With the Big Easy gearing up for Mardi Gras Day tomorrow, many New Orleanians and tourists will be diving deep into festivities far into the night. Some may even be getting a last cocktail in before the start of Lent the following day if they’re choosing to give up alcohol for Lent, as many New Orleanians – Catholic or not – choose to give this up as their challenge.
So if you’re one of the many who may be choosing to take up the alcohol-free challenge throughout the 40 days of Lent, you may want to think about doing some self-experimentation to see what's really happening during this detox. This will help you see the full picture of the impact that alcohol has on your body.
Important note: This experiment is for the casual drinker. Those who feel they have serious drinking issues should discuss abstaining with their physician, as the reaction to alcohol withdrawal can be significant.
Here’s the challenge: Give up all alcohol starting this Wed., Feb. 10 until March 27.
To help you throughout the way, I’ll be offering weekly reminders, tips and encouragement in the comment stream under my original column on Nola.com as well as through my Twitter account -- @mollykimballrd – using the hashtag #AlcoholFreeFor40. Use the hashtag yourself, if you'd like to share your experiences on Twitter. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know you accept the challenge, and feel free to share your photos, lab results, and keep in touch throughout to let me know how you’re doing.
Before You Start
Before you go alcohol-free, take the time to establish baseline metrics. Do this now so that you have your test results in hand before you stop drinking. To see a full list of suggested labs you might want to consider running, see my full Nola.com article here.
Why Take This Challenge
Alcohol interferes with our sleep patterns. It may make it easier to fall asleep, but it also makes it harder to stay asleep. It also can hinder our quality of deep sleep. The immediate result: foggy thinking and low energy. And we know that sleep is intricately linked to our weight, so it's not just the calories from alcohol that are a concern when it comes to weight – this continued pattern of disrupted sleep can also directly contribute to increased abdominal fat and weight gain.
Interestingly, we tend to think of alcohol as something that relaxes us, but if we take it even just a little too far, it can have the exact opposite effect. Alcohol can actually inhibit our ability to manage stress, interfering with our body's stress response, which can exacerbate any underlying anxiety issues.
And over time, chronic over-drinking can cause multiple significant health problems, says Dr. Dean Hickman, chairman of the Psychiatry Department and Medical Director of the Addictive Behavior Unit at Ochsner Health System. These problems include: alcohol-related dementia (which he says looks very similar to Alzheimer's disease, only the underlying cause is excessive alcohol use); cancer of the esophagus, mouth, and throat; heart failure; liver cancer; impotence in men (due to the effects of alcohol on testosterone); bone loss and muscle wasting to name a few. The list goes on.
Even if you aren't drinking so much that you're likely to be at an increased risk for these more serious side effects, for those of us who just drink regularly – one or two drinks a day, for example – it's likely that we're feeling less-than-optimal in our daily lives.
Our baseline "normal" just isn't as comfortable as it could be. Yet it seems normal, because we're used to it. We may not even realize that, every day, we're actually a bit sub-par, with a general low-level feeling of sluggishness that we've come to live with as "normal.”
Results to Expect
So what benefits can you expect to see when taking up this challenge? A few benefits you may experience include better sleep, clearer thinking, improved energy, less puffiness, less inflammation and all-around improved mood. Added bonus: You might even lose a few extra pounds.
If the very idea of giving up alcohol for 40 days – or even just one or two weeks or even just a couple of days – seems unattainable, that's even more reason to give this self-experiment a try.
Drinking alcohol can be a habit that we've trained our brains and our bodies to expect, and it can be incredibly eye-opening to experience just how quickly – and significantly – our cravings for alcohol can diminish. For some it can be as soon as a matter of a few days.
Helpful Tips to Ease the Challenge
For a list of tips to make it easier to stick with and follow through with this 40-day self-experiment, check out my full Nola.com article here for some helpful pointers.
The bottom line: This isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. Giving up alcohol may not be something that you choose to continue long-term, but depending on the results of your own self-experiment, you may decide that it's worth it to cut back over the long term.
For more details on this topic, read Molly’s full Nola.com article.