You’ve made the decision that giving up alcohol is part of your early 2018 routine. Call it Dry January or the first step to clear-headed marathon training. But a few days in and you’re questioning the benefits. Yes, you’ve spent less time filling ice-cub trays for Gin and Tonic but aren’t you meant to have woken up feeling less groggy and 2KG lighter?
Not necessarily, according to the experts.
We spoke to a personal trainer Matt Kendrick who’s a fan of both Dry January and Macmillan’s Sober October before it and GP Richard Spence to understand exactly what happens when you put a cork in it.
Keep reading for the WH crib sheet on giving up alcohol–this is your body on Dry January.
Giving up alcohol: Week One
There are plenty of benefits to going teetotal, however, like most things in life you need to work for them. Similar to quitting sugar you might experience foggy side-effects including low energy levels. Most noticeable if you spent more nights drinking than not in December.
Depending on how regularly you drink you may also see changes in your mood and rising anxiety levels, just try to stick with it.
While alcohol might help some people get to sleep, for most people it reduces how long they sleep, thus having a negative effect on energy levels. The reason being, if you drink before you go to sleep your body experiences ‘micro-awakenings’ during the night. You won’t realise they’re happening, but they do affect your deep sleep. However, while poor for your pillow time, you’re used to them. You need to get used to sleeping sober without these.
For the first week, you may notice that your sleeping pattern changes slightly or you struggle with insomnia, so you may be tired, but the quality of sleep you get is set to improve.
Alcohol is a diuretic –meaning that your kidneys produce more urine –which can lead to dehydration. Think about your skin after a night getting sozzled: dry, dull and lifeless? Point proved.
If you keep on drinking lots of water when you exercise, without alcohol in your system your hydration levels will be far easier to maintain – resulting in improved blood flow which is essential for circulating nutrients and oxygen to your muscles.
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Giving up alcohol: Week two to three
By this point, you should be starting to feel the positives of passing on the prosecco. With no alcohol in your system for a fortnight, you may notice that your motivation levels are higher due to your new found willpower, and you may even have started to lose a bit of weight.
Increased deep sleep
After the initial shock to the system, you will likely have more restful sleep at this point. “When you drink alcohol before bed you may fall into deep sleep quicker,” confirms Drink Aware. “This is why some people find drinking alcohol helps them drop-off to sleep. But as the night goes on you spend less time in this deep sleep and more time than usual in the less restful, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.”
Alcohol can exacerbate certain sleep conditions, like snoring, and without it you should be getting a better quality of sleep – making you more energetic and active.
You’ll want to exercise more
Whether you used to drink more at the weekend or not, with this new found energy you are now more likely to make the most of your Saturdays and Sundays, swapping a long lie in for a long walk or gym session.
Training at the weekend as well can help maintain a healthy level of exercise throughout the week, which is more sustainable than trying to cram it all in on Monday and Tuesday!
Drinking alcohol can leave the skin looking tired and puffy, and dryness is a common side effect.
With no alcohol in your system and a good amount of exercise, by now you should be noticing that any redness or blotchiness has started to fade, and that your complexion is clearer and you have healthy, glowing skin.
Giving up alcohol: Long-term benefits
In one of giving up alcohol, it’s likely that you will have started to lose weight, tone up, reduce liver fat, reduce cholesterol, reduce blood sugar and gain a clearer complexion – all in a relatively short space of time.
Although the liver has great regenerative powers, this is not limitless. It will be very grateful. Richard states: “As a GP it is always obvious to me if someone has stopped drinking.”
Furthermore, a study at University College London Medical School discovered that individuals who stopped drinking alcohol reduced their liver fat fell on average by 15 percent, and by almost 20 percent in some individuals. This is good news for helping to future-proof your body against liver damage.
But, what else?
Feeling more alert
With your sleep cycle back in balance, your body’s ability to store glycogen will improve.
This crucial energy source will provide you with greater endurance, and make you feel more alert.
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Increased fat burn
With alcohol now a distant memory, your improved training regime will be in full swing, and it should be much easier than before to keep on track with any fitness or weight loss goals that you have set.
Also, you can expect big improvements in both metabolism and muscle recovery, as your endurance and body’s ability to convert carbohydrates to usable energy improves. But why? Alcohol is detrimental to weight loss, namely because it inhibits fat burn.
After an alcohol free month, your body is able to absorb more vitamin A, increasing cell turnover and leaving your skin looking considerably healthier and younger.
You will also see a returned brightness to your eyes.
Feeling inspired? Check out 12 healthy smoothies to satisfy your thirst, the Dry January mistakes you don’t want to make and how to get calm a bloated tummy.