Beyond Dry January: Thinking About Alcohol and Your Health

Published:

January 3, 2020

Image via Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Kimberly Steinkopf, IIN Content Editor

Over the years, Dry January has become a popular tradition of ditching alcohol for the entire first month of a new year. Some take part in Dry January to kick off their healthy goals for the year ahead, while some do it as a way of “detoxing” from overindulgence during the holiday season.

Dry January works for many people, but some tend to go right back to their old habits in the beginning of February. Overall, studies have confirmed that people who participate in Dry January typically report less alcohol consumption in the following months.

While the relationship between alcohol and your health can be complicated, there are many benefits (especially for your health) to participating in Dry January, and now there are more and more ways to think about your overall relationship with alcohol beyond that first month of the year.

The Sober Curious Movement

We've seen packaged food companies, beauty brands, and restaurants make the shift to be more health conscious as consumers recognize how the products they use and the food they eat affect their overall health. The latest to join this health-conscious shift? Beverage companies and bars.

According to this study, alcohol consumption has fallen flat over the past year with around 50% of all U.S. adult consumers making an effort to limit their alcohol consumption. Consumers are no longer just giving up alcohol for Dry January; they are cutting back year-round. People are realizing that they don’t need to always have a drink to unwind, socialize, or celebrate.

Being “sober curious” means abstaining from alcohol in the name of health. People who consider themselves to be sober curious are not necessarily recovering alcoholics – they simply steer away from alcohol consumption as they notice the way that drinking negatively affects their health, relationships, and other areas of life.

Bars and beverage companies are supporting this trend, allowing people to still socialize and enjoy delicious drinks, without the alcohol. There are even alcohol-free meetups worldwide, where people get together to enjoy activities that make them feel good about their health.

IIN graduate Emily Nachazel was recently featured on PBS NewsHour, where she gave her thoughts on the sober curious movement and how being sober curious helped in different areas of her life. Emily looks at her relationship not only with alcohol but also with the food she eats, her habits, and her relationships. She explained how being sober curious has helped her personally and as a Health Coach:

“I consider myself ‘sober curious.’ I've never been a big drinker (hangovers often don’t support my personal health, wellness, and business goals), but I'm not one for strict labels and rigid rules. What I do believe is that we should all question our relationship with any substance (or any food, habit, or relationship, for that matter). This is one way I practice what I preach to my coaching clients: Wellness is not one size fits all. It's about tuning in to yourself and listening to your unique body and intuition.

“I'm continually checking in with myself and asking, ‘Is this supportive of me right now?’ and that includes my choice to drink alcohol or not. Yes, sometimes going out dancing, letting loose, and having a cocktail (or two!) is exactly what my soul needs. And sometimes I need to say ‘No, thank you,’ even when that's not the popular choice.”

Making Alcoholic Beverages Healthy

Dry January and the sober curious movement are certainly great ways to observe your relationship with alcohol and understand if you should be cutting back on alcoholic drinks. But if you have what you think is a healthy relationship with alcohol and know the dangers on your health of drinking too many alcoholic drinks, there are ways to intertwine your healthy habits with drinking alcohol in moderation.

Besides beverage companies hopping on the health-conscious trend and creating nonalcoholic drinks, there are several companies now taking a “healthy” approach to drinking with hard kombucha, alcoholic seltzers, and low ABV liqueurs.

IIN grads Tara Roscioli and Beth Ritter Nydick wrote a book in 2017 that brings a healthy mind-set to alcoholic beverages. Clean Cocktails includes a roundup of their favorite healthy cocktails with nothing but naturally low-calorie spirits, fresh juices loaded with vitamins, gentle sweeteners (like honey and maple syrup), and anti-inflammatory spices (like cinnamon, cayenne, and turmeric).

Read on to learn more about their book, Tara’s opinion about Dry January, and how there has been a shift over the years in people’s alcohol consumption.

Q: What inspired you (and Beth) to write Clean Cocktails?
A:
Our clients really inspired us to write this book. We realized that restaurants everywhere had picked up on the “clean eating” trend. However, no one had attempted to parlay the same general concept of consuming whole, unprocessed ingredients to their cocktail menu. In fact, many would have you believe that the consumption of alcohol has absolutely no place in a clean lifestyle.

I find that approach to nutrition completely unsustainable, and so do many of my clients. They wanted to know if consuming a whole food diet meant they could never again enjoy a cocktail. Beth's clients had this same concern, so that inspired us to write this book. Since publishing our book, cleaner cocktails are now on trend.

Q: How do you think people should approach setting goals or resolutions around drinking?
A:
As a practice, I am against setting resolutions as they are too absolute and set us up for feelings of failure. We often set resolutions to attain something we feel we should strive for, like going to the gym every day or losing weight, rather than something we feel mentally prepared to commit to. By setting an intention to make better choices about the food and drinks we consume, we can encourage progress without setting the threshold too high. For example, why resolve to have a Dry January if you are going to resume old drinking habits on February 1? Instead, why not set the intention to enjoy one or two cocktails each weekend and commit to keeping them free of additives and sugar? Over time, your brain will register how much better you feel when you enjoy the occasional cocktail as opposed to drinking throughout the week. When your brain makes that connection, you are more likely to continue this practice and form a healthy habit. All-or-nothing approaches rarely work long-term.

Q: How have you seen a shift in healthy drinking habits?
A:
I have seen many trade in their former habit of drinking wine over the course of a dinner for one or two cocktails made with low-sugar spirits (such as vodka or tequila), fresh fruit juices, and herbs. While wine does have health benefits, many women in their forties complain that wine causes them to have headaches. They report fewer headaches and less weight gain with the consumption of a low-sugar spirit. I have also noticed that many restaurants will offer what they deem to be a cleaner cocktail, substituting agave for the usual simple syrup. While agave is still highly processed, it does seem that bars and restaurants are leaning into this trend of cocktails made with whole ingredients and less sugar.

Q: What is your favorite clean cocktail?
A:
My favorite clean cocktail is the Meyer Lemonade that Beth and I created for our book. We make it with nothing but fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice, vodka, and honey syrup, made with equal parts honey and boiling water.

Are you participating in Dry January, joining the sober curious movement, or leaning toward drinks that have a healthy twist to them? Share with us on social media and tag @nutritionschool! No matter which route you take, make sure you are putting your health first and listening to your body. Remember to keep bio-individuality in mind and know that what works for you may not work for someone else.

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