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Dry January And How To Be Mindful Of Your Drinking This New Year

dr michael mosley

As 2021 hits home, many of us have resolved to turn over a new leaf – whether that being getting fit, losing weight or being more mindful of our relationship with alcohol.

Excessive drinking can not only cause health issues such as heart problems and liver disease, since it is so high in sugar, alcohol is also bad for your waistline – and so those well intentioned plans to lose weight can be easily damaged by indulging in a nightly glass or two too many.

This year, more than ever, I believe it’s vitally important that we assess our drinking.

Last year, figures showed that sales of alcohol soared during with supermarkets and corner shops seeing alcohol sales increase by 22 per cent.

Experts also warned that failure to tackle problem drinking during the Covid-19 pandemic could result in increased harm for generations to come, and a second public health crisis.

Dry January is great for some, but for others a more moderate approach works and sets the path for a more healthy relationship with alcohol for the year to come.

Here, I give my top tips on drinking in moderation and how to be more mindful of your relationship with alcohol.

How much should you be drinking?

Current UK guidelines – which are much lower than in Italy and Spain – advise limiting alcohol intake to 14 units a week (or around seven 175ml glasses of 12% ABV wine), however the problem with units is that they are almost impossible to pin down.

The effect of alcohol differs person-by-person, depending on body size, gender, and also how you metabolise alcohol.

I try to drink within the recommended guidelines of seven medium-sized glasses of wine a week, and I follow the principles of 5:2; having a drink five nights (red wine is my recommended suggestion) a week and not drinking for two.

Be aware of your moods

Another study also showed that doctors fear people could be drinking so much alcohol during the coronavirus lockdown that a ‘second health crisis’ is on the way, with many people turning to alcohol to handle the stress, anxiety and boredom of being isolated at home.  

Modest amounts of alcohol can raise your mood, but when you go beyond the recommended guidelines you are increasing your risk of depression and anxiety.

You can get caught in a vicious cycle where you drink because you are anxious, stressed or unhappy, and then the alcohol makes you worse. It’s really important to cut down if you can.

Watch out for sugar

Alcohol is also high in sugar, which is not only bad for your teeth and your waist, it is bad for you brain as well. This is partly because sugar, like alcohol, can be horribly addictive.

Unless you do lots of exercise, all those excess calories will be laid down as fat. We know that people who are overweight or obese are much more prone to depression and anxiety, and that seems to be directly linked to the fat itself.

Fat doesn’t just sit there, it sends out inflammatory signals. So when you pile on the pounds, particularly around the waist, you are not only damaging your heart but your brain as well.

Mindful drinking

Some studies have shown that there are benefits in drinking a glass of red wine, but after a glass or two a day, the benefits drop off pretty dramatically and disadvantages start to emerge, particularly the risk of liver and breast cancer.

The sensible reaction to all of this is to not give up drinking wine full stop but rather to enjoy your wine, to savour it and have one or two glasses a night. Call it mindful drinking.

We have a tendency to gulp things down, but if you slow down and really enjoy what’s in your glass, you’ll probably drink less as well.