Habitual drinking is all around us. But there are good reasons not to drink every day. Here’s an update to my year of “wine on the weekends” and tips on how to drink less.
One year ago…
A year ago I wrote a post about a new plan to limit alcohol to the weekends and special occasions only. (“Special occasions” is very loosely defined!) Having a drink a day, a glass of wine with dinner each night, had turned into a ritual that I didn’t feel good about (unless it was 5:00 of course!) I knew I wanted to change the habit and had several good reasons to drink less. One year later I can say that this structure worked very well for me!
Reasons To Drink Less
1 // Our daily habits make up our health.
While I wouldn’t declare that moderate alcohol intake is itself bad for you, I don’t really think it’s good for you either. I am a firm believer that what we do on a daily basis impacts our health the most. Drinking too much, eating to the point of feeling stuffed, eating nothing green, snoozing through your workouts, getting 3 hours of sleep – none of these things impact much if they happen every now and then. But on a daily basis they would likely lead to less-than-ideal health outcomes.
2 // Research says that women should have no more than seven drinks per week for optimal health.
There are links to breast cancer and other health problems to mental health for more than 7 drinks per week. A daily drink plus a little more at social events equals a lot more than seven. (Those lucky men have a lot more wiggle room with their recommendation at less than 14 alcoholic drinks per week.) Before shifting my habits, I realized I was having more than 7 drinks a week. And let’s not forget that the standard drink is 4 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer. If I measured the actual amount of alcohol, it was more like 6-8 ounces of wine or a pint of beer. I was going directly against professional health recommendations.
3 // I feel best when I don’t drink
Alcohol is linked to inflammation, dehydration, poor sleep, empty calories, and a temporary pause in fat burning. I wanted to feel better, sleep better, and shed any excess wine-induced pounds. “They say” to drink a glass of water per drink you have, which definitely helps, but I find that drink limits is just a cleaner plan. Just look food, sometimes it’s easier to not even start drinking than it is to stop drinking once you get going.
How To Drink Less
How did the year go? So much better than I thought it would! One year later I am sticking to the plan. Now don’t interpret that as “I never had wine on a weekday” because I definitely did. There were times when my desire to drink – whatever the reason – overruled the reasons I listed above. But overall, my “why” won out. Most of the time when my mind drifted to wine I found myself thinking of my list of reasons and the craving would slowly fade. I have realized that my wine-at-5:00 habit is linked to feeling like the daytime is over and it’s time to wind down (wine down) for the evening. So I have worked on other ways to celebrate that transition.
Having a strong “why” was the key to my success.
You can’t just proclaim “I’m going to do X” if you don’t believe in and understand your why. For me, my why was my health. I knew deep in my heart that as a dietitian, wine everyday was not a habit I would recommend to anyone. And so I needed to follow my own advice.
The biggest challenges were Thursdays and Sundays
I was surprised by this because I would have assumed that either Monday or Wednesday (midweek) would be the hardest, but it’s actually easier when you get on a roll. But Thursdays often taste like Fridays – there is a whisper of weekend in them – and I find myself more tempted on Thursdays than any other night. Sundays I can take or leave. Sometimes Sundays feel part of the weekend (like if we had friends over to watch football or a Sunday party), but other times they feel part of the week and occasionally I skipped a drink on a Sunday just because.
When I do crave drinks, I tried to swap in kombucha, mocktails or half strength drinks. Check out this list of 10 Alcohol Free Cocktail Drinks for some ideas.
I actually feel like I lost a little of my love for drinking
Isn’t that weird? I have no idea if it’s related to cutting back or if it’s just a phase I’m in. It could definitely be related to the winter months. It could also be related to recognizing that my craving is linked to the end of the day. I also feel that when I do drink I’m drinking less than I used to. It helps to have friends and family members in on the plan to support you. My BFF Sarah and I often say we never want to have more than 2 (maaaaybe 3) drinks in one party night and to hold each other to that. Because it’s just never worth it to feed badly overnight or the next day. I have no desire to over drink!
I know some of you love your daily alcoholic beverage and others of you choose not to drink at all. I’d love to have a discussion in the comments about your own habits and why you choose them. Have you ever made a big change and how did it go?
I realized about four years ago that alcohol was affecting my sleep. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve been pretty successful at cutting back to one drink. I have a great time ordering mocktails at a bar and love the reduced cost of the drink. Some bars will even give you one for free. I ask for seltzer with a splash of something sweet. They are almost always delicious!
Kath Younger says
The cost savings is a huge silver lining!
Kristy C says
This is so refreshing Kath! I had to give up alcohol about 2.5 years ago because of a chronic health condition. I realized it just wasn’t working anymore. The whole process was enlightening – because you don’t realize just how integral drinking has become in our lives, until you have to let it go. In the end, I can say I’m a better person, and I like that I don’t even have to think about it anymore – whereas before I was always wondering “am I drinking too much? How much is too much? Is this good for me?” I am definitely an all-or-none type of person over a moderation type of person. These are all good things to realize! Good for you for being reflective and self-aware!!
Kristy, I had the very same experience. I quit drinking last October. I was not a big drinker, but I wanted to give myself a little cleanse until the end of the year. And then I felt so good that I decided to do a sober 2020 and reassess after that.
We give alcohol SO much credit for allegedly helping us have fun and form relationships and relaxed. Well, I’m SO much more relaxed and less anxious without a glass of wine in the evening. My sleep is better. My relationships are better. I feel healthier. I mean it shouldn’t be surprising; ethanol is poison. But I’m really happy with how I’m feeling!
You say “So I have worked on other ways to celebrate that transition” in regards to breaking that 5:00 wine habit — could you go a bit more into what those include? Agree that it’s totally a habit thing!
Kath Younger says
I find that if I focus on the “relax” part of the day rather than the “celebrate” side it’s easier to get in the mindset of self care. The biggest habit change that affects that is changing into my cozy clothes, taking off my makeup, and lighting a candle. Something about sweatpants and a sweatshirt makes wine less tempting than if I’m in makeup and “nice” clothes. It’s subtle but that slight focus towards “spa night” and away from “party time” has helped.
I don’t drink much at all anymore–almost never on weeknights and maybe 1-2 drinks a month. The occasional drink is fine, but any more than that and I just really don’t feel well, mentally or physically. It’s been a slow and organic change over the last 4-5 years, nothing dramatic and I don’t have any set rules or guidelines. But I like it! 🙂
I actually quit drinking completely a couple of years ago. My husband had an ulcer and couldn’t drink so that brought down my consumption at first. I also noticed that my anxiety decreased dramatically after i cut back. I had horrible night anxiety which resulted in horrible panic attacks and found it was exacerbated by alcohol. I just quit altogether and have never looked back. The interesting thing, however, was people’s reaction when I say I don’t drink. It’s been met with some crazy responses! Like I can’t be fun or social if I’m not drinking! And let me just say, dining out is so much more affordable without the bar tab added on. ??
I’ve never drank as it never appealed, and alcoholism has been very prevalent in my family. People can be quite cruel whenever I simply decline a drink. They will inquire why, and upon telling them I simply don’t drink, I can tell it bothers them. It’s ridiculous. But we must all do what is in our best interest and no one else’s. When my husband and I enjoyed a weekend stay in Nashville, TN last summer, we talked about how expensive it is to drink. He does choose to drink, and the fact that if we both did, the cost at the bar plus for safe transportation would be crazy!
If I drank wine daily truthfully I would find it difficult not to so I just don’t. About once a week I’ll drink and then honestly it’s the mentality of might as well kill it off. Then it’s done, that’s just the way I am. So I normally don’t even buy a bottle until I know I’m going to partake.
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog says
Congratulations on drinking less! I can’t relate because I’ve never liked drinking, but I’m so proud of you, Kath! Good job! 🙂
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Denise Blust says
I’m so glad you posted this today! I spent the last week in eastern Tennessee with a good friend who was seriously injured at work. Between staying at the hospital with her, and then getting her home and settled, I did not drink any alcohol for six days. I was stressed and exhausted, but alcohol would not have helped. Saturday night I drove to Atlanta to stay at a hotel near the airport, and had some wine when I got there. I woke up really feeling it! I know it was stress and exhaustion too, but I could FEEL my body saying what the what?! It was a really good chance to make the break and feel what it was doing to me. So my new plan is two drinks, twice a week, while I’m out. No sitting at home with a bottle of wine. I did this two years ago and I felt amazing. Time to make it a permanent plan!
I agree I’ve also noticed if I drink more than a couple it affects my sleep. I get all jittery and can feel my heart racing and never seem to calm down enough to get into a deep sleep. Only maybe once a year (at most!) do I feel an occasion is actually worth drinking maybe a few more than I normally would. However a few years ago I thought about all the empty calories I was drinking, the hangovers, gross bloating, and lack of sleep and how it was all caused by something I’m not even sure I really wanted in the first place! So I just stopped. I do have pretty good will-power thankfully, so it wasn’t very hard. I also worked it in during my first pregnancy 6 years ago and never really felt the ‘need’ to drink after giving birth. So I just went with it! Now I’ll maybe have one GOOD beer at a restaurant (we go out to eat maybe once every 3-4 months) or a hard seltzer on a hot summer evening while camping. Its much easier for me to sit back and enjoy these days!
Judy McSorley says
You said that you found other ways to celebrate the transition from day to evening. I’d be interested in hearing your ideas.
Kath Younger says
Check out my other comment on this above!
Congrats Kath! Changing a habit is hard and something I do is pop open a Pellegrino water or make a cup of tea at 5! I’ve limited wine to restaurants and occasionally at home. Xo Chris
Kristy C says
I agree that changing into cozy clothes is a great way to transition. I will also often make something tasty to drink – like a seltzer water mixed with fruit juice or a sparkling kombucha – for some flavor and as a way to celebrate with something fun.
I’m most definitely following in the example my parents set here. My parents drank one or two drinks/night. To me, it’s always felt “normal”. It’s what adults/parents do. Plus, I love it. I love wine.
As I reached mid 30’s and was more aware of how I felt after I put something in my body, I realized that wine doesn’t make me feel my best. Even one glass of red in the evenings, I’m much more tired the next day. In the low months when I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, wine really pulls my mood down even more.
I go through phases throughout the year and my most frequent habit change when I need one is choosing to drink only on the weekends. Another trick I do is pour something in a wine glass, like sparkling water and a splash of Fee Brothers Orange Flower Water. Often just holding a glass tricks my brain to think I’m having something special. And most recently (just in the last month), I have taken a liking to kombucha. In our area, it’s a little more expensive than the wine I drink so it does feel special that way. I pour it into a wine glass and it’s very suitable as an evening “wind down”.
Kath Younger says
I love to use a wine glass for things other than wine too!
In January, I started: Wine only when I went out to eat, had people over or went to someone’s for dinner. This has equated to 1 – 2 nights a week and then I usually only have 1 glass. I have found that the less I drink, the less I want it/crave it. Also, I’m peri menopausal and I believe alcohol makes my night sweats worse. The only thing I have been disappointed in is that I have not lost any weight. I was having 2 glasses Every night and so I thought for sure…..some weight would come off. :/
Kath Younger says
I’m surprised you haven’t too and I didn’t really notice I did either. Puzzling!
I am so happy you gave this update, I re-read your original post from a year ago just the other day. I also got into a daily wine habit and got increasingly uncomfortable with how much I was drinking. I worried about cutting back but was relieved when having wine-free days ended up just not being a big deal. I slept better, felt more energized, and those good feelings made me want to continue to moderate my drinking. I am also following your model of not drinking during the week and it’s been great. I am wondering how you deal with vacations – there seems to always be reason to have a drink, (or over do it generally), on vacation and I want to keep up this habit of truly moderating alcohol consumption. Would love your perspective on when you are out of the daily routine…but maybe that’s another post. Thanks!
Kath Younger says
Vacations have no weekends or weekdays, so I do drink on them but I try to limit to 2 drinks a day.
I used to enjoy drinking more than I do now. I used to have a beer on a weekday, and maybe a couple on the weekend, plus a few glasses of wine. Slowly over the years (I’m 39 now), I’ve noticed how bad it makes me feel the next day. It’s just not worth it anymore. If I do drink now, I never have more than 2, and I save it for really rare, special occasions. In fact the last drink I had was at Christmas, and I haven’t been missing it.
Thank you so much for this post! I’ve recently become increasingly aware of my end of day habitual drinking. Now heading into my mid thirties, I’m realizing all the negative things that a feel after I drink. Mainly the next day with headaches and drowsiness. I’ve been considering what ways I should cut back and I like your plan of weekends and special occasions!!!
Kath Younger says
This question is for everyone: do we think we are just paying closer attention or do we think our mid-thirties age is making it harder for our bodies to detox so we actually feel worse?
Kristy C says
I think it’s both!
Haha, I wonder this all the time lol!
My husband is an alcoholic and so I don’t drink at home. It makes it easier to limit drinking but I’d often have a few when out with friends. I did dry January and am now trying to limit myself to 2 drinks when out.
Good for you for not enabling your husband by drinking around him. I am in a similar situation. I first decided not to drink around my husband because I really couldn’t justify doing that with someone who had a problem, even if I wanted a drink at the time.
Gradually, I became disgusted with alcohol in general and never really wanted to drink even with friends. After I stopped drinking almost completely, I realized how much better I felt physically and emotionally.
I totally respect those of you who want to cut back on drinking for health reasons. And some of us want to do so to keep our families together. Thank you for speaking from that perspective.
I cut way down on my drinking almost 18 months ago, and I have to say that I don’t miss it. I think the last drink I had was around Christmas, and then I started Dry January. Now here it is March and I haven’t had a drink. I drink a lot of herbal tea and seltzer and I just bought some fruity cider vinegar to add to seltzer, too. Once we replace one habit with another, we don’t seem to miss the first as much – so I guess we should try to replace more of those “less good” habits!
I have seen a huge change in my drinking habits since being pregnant and breastfeeding but also theyve change by becoming a mom too. So for about 2 years it has been maybe less than one drink a month, only if the occasion calls for it and obviously never when I was pregnant. We dont keep alcohol in the house, and wed rather spend money on other things. The largest peice for me is I don’t like how I dont have a buzzed window anymore and alcohol hits me hard and fast. I dont like that because if anything were to happen to my son, even after 1 glass of wine or beer, I dont feel capable of caring for him or responding to an emergency if that were to happen. I just picture how crappy I would feel sitting in the ER, drunk, if anything were to ever happen like that. We always go on an annual adults only fishing trip every summer and my sister in law was already talking about how much more “fun and carefree” this trip will be because I’m not pregnant and wont be pumping during the trip (aka I can drink more) and unfortunately it just isnt as appealing as it use to be. I also dont need the extra calories from alcohol with these 10lbs of baby weight hanging on and on and on…
After the birth of our 3rd child I found I was no longer interested in drinking alcohol. That child is now an adult and I can say I haven’t missed drinking at all. We still socialize with friends, we go out. I don’t feel weird, our friends don’t feel weird because I’m not drinking. I just am not interested. My husband on the other hand drinks daily. His alcohol consumption is not excessive. It’s usually just one drink, but I think it’s more of a habit for him. I also don’t think I need the extra calories. But I also think my job in emergency services has played a part in my decision. I’ve seen the effects of drinking and driving or drinking and domestic violence. I also feel that my parents had a drinking problem.
I love this post! I reduced alcohol almost two years ago. I had just herniated a disc in my back and had spent the summer reaching for wine to dull the pain. One day I realized that this is how people with chronic pain become addicts. Also it was really impacting my sleep. I usually only drink once or twice a month now and rarely ever overindulge. I feel SO MUCH better and have settled a few pounds lighter without changing anything else. Alcohol is one of those things that can become so normalized but is really pretty terrible.
I enjoy alcohol-free beer and it’s tremendously refreshing and WAY popular now. German athletes use this beverage to re-hydrate and energize. You can feel “part of the party” with NO effects, and if anything, better sleep after you’ve imbibed. Give it a try ! (It also stopped me from too much “real” booze when that was creeping up on me ! 😉 )
Kath Younger says
I have tried it before. I liked it for a while and got tired of it (I thought the alcohol free wine was so gross). I hope it becomes more mainstream and the flavors will catch up to craft beer a bit!
As I indicated, these beers are VERY popular now and some great ones are out there. They have come a long way from “Sharp” and “O’Doul’s”. I happen to like Buckler’s which is put out by Heineken Nederland. 🙂
Kath Younger says
I will look for them!! Thanks for the recommendations 🙂
I recently reconsidered my relationship with wine (was up to 2 glasses/night and experiencing 3 am wakings, palpitations, weight gain, forgetfulness, increasing anxiety, repeated illnesses). The straw that might have broken the camel’s back was when my beloved coffee began to taste bland to me (alcohol can dampen one’s sense of taste). Anyhow, I have been following This Naked Mind and did a Live Alcohol Experiment for 30 days. Wonderful way for me to shine light on the reasons I chose to partake. I treat wine like cupcakes now: I don’t believe either of them benefit me in any way, but a couple times a month I just want one and have one. To your original point about substitutions, here are my faves: Monday Alcohol-Free Gin (also calorie free), Rosemary Paloma (muddled rosemary, ruby red grapefruit juice, club soda, touch of honey or no rosemary/add cardamom bitters). Paulaner makes excellent alcohol-free beers. Thanks for sharing these insights about your journey, Kath 🙂
Addictions are habits that we take to an extreme. It is never too late though to take them back to a safe level and continue to live our lives successfully. Healing, the same as life, is a process. Remember that everything can happen, either one way or the other, but it is us who control how we react to it. Things do not come to us from outside, our lives are what we create. Therefore, we need to remain attentive and not sweep things under the rug. Pay close attention to your actions, to your daily habits, to the routines, notice even small changes, take note of what and why things happen, be proactive, choose wisely the people you surround yourself with, mind the language you use, take good care of your mental and physical well-being. These things might sound very general but when you look closely they matter each step of the journey. If you want more information, check this book – net-bossorg/how-to-help-an-alcoholic-you-love