make a change.”

So, I decided to take a 30-day break from alcohol as an experiment.

Here are the things that happened:

1. The first seven days were tough.

My liver had a hard time flushing out the toxins from alcohol and the bad food I had consumed while drunk (late night burgers, fries and pizza).

So, I ate soups rich in greens with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger.

2. I was challenged.

Many people — particularly guys — were incredulous about my lifestyle choice.

At first, it bothered me, which made it that much worse.

Some “friends” even tried to slip vodka in my soda.

3. Acceptance came eventually.

When I got challenged by friends, I eventually learned to laugh, point to my head and give my stock response, “I'm too strong in mind!”

Once I accepted my choice and owned my stock response about not drinking, my friends and family accepted it.

I recently met up with childhood friends who were always big drinkers growing up.

They were totally cool with me not drinking, and they suggested we go out for dinner instead.

4. I slept like a baby.

Studies show that even a small amount of alcohol messes with your sleep.

I was now getting the initial REM sleep you normally miss when you drink alcohol.

I started wearing blue-light blocking glasses to get to sleep faster.

I woke rejuvenated, not tired and cranky like before.

5. I lost weight.

Alcohol slows your metabolism, as the body breaks down alcohol before the fats and sugars.

A pint of beer has around the same amount of calories as a slice of pizza.

After 30 days, I'd lost an incredible 15 pounds.

This is likely due to three main things:

1. Alcohol contains a lot of empty calories.

2. Drinking makes you eat a lot more food, especially junk like fries and desserts.

3. Quitting drinking gives you the energy to be more active.

My skin was glowing because the alcohol poison had left my system.

"Wow, have you been working out?" people asked in astonishment.

I wasn't.

It was just from not drinking alcohol, eating mindfully and sleeping better.

6. I celebrated differently.

Before quitting drinking, I'd always celebrate a big win — like a job promotion or product launch — with drinks.

Now, I'll just have a nice meal or take time out from my busy schedule to go for a nature hike.

But, I can still party like a rock star.

Despite not drinking, I still manage to have wildly entertaining nights out, even with my drunken friends slurring their words around me.

7. My perception shifted.

I gave up social drinking to achieve bigger goals and tap into my potential.

I replaced drinking with jogging.

This changed how I ate, worked, slept and saved money.

In "The Power of Habit," Charles Duhigg explains that one set of neurological patterns (old habits) can be overridden by new patterns.

By focusing on one “keystone habit”(not drinking), I taught myself how to reprogram other routines in my life.

I was no longer going out with $120 in my wallet and waking up with $2.

I was no longer sleeping all weekend.

I was naturally waking up earlier and taking charge of my life.

8. After six months, there was a noticeable shift.

I felt so terrific after 30 days, and I thought, “Bugger it, keep going.”

The relationships in my life became so much better.

I started attracting a higher caliber of friends and met incredibly beautiful, smart women I could be myself with.

Drunkenness never got me the girl of my dreams.

Plus, sober sex is way better.

9. I was still tested.

One year later, I was back in Austin, Texas.

I ordered a beer to celebrate one year of not drinking. I put the beer to my mouth.

It smelt amazing. I wanted to drink it.

But, I thought of how far I'd come.

I was still the life of the party, and no one thought I was boring.

I'd achieved my childhood dream of hosting SportsCenter on ESPN.

The stars were aligning in my life because of one simple change: a 30-day break from alcohol.

10. I started to help others.

I was more considerate, and I started thinking about how I could help my friends, rather than how they could help me.

I started mentoring more people who showed potential and hustle.

I've helped thousands of people reflect on their drinking patterns through the 30-Day No Alcohol Challenge.

I feel better, look better, work better, act better, am better, have more money, have better quality friends and don't miss alcohol.

Water, ice and a piece of lime is perfect for me.

I can still party like a rock star without alcohol, and long-term friends say I'm considerably nicer and more agreeable.

It is sometimes awkward explaining to new friends or business associates why I don't drink.

But that initial awkwardness is mostly felt by them, and it soon dissipates if I don't make it an issue.

Plus, I can't control how they feel.

Although I took drastic measures, my story shows some of the positive benefits of quitting alcohol, even for a month.

Feel better, look better, lose weight, save money and have better relationships.

Now, that's a cocktail.