The News About Booze
For most of us, it's not realistic to abstain from drinking. But how much does drinking enhance our quality of life?
When I was pregnant and hung out with other pregnant ladies, one of the hot topics was alcohol.
Was it really so bad to have a little sip?
How awful is it that I got drunk on New Year’s Eve before I found out that I was pregnant?
This baby is about to fall out of me…surely it can’t do any harm to have a drink NOW?
I asked my midwife about it and she responded that “no amount of alcohol has been proven to be safe for the baby.”
And the news about booze is:
That is still the case even after you are long born. No amount of alcohol has been proven to be safe.
But what about all those articles in my Facebook feed that say champagne is good for my memory and red wine is good for my heart and that if I lived in Tuscany and started drinking red wine with lunch when I was eight years old I’d live to be 100?!
It’s true that many studies have found a J-shaped curve between alcohol and health risk. Meaning that heavy drinkers have a high risk of mortality and absolute abstainers also have an uptick, while moderate drinkers have the lowest risk of early mortality.
BUT — that doesn’t prove that moderate drinking is the cause of lower mortality. Maybe there are other factors at play: maybe moderate drinkers are also more happy, social, or less stressed out…
Another great example of correlation vs. causation:
When I was in my 20s my GP asked me how many units of alcohol I had in a week:
“Seven,” I answered proudly. Because I had heard that seven was the recommended limit for women.
What I didn’t tell her — and she didn’t ask — was that all seven were happening on Friday night. (In amazing gold lame American Apparel leggings.)
I’ve retired those leggings, and those Friday nights are ancient history (see reference above re: pregnancy). But even so, my perception of moderate drinking has recently shifted.
These are the recommended LIMITS that you will hear from your GP:
For women: up to seven drinks per week, with no more than three drinks on any single day
For men: up to 14 drinks per week, with no more than four drinks on any single day
A few things to note about what a serving actually looks like:
One 12-oz bottle of beer. So, gentlemen, your allowance of two units a day would be ONE 20-oz pint.
One 5-oz serving of wine — not a fancy “lady bowl” with a stem on it.
One 1.5-oz shot. Not a 3-oz martini.
Given those serving sizes, it’s shockingly easy to become a “heavy drinker,” according to the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Let’s say three nights during the week, you have a small glass of wine with dinner. That makes you a moderate drinker. Add to that a beer and a martini during happy hour on Friday, and you’re classified as a heavy moderate drinker. If you go out the next night and have a gin and tonic followed by two glasses of wine, guess what? You’re a heavy drinker.
(Hands up if you just had to upgrade yourself to a drinking category you had previously reserved for those who have vodka with their breakfast cereal.)
Also notice that seven units of alcohol a week for women is the LIMIT, not the recommended dosage.
You’ll never hear a doctor recommend you START drinking if you don’t already — another indication that all those Facebook studies are BS.
Having guidelines of how much of a toxic substance you can have is called “risk management,” because people drink.
About 75 percent of adults in industrialized nations drink alcohol, and it’s hugely woven into the fabric of most societies. Doctors came up with these limits because it’s not practical that people stop drinking.
I feel the same way.
I don’t tell my clients they have to stop drinking — even though I know it’s healthy for your body.
Because we are more than just bodies.
My favorite definition of wellness is:
The search for enhanced quality of life, personal growth, and potential through positive lifestyle behaviors and attitudes.
(A few things I love about that definition: 1. It talks about quality of life being the ultimate goal rather than a body-fat percentage or bioage or other statistic. 2. It defines wellness as a “search for” and “growth” rather than an endpoint. 3. It takes into account your attitude — which is everything.)
So, in my opinion, if alcohol is:
the social lubricant you need to get up and dance
or to talk to that person
or make jokes a little more easily…
if it’s an integral part of a cultural ritual that’s been around for generations…
if it’s the perfect flavor enhancer to a beautiful meal…
I don’t think it’s necessarily “healthier” to abstain.
I think that’s what the bottom of that J curve is all about. But, I think it’s important for us to face up to how much we are drinking. And WHY we are drinking.
In my program, the 28 Day Transformation Challenge, we:
1. Interrupt habitual patterns and bring them to our attention
2. Practice alternate stress relief coping mechanisms
3. Put clear parameters on alcohol for the duration of the Challenge (specifically — to be consumed once a week during the “cheat meal,” with a max of two units)
And then when the 28 days are over, I will often hear: “I learned I can survive without my nightly glass of wine!”
So here’s my challenge to you:
What alcohol can you survive without?
The third drink at the bar on Friday?
…..The glass of wine while you prep dinner every night?
………….The B52 you licked off that guy’s belly at the bar?
Which are the units of alcohol that contribute to your quality of life?
And which are the ones that are moving you further away?
Reprinted with permission from Oonagh Duncan’s #1 Bestselling book, Healthy As F*ck: How To Get Lean, Stay Healthy And Generally Kick Ass At Life.