NUTRITION // changing my relationship with alcohol
GROWING UP WITH ALCOHOL
Last night I had a few beers with Chris at our local pub. Nothing particularly crazy, it’s an activity which has been a biweekly occurance for me for years. I grew up with a family of moderate to heavy drinkers, so it has always been a part of daily life. Funnily enough, I didn’t realise how much my mum, dad and step-dad drank until I left home and met other people’s parents who don’t drink quite as much. When I lived at home, I thought it was completely normal that they haven’t gone a day without alcohol for 30 odd years (excluding illnesses). Mum even drank red wine and guinness while she was pregnant – though I’m assuming it wasn’t every day…! Every night after work mum would have a gin and tonic, followed by a glass or two of wine. Dad would have a four pack of lager. When I reached 15, Dad would buy me Bacardi Breezers (anyone remember those?!) and offer them to me at dinner time. By 19 I was regularly partying and drinking, but when you’re that young you recover much faster so I just kept going. I carried the habit into my 20s living in Newcastle. I didn’t drink every day, though there were weeks when I would, but it was enough to class me as a moderate drinker. This may sound familiar to you, maybe this sounds like your upbringing – it’s not that unusual in our culture!
Eventually this lifestyle started to clash with my growing interest in fitness and nutrition. Slowly but surely hangovers became more and more unwelcome, and I resented nights out downing pints for ruining my chances to become healthier, faster and fitter. It was a struggle, as I didn’t want to miss out on social events, or feel awkward by being a non-drinker so I kept going. Talk about first world problems!
Since really focusing on my cardiovascular health from July 2017 through CrossFit, this struggle has come to a stand off. This January, I started my Best Self Project (documented on this blog) and cut out all booze. When I went to the pub my friends would ask me if I was pregnant – I guess because they’d always seen me drinking. But last night I decided to try an experiment, to see if I could relax my diet and not negatively affect progress. After 16 days alcohol free I had three pints of 4% lager and a packet of crisps, and tracked them on MyFitnessPal. This is what I found:
- The beer and snacks added a whopping 900 calories to my daily intake.
- It was a planned trip to the pub, so during the day I worked hard to burn some extra calories. My calorie output was 2622 for that day, but it was still not enough to counteract the calories in, which were 2801. The extra activity left me feeling pretty tired.
- The next morning I dragged myself to CrossFit class as normal, but I was definitely not in peak condition. It did cure the lingering hangover, but writing this at lunchtime I still feel lethargic.
- I thought I’d be so ready to let my hair down and enjoy a beer. I imagined the first sip to be an ‘ahhh’ moment. It wasn’t.
- It was expensive. Each drink was £4, so total spend was £13 including the crisps. Twice a week that’s £26. Over a year that’s £1352. And that’s just minimum for me.
SO, CAN YOU DRINK ALCOHOL AND STILL REACH YOUR FITNESS GOALS?
There are a number of factors to take into consideration.
Are you happy with your physical condition or do you want more? Alcohol could be something to cut down to improve your fitness levels.
How old are you? A younger body can recover faster.
Do you want to lose body fat? Boozy evenings with inevitable snacks could be ruining the good work you put in the rest of the week.
Are you female or a small(ish) human? It sucks but generally us girls don’t need as many calories to maintain our weight as men. Bar drinks are universal size, so they will impact us more if we match our men drink for drink.
SO FAR SO NEGATIVE ELLY, CAN WE LIGHTEN THE MOOD?
Of course it’s not all doom and gloom ;-). I don’t want to be a party pooper but I did want to be real, as I promised I would be during this #bestselfproject. Here are some thoughts and tips which I am implementing, perhaps they could help you too:
- Reduce drinking occasions to just a few nights a month. Be a designated driver sometimes if your social life is super lively.
- Be a bit fussier – i.e. have 1/2 pint of a really nice beer, rather than a whole pint of something that’s just okay. If the bar doesn’t sell anything you really want then don’t bother spending the money.
- Find a non-alcoholic drink you love. Whether it’s a mocktail, or non-alcoholic beer (Erdinger is nice).
- Tell your friends. They should be supportive of your choice, but if they do mock you or try to convince you to drink with them they’re acting this way as they feel threatened or it challenges them. Not in a bad way – they are probably just worried that they’re losing their partner in crime, or maybe deep down they’re wondering whether they should drink less too.
- Track the money you’re saving. If you regularly go out for drinks, you’ll be impressed with how much you save. I have been using the free Messenger app Cleo*, which tracks how much you are saving on specific things like going out and entertainment – it’s been rewarding to watch the graph go up!
So far it has not negatively affect my weigh ins, possibly due to the dehydration – stay tuned for my next Best Self Project update to see whether it stalled my fat loss. So that’s my honest review of how a night out drinking prompted some changes for me. Ultimately it’s all about finding a balance which works for you.
How has your relationship with alcohol changed over the years? Let me know your thoughts!
* if you sign up using my referral code we both get £5.