July is time of year when New Zealanders all over the country put down their alcoholic bevies and go dry to support those affected by cancer.
I think this is a great initiative and it's also terrific excercise for your body. If you'd like to know more about the effect alcohol has on our body, you can read this blog post, 'How is Alcohol Really Affecting Your Health?'
However, having the information and knowledge about HOW alcohol affects your body is only part of the picture. When it comes to making the right choices for our health on a daily basis, we also have to be aware of our emotional patterns.
While limiting or eliminating your alcohol consumption may sound simple in theory, like most things in theory, it's much harder in practice. From personal experience, greater than the actual desire to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or relax after work with beer, is the social expectation to drink.
Social drinking is a deeply engrained part of Kiwi culture and it can be quite intimidating to enter a room full of people without a beverage in hand – especially when you're doing it for the first time.
In this blog, we'll be looking at how to manage your own expectations, the expectations of others and alternative activities you and can do with your partner, friends and colleagues.
Managing expectations with yourself
Before you need to worry about what other's will think of your decision not to drink, you first need to come to terms with this yourself.
For some people, this step will be easy. For others, they might be able to do without a drink for a couple of days, but then find that the urge to have a drink often takes over.
We see this typically with food, but it is also relevant to alcohol. In almost every case when people label something as bad or wrong and then deprive themselves, this is followed by a binge of some sort.
The best tool we have to change a behavior or habit is self-awareness and mindfulness of our drinking habits. To do this, you need to spend some time really observing the situations, patterns and emotions you experience around drinking.
What to focus on:
1. Texture, taste and smell of your drink
This practice makes you slow down and take the time to appreciate these little pleasures, increasing the enjoyment of the experience. Like eating a dessert, slowing down and appreciating the texture, taste and smell of each sip, will help increase your satisfaction.
2. Ask yourself, "Will this be worth it?"
We like to follow the 80:20 rule. This means that 20% of the time – or if you have 21 meals a week, roughly 4 meals – can include something a little more indulgent. If a glass of wine on a Friday night is calling your name, then by all means, enjoy it mindfully. However, if a wine or beer isn't worth your 20% then decline the beverage and enjoy something else that is.
3. The "As good as the first sip" rule
Another handy tool to use is to drink your beverage mindfully and savour each sip. Stop drinking when you find that the drink no longer brings as much joy as the initial delicious sip. This takes practice. Go easy on yourself and remember that this is difficult and you're working on it.
4. Am I just thirsty?
Sometimes you may think you want one thing when in reality, you actuality you want something else. Before you have an alcoholic drink try drinking a glass of water or tea. Does that satisfy you?
5. Self-compassion is critical
Being mindful is challenging and takes a lot of practice. We all slip up from time to time. The key here is to be gentle on yourself and remember that you're doing so well. Honour where you are and get really curious and honest with yourself about why you want to do this. Shifting your mindset from "I have to," to "I choose to," makes a huge difference.
Managing expectations with others
Once you've managed the expectation within yourself it's time to focus it on managing expectation with others. No one wants to be teased for refusing to drink. In this section we'll be looking at practical strategies to make sure you can enjoy social interactions and special occasions while also supporting your health goals.
Despite common belief, we've found being honest is the best way to manage social expectation. It's also really important to be able to explain why you're doing this. People are much more accepting when they can understand where you're coming from. You don't need to tell them everything, just the main reason. Whatever your response, practicing it beforehand can really help you say it with conviction when asked.
Here are some responses we like:
"I'm not drinking to look after my liver and lower my cholesterol."
"It doesn't serve my body well."
"I'm working on stabilising my body sugar levels."
"Maybe later on but right now I'd love a sparkling water thanks."
It also helps to let people know in advance. Sometimes negative reactions can stem from embarrassment. For example, if you go to a dinner party and announce as the meal is being served that you don't want any wine, your host might not have anything else to offer you.
"Letting people know ahead of time also saves worrying about how you will tell others and or having to justify yourself in front of a large group of people."
Letting people know ahead of time also saves worrying about how you will tell others and or having to justify yourself in front of a large group of people.
Not quite ready to tell others?
If you're not quite ready to tell others that you're not drinking, here's a simple way to get around this. Prior to the event, function or dinner reservation, call and ask what non-alcoholic beverages they offer. Many places now offer delicious, non-alcoholic drinks like kombucha and tonics. Arrange with them that you'll order a standard drink off the menu but you'd like to be served the non-alcoholic version. A sparkling water with lemon is easily disguised as a gin and tonic.
The good news is that once you've started, it only gets easier. When you start experiencing how much more energy you have or how good your body feels, you can use it as motivation to keep making healthful choices.
1. Take an evening yoga class with your girlfriends
2. Rather than brunch and drinks how about turmeric or matcha lattes and a beach walk
3. Join a non-alcoholic social group like #NoBeersWhoCares
4. Enjoy a couples massage with all the money you're not spending on booze
6. Become a tea connoisseur
7. Have your friends over for a potluck dinner
8. Go on an indoor rock climbing date
9. Take a cooking class with your partner
10. Pick up a hobby, gardening, pottery, knitting, gardening, golf...
Remember your decision to reduce your alcohol consumption doesn't need to be made overnight. It's often most helpful to make small changes as you go. Give it a go tonight. After you've had your first alcoholic beverage swap the second one for a sparkling water with a slice of lemon or even try kombucha.