Alcohol is essentially just pure fat
03 October 2018
As autumn gets underway you may notice that various schemes are being run to encourage healthier lifestyle. Stoptober and Go Sober for October are yearly initiatives to help kick bad habits around smoking and drinking. With the boozy festive season just around the corner, now is the perfect time to give your body a month’s rest from the tipple—and there are some very good reasons to do so.
1. Empty calories & high sugar
Did you know that pure alcohol contains almost as many calories as pure fat? Alcohol contains around 7 calories per gram, making it the second most calorific consumable substance after fat, which contains 9 calories per gram. Depending on your drink of choice, you could also be drinking large quantities of sugar along with this already densely-calorific beverage. One government study showed that alcoholic drinks account for around 10% of daily sugar intake in UK adults aged 29 to 64. Some leading brands of cider contain up to 5 or 6 teaspoons of sugar per pint; at around 210 calories per pint, this is roughly the equivalent to eating a whole doughnut, and takes you almost right up to the recommended daily allowance for sugar! Similarly, your three pints of beer at after-work drinks add up to the calorie equivalent of two burgers (and you’ll probably consume an actual third burger on the stumble home—not great!).
Taking a month off the booze will reduce your intake of empty calories and is likely to make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. If you were to save the equivalent of 6 pints of lager per week for a whole month, that would be a whopping 4320 calories saved—over two whole days’ recommended daily intake, or 20 whole chocolate bars.
Alcohol is a very strong diuretic, which can cause you to lose up to four times more liquid than you take in. The resulting dehydration will make you feel fatigued and lacking in motivation, as well as prone to headaches—the membrane that encases the brain and spinal cord actually shrinks as other organs draw water away from it as they fight for the little hydration left in the body. Dehydration has other knock-on effects too, such as dull skin and eyes, and imbalanced skin oils.
After around a week of maintaining a well-hydrated body free of alcohol you will notice your mood and concentration levels improve and stabilise—no more mid-afternoon slump! A month away from alcohol will help your skin to clear up and encourage cell regeneration and turnover; ruddiness around your nose and cheeks may fade, and if you suffer from skin conditions such as dandruff and eczema you may find that they also improve. It goes without saying that you will also be less prone to headaches!
3. Better Sleep
Drinking disrupts your sleep cycle. You may feel as though you fall asleep faster after a drink, and this is partially true—but you tend to fall quickly into deep sleep. This may sound like the opposite of a problem, but actually it is a big problem. A healthy sleep cycle is roughly 90 minutes in length, with 5 stages in each cycle.
‘Deep sleep’ and ‘very deep sleep’ are stages 3 and 4; skipping out or moving rapidly through stages 1 and 2 disrupts the natural sleep cycle, and results in your body spending too much of the night in stage 5 – REM sleep – and less time in restful deep sleep. During REM sleep your brain is more active, so spending too much time in this stage will leave you feeling groggy and tired, no matter how long you stay in bed.
Cutting out alcohol will have a positive and noticeable impact on your sleep after just one week, with these beneficial effects increasing the longer you go without booze. With your sleep cycle functioning well the quality of your sleep will improve, and you should find it easier to wake up in the morning (god knows we could all do with making mornings a little easier!)
4. Happy tum & better food habits
Drinking makes your hormones go nuts. One of the ones you may notice most is the increase in ghrelin and decrease in leptin; ghrelin causes hunger, whilst leptin manages your ‘full’ feeling. With these out of whack, you are likely to feel much more hungry and be less able to detect when you are full. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, alcohol is one of the biggest triggers for overeating. Cutting out alcohol for a month will give your hormones a break from these spikes of imbalance, giving you more control over your appetite. Rehab clinic Priory Group estimates that it takes around two weeks away from alcohol to start losing weight as a direct result of cutting the drink.
Alcohol itself is an irritant to the stomach lining and digestive system, which can cause acid reflux and IBS-like symptoms such as stomach pain and diarrhoea. It can also contribute towards developing stomach ulcers—pretty nasty to say the least. After around two weeks of being alcohol-free you will see reflux symptoms reduce, and experience an all-round more settled stomach. You may be tempted to pop a painkiller after a night of heavy drinking to help with your hangover, but DrinkAware advises to stay off the pharmaceuticals; whilst they may help your headache, they say that “painkillers, such as aspirin, can further damage the lining of the gut”, and recommend that “rather than taking pills to settle an upset stomach after drinking, try an antacid, or a cup of mint tea instead”.
The Priory Group says that people who quit alcohol for a month are 72% more likely to be mindful about reducing their levels of harmful drinking for a further six months, and if your liver function is not too badly affected by alcohol it can recover within this time too on an alcohol-free diet.
Whilst more recent studies have indicated that going totally cold turkey if you are a very heavy and/or very regular drinker could very slightly raise the possibility of getting certain illnesses, the health benefits of a mere month without alcohol for those who usually drink within moderation far outweigh the negatives. You may feel as though you are missing out during social events, you may crave sugar, and you may be surprised by just how much of your social life revolves around alcohol, but learning to enjoy yourself without intoxication is no bad thing! Give it a go this October—we promise you’ll feel great by the end of it.
Take a look at DrinkAware’s unit calculator to see just how much alcohol you consume regularly, and what that means in real terms.
The advice contained in this article is not a substitute for medical advice from a registered practitioner. If you are concerned about your alcohol intake, please speak to your GP or visit www.drinkaware.co.uk for impartial advice and support.