Britains love their drink. It has been part of the culture for a very long time, but it’s only recently that we’ve started to realise just how damaging a daily drink or two can be. In 2018, a study of almost 600,000 people concluded that there was no safe level of alcohol consumption1. Plus, alcoholic drinks are not cheap! In 2018 the average weekly spend on alcohol in Britian was £8.70 for drinks consumed at home and £8.00 on drinks outside the home2. That’s more than £868 per year, and doesn’t include special occasion (weddings, Christmas, etc.) drinking! As a way to save money and improve your health, cutting down on alcohol is hard to beat.
Among other things, the more you drink, the more likely you are to be overweight or obese3. To start, alcohol itself is relatively high in calories, with 7 kcal per gram (as opposed to 4 kcal per gram for protein or carbs). A pint of 4% alcohol lager has about 180 calories, while a large 250mL glass of 13% red wine has about 225kcal. And we rarely stop at one! What’s more, the body does not process liquid calories in same way as solid ones. It takes a lot more fluid to feel full than solid food. I find I can easily have a couple of calorie laden cocktails, and still have room for a three course dinner (with wine!).
Of course, alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes you feel more relaxed. This in turn can lead to both poor food choices and overspending. Spending £100 on something you don’t need feels like less of a big deal after a few drinks. You are also far more likely to have dessert after a couple of glasses of wine, simply because you fancy it and no longer care about the consequences. This is not good for your health or your bank balance!
Alcohol can also affect the quality of your sleep. Many people swear by a “nightcap” to help them sleep. And it is true that drinking alcohol helps you to fall asleep more quickly. The problem is alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage where we dream and which is the most restorative. Even if you get a full night’s sleep, disrupting REM sleep can leave you feeling tired, drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day. Alcohol also causes your whole body to relax, and not always in a good way. When the muscles of your throat get too relaxed, you get sleep apnoea and snoring. This reduces the quality of sleep and can cause you to wake up in the night.
Most people underestimate the number of units of alcohol they are drinking. The current government recommendations are for both men and women to have less than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread over several days. That’s six pints of 4% beer, six small (175mL) glasses of 13% wine or fourteen 25mL measures of spirits. Many of my clients tell me they don’t drink that much, and are shocked to discover that two large glasses of wine are half the recommended weekly units! So the first step is to keep a drink diary to see how just much alcohol you drink per week. You can find drink tracker apps on the Drinkaware website.
However much you drink, consider cutting back. Many people have found that cutting out alcohol completely for a month really improves their sleep, energy levels and body composition. On the other hand, if you truly enjoy your drink, you are better off planning regular treats rather than banning it completely. Give yourself at least three alcohol free days a week, and stick to two small drinks (half pints of beer, small glasses of wine) when you do indulge. Rather than having an entire bottle of cheap wine, buy a better bottle and savour it over several days. Likewise, rather than having a cheap six pack of lager, have one or two bottles of something more expensive. Make drinking a special treat rather than something you do every day.
The idea is to cut down on alcohol, rather than cut it out completely. Remember, a healthy lifestyle must be enjoyable and sustainable!
- Wood, AM, et al. Riskthresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies. 2018 Apr 14;391(10129):1513-1523. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30134-X.
- According to Drinkware website https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/research/data/consumption-uk/ accessed on 10/10/2020.
- Traversey, G. and Chaput, J.R. Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update.Curr Obes Rep. 2015 Mar;4(1):122-30. doi: 10.1007/s13679-014-0129-4
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