Snooze the Booze

This is going to be unpopular... but even if less booze isn't your goal, it's worth the read. Cheers.

Alcohol is overrated.

It's a slightly toxic chemical that easily adds hundreds of calories to your day and prevents you from sleeping well so you wake up unrefreshed only to fight through your day to earn the right to do it again.

Let that sink in for a moment. We drink a poison to relax and have fun.

If you're ready to unsubscribe, please hang with me for a few more words.

My intention isn't to tell you to quit something you enjoy. I haven't given up alcohol completely myself. I'm not sure I ever will.

I enjoy the taste of wine, whiskey and even a Coors Banquet at a football game. (Please keep your judgments to yourself.)

However, I distaste the impact alcohol has on my sleep, performance in the gym, mental health and physique.

While I can't deny how great it feels to be just a little buzzed, I have significantly reduced my alcohol consumption and I feel great. I've learned to relax without it. I can even socialize without it.

However, getting here was quite challenging for me. And maybe it's a sticking point for you too - which is why I wanted to write about this topic.

Just like when I quit smoking, my primary motivator was a fairly vain goal. My qualm with alcohol was that it prevented me from achieving the body I wanted.

I had gotten to the point where I consistently hit my macronutrient and calorie goals with food, but all would go to hell because I needed a couple of glasses of wine most nights.

Let's back up for a quick nutrition primer.

We consume energy in the form of food to create energy in the form of ATP that fuels our bodies. If we consume more than we need, we gain weight. If we consume less than we need, we lose weight.

Food is largely carbohydrates, fat and protein. A gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories. A gram fat contains 9 calories. A gram of protein contains 4 calories. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. This is why your light beer with only 5 grams of carbs has more than 20 calories.

There is a new study in the journal Science1 that demonstrates that an adult's metabolism doesn't slow down over time. At least not until we're about 60... What does slow down? We do. Our younger selves could "eat what we wanted" because we were active AF.

If you sit all day, you need less energy. But it seems that the more we sit, the more we booze it up.

My two glasses of wine per night accounted for 2,450 extra calories a week.

That’s like eating 23 tablespoons of butter or 42 slices of bread on top of my regular weekly food. If you’d like to calculate the impact of your drinks on your calories, play around with this Bread & Butter Alcohol Converter2 that my husband built for me. 

There was no way for me to achieve the lean physique I wanted while drinking so much.

Today, I drink on average one drink per week.

It took me seven years to pair back my drinking to this point.

In hindsight, I should have broken down the goal into more manageable milestones.

From habit change research, we know that habits follow a four-step pattern: cue, craving, response, and reward. My “reward” of seeing body composition changes was not immediate enough to have an impact on my behavior. 

I am confident (because I have achieved other major goals this way) that had I consciously chosen to work towards milestones in cutting back on booze, I would have been in a more positive frame of mind and seen small steps for the great progress they were, which in turn would have been more motivating.

If you’re trying to make a major change of any kind and you're finding it challenging, consider taking a "slow is fast" approach.

In fact, that is the point of this whole email so you can stop here if you want.

If I look back at my journey with alcohol, I can see the milestones I was achieving... even though in the moment I felt like a failure. My wiser self would like to go back in time and tell my unwise self to chill out and enjoy the process.

What process?

Something that might look like this.

Step 1: Observe my emotions and thoughts when drinking wine. 

When does it bring me joy and when does it leave me feeling blah. 

The act of noticing and if doable, writing it down, will likely result in some reduction; however, that is not the goal right now. The goal at first is to observe the habit you are considering changing.

This is how I realized I didn’t like drinking during the day. I’m not really a brunch person. I'd rather save my wine for the evening. You may prefer a different moment. Either way, by identifying the moment I enjoyed a glass of wine the most, I was able to reduce my consumption overall. 

It was one of those aha moments. Soon, I became someone who doesn’t day drink. Of course not all changes are like that, some are a lot harder.

Step 2: Reduce wine consumption from 5 to 4 days per week. 

It’s a lot easier to reduce something by 20% than by 100%. 

If cold turkey isn't working or isn't desirable, start small. When that starts to feel easier, move on to the next goal.

Step 3: Reduce wine consumption from 4 to 3 days per week. 

This was hard, but one breakthrough I had was flipping the script. Instead of saying I can only drink 3 times per week, I made it I must drink 3 times per week. No more, no less. I got this idea from reading James Clear’s newsletter3.

Step 4: Make plans for social situations.

At this point, I was reducing consumption to the point where it became challenging to avoid social situations. One thing that has helped me tremendously when I'm trying to do something hard is to write out a plan.

It sounds silly, but it is damn helpful and it only take a few minutes.

Answer questions like:

  • How will I decide if I want to drink or not? 

  • What is my plan if I do drink (for example, set a limit of the number of drinks)? 

  • What is my plan if I don’t drink (what will I order, what will I say if asked about why I am not drinking)? 

Step 5: Tackle the weekends. 

At this point, I had cut out a lot of drinking and I was comfortable not drinking a glass of wine during the week. But the weekends were another beast.

Again, you need a plan. 

How will you navigate specific weekend situations from going out to dinner, brunch with friends or watching a movie?

What would you do if you could only drink one day per week. That means Friday or Saturday you don’t drink. You don’t have to do it, just think through a plan if you were to do it.  

When you feel ready, do a one time experiment to go a weekend without drinking. Just see how it feels. What was hard, what was easy? Revise the plan.

A few things that helped me at these more advanced stages include: 

  • Drinking sparkling water in a wine glass. There is something about the wine glass that makes a moment feel special. 

  • Drinking CBD waters. I find them relaxing. Also, not going to lie, they make me feel like I'm partaking in the socially acceptable and enjoyable drugging alongside my comrades with beers.

  • Being the driver. This makes it easy to say no to alcohol and locks you into your choice since others are counting on you. 

Even if I would have given myself one month to work on each step before moving on to the next one, I would have been able to reduce my consumption from 15 glasses of wine per week to 2 per week in five months. 

That may sound like a long time from today, but it’s not. It's certainly not the seven years it took me to make a change I desperately wanted but couldn’t seem to manage.

Now, when I struggle to do something hard, I stop, identify small targets and start again, a little slower. The end result is that I get there faster.

To recap, this isn't a newsletter pontificating about the adverse affects of alcohol. It is about how to reconcile something you enjoy doing that prevents you from achieving a bigger goal you have for yourself.

For me, less booze was the path to getting more muscly 💪.

I'm curious! Is there something you want to change, but struggle to do. I'd be happy to help think it through with you.

🙏 Thank you for reading. 

⏩ If you know someone who might be interested in this newsletter, please forward it to them. 

❓If you have a question related to strength, fitness, nutrition, I would love to help answer it. Reply to this email or drop me a comment.

1

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/373/6556/808

2

https://thepleasantbox.com/alcohol-macro-converter (works best on desktop)

3

https://jamesclear.com/3-2-1