Is alcohol sabotaging your relationship with yourself?
“One drink can’t hurt… right?”
As an exercise physiologist, I used to perform corporate health checks, and there was always a question about alcohol intake. Like a robot, I would recite the fact that ‘more than 2 drinks in one sitting increases the risk of disease, and more than 4 drinks in one sitting puts you at risk of injury’ – but it got me thinking – how often was I actually following those guidelines?
Deep down I justified going out and having more than the recommended amount on the weekend because I didn’t drink at all during the week, as if I was in some kind of ‘credit’ with the Bank of Alcohol! I’ve earnt this!
Unfortunately, drinking doesn’t work like this, and I noticed that it was interfering with other goals I had, like Sunday morning yoga or generally feeling fresh and productive.
Whilst we are big advocates for all things in moderation at Upwell, Febfast is now well underway – an initiative designed to help disadvantaged youth by pledging to give up alcohol, sugar, or something of your choosing.
Many people opt to drop the alcohol in February as the silly season is finally over and the new year has well and truly begun. Even if you’re not signed up for Febfast, now is a great time to take a look at your health goals and discover how the occasional (or frequent) drink might be sabotaging your best intentions and your heart’s deepest desire.
Here’s three things for you to think about if you’re thinking about giving up or moderating your alcohol intake:
1. You’re drinking your calories
Did you know that per gram, alcohol has more calories than fat, protein and carbohydrates? Depending on your tipple of choice, this could then be added to sugar laden soft drink or carbohydrate heavy beer and accidentally add up to 25% extra energy consumption for the day.
Keep this in mind if you have a weight loss goal in mind. Of course the occasional drink won’t alter the scales too heavily, but a nightly wine will add around 580 calories to your weekly totals. This extra intake would need approximately 1.5 hours of brisk walking to burn off! Alcohol can also promote fluid retention and feeling puffy all over the next day, which may also sabotage your weight loss efforts.
2. You could be hindering your body’s recovery efforts
One of the golden rules of a fresh soft tissue injury is “No H.A.R.M” – avoiding heat, alcohol, running or massage in the first 24-48 hours to follow. This is because all four factors can increase blood flow by expanding the vessels, at a time when we are trying to reduce swelling.
If you are nursing a chronic injury or musculoskeletal condition, remember that alcohol is a nervous system depressant. This means that you may perceive less “pain” whilst drinking as you slow down the body’s messages, but the inflammatory payback can be significant. Many people with chronic joint conditions report more pain and tenderness the day after drinking, not to mention the negative impact of poor quality, alcohol-induced sleep.
3. Remember, what goes up must come down
Your brain is always involved in a delicate dance of neurotransmitters, and there’s nothing like a heavy night of drinking to throw these out of balance. In particular, alcohol encourages the body to release more serotonin, the chemical involved in emotional expression and feeling good; and endorphins, which can provide a relaxed, euphoric feeling.
Unfortunately, the brain then must go into overdrive to rebalance this disturbance, which can lead to feeling sad or blue in the days to follow. Long term alcohol use can also affect relationships and other significant areas of your life, and it should never be used to self-medicate for depression or any other mental health disorder.
Where to from here?
The good news is, you can get your happy hormone fix from exercise, taking time out for yourself, or genuine connection with others. For some pointers, read our blog on getting your movement mojo back in the New Year.
Try to ask yourself what ‘need’ you are attempting to address with alcohol, and see if you can meet it in a way that supports your goals. The most effective wellness goals are those aligned with the intention you have set for your year – and limiting your alcohol intake is an easy win when it comes to living a happier and healthier existence.
If you aren’t completely abstaining from alcohol this February, there are plenty of mindful options available when it comes to consuming your drink of choice. Organisations like Hello Sunday Morning and apps like 101Tokens aim to bring back the awareness around alcohol, highlighting how good it feels not to be hungover, and questioning if it was really “worth it”. If it is time to rethink your drink, give those a try and see how fresh you can feel!
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2018) https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/hangovers/beyondhangovers.htm
Beyond Blue (2018) https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/drugs-alcohol-and-mental-health