Choose booze: How to fit al­co­hol into a healthy life­style

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HEALTH - By MAX LOW­ERY

Your life­style habits can have a big im­pact on the ef­fec­tive­ness of your diet and ex­er­cise rou­tine — and that ap­plies no more keenly than to the chain of events that’s started when you drink al­co­hol. Par­tic­u­larly habits many of us dis­play when so­cial­is­ing.

Yes, al­co­hol. I get asked about this all the time — but re­ally, every­one al­ready knows the an­swer. Al­co­hol isn’t great for us. It has a few health ad­van­tages when con­sumed in mod­er­a­tion, but these get quickly out­weighed by the neg­a­tives — the in­creased risk of liver can­cer, bowel can­cer, pan­cre­ati­tis, di­a­betes, and fer­til­ity is­sues that all come with heavy drink­ing.

And then there’s the prob­lem al­co­hol causes for any­one look­ing to lose a bit of weight. Booze tends to be calorific — and the body loves to burn those calo­ries be­fore it burns any from fat or sugar, which is why you tend to put on weight rather than the other way round af­ter a heavy drink­ing ses­sion. Any­one look­ing to drop a belt size is ad­vised to swap the wine for the wa­ter.

Hav­ing said all that ... I strongly be­lieve you don’t have to give up al­co­hol to lead a bal­anced life­style. You shouldn’t have to put your so­cial life on hold to reach your goals; in fact, try­ing to do that can make it much harder. The more you ob­sess about your diet and work­outs, the more likely you are to mess it up or lose mo­ti­va­tion.

So, where’s the mid­dle ground? How do you keep drink­ing al­co­hol while get­ting fit­ter? Can you make the booze work for you?

The key to the an­swers here is idea of habits. So­cial­is­ing can be a prob­lem if we fall into bad habits, but with a lit­tle willpower and self­aware­ness you can very quickly form new pat­terns of be­hav­iour that help, not hin­der. I’d like to think I’m a liv­ing ex­am­ple: for five years, I drank my way through a ca­reer in the City, suf­fer­ing hor­ren­dous hang­overs, dam­aged re­la­tion­ships and a gen­eral feel­ing of com­plete s***ness. Now, I’ve formed new habits so I can drink — I still love beer! — with­out do­ing un­told harm to my body.

You won’t be sur­prised to learn that binge-drink­ing is the main bad habit. There are lots of rea­sons why peo­ple end up binge drink­ing, but I think that most peo­ple can re­late to the fol­low­ing two:

Sim­ple force of habit. With­out even re­al­is­ing, I got into the habit of hav­ing a drink in my hand when­ever I was in a bar. I also es­tab­lished a rou­tine of drink­ing quickly with­out giv­ing it a thought.

So­cial in­se­cu­rity. Al­co­hol can be a use­ful so­cial lu­bri­cant, es­pe­cially when we meet new peo­ple. Get­ting drunk rids us of our in­hi­bi­tions; we stop car­ing about what oth­ers think and just want to have fun. We stop judg­ing our­selves and live in the mo­ment.

So, what to do? The five sim­ple steps be­low helped me to change my drink­ing be­hav­iour.

1 Go out in­tend­ing not to get drunk.

Have you ever tried re­peat­ing “I will wake up at 7am” be­fore go­ing to bed? You’d be sur­prised by how of­ten it works. Equally, try say­ing to your­self “I am not go­ing to get drunk” mul­ti­ple times to your­self. You’ ll find you are far less likely to get drunk.

2 Give your­self an ex­cuse to say ‘no’ to an­other drink.

Plan a work­out with a friend the next morn­ing, make an early-morn­ing com­mit­ment, such as a work meet­ing or ex­er­cise class, or just make some­thing up! Any­thing to give you an “out”.

Find an al­co­holic drink that you gen­uinely like (I find spend­ing more money helps!) Sip it slowly and savour the flavours. This one com­pletely changed the way I drink; I learned to ap­pre­ci­ate al­co­hol, rather than us­ing it as a means to an end.

3 4 5 Qual­ity over quan­tity.

Get into the habit of drink­ing one glass of wa­ter for ev­ery al­co­holic drink. Not only will it sober you up, but you will be so thank­ful for it the next day! You may even re­alise that you don’t want al­co­hol, but just want the feel­ing of a drink in your hand. I now of­ten use soda wa­ter and fresh lime juice as a non-al­co­holic al­ter­na­tive.

Drink wa­ter.

An­other game changer for me. I was able to stay in con­trol just drink­ing beer or wine, but as soon as shots en­tered the equa­tion that was the end of it.

Do not drink shots. How to de­velop a ‘sober con­fi­dence’

Be­ing able to go out and re­main sober or just have a cou­ple of drinks is an in­cred­i­ble skill. It will help you get in great shape and de­velop a nat­u­ral con­fi­dence — not a false sense of con­fi­dence that’s de­pen­dent on al­co­hol.

Ap­proach this in the same way you would learn to play the pi­ano or ac­quire any new skill; you are try­ing to form new neu­ral path­ways in the brain, which takes prac­tice and pa­tience. This is the ba­sis for chang­ing your be­hav­iours and habits.

It will be very dif­fi­cult to be­gin with, and you will prob­a­bly feel un­com­fort­able at first. But keep prac­tis­ing and it will be­come eas­ier with time. Bear in mind that the first in­ter­ac­tions of an even­ing out will be the hard­est, but even­tu­ally you will re­lax and have fun. I find it helps to spend time with a non­drink­ing friend at the start of the even­ing.

Slowly but surely you will re­alise that you don’t need al­co­hol to en­joy your­self. Drink­ing less also helps you to de­velop great so­cial skills and en­ables you to stay com­posed and in con­trol. You will reach a state in which you feel at ease with­out be­ing drunk; noth­ing holds you back, you feel con­fi­dent and in the mo­ment. And you don’t feel too bad the next day either!

Long-es­tab­lished neg­a­tive be­hav­iours won’t fix them­selves overnight, but small changes like these over a long pe­riod can have a pro­found ef­fect on the rest of your life, as well as aid­ing your health and fit­ness goals. I think we can all drink to that!


Many sports cen­tres boast a va­ri­ety of fit­ness classes and skills classes de­signed to im­prove your boxing tech­nique.


You don’t need to knock al­co­hol on the head to lead a healthy life.

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