When I was pregnant and hung out with other pregnant ladies, one of the hot topics was alcohol.
Was it really so bad to have a little sip?
How awful is it that I got drunk on New Years eve before I found out that I was pregnant?
This baby is about to fall out of me…surely it can’t do any harm to have a drink NOW?
I asked my midwife about it and she responded that ‘no amount of alcohol has been proven to be safe for the baby.’
And the news about booze is:
that is still the case even after you are long born: No amount of alcohol has been proven to be safe.
But what about all those articles that are in my Facebook feed that say that champagne is good for your memory and red wine is good for my heart and that if I lived in Tuscany and started drinking red wine with lunch when I was 8 years old I’d live to be 100?!
It’s true that many studies have found a J shaped curve between alcohol and health risk. Meaning that heavy drinkers have a high risk of mortality and absolute abstainers also have an uptick, while moderate drinkers have the lowest risk of early mortality.
BUT – that doesn’t prove that moderate drinking is the cause of lower mortality. Maybe there are other factors at play: maybe moderate drinkers are also more happy, social, or less stressed out…
Another great example of correlation vs. causation:
When I was in my 20’s my GP asked me how many units of alcohol I had in a week:
‘Seven’, I answered proudly. Because I had heard that seven was the recommended limit for women.
What I didn’t tell her – and she didn’t ask – was that all seven were happening on Friday night. (in amazing gold lame American apparel leggings.)
I’ve retired those leggings and those Friday nights are ancient history (see reference above re pregnancy) but even so, my perception of moderate drinking has recently shifted.
These are the recommended LIMITS that you will hear from your GP:
For women: up to seven drinks per week, with no more than three drinks on any single day
For men: up to 14 drinks per week, with no more than four drinks on any single day
And these are what units look like:
(Image credit: Precision Nutrition)
Notice a few things here:
That is a 12oz bottle of beer. So, gentlemen, your allowance of 2 units a day would be ONE 20oz pint.
That is a 5oz serving of wine – not a fancy lady ‘bowl’ with a stem on it.
That is a 1.5oz shot. Not a 3oz martini.
And given those serving sizes, look how easy it is to become a ‘heavy drinker’, according to the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee
(Image: Precision Nutrition)
(Hands up if you just had to upgrade yourself to a drinking category you had previously reserved for those who have vodka with their breakfast cereal.)
Also notice that 7 units of alcohol a week for women is the LIMIT. Not recommended dosage.
You’ll never hear a doctor recommend you START drinking if you don’t already – another indication that all those Facebook studies are BS.
Having guidelines of how much of a toxic substance you can have is called ‘risk management’.
Because people drink.
About 75% of adults in industrialized nations drink alcohol and it’s hugely woven into the fabric of most societies. Doctors came up with these limits because it’s not practical that people stop drinking.
I feel the same way.
I don’t tell my clients they have to stop drinking – even though I know it’s healthy for your body.
Because we are more than just bodies.
My favourite definition of wellness is:
The search for enhanced quality of life, personal growth, and potential
through positive lifestyle behaviours and attitudes.
(A few things I love about that definition: 1. It talks about quality of life being the ultimate goal rather than a body fat percentage or bioage or other statistic 2. It defines wellness as a ‘search for’ and ‘growth’ rather than an endpoint 3. It takes into account your attitude – which is everything)
So, in my opinion – if alcohol is:
the social lubricant you need to get up and dance
or to talk to that person
or make jokes a little more easily….
if it’s an integral part of a cultural ritual that’s been around for generations…
if it’s the perfect flavour enhancer to a beautiful meal…
I don’t think it’s necessarily “healthier” to abstain.
I think that’s what the bottom of that J curve is all about.
I think it’s important for us to face up to how much we are drinking.
and WHY we are drinking.
In my program, the 28 Day Transformation Challenge, we:
1. Interrupt habitual patterns and bring them to our attention
2. Practice alternate stress relief coping mechanisms
2. Put clear parameters on alcohol for the duration of the Challenge (specifically – to be consumed once a week during the ‘cheat meal’, with a max of two units).
And then when the 28 Days are over, I will often hear: “I learned I can survive without my nightly glass of wine!”
So here’s my challenge to you :
What alcohol can you survive without?
The third drink at the bar on Friday?
…..The glass of wine while you prep dinner every night?
………….The B52 you licked off that guy’s belly at Crocodile Rock?
Which are the units of alcohol that contribute to your quality of life?
And which are the ones that are moving you further away?
Leave a comment below and let me know which drink you can get rid of – and then watch this awesome video by one of my health heros, Dr. Mike Evans:
Like this post? See the expanded version in Oonagh’s new book, Healthy As F*ck.
And did you know?
Google ranks posts by how many comments and action it gets!
If you liked this post, leave a comment and share the post with friends!
heya – after participating last month in the transformation challenge (albeit with a couple of business trip induced overages in units) i 100% learned i don’t need a glass of wine every night. What i did notice is that stress definitely incites me to want to consume more – which is no newsflash for me and many others – however it’s a habit i really want and need to break. Along other not so nice side effects of feeling shitty is the inability to recall parts of the evening. So this month my goal is when something ticks me off, frustrates me or makes me sad, i’ll turn to physical activity (walk, bike ride, swim) and see how that feels vs. more drinks. Pretty sure i can predict the outcome 🙂
Great post and it really made me think about my choices. Alcohol can be very easily used as a crutch or it is very easy to reason why it’s ok to have a drink or another drink and I employ both tactics on a regular basis. Thanks for making me stop and think.
I don’t drink, and haven’t for years, but always wondered if not drinking was actually a little worse for my health than moderate drinking. But I just didn’t like the effects of drink anymore, so have chosen not to do it. It’s nice to know that listening to myself in this case was a good thing to do!
Chronic eating is the issue for me- not something I can say “no more” to, but always looking for hints on how to keep it more controlled and healthy.
Thanks for another good post.
Great post. Thinking of trying a dry February while I do the 28 day challenge