My Month Off The Booze - Observations From Dry July

31/07/2016

It’s 7:30pm on Saturday July 30th and I’m sitting at the kitchen table in my PJs with a cup of rooibos tea. This is not a typical Saturday night for me. Normally you’d find me on the couch with a beer, watching the footy or a movie (quite possibly still in my PJs!) or out with friends at the pub or someone’s house, again enjoying a couple of drinks. But tonight is a little different. 

In 2 more sleeps I’ll have completed my first Dry July. It’s the first time in my adult life I’ve gone an entire month with no alcohol and I’m sitting here contemplating what I’ve learned from the experience. Quite a lot, as it turns out. So here, in no particular order of relevance, are some of my observations of my month off the booze.

At first I got cranky, but then it passed - I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “James get cranky? Surely not!” But yes, dear reader, it is true. There were moments where my fuse got particularly short - well, even shorter than usual. The second weekend got off to a particularly annoying start. Friday is takeaway night at our house. My favourite burger joint managed to forget part of my order, so I had to wait while they prepared the forgotten item as the rest of the food got colder. Then when I got home I found they hadn’t even given me the burger I’d just waited around for! After a cranky call to the manager I sat down in a huff to watch the footy - at least my Cats would set the evening right with a win over the Swans at home, right? Alas, Geelong went down with nary a whimper, adding to the dark cloud growing overhead. 

My mood didn’t brighten much the next morning when I looked closer at the calendar and realised for the first time that this July had 5 weekends, not the 4 I was expecting. 5 WEEKENDS!?! What are the odds of that? About a billion to one, I’ll bet!

But then something happened. Saturday rolled into Sunday, Sunday rolled into Monday, and life when on. I looked back and realised I’d managed to survive a series of relatively minor hiccups that under normal circumstances would have left me reaching for a beer to cool off, and guess what? I started to feel better. 

The sugar cravings were tough - I love a good craft beer, many of which tend to have a fairly high level of residual sugars. I’m normally not much of a sweet tooth, by the end of my first week off beer my body was craving sugar in a way I’d never experienced. When the going got too tough I tried to at least stick to “healthier” sweet stuff, like raw date chocolate balls, banana and avocado chocolate mousse and “paleo” apple crumble, but occasionally I succumbed to the odd soft drink or junky snack. Overall, I’d say my sugar intake increased over the month, which made the next bit all the more surprising.

I lost (a little bit) of weight, but mostly where it matters - I was curious to see the effect of a month off booze on my body composition, so on July 1st I booked in for a DEXA scan, which measures body fat percentage and distribution, muscle mass and bone density. The follow up 4 weeks later showed I had lost a massive (drum roll please!) - 1.1kg! Hardly earth shattering, I know. However when I looked closer at the results it got a little more interesting. I had actually lost around 2kg in body fat, mostly around my abdomen (the least health place to store fat). The reason the scales were confused is that I had also put on about 1kg of lean muscle. Not bad considering I hadn’t changed my diet apart from those occasional sugary lapses! This change was also helped along by the next point…

I had more energy! - I’d never thought those few beers of an evening had effected my performance the next day, but there’s no doubt I’ve found it easier to get motivated to hit the gym on a more regular basis, especially on the weekends. I’d also gotten used to only doing 2-3 sessions of high intensity exercise a week, since any more than that tended to leave me feeling really sore for a few days afterwards, especially if I did any kind of heavy squats. But after just a week off the booze I noticed I was pulling up a lot less achey. This in turn meant I could train more often and also push myself harder, which meant I got fitter! I’ve racked up more PBs in the gym this month than in the last 2 years, and just ran my fastest ParkRun since 2013, something that I’m keen to continue!

As well as all the physical benefits, I’ve also noticed a difference socially and emotionally as well. As the month went on I found it easier to be around people who were drinking, and not feel like I had to join in to have fun. My regular Thursday night running group was just as much fun without a beer after as with it (well, almost as much fun!) I came to the realisation that Saturday night at home with a cup of tea was not so much a sign that I was growing old, as much as growing up. I also saved a ton of money!

I can safely say that my first Dry July has lead to a change in the way I view my relationship with alcohol. Moving on from here I plan to have a monthly Dry Week, as well as my regular AFD’s (alcohol free days), and the idea doesn’t seem stressful or onerous at all. As for another Dry July, I’m not ruling out the possibility but one thing is for sure - if I do I’ll be making sure I check the calendar a little closer first. That fifth weekend really gets you!

If you’d like to donate to James’ fundraising efforts, or just find out more about Dry July, Click Here.

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