As part of Precision Nutrition’s coaching program, clients are asked to experiment with drinking only calorie-free beverages for two weeks.
Many react to this habit with relief: “Oh, that’s easy! I already do not drink pop. AND I drink my coffee black!”.
Then a realization settles in. “Shit…. Alcohol has calories”.
The coaching program defines moderation as it comes to alcohol this way: “Can you temporarily go without your regular alcoholic drinks for two weeks without feeling uncomfortable?”.
I used to teach a course on healthy lifestyle. The biggest assignment for the semester was the “30-day trial” based on Steve Pavlina’s “30 Days to Success”. The idea is borrowed from the software industry – take something you are considering doing, changing, learning, and try it for 30 days, like you would with Adobe Photoshop or another expensive software package.
If at the end of the month, you do not like it, then don’t do. No harm, no foul. However, first, you do it for 30 days. No matter what.
Oh, and there is a small caveat. If you “slip” after starting the trial, you start over at day 1. I used this format for everything from creating a habit of regular exercise, to Whole30, to experimenting with only eating foods that came from within 100 miles of where I lived (see Operation 100-Mile Diet).
Students loved this assignment. Students hated this assignment. Numerous trials were started, finished, failed, started again.
One particular 30-day trial sticks out in my mind.
A female student in her early 20s approaches me at the end of class to consult about the 30-day trial she is considering. [I usually ask to sign off on the particular idea for the trial, lest the students go off and experiment with eating nothing but sugar for 30 days, or pick up smoking. Those WERE suggested to me at one point as possibilities].
The student informs me that she would like to quit drinking for 30 days. I remind her that the rules of the 30-day trial instruct to pick a behavior that you can work on daily. Thus, in order to take this particular challenge on, she would need to be a daily drinker. She assures me that it won’t be a problem – she indeed drinks every day.
I give the go ahead.
Next week, the student informs me that she went without booze for two days, and then woke up in her bed without any recollection of the night before. She started over.
This time she went for three days. Then a friend of hers came into town, and they went drinking. My student woke up in her bed without any recollection of the night before.
Are you sensing a pattern?
I wish I could tell you this story has a happy ending. It doesn’t. This student was not able to go without alcohol for 30 days. In fact, she was not able to go for a week.
Scary realization? Yep. Worthwhile one? Absolutely.
When we set out to do something we don’t think we can do, and then do it, it teaches us a lot. Yet sometimes when we set out to do something and fail, it can teach us even more.
I encouraged the student to seek professional help. I hope she did.
Not having a problem implies that you can take it or leave it. You choose to drink sometimes (heavy on the “SOME”), and can choose not to drink other times, without feeling miserable or deprived.
As a health coach who has worked with hundreds of female clients, I have been privvy to many secrets. Many of these secrets are around booze.
I start getting a sense of the role alcohol plays in someone’s life from the way they talk about it. It comes up… A LOT.
“I was just having a glass of wine with dinner, and…” “My friends took me out for drinks on Monday night…” “And then we started doing shots…” “I know I probably drink too much”. “I only drink occasionally”. “I drink”.
And no other adult beverage in women’s lives compares to red wine.
Red wine is like the chocolate’s older sister – she can be fun and sophisticated, or really bad influence. Watch the amount of time you spend with her, or you will find yourself riding a mechanical bull on a Tuesday afternoon, and then still nursing a hangover the next morning. Booze can create an interesting pattern. Up-down. Up-down. Throw in some coffee for good measure, and we now have both a depressant and an upper.
Coffee – UP. Alcohol – DOWN. Sugar – UP. Sleeping pills – DOWN.
And round, and round, and round we go.
With substances, ranging from sugar to alcohol, the actual mood fluctuations can be masked, dulled, diluted.
Feel sad? Have some chocolate. Feel happy? Celebrate with a cocktail.
This is not an argument in favour of monastic abstinence. Rather, it’s an argument for making conscious choices.
When it becomes automatic, question it. Is this the behavior you WANT to be automatic?
Are you flossing on autopilot? Congratulations.
Are you pouring yourself a double scotch on autopilot? How is that working for you?